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The Little Hampstead Mystery

Famous Disappearance Solved After 60 Years

By Valerie KittellPublished 9 months ago 21 min read
Created on Canva Pro

Sworn Testimony of Dora Munson, Witness:

I am writing this testimony and leaving it with my lawyer to be opened after my death along with a letter to the local paper so that everyone will finally know what happened on that August day so many years ago.


Circumstances Leading up to the Incident of August 14, 1910

1. The Arrival of The Chalk Illustrator

What is commonly referred to as The Little Hampstead Mystery occurred in the summer of 1910, six months after the Chalk Illustrator came to town and rented a room from my parents. He was a very nice looking young man, we all thought so, as well as being well dressed and well spoken. My father thought maybe he was a little too spiffy and told my mother to keep a close eye on my older sister Katy, who was a bit boy crazy, if you want to know the truth.

My sister Katy was generally acknowledged to be the third prettiest girl in town, after Nelda Matthews and Vera Krupsky, but many people said her vivacity pushed her ahead of Vera, who was a bit of a pill, and others thought her personal style and panache inched out Nelda. I thought Katy left those other two in the dust, but then I am prejudiced because she was my sister after all. As sisters go, she was aces. She never once pinched me or pulled my hair or was mean to me in any way. And she was always laughing and singing, even when she had to do the dishes or hang out the laundry.

The Chalk Illustrator had a name — he was Mr. Grant Weatherford III. He didn’t add “the third” part when he introduced himself, but that is the name that was embossed on his portfolio, a nice big leather one. His luggage was all monogrammed GW III too. We knew plenty of Jr.s, but no one had ever run into a third before. It turned out he was named after a great uncle and uncle, both were still alive and I guess to keep them and their laundry all sorted out they had to assign roman numerals.

Mr. Grant Weatherford was a real talented artist; his parents had sent him to Europe to study art and copy old masters, with the expectation that his art hiatus was a limited diversion before joining the finance industry in his father’s firm. When GW III decided to devote his life to art, there was a falling out and he ended up leaving the family cottage in Newport to make it on his own. I am not sure how he strayed into our little village, unless Katy’s praying every night for some man to turn up that wouldn’t make her want to scream and poke her eyes out from boredom had finally paid off.

Aside from renting the second floor parlor/bedroom suite from us, Mr. Weatherford also rented a small storefront on the Main Street, directly across from our house where he advertised Reasonable Art for the Practical Family. He did portraits, room murals, miniatures, and also gave drawing lessons. Business wasn’t all that great from what I could see, even though half the young ladies in town signed up for drawing lessons.

He ended up stumbling onto a very lucrative sideline, however, after he developed a formula for a chalk paint that would adhere to glass. He chalk illustrated his own display window with an Art Nouveau depiction of a naked woman who was mostly obscured by her billowing hair, cattails and some falling leaves. Despite the fact that practically no part of her anatomy could be seen, the whole town knew for a fact that she was naked under all that hair, vegetation and tree detritus, and a fuss was kicked up about how Mr. Grant Weatherford III was singlehandedly corrupting the morals of the youth and turning our placid New England town into either Sodom or Gomorrah.

I guess I was one of the youth being corrupted, but I couldn’t really see how. No one could have hair like that without numerous hairpieces, and how could you possibly stick leaves to yourself like that? The town fathers made him scrape off his display, but not before he had become a minor celebrity.

The other shop owners commissioned him to chalk illustrate on their windows, everything from kitchenware to barbershop scenes, to tractors and cheese wheels and high heeled shoes. He drew all the latest fashions on Madame Adele’s Dress and Millinery Salon window. Our Main Street became an actual tourist attraction, attracting dozens of visitors to see the Chalked Window Tour.

I really liked Mr. Weatherford, he let me spend time in his studio with him when my mother didn’t have me occupied running errands. He was much more talented than his mercantile drawings ever let on; he actually could imitate any of the famous painters that people travel the world to see. I complimented him many times on this talent, but he always shrugged off my comments.

“I am an imitator, “he said. “ I can copy the modes of others, but I have not created my own. In originality I am sadly lacking, although . . . I do have some hope. I have discovered some interesting aspects of Leonardo’s studies in perspective, that I believe have gone unnoticed, even by the greatest authorities. They focus so much on his art, that they have missed his science.”

He became much obsessed with his da Vinci studies. Often when I came to the studio to bring him a luncheon that my mother sent over, I would find him buried in sheet after sheet of converging lines and what he called vanishing points. He started talking about dimensions and the hidden worlds that we lacked the capacity to see. I nodded during his monologues as though I understood what he was going on about, even though I had no inkling.

