Cold Heart Discussion


Warning: Spoilers Included

There have been some great discussions about Cold Heart happening around the web! I’ve gotten a few questions about whether there is a forum on this site for discussing the book, so I’m creating one!

I’d love to hear any thoughts you’d like to share about Cold Heart, including the suspects, their motives, the crime scene, the investigation, and the inquest, or feel free to weigh in on any of these controversial questions:

  • What were Mrs. Hull and Dr. Marcy discussing in the basement the morning of the murder?
  • The crime scene was staged in some way. It looked as though Ed had a guest and the visit turned deadly and that a burglar had come in. Were either of these things true, or was the murderer already in the house when the family went to bed?
  • The police quickly narrowed down the list of main suspects to Arthur Pennell, Carrie Pennell, and Mrs. Hull. Did they overlook or dismiss anyone too quickly? Could there have been a plot between any of the suspects?
  • Why did several people who were close to Ed, including his daughter and his business partner, leap to the conclusion he had committed suicide?
  • The police completed their investigation of the crime scene within hours. The Burdicks had servants that lived in the home. Why was the den left in the condition it was for so long after the murder?

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  1. I have so many thoughts here, but I’ll start with just one. I found it odd that Ed would entertain someone in his undershirt so late at night with his children home. That didn’t strike me as true to his character. And we know the food and drink wasn’t something he enjoyed. I am beginning to think he didn’t have a visitor at all, and it was staged to both divert to another suspect, and also appear he was entertaining a lover. Entertaining a woman in what he was wearing with his mother in law in the house was especially untoward for the time period.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a great point… it could have been almost like a manifestation of what she feared would happen. Ed might be the type of guy who would lose interest in a woman who was willing to come over late at night and fool around with him… and he seemed to really like the newly-divorced Mrs. Warren. But he definitely liked women, and seemed to be getting over Alice. So I’m on the fence there.
      Small detail related to the food… there was only one glass out and someone had clearly been drinking from it. And someone had eaten the tart. But supposedly, this wasn’t food Ed would have eaten.


  2. The crime scene was obviously staged after Ed’s death to tell the tale the murderer wanted to tell. That also says a lot about the identity of the murderer, who went to great lengths to make it appear Ed was entertaining a woman visitor late at night for the purpose of carrying on an affair. The food from the kitchen was set out after the murder to make it look that way also. It seems Alice’s mom Mrs. Hull is the most logical suspect by far, though she was frustratingly overlooked by the investigators. She had motive and opportunity. If Ed was viewed as a womanizer it would create sympathy for Alice following Ed’s murder. Mrs. Hull acted very suspiciously the following morning, including lying about already being awake and dressed. She also had the suspicious meeting with Dr. Marcy in the basement that was thought to be conducted in secret though the furnace man saw them speaking. One of the most puzzling things to me was the behavior of Dr. Marcy which was never fully explained. Was he being manipulated somehow by Mrs. Hull? What did she tell him privately that caused him to interject himself so intrusively into the early investigation? I have to give the author Kimberly Tilley a lot of credit for presenting the crime in light of the culture of the day. It’s critical to view the crime through the prism of the existing culture to understand the actions of the police and detectives, all the suspects, and Alice the widow. The information uncovered by the author paints Alice in a very poor light. She was remarkably selfish and unfeeling. The title “Cold Heart” was certainly appropriate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mike! I agree—Alice was so cold. I suppose today we would call that a sociopath? I think it was inherited from her mother. Mrs. Hull was a cruel woman, even going so far as ensuring Ed’s mother and sister could not come to the funeral. Whatever she said to Dr. Marcy in the basement caused the doctor to push the idea that Burdick committed suicide. It was a bad gamble and he paid for it at the inquest. He was humiliated by the prosecutor but he deserved it! If it hadn’t been for Dr. Howland, Dr. Marcy and Mrs. Hull would have buried Ed at once and no one would have known anything.

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  3. I am only just listening to the audiobook now and the murder has only just happened, but so far I would categorize Alice Burdick as a raging narcissist of the first order who probably took after her mother who is a very cold fish indeed. I honestly wouldn’t put it past Mrs. Hull to stage and murder Edwin just so that her rotten daughter could come home. That next-day telegram saying that Mr Burdick was dead so come home just spoke volumes to me about the pair of them! Does the house still exist or is it long gone?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are soooo on the same page about Alice! I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but please do write again and let me know what you think as you hear how things went after she got home. The house is still there. It’s an older neighborhood now, but through the pictures you can get a sense of the grandeur!


