Published in 2020, Bell’s novel encapsulates the events of that September morning and the resulting aftermath of the Miley murders, masterfully weaving together the story of Marion’s life through the voices of the people who loved her and the perspective of the crime’s perpetrators. Most writers would’ve chosen to leave out the murderers’ viewpoint. But Bell felt it was important to include Penney, Anderson, and Baxter. She details the trio’s arrests, trials, and eventual convictions - along with providing a glimpse into each man’s backstory - not because she wanted to give them any undeserved attention, but rather to prove how diabolical the robbery plot actually was.
“My personal opinion of Bob Anderson was that he was a sociopath,” Bell said. “He was definitely the most confident. He thought that he could pull this off and get away with it. Bob Anderson had been a liar for a very, very long time, and this was the culmination of that life of lies and manipulating people.
“I made a decision to tell part of the story from Tom's perspective because I was privileged to learn some things in detail about him in real life. I got to interview his son. I couldn't reveal his name, but he's got every letter that Tom wrote to his mother from prison. That's what happens sometimes when you're going down these roads and (wonder) should I be doing this? The universe taps you on the shoulder and goes, yeah, you should.”
The Murder of Marion Miley has captured the attention of readers across the country, even interesting those who wouldn’t know an eight iron from a curling iron. Bell’s writing immediately grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the last page, making it hard to put down. It’s obviously a great choice for Kentucky history aficionados with its detailed descriptions of 1940s Lexington with plenty of Bluegrass heritage sprinkled in. But the book also has resonated with a younger, college-aged audience, one who admires the 27-year-old and the impact she was making on the world.
The fervent fascination with the case still surprises Bell though she has always understood its significance. When she was alive, Marion was doing everything she could to grow the game at a time when few women were picking up clubs. Bell’s The Murder of Marion Miley continues that work, using words and paragraphs instead of well-struck golf shots and holed putts.
“I think (Marion’s story) humanizes the game of golf,” Bell said. “It brings a different perspective to it rather than just being out on a perfect fairway and buying expensive clubs. And I think it brings a story that has an appeal that can also help the game. I'm kind of surprised about the appeal of it. I figured history buffs would love it. Golfers, too. What I don't think I expected was that vast appeal.
“The University of Kentucky (women’s) golf team. Their coach got all of them a copy of the book, and she asked me to talk to them. So, it was kind of like their assignment. One of them called Marion a real badass. I think it's just because Marion was in her 20s and she was doing all this stuff that was really cool for the time. (Marion) was clearly a woman taking advantage of the opportunities that were presented to her. She was a woman in charge. She was doing things that other women weren't doing. In my mind, she would have continued doing that.”
Marion Miley was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in Lexington. Her headstone is a six-footer away from the road that winds through the graveyard, and the Miley family plot is well-marked with a large, pinkish monument in section K. It seems like a plain arrangement for a star that burned so bright, but it fits the young woman who never fully understood what she meant to the world at large.
For Bell, it wasn’t how Marion was killed, but rather the legacy that the young woman was primed to leave behind that remains the most haunting part of her murder. It’s also what has connected readers to the story of Marion Miley, and that connection has been the most rewarding part of the process for the author.
“When it comes to a life, it shouldn't be defined by the way it ends. This (book) is about a horrible crime that happened, but it's also about an extraordinary life and that's really what we should be celebrating. This was a crime that occurred more than 80 years ago this year. It was a totally different era. But to see people connect to her and connect to the story, that's just a great feeling. People can still see it. They can still latch onto it. They can see the parts that matter.
“We each occupy our own space of time along the spectrum and what you do is you make a choice, you contribute to something in life or you don't. That is your legacy. Then the next person picks up the baton and they advance it. So when I look at the women's game in the thirties and Marion and all the other women that she played with, they grew the game. They grew the women's game to where it appealed to a much broader audience. Each one of those women did their part and that is a very cool thing.”
As far as Bell’s personal legacy goes, The Murder of Marion Miley will certainly be a part of it. Female golf writers aren’t a dime a dozen and it’s rare to find golf literature written by women with a female as the subject matter. But being able to bring Marion’s story back to life is what means the most to Bell. Shrouded in anonymity for nearly 80 years, the Miley murders have finally been resurrected, and the golf world’s collective memory has been refreshed. The Murder of Marion Miley reminds us that before the Babe and the 13 founders and the Kathy Whitworths and Annika Sorenstams, there was a young woman living in Kentucky that paved the way for everything that was to come. And it’s the fostering of that remembrance that Bell is most proud of.
“I love the enthusiasm. Anybody who wants to talk about Marion, I want to talk about it too, because you should be. I'm glad you're interested. She was an incredible golfer. She did all these incredible things with her life, and she was murdered, so those are realities of a story. And I think you have to acknowledge all of them to tell the complete story.