It’s the middle of the night, and Margaret Hossack hears a loud noise that shakes her out of her deep sleep. She hears tumbling and knocking in the darkened corners of her house. In a worried panic, she leaps up and runs to her children’s room to check on them. After she finds that her children are all right, she lights an oil lamp and returns to her husband. She enters her room and finds her husband, who was attacked by someone with an axe. His body lay in the same bed she leapt from just moments before.
Hossack sends her children to find a neighboring farm that has a phone so they can call the police and a doctor. From just a little after midnight until 10 a.m. when Tom Hossack finally passes away, Margaret holds his hand and cries.
This is the grizzly scene that author and law professor Patricia Bryan came to Drake to speak about last Thursday. It’s the beginning plot line to her new murder mystery “Midnight Assassin.” Bryan’s book is based on a true story of a woman accused of murdering her husband in Indianola, Iowa.
Bryan co-wrote this book with Thomas Wolfe, who was also on campus. Bryan led the lecture about this true story, but both attended an first-year seminar class and discussed the book with Drake students. First-year Emily Notturno was in that FYS class and has read the book, and she decided to attend the lecture.
“I think it might have been Margaret’s older son who lived on a neighboring farm that killed him for abusing their mom all those years,” Notturno said. “They (Bryan and Wolfe) will never directly say who did it because they want the reader to draw their own conclusions.”
But “Midnight Assassin” isn’t just a crime mystery; it’s also a story about a female reporter at the turn of the 20th century who attended Drake in its early years.
Susan Glaspell, the reporter who covered the murder, grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Her career spanned for over 40 years as a journalist, fictional writer and playwright. After she graduated from Drake, she stayed in Des Moines and worked for the Des Moines Daily News. That was when she was assigned to the Hossack murder case and was the first journalist to call Margaret the “midnight assassin.”
A display of Glaspell’s articles is hanging on the walls in Cowles Library’s heritage room. There are a year’s worth of articles that Glaspell wrote, starting with her account of the murder scene and covering the entire trail. Later Glaspell wrote “A Jury of Her Peers,” a novel accounting the social injustices that women had to endure in the earlier years of the United States’ justice system. She also wrote several other plays and short stories loosely based on her experience from the Hossack murder case.
Bryan has been researching the case and Glaspell’s work since 1992, taking a few years off to raise her twins when they were born.
“I identify with her (Glaspell) as an educated, independent college student with options,” Bryan said. “And being that kind of woman, Susan and I don’t truly understand women in difficult situations. Her message goes beyond men and women, though. She wrote about foreign wars, women writers, independence. I want people to understand that Glaspell’s writings aren’t dated and have relevance to the issues we still face today.”
Wolfe and Bryan are waiting to hear about possible movie rights for “Midnight Assasin” from people in Hollywood.
“I already have the screen play written,” Wolfe said.