Beatrice Carmichael interview (1998)
Wednesday, May 27, 1998 – 11:30 a.m.
Doris Hammack notified Detective Nelson that she'd been contacted anonymously and advised to talk to Beatrice Carmichael, who might have information about Ms. Hammack's family and background.
Ms. Hammack spoke to Ms. Carmichael, now 74 years old, at her home and recorded their conversation on a portable tape recorder. She then shared that recording with Detective Nelson.
What follows is a transcript of that tape‑recorded meeting.
- Doris Hammack
- Beatrice Carmichael
Beatrice Carmichael: Come on in, honey. Mind your step there.
Doris Hammack: Hello, Mrs. Carmichael. Thank you so much for agreeing to see me today.
Beatrice Carmichael: Well, now, it's Miss Carmichael. Never married, you know. And I'm not so sure I can be of any help to you, mind, but come on in and let's chat a bit.
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, is it all right with you if I run my tape recorder for notes while we talk? I've got a terrible memory, and it'd be a great help to me.
Beatrice Carmichael: Hm, I just don't know about that. For notes, you say? What do you need notes for? You writing a book or something?
Doris Hammack: No, ma'am, just working to find every clue I can to who I really am. May I keep it on, please?
Beatrice Carmichael: I suppose, but it makes me nervous, I must say. If I ask you to turn it off, you will, won't you?
Doris Hammack: Oh, yes, ma'am, I sure will.
Beatrice Carmichael: All right then, for now, I guess that'll do. I don't like it, though. You say you want to find out who you are?
Doris Hammack: Yes, exactly.
Beatrice Carmichael: First of all, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed here. I don't think there's anything I can tell you. And further, young lady, I think it's a waste of your time to be digging around in your past. Never know what you might find. Best to let the past lie. Doesn't matter none anyhow. You're a grown woman, good manners, nice-looking. You are what you make of yourself, you know. Looks like you've made out just fine. That ought to be enough, I'd say.
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, you have a good point there, but you see, I grew up in foster homes after being abandoned at a Catholic girls' home when I was only five years old. I have no idea who my parents were, what my exact birthday is, where I came from, none of those things that give us roots in our lives. I'd like to know those things about myself, my past, my parents. I'm trying to find out whatever I can, no matter how small a piece of that picture it might be.
Beatrice Carmichael: How did you end up here in Oxford? I heard you were from up north somewheres?
Doris Hammack: Yes, ma'am, I'm from Detroit. That's where I was dropped off at the Immaculata Girls Home, and I've lived in the Detroit area since. I have a letter that was given to the nuns at the Catholic home when I was left that says I'm from north Mississippi originally. I've been looking for some years in the area, and I have reason to think I might be from Oxford.
Beatrice Carmichael: Hm, yes, read about that in the paper. You think you're LeAnne Izard, isn't that it?
Doris Hammack: Well, I think there's a good chance of that, yes.
Beatrice Carmichael: What makes you think so?
Doris Hammack: I have a ring—just the setting really—that matches the ring that belonged to Mrs. Izard. The forensics people believe it's the same one. That and the fact that LeAnne Izard was born in 1955 and so was I, according to the letter left with me.
Beatrice Carmichael: That can't possibly be true. I know that ring you're talking about. You couldn't possibly have the same one. It was in all the papers, you know. It was taken when they were murdered. You couldn't have ended up with it. That's just too farfetched. You've been talking to the police about all this?
Doris Hammack: Yes, I've talked to Detective Nelson at the sheriff's department about it.
Beatrice Carmichael: Well, now, this can't be any good for anyone. Dredging up all the old dirt around here, not a good thing at all. I'm not feeling very well, young lady. It's my heart, you know, shot to hell. I'm not sure I can talk to you anymore today. Or any day for that matter. Not sure I want to get mixed up in all this. Those Izard kids are dead, must be after all these years. That's all past and can't be changed. No trace of them ever found. None ever will be, I'm sure. Nothing anything you or I do is going to change that.
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, you're awfully pale. Are you all right?
Beatrice Carmichael: No, I'm not. Hand me my nitroglycerin tablets there on that table.
[LONG PAUSE IN TAPE]
Doris Hammack: Would you like me to leave now, Miss Carmichael? I can come back another time.