My sister had been the one bringing over his lunches, but I was the reason that stopped. One day she and my mother were away visiting in the next town over. Despite the fact that I was suffering from a head cold and ear infection, I brought his noon basket and thought he said “Where is my moose?” when I entered his shop.

“Your moose?” I replied. I didn’t know he had a moose and wondered why he would ever think I should know where it was.

“Your sister, Katy,” he answered. “She is my moose.”

I was thoroughly confused that he would refer to my sister that way and sought to clarify the point when my sister returned. Unfortunately, I sought clarity in front of my mother.

“Why does Mr. Weatherford call you his moose?” I asked Katy, who turned bright scarlet.

“What’s this?!” exclaimed my mother. “His moose? Well I never, what can he possibly mean by that?”

“Dora’s got it wrong, mother. He must have said ‘muse’ and she misunderstood. He has called me that. He says that I inspire him and he wants me to sit for him. May I, Mother?” Katy was trying very hard to act off hand about the whole matter, but I could see that she was trembling in anxiety that my mother might say no, which she did, in no uncertain terms.

Not only did she say that Katy couldn’t sit for Mr. Weatherford, my mother said that Katy was no longer to bring his lunch or to be alone with him under any circumstances because they did not want the whole town talking and staining the family’s good name.

Katy threw down her cloth and stormed upstairs into our room and hurled herself down on the bed that we shared. I followed her and shut the door, which was a good thing because she started sobbing, almost as much as when Beth died in Little Women, which was the only other time I had ever heard her cry.

After that, things were a bit awkward because my parents acted like guard dogs and prevented any private interactions between my sister and Mr. Weatherford. Although they liked Mr. Weatherford, I think they mistrusted his intentions and him being an artist was a strike against him. They would have liked to see my sister smile more warmly on Nelda Matthews’ brother Zebulon who had been hanging around for years hoping that Katy would keep company with him.

2. Precipitating Event to the Incident on August 14, 1910

There would be no Little Hampstead Mystery if the dress shop owner, Madame Adele, had not become interested in Mr. Weatherford and set up circumstances which ultimately spiraled out of control.

It all began when Mme Adele asked Mr. Weatherford to paint a mural in her shop of a boulevard in Paris, which he agreed to do. But the commission took far longer than he anticipated, because Mme Adele kept changing her mind about what she wanted included in the scene, so he was painting over this and adding that almost every day.

He only painted in the evening after her shop was closed which occasioned some very late hours. Mme Adele lived above her shop, and small towns being what they are, everyone put two and two together and got six, as they so often do.

Mme Adele did everything she could to add to the impression that she and Mr. Weatherford were an item, something that he seemed not to be aware of as he was focused solely on his mural and barely noticed the cosmetically improved shopkeeper hovering around him. Katy said she used more paint on her face than he did in the mural.

On August 12, Katy was walking down the street, doing the marketing when Mme Adele motioned from her door that she wanted her to come into her store, which surprised Katy, but she did as asked. Once she was inside, Mme Adele shut the door and turned the Closed sign outward.

“I have something to tell you,” she said, grabbing at my sister’s wrist. “You know that Grant and I have become fond of one another, do you not?”

My sister shook her wrist free from the woman’s grasp and said “I know no such thing.” (This is the story she told me that night after we went to bed). “It’s certainly no concern of mine, if that’s the case.”

“Ah, good,” said Mme Adele. “He asked me to tell you to spare you both any embarrassment, since he seems to think that you perhaps have developed feelings towards him which he never in any way intended to encourage. I’m glad that his fears have no basis. You’ll wish us well, I hope?”

Katy said “I wish that you have all the good fortune that you deserve,” which seemed not to be the hearty endorsement Mme Adele was looking for.

Madame looked suddenly anxious and said, “Now that this is settled, there is no need for you to speak of this to Mr. Weatherford. I will tell him that he was mistaken and that your schoolgirl fancy was nothing of import.”

“Yes, you do that,” said my sister and turned on her heel and went out the door which she let close with a bang behind her.

Katy put down the hairbrush on her vanity and looked at me. “Can you believe she had the nerve to talk to me like that? ‘My schoolgirl fancy!’

I sat up in bed. “Katy, I don’t think that Grant ever said anything like that to her and she’s making it all up.”

Katy considered my words. “I think so too, but I would die of embarrassment telling him what she said and asking if it was true”. Then she said, “But you could.”

August 13, 1910

The next day, I brought Mr. Weatherford his basket as usual. He was more buried in his perspective studies than I had ever seen him. There was a chalkboard in the studio and he had drawn horizons and arrows and had some mathematical formulas scrawled next to some of them accompanied by question marks and exclamation points. His hair was practically standing on end because of the way he kept running his fingers through it while nodding his head and saying “Ah, but if so. . .”

