Mackinac Island, lying in the shadow of the world’s largest suspension bridge, with its Victorian charm, no automobiles, horse drawn carriages, fudge, souvenir shops, bicycles, Fort Mackinac, and ore freighters passing on the Great Lakes, is often referred to as Michigan’s crown jewel. Accessible only by boat or plane, it’s a wonderful place where thousands of people flock to each summer. I dare say that every visitor has heard of the Grand Hotel, British Landing, Arch Rock, Devil’s Kitchen, and the numerous other points of interest about the Island; but few have heard of the unsolved murder.
In the summer of 1960, at the height of the Chicago to Mackinac yacht race, Frances Lacey went on a leisurely morning stroll from the Murray Hotel toward British Landing. She was reported missing that same day and her body was found four days later on the west side of the Island. Classified as a cold case through the years, it’s a mystery that still haunts the Island. Suspects were named and interviewed over time but were all cleared; or were they? Anyone familiar with the case will admit there are more unanswered questions than there are answers.
As I walked the same path that Mrs. Lacey had walked sixty-two years earlier, I couldn’t help but wonder how it all happened. With the sound of Lake Huron’s gentle waves lapping at the shore and thousands of people on the Island to celebrate the Chicago to Mackinac yacht race, how could a lone woman walking in broad daylight on a Sunday morning disappear, and why didn’t anyone hear her scream? The police made some reasonable assumptions about how it occurred, but no one really knows with any certainty except the killer.
The killer! After sixty-two years, is it possible he could still be alive? If so, he’d clearly be in his eighties. Some speculate he was a local resident on the Island. Others believe the murder was the result of an insurance fraud. I don’t believe either. The murder has a far more sinister element, and there are clues overlooked by the police.
I’d seen police photos of the murder scene, and I wondered if I’d recognize it as I walked along the only state highway in Michigan where automobiles are banned.
I accepted the fact that it would be nearly impossible to say with any specificity exactly where the murder had occurred. I was certain the cobblestone pillars that framed a large metal gate surely would have disappeared years ago. As I rounded a slight curve in the road, I recognized it immediately. It was as if time had stood still. It remained virtually unchanged since 1960, and as I snapped picture after picture, I could sense what it must have been like so long ago. The body had been found concealed under some brush beyond the gate. There had once been an overturned boat on the trail beyond the gate. The killer had hidden Mrs. Lacey’s shoes under it. While I was curious, I knew there was no way I could go beyond the edge of the road. I took what few measurements I could without intruding on the privacy of the Island’s residents and returned to the Murray Hotel.
There was a reason for that trip. A reason far deeper than just seeing the points of interest. I needed to see where she’d been staying. I needed to walk the same route she’d taken. I needed to see the downtown streets before they were flooded with tourists, much like Mrs. Lacey had done. I needed to see the murder site and see if it had changed. As I did all of that, I also needed to see the beauty that is Mackinac Island; the beauty beyond the souvenir shops and candy stores.
Yes, Mackinac Island is a place of splendor and relaxation. Yet it’s also a place of mystery and intrigue; an enduring mystery that is far greater than the Native American legends that cloak the Island.
GRIM PARADISE: The Cold Case Search for the Mackinac Island Killer will be available 8/22/23 in ebook, paperback, and hardcover and on 10/10/23 in audiobook!