Today’s Classic Crime is one I’ve shared before, but it’s a story I really like, by an author I admire. “The Long Arm,” by Mary Wilkins Freeman, is the first of two women-authored murder mysteries I plan to present that were probably inspired by the infamous Lizzie Borden case.

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
Mary Wilkins Freeman Source: Wikimedia

Sarah Fairbanks is an unmarried schoolteacher who’s been engaged to her beau for five years. But for some reason, her father disapproves of the relationship. Sarah argues loudly with him about her fiancé one night when she is home for summer vacation. The next morning, she finds her father in his bed — murdered. Suspicion falls quickly on Sarah, and soon she’s arrested.

At the trial, Sarah is acquitted (like Lizzie Borden was), but she is shunned by the community, which still suspects her guilt. So to clear her own name, Sarah decides to investigate the murder herself. Can she find the murderer and prove her innocence?

You can read “The Long Arm” by Mary Wilkins Freeman, here.

Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) wrote stories about the lives of single or widowed women, primarily in a New England setting. She’s probably best remembered today for her ghost stories, which I love. She wrote “The Long Arm” for the anthology The Long Arm and Other Detective Stories (1895). If you are interested in the other stories, you can find them here.

Sarah Fairbanks, like the protagonists of Freeman’s ghost stories, is strong and self-reliant, and has quite an analytical mind — a useful quality for a sleuth. True, she does get some help from a male detective, but she did quite a bit of the investigating herself. As far as I know, “The Long Arm” is Freeman’s only detective story. I would have loved to have read more.

Here’s my profile of Mary Wilkins Freeman from my Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic series, which includes links to some of her supernatural tales. If you’ve never read them before, do check them out!


Part of the Classic Crime series.

Featured Image: Sewing Hands of a Woman, Giovanni Boldini. Source: WikiArt

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