He was so engrossed that I despaired of him disengaging long enough to eat and allow me to deliver my message so I shouted, “Mr. Weatherford, LUNCH! Your soup is cooling and the cutlet congealing.”

I succeeded in breaking through to his consciousness. He turned and saw me and then smiled and strode towards me.

He said “I am on the threshold, Dora! I am almost through the door to worlds beyond our imagination. Yet, I hesitate, because I myself do not understand the ramifications of what I have postulated. The Second Man, that is what I am, Dora. The Second Man after the great Leonardo da Vinci who has found the Ultimate Vanishing Point.”

“Yes, yes, that is very nice Mr. Weatherford. Congratulations.”

I put the basket down on his desk and mustered my nerve to continue as requested by my sister, “I understand that is not the only reason to offer you good wishes. Katy asked me to convey her congratulations about your impending nuptials with Madame Adele as well as letting you rest easy that any cordiality between you has never been interpreted as anything but friendship”.

I felt I was forgetting something, recalled my sister’s words and then finished in a rush , “Which now must cease since you are engaged. She also thinks that it would probably be a good idea for you to seek other lodgings.”

Mr. Weatherford listened to my speech first with astonishment and then anger and then something very close to white hot blazing rage. He dropped the chalk he been been underlining a mathematical equation with and grabbed me by the shoulders.

“What are you saying? What has that crone been saying to your sister? Your sister, for whom I have worked every day in order to be worthy of? Adele is mad if she thinks that I would ever form any kind of alliance with her, let alone a romantic one. I will give her a dose of reality that she won’t soon forget.”

He grabbed his coat and was going to head off straight for the dress shop, but I stopped him.

“You can’t speak to her because she went to Boston to buy the latest fabrics and won’t be back until tomorrow morning. The shop will be open at the regular time then, that’s what the sign on her door says.” I told him.

He was calmed by this information. He took off his coat and went back to his desk and sat down.

His look of all-consuming anger was replaced by one of contemplation. He was lost in thought and seemed as though he had completely forgotten my presence. As I left his studio,he steepled his hands, tapped his fingertips together and I heard him say softly, “Perhaps I have found my subject.”

My mission complete, I reported the results back to my sister, who made me repeat the sentence about him trying to being worthy of her at least four times before I refused saying it a fifth. The rest of the day she alternated between fits of giddiness and occasional tears, which was noticed by my mother who dosed her double with cod liver oil and sent her to bed early with toast and tea.

That night, Mr. Weatherford entered our residence much later than was his habit and headed directly to his chambers. I knew that my sister heard his tread on the stairs although she pretended to be asleep; just as I pretended to be asleep when she crept down the stairs in the dark and I heard her tap lightly on his door.

The Incident of August 14, 1910: The Little Hampstead Mystery

Everything I have recounted so far is prologue to the real story, the actual event that I relive over and over and wonder if it is a dream or if it really happened as my memory dictates. I am the sole witness, so there is no one to confirm or deny my recall.

On the morning of August 14, I slept fitfully and was awake at first light. I was relieved to see Katy lying beside me, sound asleep, with a tiny smile on her face. I knew that there was no further slumber for me and that I would toss and turn, so I got up and put on my wrapper and retired to the chair by the window with the book I was currently reading. This chair was my favorite place in the house; it provided a secluded nook in which I could sit and watch all the comings and goings on the street below and yet remain entirely unnoticed myself.

As the sun rose and illuminated the street, I saw two things of interest: one, the light was on in Grant’s storefront which meant he must already be in there, and two, I could see that the chalked fashion illustrations in Madame Adele’s window had been altered. I gasped when I realized exactly how her drawings had been changed.

Where previously there had been simply colorful hats and dresses without a recognizable figure wearing them, there was now a supremely identifiable person attached to each ensemble; all the illustrations now bore the unmistakable features of my sister Katy as their model. They were simple quick portraits of Katy looking up, Katy looking serious, Katy smiling. The entire window was a homage to my sister Katy. I both shuddered and laughed when I imagined Madame Adele returning to her shop to find it turned into a shrine to her rival.

It occurred to me that in order to so quickly transform the window, Grant must have done study after study of Katy in the preceding weeks if not months. That must have been during the times she delivered his lunch and why he called her his muse.

I was still engaged in those thoughts when my attention was drawn to the sight of Grant opening his shop door and coming out into the dawn’s light carrying a thin, broad board away from his body. He toted it two doors down to Madame Adele’s storefront where he laid it down carefully on the ground in front of the display window. He then secured it in place by placing one of Madame’s large topiary pots at each end, which caused him no little struggle as they were heavy. He glanced down at the results of his labor and smiled, brushed the evergreen needles from the topiary from his coat, and walked back quickly to his shop.

