The inaugural Hamptons Whodunit Mystery & Crime Festival captivated East Hampton last weekend with an array of bestselling authors, filmmakers and legal experts all well-versed in true crime and mystery.
Exciting activities were featured throughout the four-day event from April 13–16 including murder mystery trivia and escape rooms, graveyard tours with the town crier, the Hamptons Crime Scenes Bus Tour with Mayor Jerry Larsen, a crime scene challenge at the East Hampton Town Hall, panel discussions and book signings with major authors of the true crime and mystery genres.
The co-founders who made this weekend possible were East Hampton Village Trustee Carrie Doyle, East Hampton Village Social Media Director Jackie Dunphy, East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen and East Hampton Village Foundation Director of Fundraising Lisa Larsen.
The festival honorary co-chairs were New York Times bestselling author Alafair Burke, whose most recent novels include Find Me, The Better Sister, The Wife and The Ex, which was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel, and A.J. Finn whose debut novel, The Woman in the Window, was adapted for the screen in 2021.
True crime chair Casey Sherman is an investigative journalist and a New York Times bestselling author who has penned 15 books including Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod, which will be adapted into an Amazon series.
Why was East Hampton the venue for such a spine-chilling event? East Hampton once swirled with accusations of witchcraft conjured up 35 years before the infamous Salem witch trials. In 1658, 16-year-old Elizabeth Gardiner Howell, the daughter of Lion Gardiner, the town’s most prominent citizen, gave birth to a child and shortly thereafter became ill. She shrieked that a witch was torturing her and blamed Goody Elizabeth Garlick as the culprit. A day later, Howell died.
A board of inquiry was formed who listened to testimony from frightened townspeople but were at a loss to declare a verdict. The case was sent to the Hartford, Connecticut court since Long Island had administrative ties to Connecticut. John Winthrop Jr., the governor of the colony, felt these accusations were mere false claims made by a hysterical community and delivered a not guilty verdict.
Goody Garlick lived to 100 years of age. The tale was a highlight of this festival, which featured the Goody Garlick Tour assembled at the graveyard in front of the Gardiner Windmill.
Honorary guests were bestselling authors Michael Connelly, who wrote 37 novels including the No.1 New York Times bestseller Desert Star; Lisa Jewell, the No.1 New York Times bestselling author of 19 novels including The Family Remains; and Anthony Horowitz, who wrote the bestselling teen spy series Alex Rider and was commissioned to write two new Sherlock Holmes novels as well as three new stories for James Bond by the Ian Fleming Estate, the most recent being the 2022 novel With a Mind to Kill.
Among those authors representing true crime nonfiction was Betty Frizzell, whose book If You Can’t Quit Cryin You Can’t Come Here No More is a chilling account of how her sister Vicky Isaac was found guilty of murdering her husband without being given proper legal representation by the state of Missouri and is in the Chillicothe Correctional Center where she is serving a life sentence.
Frizzell remains committed to bringing her sister’s case to the federal courts asserting that local Missouri officials have tunnel vision when it comes to women’s rights. Frizzell contends there are a number of voiceless women from rural areas in this country who are serving life sentences for crimes they did not commit. Her allegation is disturbing, and it is startling that such antiquated perspectives could exist right here in America.
Frizzell’s family background is equally disturbing as she very openly declares, “I’m not just the sister of a murderer, I’m the daughter of a murderer, I’m the granddaughter of a murderer, I’m the great granddaughter of a murderer. We’ve had a murder in our family for generations. I broke that cycle.”
Frizzell managed to escape a life of crime, addiction and abuse that plagued her family to achieve a distinguished career in law enforcement and as an author who is presently writing her second true crime book and planning a third on her mother’s criminal activity.
The moderator of this discussion was the award-winning author David Wedge, who co-wrote with the festival’s true crime chair, Casey Sherman, a nonfiction book about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy, which was adapted into the 2017 movie Patriots Day. Wedge impressed with searching questions as he navigated through Frizzell’s story, quoted from her book and added references from the Netflix investigative episode on this case, I Am a Killer.
With a large turnout, talk is already in the works to make Hamptons Whodunit an annual event. The festival website, hamptonswhodunit.com, says 2024 dates will be announced soon!