Beatrice Carmichael: No, no, I'm all right now. Right as I'm going to be anyway. Let's get this over with. You're here now.
Doris Hammack: If you're sure?
Beatrice Carmichael: Yes, yes. Let's get on with it.
Doris Hammack: You seem to feel it's not possible for me to be LeAnne Izard, is that right?
Beatrice Carmichael: I don't think so, no, not about the Izard baby. I can't be completely sure, I suppose, but I don't think so. I think you put me in mind of a girl I used to know. That's why you came to me, isn't it?
Doris Hammack: The person who left me the note I told you about said she thought my picture in the paper looked like the Kent family here in Oxford. I understand that Merrilyn Kent was married to Howard Hadley, who I'm told you knew. I haven't been able to find any Kent relatives in the area, but the note said that you took care of the Hadley girl for a while in the late '50s. I'm here to see if perhaps that was me.
Beatrice Carmichael: Thought that was it. Now, let me think a minute.
[LONG PAUSE IN TAPE]
Beatrice Carmichael: You know, I don't like gossip. Who was that wrote you that note about me anyway?
Doris Hammack: I don't know who it was. They didn't sign their name. I suppose I could try to find out through the paper if it matters that much to you.
Beatrice Carmichael: It might. I'd like to know who that was and why they brought me into this mess. Small town gossips, I swear. I'll be glad when I die, and they have somebody else to talk about. Lot of nerve dragging me into this. I never wanted to be a part of it. I've never enjoyed being talked about.
[LONG PAUSE IN TAPE]
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, do you remember that little girl?
Beatrice Carmichael: Remember her? Lands sakes, the only little girl I ever took care of? Fed and clothed, bathed and nursed for near on a year? I should think so.
Doris Hammack: Of course, I'm so glad you do. Can you tell me about her, if I resemble her?
Beatrice Carmichael: That was near on 40 years ago, and I can't be absolutely certain, but yes, I'd say you do resemble her. A bit hard to tell comparing her to a grown woman's face, but you have the same look about your eyes. She had sad eyes, something like yours. Shape of your face, the way you smile, yes, there is a strong resemblance there. You have her name too. Her name was Doris, Doris Hadley.
Doris Hammack: How did you come to be taking care of her, Miss Carmichael?
Beatrice Carmichael: That was back after the Bowlan plant shut down. Her father, Howard Hadley, worked there, you see, and he got laid off in '58. I guess the story really goes back further than that. Howard's wife, Merrilyn—
Doris Hammack: Merrilyn, what a beautiful name.
Beatrice Carmichael: Do you think so? Maybe. I never much cared for it. She died in childbirth when Doris was born, you see. Howard, he had a hard time getting along after that, and when the plant closed down in '58, there wasn't much work around here. He did some odds and ends of things, worked at the Farm Supply for a few months, but nothing that lasted, and he was getting in over his head in debt.
Doris Hammack: How did you end up taking care of Doris?
Beatrice Carmichael: Howard decided to go north, like many of them did back then, looking for a better job. A union job. Auto industry is what he was looking into, I believe. At any rate, he couldn't well be taking a little three‑year‑old around with him looking for jobs with no place in particular to stay and not much money, so I agreed to help him out and have Doris stay with me for a few months until he got settled in someplace.
Doris Hammack: And did he?
Beatrice Carmichael: Yes, yes, he finally did. Somewhere in Michigan.
Doris Hammack: In Detroit?
Beatrice Carmichael: Could be. That's still in Michigan last I heard.
Doris Hammack: You aren't sure?
Beatrice Carmichael: Well, I think it was Detroit, now that you mention it.
Doris Hammack: What happened to Doris?
Beatrice Carmichael: She went to live with her father, of course. That's the last I heard of her or him. I don't care what anybody else tells you. She went back to him, and that was that.
Doris Hammack: Then it is possible I'm Doris Hadley?
Beatrice Carmichael: Could be, yes. You don't have the same last name, though. Where'd you get Hammack?
Doris Hammack: There was a Howard Hammack who died in Detroit about the time I was taken to the Catholic girls' home there. You don't suppose Howard might have changed his name from Hadley to Hammack, do you?
Beatrice Carmichael: I can't suppose on that. You'd have to ask someone else. I knew Howard Hadley not Howard Hammack, so I wouldn't know. What do you know about this Howard Hammack? Was he a relation to you?
