Wee Read

WEEREAD: Quiet Dell

A Small West Virginia Town Hides a Big Secret

By 1931, the Great Depression had most of the nation in its grasp, including the once affluent Chicago suburb of Park Ridge. Asta Eicher was widowed several years before, leaving her with a large house and three children — Grethe, Hart and Annabel. 

Readers are introduced to the family members by the energetic and imaginative youngest child, Annabel. Her creativity in writing and drawing gives us a glimpse into the compassionate and loving way Asta supported her children through early losses. Each child’s personality shines in turn, and a mother’s care and concern is evident in her desperate decisions. 

Asta takes in boarders to try to keep her children in the home they know and love, forming a lasting friendship with one who often visits and support to the struggling family. 

Eventually, Asta turns to a Lonely Hearts ad. She begins corresponding with a gentleman in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Cornelius O. Pierson offers her a new life. He claims to have a home in West Virginia as well as property in the Midwest. He regularly sends letters of love and promises of security. Asta believes these claims and looks forward to the day when he solves her financial problems. She takes him at his word and agrees to visit him. 

Concerned friends contact the police after not hearing from the family for several weeks. After a search of the Eicher home uncovering love letters, they are led to a small hamlet in West Virginia — Quiet Dell. The man arrested in connection with their disappearance is Harry Powers. 

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Quiet Dell is based on the true events of 1931 in Clarksburg. Who was Harry Powers? Or Cornelius Pierson? Where did he live before West Virginia, and why is he luring women to his home, taking their lives and their money? 

Writer Jayne Anne Phillips, a native of Buckhannon, West Virginia, and alumnus of West Virginia University, gives a human face to one of the first widely publicized and sensationalized mass murder trials in the nation. In a rural town where people left their doors unlocked, and they felt they knew their neighbors like family, mobs of press descended for a “trial of the century.” They all yearned to know who this man really was and how he committed his crimes without anyone knowing. Seats at the trial were so coveted, it was held in the local opera theater rather than the courthouse. 

Fictional Chicago Tribune journalist Emily Thornhill shepherds us through our journey of discovering what happened to the Eicher family with compassion for their lives and their story. Her determination to see justice served and to reveal the story of the family brings humanity to the gruesome scene often remembered. 

This fictionalized account of the real events in Quiet Dell give each player a deep personality and life beyond the basic facts of the crime and trial. The tragedy, duplicity and connection of all those affected by these events are felt in every page of Quiet Dell. 

Stacey Miller Sacco is a Wheeling native. She is a content writer and the former production editor of InWheeling Magazine. She reluctantly left Wheeling in 2019 for her husband’s job and now lives in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, with her husband and four children.