The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey

A Nonfiction Novel

By Bland Simpson

184 pp., 5 x 8

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4432-8
    Published: September 1993
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2045-9
    Published: November 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6680-6
    Published: November 2017

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Awards & distinctions

1995 Historical Fiction Award, North Carolina Society of Historians

As compelling as fiction, The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey tells the dramatic story of the disappearance of nineteen-year-old Nell Cropsey from her riverside home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in November 1901. Bloodhounds, detectives, divers, and even a psychic were brought in to search for her, and the case immediately became a national sensation. Bland Simpson, who first heard the tale as an Elizabeth City schoolboy, weaves this true story into a colorful nonfiction account, told in three first-person voices: Nell's sister Ollie; famous newspaper editor W. O. Saunders, who covered the case as a young reporter; and Jim Wilcox, Nell's beau, who was implicated in the case. Nell and Jim's romance, her disappearance, the great search, the trials, and their aftermath are artfully reconstructed from interviews, court records, and newspaper accounts.

About the Author

Bland Simpson teaches writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the author of The Great Dismal: A Carolinian's Swamp Memoir and The Heart of the Country, a novel of southern music. He is also a member of the Red Clay Ramblers, the internationally acclaimed string band.

For more information about Bland Simpson, visit the Author Page.


"Simpson persuasively re-creates the decorously frenzied, boomtown atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Elizabeth City in the grip of a tabloid mystery complete with bloodhounds, anonymous tipsters, and a famous spiritualist."β€”Kirkus Reviews

"An arresting and elegant meditation on guilt and innocence and the inscrutability of human behavior."β€”Philadelphia Inquirer

"In The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey, Simpson weaves a compelling story of beauty and despair."β€”Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Bland Simpson conveys images for all senses and his characters are powerful and authentic. The story is a haunting one."β€”Mostly Murder

"The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey begs to be set to music. Haunting and elegiac as a folk ballad, the voices intertwine--soprano, tenor, and bass--in a blend of tragic mystery and raw pain."--Margaret Maron, author of Bootlegger's Daughter

"Bland Simpson brings a whole culture brilliantly to life--all the sounds and sights of 'down East,' with wonderful dialogue and real, page-turning suspense. Life is stranger than fiction, especially in the case of Nell Cropsey."--Lee Smith, author of The Devil's Dream