Author uses murder trail from 1850s as basis of new book

  • Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013 12:01 a.m.
'Pillow of Thorns' by Karen Cecil Smith
'Pillow of Thorns' by Karen Cecil Smith

SALISBURY — “An artful, false woman shall set thy pillow with thorns,” declares the prosecution in one of North Carolina’s most sensational murder trials.

Karen Cecil Smith has written a fictionalized story based on the first woman to be tried for murder in Cumberland County. The year is 1850. It is a time of slavery, superstition and social snobbery. Exotic and shapely beauty Maria Stafford stands accused of killing her prosperous, older husband.


Smith will be at Literary Bookpost on Saturday, Jan. 9, 1-3 p.m. to sign her books.

A press release describes the story:

“From the moment Maria sets eyes on Sherwood Stafford, a distinguished New Yorker who has just moved to Fayetteville, ... she dreams of becoming his wife. Maria wants a home of her own, complete with servants, cook, and personal seamstress. The local fortune teller predicts the two will wed.

“Their storybook wedding and fashionable honeymoon provide brief happiness for Maria. She is disappointed in her marriage and disgusted with her hypochondriac husband. Eyes of envious women are on her as she proudly strolls the streets of Fayetteville in all her finery. Note is taken of her daily visits to the fortune teller and clandestine meetings with an old beau.

“When Sherwood Stafford falls ill and dies, townsfolk whisper that his wife killed him. A bench warrant for Maria’s arrest is issued. What follows is an adventure that takes the reader aboard a ship bound for Cuba with a side trip to the low country of Charleston, South Carolina.”

Lee Smith, author of “Fair and Tender Ladies,” says of the book, “Both informative and entertaining, ‘Pillow of Thorns’ is a model of historical fiction.”

Cash coming Feb. 11

Wiley Cash will join the Literary Bookpost and the Reading Between the Wines book club to discuss his book, “A Land More Kind Than Home,” on Monday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. The book is now available in paperback and was featured in the 2012 Summer Reading Challenge.

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