  4. When I read that the victim had a 16 year old daughter a chill ran down my spine. What if Ed had been abusing his daughter and she finally had enough, and picked up the golf club when he turned his back. The alcohol could have been for her. Pedophiles are known to give their victims drugs and alcohol. Or, what if Mrs. Hull suspected it and went downstairs and caught him. She would probably have picked up the golf club in such circumstances. I worked in mental health for over 30 years and had several clients who were pedophiles. They can be charming and very unassuming. Many of them don’t look like the “neighborhood creep”. Also, the way the daughter acted on the witness stand was how a lot of victims act. They become numb and unemotional. Also, the younger daughter heard someone go downstairs which could have been Mrs Hull being suspicious. Another thing that bugs me is that the daughter usually slept with her grandmother. Why not this night? And, why did she sleep with her at all? Was she traumatized and scared for some reason? Or, was it so Ed wouldn’t be able to beckon her downstairs at night?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Linda! When I started reading your comment, my first thought was, No way. But as I read your reasoning, I have to say, you make a great case. I wondered if Marion might have been autistic (because her mother and grandmother were similarly emotionless) but nothing like this ever occurred to me. I need to think this over a bit…


      • I was molested as a child, and it is very true that some of the molesters come across as hugely amiable and well-liked individuals without a hint of suspicious behaviour about them. Many people are genuinely shocked when someone is found guilty of sexual predation.

        As to the comment about being autistic, unless you know a high-functioning autistic, you might fail to realize that many of them are not actually unemotional and cold. It is more that they come across as very tense or intense as they try to figure out new people and new situations. They can be jumpy and panicky as they try and do that. They are literally trying to figure you out and trying to figure out what it is you want from them, and so they can come across as calculating or uncomfortably intense. My adult son is autistic and the several autistics that I have met are not sociopathic at all. Many have a rather compulsive integrity about them because they prefer to play by the rules. Rather, they are often hugely aware of the true vibes given off by people and they are trying to reconcile them with the image-crafting and appearance which that person is trying to project instead. Autism does not automatically mean sociopathic although I am sure there are sociopathic autistics out there.

        I am not as sure about Marion who could just have been very frightened both of the court and any pre-counselling she received from her mother and grandmother as to what to say, but Alice and her mother both gave me a very bad feeling. They could have been more or less sociopathic which just means socio-pathologic, i.e. socially diseased or sick, treating people as a means to their own ends rather than with human compassion and empathy. Perhaps Marion also inherited a bit of that as well, but I found it hard to tell in the transcript of the court proceedings. Like everything else, there is a spectrum of sociopathy, from more to less. As to Burdick committing incest with his daughter, well it could be, I guess, but seeing as there were so many other reasons for other people to want him dead, I wouldn’t automatically jump to that conclusion.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow, Jennifer, you sound like you have some in-depth mental health expertise. You make some great points, and I wondered…what do you think happened? Who do you think killed Ed?


          • My bets are on Mrs. Hull, because she acted very suspiciously rather than very afraid; very in control rather than afraid that her world had just gone out of control. She was much too cool of a cucumber for just having found her son-in-law murdered downstairs.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Absolutely, Jennifer! I found it slightly suspicious that Mrs. Hull said she was afraid to open the door because maybe Mr. Burdick had been murdered and his body was lying under the pillows. A little TOO on the nose?


  5. I just finished this book. I too think Mrs. Hull killed Ed, and I agree with Jennifer that something was up with him, pedophile wise. Why was he found with just a shirt on. That’s just so bizarre. Hearing someone, supposedly Ed putting the coal in the furnace could have been Mrs. Hull burning the clothes she wore which got covered with blood. The fact that he was hit up to 20 times was a clear indication of rage. His hair had been pulled out by it’s roots. My guess is that was done after he was dead, and the rage wasn’t squelched yet. Mrs. Hull down in the basement with Dr Marcy makes me think Mrs Hull may have informed him of her suspicions about the sexual molestation of Marion and may have suggested that Marion may have done it and that’s when he went into protective mode. A Sexual molestation scandal is way worse than adultry and divorce. That may explain Dr. Marsh’s reason to suggest suicide. Turning the body face down, wrapping the head in a quilt and piling up pillows on him was done to hide him in case one of the girls ventured in the den, I’m suspecting. The fact that Mrs. Hull was already dressed in the morning makes me think she never even went to sleep that night so she could make sure the girls didn’t leave their room that night. I also feel that she told Alice what she was going to do as she never registered shock or sorrow. Marion and her sisters not asking any questions about their father’s death makes me think something very strange was going on in that family. Also the fact that whoever did it was someone Ed knew as there wasn’t a break in or a robbery and the only thing missing was some incriminating papers on Alice really makes Mrs. Hull the most likely suspect. I can’t get over him only having a shirt on. I think Mrs. Hull caught him in the act of molesting Marion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have to say, between you, Linda, and Jennifer, you’ve convinced me this molestation theory is a definite possibility! It’s another plausible way to account for everything, and it would explain two things I’ve never been able to fathom: why was his hair pulled out by its roots, and why would Dr. Marcy cooperate?


    • Any cop will tell you the act of pulling hair is a woman’s doing. I think Mrs. Hull did it because she suspected the molestation too. She had the time, the opportunity and the reason. She probably suspected and then caught him. Then rage set in. She had hours to set the scene. The act of covering his face means the victim was known by the killer. Very intriguing case.


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