Situated in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, “five miles south of the Canadian border, and twelve miles west of the state line”, as stated by Agent Cooper, ‘Twin Peaks’ is a fictional town with a veiled, dreamlike quality. Much like David Lynch’s 1986 classic Blue Velvet, the story of Lynch’s surreal TV show, Twin Peaks, depicts an otherwise normal American land, slowly leaking the surreal tonal energy that fuels its underbelly.
Populated by a host of strange individuals, from Margaret Lanterman (better known as the Log Lady) to the maniacal Leland Palmer, these characters feel like lost spirits wandering through the wilderness, stabilised by the appearance of outsider Agent Dale Cooper.
Twin Peaks became a cultural phenomenon at the start of the 1990s, with Lynch establishing a strong uncanny story that was just intriguing enough to have viewers come back week-on-week. It was a cultural phenomenon that would sow the seeds for the contemporary interest in ‘true crime’ stories that today permeate through modern media.
Although Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost seemed to be inspired by the land of experimental cinema and the imagery of surreal dreams, their tale of small-town murder was, however, inspired by the real-life murder of Hazel Irene Drew.
The body of Hazel Drew was found lifeless and bloated in Teal’s Pond, New York, on July 7th 1908, her skull crushed by the blow of a blunt, unknown object. Immediately a murder investigation was launched, sparking a case that remains unsolved to this very day. The shocking discovery of her body occurred in the same vicinity as where Mark Frost would spend his summer vacations as a youth, becoming a life-long mystery pertinent in his life.
Speaking at a 2013 Twin Peaks reunion at the University of Southern California, Mark Frost noted, “I’d heard stories about [Hazel] all through my growing up, because she’s supposedly haunted this area of the lake…So that’s kind of where Laura came from”. It was during the show’s development that Frost started to investigate the case, going to city hall for more information: “It was the notion of this girl’s body being found on the edge of the water, the mystery remaining unsolved, the multiple suspects, and the kind of cross-cultural and different social classes of people she interacted with…It really struck my fancy”.
Continuing, Frost states, “I’d grown up hearing about people in the mountain who were out of the ordinary, who were a little off-kilter sometimes. So I think all of those stories had an impact on my thinking about folks like this, and I definitely can remember feeling like, ‘Yeah, this is a little bit like the guy who used to live out by the sawmill’ or ‘This is one of the hermits that I’d hear about'”.
The land of Twin Peaks straddles reality and surrealism, extracting truth from the real-life murder of Hazel Irene Drew as well as the obscurities of small-town America. Thirty years after the case was opened, it is a mystery still yet to be truly solved.