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Gerald W Darnell

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   Recent articles by
Gerald W Darnell

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Murder in Humboldt
by Gerald W Darnell   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010

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The year is 1962 and this small west Tennessee town has been turned upside down by a labor strike at its main manufacturing plant. It seems that, as result of the strike, some very serious underworld crime problems have surfaced in Humboldt. A small town sheriff and small town Chief of Police have their hands full dealing with the strike - when the worst happens – one of the principal figures surrounding the labor problems is murdered.

Carson Reno is very familiar with Humboldt – after all, he grew up and went to high school there. But Carson has a successful private investigation business in Memphis and no desire or reason to get involved. However, circumstances pull him into the turmoil and a situation that grows more dangerous everyday. By trying to not become involved, he becomes deeply involved and ultimately the prime suspect for the Murder in Humboldt.


My office address is officially listed as 149 Union Avenue – L6. Which means I occupy office 6 - located just off the lobby of The Peabody Hotel – Memphis, Tennessee. I actually would consider my address to be 3rd avenue – not Union, but the address has its perks.

 The location itself is also handy. All my phone calls come through the hotel operator, who seconds as my answering service, I eat lunch and breakfast in the employee dining room at a great price, I have a beautiful lobby to greet potential clients and please don’t forget the duck show – happens twice a day. Aside from the perverts who hang out in the lobby restrooms, I can’t find a lot of fault with my office arrangements.

Besides, this is 1962 and people are accustomed to the modern ways of doing business. Appearance is everything, or at least a close second to whatever is first. The new real estate buzz is ‘location, location, location’ – I think I have one of the best.

The hotel directory and telephone yellow pages show L6 occupied by ‘The Drake Detective Agency’. Which can be confusing, because the name on the office door reads:



Carson Reno – Private and Confidential Investigations


I am Carson Reno and always have been. There has never been a Drake working from this office, or any other in Memphis, that I am aware of. However, when I opened the agency I just could not find any rhyme or rhythm in ‘The Reno Detective Agency’. Besides, anybody who watches Perry Mason knows Paul Drake and what the Drake Detective Agency is. A little free publicity and promotion never hurt any business and maybe they might think this is a branch office – or something. Who knows or cares, as long as they call or show-up with money.

Which is where we will begin our story. People bringing money, or in this case, sending money.

The large number of my clients consist of damaged spouses looking for dirt and evidence on the unfaithful partner. It is possible that infidelity has made me what I am today – not a rich man, but I can pay my bills. Occasionally I get some insurance investigation work – searching for someone who has successfully snookered the Insurance Company for their own goodwill, or some poor smuck who filed false claims and skipped. For the most part, I deal with the underbelly of our society – where you find some very bad people and never make friends with anyone.

 When I’m not specifically working on a case I try to spend as much time as possible in or near the office. Another advantage of the Peabody is having access to restaurants, bars, shops and the downtown activity – so staying close is never a problem. But this was May and it was just impossible to stay inside – so my frequent hangouts were seeing much more of me than usual.

Afternoons and early evenings will usually find me at the Starlight Lounge – just off Winchester. Not only is it a good place to ‘hang-out’, it is a great place to look for clients or – in fact – look for those who my clients have hired me to find! The Starlight always has live entertainment starting at 12 Noon daily – yes, I said 12 Noon. Everyday it is just loaded with housewives who use the early part of the afternoons and evenings to visit The Starlight for some drink and dance before the husband comes home from work. They cook dinner early, put it in the oven and dance on over the Starlight for an afternoon of wine and martinis. I have a friend who calls the place "Club Menopause" – I thought that an appropriate name.

Of course with the ladies come the men – generally just in search of some companionship, but sometimes in search for much more. Regardless, these are my clients, or potential clients, and I see no harm in getting to know as many of them as possible.

Rita is the head hostess at the Starlight and works some unbelievable hours. In fact, I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t the first to greet me – regardless of the time. She was once crowned Miss Memphis and, as I understand, had a brief acting career. This lady hasn’t lost a thing with age – she still has those terrific looks and manner that won her so many awards and titles. No question, she is one knockout and classy lady who knows her stuff and knows her customers. Rita always makes sure I get an opportunity to ‘meet and greet’ those who are in ‘distress’ and might need my services. She’s so good at it that I should put her on the payroll – assuming I had a payroll! However, I do make sure she gets tipped properly – whenever I get the opportunity.

My other hangout is home – or close to it. Home is a 12th floor one bedroom apartment at the 750 Adams complex on Manassas. A great place to call home, they have a small grocery/deli on the ground floor and a little bar in the basement called ‘The Down Under’. Regardless of your condition, it is always just a short elevator ride home – and sometimes that makes good sense. Every weekend they offer live entertainment to a usually packed house. Being small, space is always limited but my friend ‘Andy’, the bartender, can always seem to find me room. Last week I spent 4 hours listening to a new talent, Ronnie Milsap. Though blind, I think this guy has lots of potential.

   Back to my story.

This beautiful day in May was not much different than most others. I slept late – up at 11 after too many Jack/Cokes with Andy the night before. Then stopped by my office to pick up the mail and check for messages – I had none. Lunch at the Rendezvous, a few eye openers with Rita and my friends at The Starlight before finally settling down back at ‘The Down Under" to read the mail and hear stories from Andy about the night before.

Mail was typical – window envelopes that never contain good news. There was, however, one interesting letter. It was in a plain envelope with a handwritten address and postmarked ‘Humboldt, TN’. Now this is both unusual and intriguing. I grew up in Humboldt – in fact my parents still live there – but this was not a note from mother. To my knowledge this was the only mail correspondence I had EVER gotten from Humboldt – mother was not a big letter writer.

The letter was addressed to Mr. Drake at Drake Detective Agency (I get a lot of those), so they obviously did not know me – or of the fact that I even knew where Humboldt was. I should have realized the potential problems and simply tossed the envelope and its contents into the trash. I didn’t. Being nosy will always get you in trouble – trust me.

The envelope contained a poorly typed letter and single $100 bill. The letter was typed on plain white paper using a typewriter that was in serious need of a new ribbon. It read as follows:


Mr. Drake


I have chosen you from the Memphis telephone directory because you offer quiet and discrete investigation in your ad. I am in need of this.

My husband is being unfaithful and I require proof before seeking a divorce. Can you help me with this?

Please accept the $100 as a down payment and we can arrange a time to meet and discuss my situation.


My phone number is 901-784-9847. Please call me if you can help.

Mary Ellen Maxwell


Not being TOTALLY stupid, I did know who Mary Ellen Maxwell was. She was the wife of JR (Joe Richard) Maxwell who owns Maxwell Trucking and warehousing – with headquarters in Humboldt, Tennessee.

 Mary Ellen and JR lived at 221 Warmath Circle and, to my limited knowledge, they were a significant figure within the Humboldt elite. They have two sons, Tom and Butch. This was all public information and was really the extent of my knowledge about the Maxwell family.

The hundred was used to cover part of my growing bar tab and I learned from Andy that my friend, TG Sheppard would be entertaining next weekend. I looked forward to renewing old friendships at the ‘Down Under’ bar.




Web Site: Murder in Humboldt

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Books by
Gerald W Darnell

Dead End

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Justifiable Homicide

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Fingerprint Murders

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Murder in Humboldt

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Don't Wake Me Until It's Time to Go

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Horse Tales

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