Five Reasons That Addie’s Murder Matters

In the least few years, I’ve written eight books, and I’ve appeared on national television several times, including PBS History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News and more. In the last 10 years, I’ve given more than 500 interviews and I’ve appeared in every national newspaper in the country (except USA Today).  In 2009, I  was interviewed by BBC Radio. (Those folks across the pond just love our Sears Homes.)

My point is,  I know a little something about writing and research and the media and being the recipient of letters (and emails) from the public.

That being said, nothing could have prepared me for the ugly emails and comments I’ve received since I started writing about Addie Hoyt Fargo’s murder in Lake Mills.

This story has been picking up steam and gaining a wider audience. This ustream video – a recording of a talk I gave in Lake Mills –  has had almost 500 hits (as of September 14, 2011).  Two days ago, Addie’s story appeared on a popular blog, asking for help in solving this old murder mystery. Within 36 hours of that blog appearing, I had more than 4,000 new visitors to my website. That’s a lot.

The number one accusation being leveled against me in these acrimonious emails and comments is that I’m in this for the money, and that I’ve sensationalized an old legend because I’m looking to make a fast buck.

Yesterday, my husband – the lawyer – read a few of these notes and when he got to that part, he laughed out loud.

A lot.

“I wish like *&^% you were in it for the money,” he said with a wry smile.

Heretofore, I’ve invested a significant sum of my own money in doing this research, and that number keeps going up.

And let me tell you a little secret about being a writer. As mentioned, I’ve been a writer for 20 years and I’ve got eight books out there, six of which are still in print (and selling). Last year, my 2010 tax return showed a significant loss for my writing business. Granted, I put a new book out into the world in 2010 (The Sears Homes of Illinois) and it was a year full of writing expenses (and extensive travel, for research and promotion), but still…

Writing is not a lucrative craft. It’s certainly rewarding in other ways, but it is not lucrative.

I can state with authority, my reasons for writing about Addie are not driven by dreams of dollars.

Hopefully, this addresses the #1 accusation being lobbed at me about my motives.

So why am I doing this?

Many reasons.

For starters, I’m a nut about history. And early 20th Century America is my favorite time period.  When I wrote The Houses That Sears Built, I spent four years, buried in library basements across the Midwest doing research. And I loved it.

Reason #2: I grew up without grandparents or cousins or aunts or uncles (they all lived 3,000 miles away in California), and my whole life, I’ve yearned to know what it’s like to be part of an extended family. Learning about Addie and her family (my family) has helped assuage that powerful longing. Solving her murder (or at the very least, discovering the truth about this old legend) will also be very satisfying.

Reason #3:  “All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.” While it’s true that all the principals in this 110-year-old murder mystery are dead and buried, it’s also true that evil (especially something as dark and horrific as murder) needs to be exposed to the sunlight of truth. This evil has hidden in the dark shadows for long enough. It’s time to drag it out into the bright light and learn the truth and settle the question. Evil, regardless of its specific guise, needs to be unmasked and uncovered and destroyed.

Reason #4:  Addie was my great-grandmother’s little sister, and she was also the youngest daughter of Homer and Julia Hoyt, my great, great grandparents. If someone I loved had been harmed or hurt (like Addie), I’d hope and pray that there’d be someone in the world who loved family enough and/or loved me enough to take on the task of uncovering the truth about their demise. Addie was a 29-year-old woman when she was murdered. She was still a young girl. I have children that age.

Reason #5:  It’s the right thing to do.

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Whenever I start to wonder if I'm doing the right thing, I revisit this picture. It always re-inspires me to push forward with Addie's case.

Close-up of Addies face

When I look at her face, and see the swollen lips, twisted nose and puffy eyes, I am reminded that Addie's life could not have been an easy one.


Life before and after Enoch. These photos were taken less than five years apart. She was 29 in the photo on the right.


Her life ended when she was 29 years old.


Addie was a beautiful young woman.


Addie in her wedding gown?

Addie in her wedding gown.


My favorite photo of all.

My favorite photo of all. I love the detail and the beauty and the opulence.



Close-up of the bed.


Close-up of my great, great Aunt Addie Hoyt Fargo

Close-up of my great, great Aunt Addie Hoyt Fargo


Another view of the lavish interiors of the Fargo Mansion.


Not sure who this is, but she sure is happy!

Addie's bright-white dress looks almost ethereal in this photo.


