Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes: Conrad Aiken House

The Murder-Suicide

 

VIDEO: Conrad Aiken House

This story started out as a different kind of a haunting — a haunting of mind by one of America's best-loved poets. But as we spent time reporting it, we became acutely aware of some other presence living in the vacant boyhood home of Conrad Aiken, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet laureate.

Conrad Aiken house
Conrad Aiken house

Aiken was born in 1889 and lived at 228 E. Oglethorpe Ave. in Savannah until he was 11 years old. That was when his father and mother died in a murder-suicide, an event that would bedevil him until he died in 1973.

Conrad Aiken as a boy
Conrad Aiken as a boy

Aiken grew up in a household with parents who constantly argued. His father was a physician with a struggling practice and his mother was a wanna-be socialite who loved to entertain. Later, Aiken would write of his brilliant father's mental illness and Dr. Aiken's fear of being institutionalized by his family. For example, the simple question: "How are you?" would elicit the response, "For an answer to that question, I have to refer you to my lawyer."

Conrad's father just before the murder-suicide
Conrad's father just before the murder-suicide

On Feb. 27, 1901, young Conrad was in bed when he heard his parents arguing over money. He recalled Dr. Aiken counting, "One, Two, Three!" and then his mother screaming before a gunshot went off. Another followed. Conrad found his parents' lifeless bodies in their bedroom and ran down the street to a police station. The orphan was shipped off to Massachusetts to live with relatives.

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