True Fiction: The real deaths that inspired Twin Peaks, Nightmare on Elm Street

A new GameSpot series on YouTube links pop culture and historic events.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
3 min read

Quirky TV series Twin Peaks focused on the murder of plastic-wrapped, fictional homecoming queen Laura Palmer. But it turns out a real murder inspired that television crime. More than 80 years before the quirky ABC series premiered in 1990, the body of 20-year-old Hazel Drew was found floating in Teal's Pond in Sand Lake, New York.


An image of Sheryl Lee, who played Laura Palmer, overlaid onto an image of Hazel Drew, the real-life young woman whose murder inspired the Twin Peaks plot.


True Fiction, a new YouTube series from CNET sister site GameSpot, is focusing on the real-life events that inspired pop culture movies, TV shows and more. The first episode, now up on the GameSpot Universe YouTube channel, focuses on Hazel Drew's murder and its connection to the fictional Laura Palmer. 

"I'm a huge Twin Peaks fan, and I didn't really know about Hazel Drew," True Fiction host Kurt Indovina told me. But in that premiere episode, Indovina digs in, reporting on the murder of a young woman who, like Laura Palmer, reportedly was living a secret life.

Pretty, friendly and well-liked, Drew left her job as a domestic servant for unknown reasons just days before her body was found. And that was only one of the unanswered questions about Drew's life. She was discovered to have taken numerous trips to big cities, buying tailored clothing a housekeeper could never afford, even supposedly going to a dressmaker in the middle of the night and demanding outfits. Although no one knew her to have a sweetheart, she had saved dozens of postcards and letters from an unknown admirer, signed merely "C.E.S." 

And like in Twin Peaks, the suspects in her murder were many, including a dentist who had proposed to her, a neighbor, a train conductor and her own uncle.

"But there was never enough evidence to prosecute anyone," Indovina, a GameSpot writer, says in the episode. "And eventually the police gave up, and the case went cold."

Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost heard Hazel's story from his grandmother, Indovina says in the episode, and Frost used the tale as "major inspiration" for the show.

Not all the True Fiction episodes are as directly connected to one specific event as the Hazel Drew-Laura Palmer show. 

One delves into the origins of Godzilla, which of course has connections to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. Another examines how a mysterious fatal syndrome inspired the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and one looks at the risk-taking life of martial-arts star and actor Jackie Chan. Still another uses The Shining to examine the psychology behind cabin fever.


True Fiction host Kurt Indovina will explain how fictional Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy Krueger are connected to real-life deaths.

Courtesy GameSpot

While the Twin Peaks episode is just 11 minutes long, future episodes will vary in length, with some being notably longer, Indovina says. Seven episodes have been created.

The show's goal is to dig into relevant historic events and tell stories "in a way that isn't being done," Indovina says. "I want to treat (the episodes) like they were movies."

And in a way, the episodes provide Easter eggs for pop culture fans who want to know the story behind the story.

"We're taking things people love, and reminding them that there is more there," co-showrunner Lucy James said.

True Fiction will premiere on the GameSpot Universe YouTube channel with the Twin Peaks episode on Sept. 22, with new episodes coming on Sundays.

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Originally published Sept. 16.