I waited until he was inside and then stepped to the window for a better and closer view of his efforts, making sure to keep myself hidden behind the drape. I saw the result of what he had done but was confused and could not understand its meaning. Why would anyone do anything so bizarre?

It was then that I could see the figure of Madame Adele coming down the street carrying her small overnight valise, returning from her buying trip to Boston. She must have taken the first mail train in order to be back so early, as was her habit. Mme Adele had never missed her shop opening time ever, in all the years she had run her store.

She stopped in front of her store, put down her valise and then began rummaging in her drawstring bag for her key. When she found it, she lifted her head and had the key in her hand and was about to unlock her door and enter her shop when she noticed her display window for the first time.

I could not see her face, but she froze like a wax figure and dropped the key. Her shoulders were hunched in horror and she drew her hands to her face. I can only imagine her thoughts as she saw the image of my sister splashed in chalked vignette after chalked vignette across the breadth of her display.

She walked closer to the window to take it all in and went like a homing pigeon to the large central image of Katy in the latest, most chic hat available, and began frantically scratching and chiseling away at the cherry red lips with her fingernails. She was so enraged and consumed in her task that she did not notice what was happening to her. Nor did I for a number of moments.

She was sinking into the sidewalk.

Fully half of her boots were disappeared before she looked down. There was a sort of light mist that was developing and starting to engulf and swirl around her form. In the next few seconds she was evaporated or melted or sunk or however you want to characterize it, past her waist. In a few seconds more, I could barely make out her shoulders and head just above the pavement, as though she were peeking out of a deep pit. And then she was gone — completely disappeared. She never even had the opportunity to scream, because the whole thing happened so quickly.

That’s why I didn’t scream either. My mind was so busy both processing and rejecting what I thought I saw happening that I was almost in a state of suspended animation. I comfort myself with the thought that the speed of her disappearance meant that no human agency would have been able to move quickly enough to save the poor woman from her . . . demise? I can’t quite call it that, because how could I know that she was dead and not just simply existing in another plane or dimension?

While I still stood behind the drape in shock at what I had just seen, Grant Weatherford emerged from his shop once again, wearing a smock and began to work quickly. First, he pushed back the topiary pots and raised the illustrated board to rest against the storefront, its plain surface facing out.

Then with his artist razor, he scraped all the eyes and noses and lips that had transformed generic blank heads into Katy. He covered the gaps with a fresh glaze of a peachy flesh color and they were once again featureless. Within mere minutes, he had erased any evidence that his tribute window had ever existed. He put the small container of glaze and his brush back into his pocket.

Then he picked up the illustrated board, but it slipped from his grasp back onto the ground, causing him to have to lift it again to tote it away. This time he carried the image outward so that I could get another good view of it which only confirmed my first impression:

He had chalked a representation of the sidewalk as it existed in life with incredible verisimilitude, but with one addition — a large, black, gaping hole.

This hole would have been almost exactly in front of the central display drawing calculated to draw Madame Adele’s ire, and she would have been so upset that she would have not noticed she was stepping onto a rendering of a bottomless void. But it was only a rendering, right? A drawing! A drawing can’t be a doorway into another dimension, it simply isn’t possible. No one would believe it.

Well, perhaps four people would believe it: the two men brilliant enough to have envisioned it, Leonardo da Vinci and Grant Weatherford, the woman who experienced it, Madame Adele, and the person who witnessed it — me, Dora Munson of Little Hampstead, Massachusetts.


I did not share what I had seen with anyone, because I did not choose to be thought insane.

My sister Katy did marry Mr. Grant Weatherford despite my many misgivings and the numerous oblique ways in which I attempted to alert her to my apprehensions about his character. This caused a schism between us, although my love for my older sister has never wavered. For their wedding, my gift to her was a gold tipped walking cane with a note to beware of holes and mind her feet.

To the rest of the world, the disappearance of Madame Adele, whose real name was Stella Abernathy from Augusta Maine, was never solved. All that was known was that in the early hours of August 14th she had taken the early train back to Little Hampstead from Boston and walked from the train station to her shop as she had done many times before. Her travel valise, her drawstring bag and her key were all found in front of her shop, indicating that she had made it at least that far. No sounds of disturbances or screams or a struggle of any sort were reported by neighbors. This has become a famous unsolved mystery and occasionally a writer or television crew will pop into town on the anniversary of the disappearance.

I still live in Little Hampstead in the house my parents left me and still watch the comings and goings on Main Street from my bedroom window. I can say that knowing the truth of Madame Adele’s disappearance is not the only secret I hold.

Signed : Dora Munson, Little Hampstead, Massachusetts October 12, 1970


About the Creator

Valerie Kittell

I live in a seaside New England village and am trying to become the writer I always wanted to be. I focus on writing short stories and personal essays and I hope you enjoy my efforts. Likes and tips are very encouraging.

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