Look at that waist-line!  Good thing I wasnt around then. That wasp-waist thing wouldnt have worked for me. Id have to say that my shape is more reminiscent of an egg than a wasp.

I'm comforted to know that Addie had happy days at the mansion.

These were fancy people living a fancy life. As my daughter Crystal pointed out, even the horse is wearing a doily!

The fam departing on a buggy ride.



I just love it that she's wearing a sailor suit.


With a matching cap...

With a matching cap.



Old Enoch didn't age well.


The fam sitting in front of the house in Lake Mills, WI. Enoch is at the top, with Addie below him. Enochs two daughters are Elsie and Mattie.

The fam sitting in front of the house in Lake Mills, WI. Enoch is at the top, with Addie below him. Enoch's two daughters are Elsie (top right) and Mattie (lower right). Elsie (1876-1959) married a McCammon. Mattie (1883-1956) became Mattie Fargo Raber.





Fluffy plays with Addie

Addie loved cats.


Talk about a feather in your cap!

And the cats tolerated her.


Unknown person

Addie preparing for a trip.


Not sure who this is, either.

Addie in profile.

Tennis anyone?

Tennis anyone?


The Fargo Mansion, as photographed in 1896, 15 years after it was built.

To learn more about the mysterious death of Addie Fargo, click here.

If you have any information to add, or if you’d like to express an opinion, please leave a comment below.

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  1. Rita Lundstrum

    I am so astonished that someone would be against what you are doing. People need a life. It is one of the most interesting stories, and I am not even from Lake Mills….just have worked there 16 years and went to the lake as a child. good luck and I wish I could help.

  2. Sears Homes

    @Rita Lundstrum
    Thanks, Rita. It’s a puzzle to me as well, but I’ve really had some angry people lambasting me over this. The men most often accuse me of “slandering an innocent man” (Oatway or Enoch Fargo).

    There’s so much evidence of wrong-doing in this case! It’s hard to imagine how people can look at the whole body of evidence and not see, there are many reasons to be highly suspicious.

    Lastly, it baffles me how anyone can look at that before/after photo of Addie, and not feel SOMETHING.

  3. Hope

    You are doing right by Addie and it is the right thing to do. Each Sears “Addie” email is exciting and intriguing to me. Keep the faith. I look forward to the next Addie update!

  4. Bobbi

    Hi Rose,

    I think that the criticism comes from people who do not take the time to find out the whole story. I believe they think you want to “freeload” research from others. In your video it is very clear that what you are looking for does not fall into that category. I wish you all the best and hope you find definitive proof of what happened.


  5. Julie

    Keep going!!!! Anyone who thinks you are in this for the money has obviously never been a writer or done any serious genealogical research. I’m so glad you’ve had researchers to help you ferret out more information about this. I have a great-great-great grandma who died under suspicious circumstances. In her case, I don’t think it was premeditated, but rather the unfortunate result of a drunken husband with a bad temper. I’ve been pretty obsessed with getting to the bottom of it–I keep thinking that if it were me, I’d want someone to think of me and know the truth of what happened. You are doing the right thing for Addie!

  6. Carol

    Your story of Addie is very moving and very sad! Where is the compassion for Addie from the people posting such negative comments? How can any look at the photo of Addie’s abused face and not have a desire to find out who did this? Keep searching! I’m right by your side!!!

  7. Sears Homes

    Carol, I wonder about that too. I just don’t understand why anyone would NOT want to get to the bottom of this story. Whenever I look at that comparison photo of Addie (before and after Enoch), it touches my heart.

  8. Dave Adamec

    I’ve always been fascinated with history and have been friends with Tom and Barry for several years. My wife was their first “Inn Keeper” when they first opened the B&B. I’ve heard the stories and seen some of the photo’s but your research has turned the legend into a real life tragedy involving real people.

    It’s unfortunate that certain factions would like this to remain “under the carpet” and they should consider what kind of justice would prevail if this were someone living today under the same circumstances. I don’t remember the actual quote but it goes something like this. “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.”

    Please continue your work for Addie’s sake.

  9. Barb

    Your story (actually, Addie’s story) is amazing. My sister has researched our family history back to the 1100s and the Earl of Pembroke, so I love a good historical story and Addie’s story has swallowed me into it. Your pictures tell a story also, thank you for sharing so many of those! Keep up the good work and may you be blessed with closure to Addie’s mysterious death. I hope finding the answers doesn’t stop you from learning more about this fascinating woman.