Valley Pike: Beverley’s treasure trove

Posted: June 26, 2013

One of the joys of writing this column, as I’ve said on many an occasion, is that folks are forever giving me, well, stuff that ensures the continuity of “Valley Pike.”

Most of the time, it’s simply a story tip, idea, or lead, passed by word-of-mouth and usually accompanied by a prefatory comment such as “This might be of interest to you” or “You may want to look into this.” Many a column has been spawned in such fashion.

But sometimes the gift is material in nature, such as the one Beverley Simpson presented me a few months back, but which I’m just exploring today. It’s an old scrapbook Beverley considered all but lost, but which wondrously reappeared this past spring when her son Sam Nelson, sister Karen Thomson, and family friend Gary Rutherford were cleaning her basement.

Its contents are largely devoted to a mystery of long standing, the October 1926 death of her great uncle, Washington “ace of detectives” Arthur “Mitt” Scrivener, who was found shot through the heart in the alley behind his D.C. home.

As the aging scrapbook clearly exhibits, the apparent homicide was headline news in the Nation’s Capital, where Scrivener was a well-known and highly decorated police officer. Intriguing tidbits give this case its bite — even to a casual observer, like me, nearly 90 years later. For instance, the slain detective was still clutching a necktie when fellow officers arrived on the scene — and the handgun that proved to be the murder weapon was lying close to his body.

This latter happenstance inspired theories of suicide, but that suggestion hardly squares with the reality of Scrivener’s last hours on earth. Speaking with friends at a prizefight card the night before his 1 a.m. demise, Scrivener declared himself the “happiest man” alive. And for good reason: He confided he was to be married the following evening to fiancee Helen Barnes Parker of McLean.

That’s the long and the short of it about Scrivener’s death. Beverley, in an email, told me she has long desired to write about this real-life murder mystery, so I’ll leave the treasure trove of minutia to her. Suffice it to say, though, “Mitt” rests eternally in Winchester, at Mount Hebron Cemetery, where an estimated 5,000 people attended his funeral.

As might be expected, there’s a local back story to be told, as Scrivener was a native son, one of five children that blessed the union of Turner Ashby Scrivener (born the same year, 1862, as the Confederate hero he was named for died in battle) and the former Emma B. Lockhart.

Though “Mitt’s” parents lived on Fairview Avenue in Winchester at the time of his death, their roots ran deep in the Back Creek area of Frederick County, Beverley says. Emma’s mom, Catharine, was an Anderson and thus was kin to Dr. C.R. Anderson, a venerated physician who also served as mayor of Winchester.

Turner and Emma resided for a spell at “Willow Shade,” one of the area’s notable Willa Cather sites. Beverley’s maternal grandmother Myrtle — “Mitt’s” sister and the longest of the five Scrivener children — was born at Rock Enon, but spoke often about the family’s days at “Willow Shade.” Local lore has it that she was the first woman in Frederick County to obtain a driver’s license.

Notable local ties also exist at the top of that generational chain. “Mitt’s” brother Walter, the oldest of Turner and Emma’s brood, had a daughter, June, who married Harry Aikens. Contractor and developer Walter Aikens of H&W Construction, Beverley informed me, is Walter Scrivener’s great-grandson and namesake.

Well, that brings my list of column topics up to date, just in time for vacation. Toni and I head west from Valley Pike this evening on what I’ve taken to call our “Heartland of America” tour. More on that — in column form, unsurprisingly — when we return in two weeks.