I write true crimes books based on Michigan (for now) so when I saw To Hell I Must Go – The True Story of Michigan’s Lizzie Borden, it immediately went to my “must read,” list. The writing and research for this book by Rod Sadler was very solid, though I found the story not quite living up to the title.
The author has a link to this crime – his grandfather was the chief investigator of the 1897 murder in Williamston Michigan. In this capacity, he brings some information to bear that a traditional author might not ever get access to – the memories of those involved with the case, passed on generation to generation. Sometimes a personal link to a true crime book is a blessing, sometime a curse. In To Hell I Must Go is a big plus for this book and what makes it resonate well for a reader. Sadler pulls off the linkage without making it dominate and overpower the story – the fault of some writer’s in this genre.
The crime involved a disturbed woman, Martha Haney, who was clearly struggling with at least one mental disease, if not more than one. Her husband suspected it when she started carrying on conversations with an unseen entity. When her husband’s mother moved it, the chemistry between Martha and her mother in-law was boiling to a explosion.
That explosion came in the spring of 1897 when Martha chopped off the head of Mariah Haney with an axe. Witnesses rushing into the Haney house discovered the severed head of Mariah on the table and her body set afire. It was a stunning crime for the period, one of horrific brutality that took place in an idyllic small town nestled in the pinnacle of the Victorian era.
Unfortunately the use of an axe in the crime is where all comparisons to the Lizzie Borden case come to an end. The Borden case intrigues readers to this date because there is an unsolved element to it. It also had a sensational trial which captivated many. There were multiple victims and at least a hint that Lizzie might truly be innocent.
With Martha Haney we have none of this excitement or intrigue. That isn’t to say that Mr. Sadler has left us hanging. Working with the material at hand he still manages to walk us through a revealing inquest and Martha’s incarceration. I was hoping for a twist or turn along the way, but there were none. What we do have is a story of someone with deep-seated mental issues that turns that inner rage into murder. In that respect, it is a story that resonates with many things we see in the news today.
I recommend this book with four out of five stars. It is well written and researched and worth putting on your reading list.