Beth Brickell, author of “The Disappearance of Maud Crawford,” took it upon herself to look into a Camden cold case from 1957.
Brickell, a Camden native, was the bonus speaker at the South Arkansas Literary Festival on Saturday, which was organized by South Arkansas Community College, the Union County Public Library and the Calhoun County Public Library.
Before she started following the cold case, Brickell was a filmmaker in Los Angeles in the 1970s. When she was asked what she wanted to work on next, she told what little she knew about Maud Crawford of Camden and was encouraged to make it into a movie.
She came back to Camden to start asking questions and work on a script.
“I learned within the first week the case had never been properly investigated and the people in Camden were frightened to talk about it,” she said. “This is 29 years later (at the time).”
Brickell spent the next 16 months investigating the case.
Maud Crawford was an attorney in Camden and was representing Rose Berg, who was aging. Crawford helped Berg write up a will giving her estate to three nieces. Brickell said Crawford found evidence of fraud against a state official, who Brickell said was trying to get Berg's estate, and Crawford confronted him about the fraud six months before she disappeared.
Brickell said she concluded that he was behind Crawford’s disappearance, but that conclusion was never substantiated by local authorities and the official had died by the time of Brickell's investigation. She said police had initially dropped the case after a short investigation without a definitive conclusion. The case was re-opened after Brickell's articles were published, though it remains unsolved.
The first assumption was that she was kidnapped by the Mafia because she was a former associate of then Sen. John McClellan, who was the chairman of a Senate investigation into alleged mob ties to organized labor. However, when no ransom note appeared the theory was rejected by law enforcement.
Her body was never found.
Brickell wrote 19 articles for the Arkansas Gazette newspaper while investigating Crawford’s disappearance that appeared on the front page of the paper over the course of five months.
“In recent years, so many people have tracked me down on the internet asking where they could read the articles that I published them in a book,” Brickell said. “Because of continuing interest, a month before this past Christmas, I published a second book called ‘In their own voice: Interviews from the Maud Crawford Investigation.’”
Brickell said the first book, containing the newspaper articles she wrote, showcase what she found and the conclusion that she came to about the case. However, the second book is comprised of 570 pages of the over 1,500 pages of interviews Brickell transcribed for her articles. This one, she said, is designed for readers to be able to go through the interviews in order to come to their own conclusions about the case.
Brickell said while she was investigating, she could feel some tension in the air. She said there were several times when she would leave Camden for a couple weeks because it felt like the tension was getting too much. She’d go stay in a hotel to spend time typing up her interviews before returning to ask more questions.
“People kept telling me ‘you’re going to end up like Maud Crawford. You’re going to end up in the Ouachita River,’” Brickell said. “Sometimes I had my life threatened. I could feel the tension in the city. I tried to be really careful. I had some interviews that before I went on those interviews, I would leave in my typewriter ‘I have gone to so and so place. If I don’t come back, that’s where I am.’”
Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.