‘Deep Water’: A new take on an old story

  • Ken Sheldon wrote and will perform in a play about the murder of Dr. William K. Dean, which happened in Jaffrey on Aug. 13, 1918. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 10:9AM

The events surrounding the murder of Dr. William K. Dean sound almost like the plot of a mystery novel.

Despite having many of the elements that would make the story a bestseller – Dean’s wife and best friend were suspects, some of the evidence had been cleaned up the following day, and a longstanding theory about the involvement of German spies, just to name a few – the case is missing something paramount to any good story: an ending.

“You can’t do the classic gather everyone together to point out the murderer scene here… how do you make a satisfying play with an arc when you can’t do that?” Ken Sheldon said.

Luckily for his audience, Sheldon – a Peterborough-based playwright and author – believes he has the answer.

“Making a satisfying end, that was the challenge,” Sheldon said. “Sticking to the facts wasn’t hard – there are so many facts.”

Sheldon was commissioned by the Jaffrey Historical Society last fall to create a historically accurate play to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the murder.

“I was familiar with [the murder,]” Sheldon said. “If you’ve lived in the Monadnock Region long enough, you know about [the murder.] It’s an iconic thing.”

Titled “Deep Water The Murder of William K. Dean” Sheldon has created a one-man show that sticks true to the source material.

“It’s basically a one-man show, I’ve described it as a Ken Burns documentary with a live narrator,” Sheldon said.

As there was a strict instruction to keep the play historically accurate, Sheldon poured much of his time into collecting and reading thousands of legal and government documents, books, and newspaper articles.

“For this play, I wasn’t free to make things up… part of the challenge was writing something factually accurate and making it dramatically entertaining,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon plays the part of Bert Ford, a real life reporter for the Boston American that covered the murder.

Almost all of the dialogue for Sheldon’s play comes from court documents; Bert Ford’s character is the only place where Sheldon took some liberties, in an effort to help piece things together better.

Sheldon said he has incorporated voice overs from community members to play the parts of other people in the play.

“The beauty of this play is [the murder] is an actual thing that happened. These are the actual words of the people,” Sheldon said.

The play will be performed three times next month at the Meetinghouse – Aug. 13 and Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. – but Sheldon doesn’t see this as the end point for his research on the murder.

Sheldon has become so immersed with the cold case that he has made it a point to file Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests to government institutions in an effort to find more documentation about the murder. One day, Sheldon may even find the true ending to his play.

“It’s an ongoing process in some ways, I don’t think I’m done with this topic,” Sheldon said. “I hope to continue to do performances of this play and will continue to keep working on the subject… The fact that it happened 100 years ago doesn’t make it right. If I can do something to publicize this, then I going to do it.”

Tickets are $10 and are available at the Jaffrey Civic Center, the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce, Steele’s Stationers and Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough and the Historical Society of Cheshire County in Keene.