Doris Hammack: I don't know. All I know is that the searches the social services people did to trace relatives of mine turned up his name a long time later as somebody who died in Detroit around the time I was orphaned. There was never any other information on him I could find. It seems almost too much to be coincidence, doesn't it? I mean Doris Hadley's father went to Detroit, she went to Detroit, Hadley and Hammack aren't that far apart, both men were named Howard. That's quite a string of coincidences, don't you think?
Beatrice Carmichael: Seems that way. Might be. I don't know.
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, tell me about Doris Hadley. What was she like during her time with you?
Beatrice Carmichael: She was a pretty little thing and very smart. I taught her the alphabet, how to count, some things like that when she was with me. She wasn't much trouble, I'll grant you that. She ate whatever I fixed, not like some kids do, and she was very sweet. I seldom had to discipline her. I did love tucking her in at night, reading stories. She liked stories. She was used to being invisible though, very quiet, all big eyes and biting her lower lip. It was Howard's fault, that was.
Doris Hammack: How so?
Beatrice Carmichael: Howard was big and mean like a bear. Very burly, but men in those days worked hard to earn a living. Dangerous‑looking, but attractive too. To me, anyway. He drank a lot. He could get real loud and abusive when he was drunk, scary for a little child. I don't think he ever hit her or anything like that, mind you, but he could be ugly.
Doris Hammack: Were there any other children?
Beatrice Carmichael: No, just Doris. Like I said, Merrilyn died in childbirth with Doris in 1955.
Doris Hammack: When was Doris's birthday?
Beatrice Carmichael: Let me think. It was July… July 18th, I believe. Yes, that's right—July 18th.
Doris Hammack: What was Merrilyn like, Doris's mother, maybe my mother?
Beatrice Carmichael: She was nice enough. I didn't really know her myself. I never got the impression that she and Howard were happy together, though. She was a quiet, meek sort of person. Pretty, not the kind to stand up to Howard. That's about all I can tell you. She and I were never friends, so I don't know much else about her.
Doris Hammack: Do you know of any other relatives of Howard, Merrilyn, or Doris Hadley?
Beatrice Carmichael: None that I know of. I know Howard's parents were deceased, and he had no brothers or sisters. Merrilyn, well, no relations came to the funeral as I recall, and Howard led me to believe there wasn't any family.
Doris Hammack: So that's why you ended up taking Doris in?
Beatrice Carmichael: Yes, that and the fact that at one time I'd thought Howard and I might get married, you see. That never worked out, though. Just as well. Whatever else he was, Howard Hadley was a friend, at least for a while. This was his house at one time, you know. Doris was born here.
Doris Hammack: Oh!
Beatrice Carmichael: Yes. Now before you go getting any ideas, young lady, Howard Hadley signed it over to me fair and square. I can't stop you from looking up the deed at the courthouse, but it's my home, and no one says you're Doris Hadley anyway.
Doris Hammack: I don't want your house, Miss Carmichael. Tell me more about Doris staying with you and how she ended up in Detroit.
Beatrice Carmichael: Well, I had Doris with me from, let's see, I think it was September of '58 to late summer '59, nearly a year. It wasn't meant to be that long, but Howard kept coming up with reasons why he wasn't ready for Doris to go live with him. I was a single woman, trying to start my own business. I didn't have any relatives or anyone around here who could help me out taking care of a child. She was a sweet child, but I had a life of my own. She wasn't my child. She had to go back to her father. I couldn't have taken care of her until she grew up.
Doris Hammack: Do you think Doris's father would have permitted that if you could have?
Beatrice Carmichael: Ha! Yes, I surely do. You didn't know him, but I did. Howard was as selfish as the day is long, and a child to take care of was a great inconvenience to him. He'd have had me take care of her forever if he thought he could get away with it. But Howard was the right person to end up with Doris. She was his flesh and blood, after all. A man's got to take care of his own family, don't you think?
Doris Hammack: Yes, I do.
Beatrice Carmichael: It also meant he had to think about someone besides himself for a change. I couldn't afford to raise her either. Howard rented out this house when he went to Detroit. Rented it to the Warrens. That's another family that got laid off from Bowlan. Elbert was his name. The rent was to come to me to help take care of Doris. And pay the mortgage, of course. It was never enough, though.
Doris Hammack: I'm sorry to hear that.
