Beverly C. Tyler on Steven C. Drielak. Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2020. 206 pp. ISBN: 146714679X. $21.99.
The disappearance of Stony Brook’s Alice Parsons from her home Long Meadow Farm on the morning of June 9, 1937 begins a year-long investigation by local, county, state and federal agencies that generates more questions than answers. Over the next five decades, a number of new clues surface which lead to more unsuccessful investigations and physical searches. In the end no charges are brought, no body is discovered and Alice Parson’s disappearance remains unsolved – until now.
Author Steven Drielak’s Long Island’s Vanished Heiress is a mystery storytelling delight. As the story of Alice’s disappearance begins we are introduced to the events of June 9, 1937, as detailed by the main characters: William Parsons, the couple’s maid Anna Kupryanova, and Anna’s son Roy. We learn about their histories, relatives, the people around them, how they came to be together at Long Meadow Farm in Stony Brook and how they relate to each other – at least on the surface.
Alice Parsons is described by shopkeepers as a “nice lady.” She was very involved in the Stony Brook community including with the Three Village Garden Club. Drielak gives a factual account of her positive relationships with her brothers, father and especially with her uncle Colonel Timothy S. Williams, who raised her after her mother died. He notes that she became an heiress following her uncle’s death which may have led to her own death. Drielak also makes it clear that Alice was very active on the farm, not only doing all the housework but helping her husband William “. . . in clearing the land and establishing the poultry livestock.”
In the 1930s, the small commercial area of Stony Brook, on the north shore of Long Island fifty miles east of Manhattan, was an area that looked like it had seen better days. It no longer had the activity of the shipbuilding boom of the middle of the 19th century, nor the steady influx of tourism that brought people from New York City between the 1870s and World War I. However, it was soon to be transformed by philanthropist Ward Melville into an attractive car-centric community with a colonial feel and a Federal-style shopping center. The first part of its change was already in place in 1929 when Melville’s mother Jenny purchased what would become the Three Village Inn and transformed it into a tea room and meeting place. South and west of the village stores and homes, Stony Brook was still farm country, including the area purchased by William and Alice Parsons which became Long Meadow Farm.
As the investigation begins we are introduced to officers from the local Town of Brookhaven Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Interviews with the husband and the maid are conducted. The stories from William and Anna change with each interview and the lies begin to be recognized. A state trooper arrives as well as more police and county investigators. Then a few of Alice and William’s relatives reach the farm. More interviews and questions lead to more confusion and then, surprisingly, a ransom note is found in the Parsons’ car, which had already been searched twice by police. The next morning, due to the initially overlooked kidnap note, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, becomes involved and then takes the investigative lead. From the day after Alice Parsons disappeared, the community of Stony Brook is inundated with investigators, as well as by newspaper reporters and photographers, who camp out around the farm and in the hamlet of Stony Brook talking to anyone and everyone who knows the principals. The supposed kidnapping becomes a national story with newspapers all over the country following the events.
The investigation is centered on the FBI’s lead investigator, Inspector Earl J.Connelly. For the next four months, Connelly works to keep the investigation on track. He has to deal with the chaos that ensues as the town, county and federal investigators work, often at cross purposes, for their own gain rather than for the good of the investigation. Over the next few chapters we meet additional people from Stony Brook and the surrounding communities. They all remain one-dimensional characters, but their descriptions spur interest to find out more about them.
As the investigation proceeds we view events, as through a rippled farmhouse window, into a time when personal interviews were the primary method of investigation and analytical evaluations of all the collected data were only a secondary consideration. Drielak details the salient facts of the investigation as well as the conclusions he reached. With regard to what he describes as “the planted ransom note” he writes that there is no remaining official report on the expert analysis of the first kidnap ransom note “ . . within the records of the FBI…” or the records of the firm that conducted the analysis. He further states, “Compounding this issue is the fact that all Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office records regarding the Alice Parsons investigation were declared lost in 2019.”
With master’s degrees from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, thirty years of law enforcement experience and sixteen years of experience commanding the Suffolk County Environmental Crime Unit he established, Steven Drielak was well positioned to undertake this detailed investigation and analysis of the facts surrounding the disappearance of Alice Parsons. Drielak studied the extensive FBI case files and the newspaper articles about the story. As both a policeman with years of experience and an author of two historical fiction novels, Drielak shows his understanding of the psychology which drove the people involved in this unsolved crime.
Drielak’s epilogue analysis highlights the degree to which the overwhelming evidence points to the murder of Alice Parsons by the one person who had both the motive and the opportunity to carry out this heinous crime, which has officially remained unsolved.