Beatrice Carmichael: Then, in '59, Jeannie Warren lost her job too, and no one had any money, so what little I got out of the house went to the mortgage. Howard owed me quite a bit of money. That's one reason he signed over the house to me, you see.
Doris Hammack: How did Doris get to Detroit?
Beatrice Carmichael: I took her. On the train from Memphis. Met Howard at the station, turned around, and came right back home.
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, did you stay in touch with Howard Hadley?
Beatrice Carmichael: Not to speak of, no. I had my own life here in Oxford.
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, I'm not quite sure how to ask this except directly. Did you take Doris to the Catholic girls' home? Am I Doris Hadley?
Beatrice Carmichael: What a notion! No, I did not. I can't say for sure if you're Doris Hadley, but you could be. I'd say that's a better idea than that you were the Izard girl. I'm not well at all. I'm tired. I think I've said all I have to say to you. Is this almost over with? I need to lie down.
Doris Hammack: Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry to take up so much of your time. I have one final question for you. Do you have any photos of Doris or of Howard and Merrilyn?
Beatrice Carmichael: None of Howard or Merrilyn, no. What use would I have for that? I do have a photo of Doris, though. Would … would you like to see it?
Doris Hammack: Would I? Yes, ma'am!
Beatrice Carmichael: Just a minute. It's right in my bedroom.
Doris Hammack: I hate to ask you to get up. Can I get it for you?
Beatrice Carmichael: No. Thank you, but my bedroom is private. Just wait there, please.
[LONG PAUSE IN TAPE]
Beatrice Carmichael: Here you are. Mind the frame now. It's porcelain.
[SHORT PAUSE IN TAPE]
Beatrice Carmichael: Now, don't go crying, girl. I didn't show it to you to upset you.
Doris Hammack: Oh, she sort of looks like me. See the way her smile turns up? And the shape of her jaw and the way her eyebrows do and … oh, my. Is this wishful thinking? This could be me. Look! I've always smiled like that.
Beatrice Carmichael: I suppose so. You do favor Doris Hadley.
Doris Hammack: I can hardly believe this. I don't suppose … you don't think I could borrow this and have it copied? I would bring the original back to you. I'd love to have a forensics expert maybe look at this and give me an expert opinion.
Beatrice Carmichael: I don't know about that. That's all I've got of Doris, and I don't really know you.
Doris Hammack: But…
Beatrice Carmichael: Well … if it means that much to you, if it'll make you happy, I might be able to see my way clear to let you do that.
Doris Hammack: That's so kind of you. Really. I would treasure it.
Beatrice Carmichael: You're welcome. Now, is that about all? Really, I'm very tired.
Doris Hammack: I was just wondering … that was so long ago, and you've kept this picture all these years. You must have loved her.
Beatrice Carmichael: Loved? I suppose I did at that. But she wasn't my child, you understand. She had to go back to her father.
Doris Hammack: Do you think she was happy with him?
[SHORT PAUSE IN TAPE]
Beatrice Carmichael: I don't know. I hope so. But it's not my fault, whatever you may think. And I don't know.
Doris Hammack: Well, Miss Carmichael, I thank you for your time. I can tell you don't feel well. I really do appreciate your talking with me. I'll leave you now.
Beatrice Carmichael: Not sure I've helped you any.
Doris Hammack: You've helped me a great deal. I'm truly wondering now if I am, in fact, Doris Hadley. It makes sense. I'm trying to recall as much as I can of my own memories. Perhaps what you've told me will help with my recall.
Beatrice Carmichael: What do you mean?
Doris Hammack: I'm in the process of making arrangements for a hypnotherapy session to try to uncover my earliest childhood memories.
Beatrice Carmichael: No! You shouldn't do that! I mean … isn't that dangerous? Montel did a show on that once, about—what did that man call it?—false memory syndrome? Yes! They could make you believe things that didn't really happen. I wouldn't go through that, Doris. This hypnotism is a bad idea. You don't want to mess with your mind. Don't do it. I'm sure you would regret it.
Doris Hammack: Miss Carmichael, are you all right? Should I call a doctor for you? I'm sure it'll be safe. Please, I didn't mean to upset you so.
Beatrice Carmichael: No, no, just need to rest. Hand me my nitroglycerin there again, please.
[END OF RECORDING]