On a drizzly, wind-swept night in mid-autumn, gunfire shredded the seclusion of a popular lover’s lane outside a country club in Beckley, leaving a man and woman dead in their tryst, and triggering a murder mystery that has befuddled crime watchers for more than half a century.

Combining the talents of a seasoned writer and the deductive logic of a modern-day Columbo, former Presbyterian minister Robert Tabscott feels he has at last unraveled all the strings in the Rand-Bailey file.

His book is now complete — an effort that actually began, at least subconsciously, at the tender age of 10, when his father, a state trooper and the man he suspects was in on the post-kill cover-up, discussed the double slaying often in their home.

The last holdup in telling the world what he has uncovered about the execution-style murders of socialite Nell Rand, a fetching blonde with movie star looks, and her boyfriend of the moment, hardware furniture buyer Ray Bailey, is finding a West Virginia publisher to piece it together before his work hits the book shelves.

“I’ve really finished it, but there are some tuck points that need to be done,” Tabscott said in an interview with The Register-Herald.

“I’ve only got a couple of technical, legal things. Most of them (key players) are dead, so they can’t get at me.”

Tabscott is adamant that a West Virginia book firm publish his work, saying the subject matter practically dictates it be handled in this region, rather than by an outside publisher unfamiliar with this area and the mores of the hills in the post-war era.

Of course, the big question anyone following the case, either from real-time recollection, via hand-me-down reports from the past generation, or through subsequent newspaper coverage since that fateful Nov. 4 evening in 1947, wants answered is simple and universal: Does Tabscott know who did it?

Second question. And it is a speedy follow-up. Will Tabscott identify the assassin, or assassins?

“Yes,” he replied to both inquiries.Obviously, to supply a full answer to question No. 2 prematurely might hurt book sales. After all, who would buy a Mary Higgins Clark or Dean Koontz novel if the ending were known ahead of time?

“I think that the footprints indicate the corruption in the West Virginia State Police in Beckley was staggering,” Tabscott said, when asked about the slayers.

And that is about as far as he was willing to go in the interview. At one stage, he began to reel off a few names, then decided to change his mind about naming anyone for now.

“Either I’m going to do it, or lead my readers so close ...” he began, suggesting some of the stickier points will be fine-tuned.

In the book, he is precise in painting a scenario that puts Bailey as the primary target, not Rand, as many at the time suspected.

Tabscott sketches a vague plot in which Bailey was snuffed because of an alleged numbers racket in which he allegedly was skimming and cheating his boss, then a concessionaire of Black Knight Country Club. As the alleged conspiracy developed, Tabscott says he learned that Rand was a secondary target, sacrificed to silence a potential witness. The victims were moved several miles away, with Rand’s clothing arranged to suggest an earthier motive than money.

Consequently, the crime was one of economic revenge, rather than passion, in the Tabscott appraisal.

In his book, titled at this stage simply “Who Murdered Nell Rand?” the author explores a number of issues relevant to the Rand-Bailey case — not the least of which entailed race relations in the 1950s in a southern town.

To that end, he covers an attempt to frame a black chef at Black Knight, in which life appeared to imitate art, loosely, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” only to see an emerging black lawyer spring his client with a threat to subpoena prominent white men from the community and confront them pointedly before a predictable, all-white jury with this unnerving question: “Did you have sex with Nell Rand?”

In quick order, the chef, Vernon Mitchell, who had learned his culinary skills at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, was released, and it was then he told newspaper reporters that the author’s father, then-Trooper R.L. Tabscott, had leveled a strong threat. Mitchell told the press, “He led me to know if I didn’t sign a confession, he couldn’t guarantee a mob wouldn’t come in and take me out.”

“It is exactly out of ‘Mockingbird,’ ” the author says, referring to the popular novel by Harper Lee that became a classic film in 1962.

Then, his trooper-father held a news conference of his own.

“My dad was smooth, a good-looking smooth-talking guy, so he goes out to meet with the press and says, ‘We had to let him go,’ ” Tabscott said.

Picking up on his father’s line, the son further quoted the trooper as saying, “But we’ve got good information that Mrs. Rand was known to sleep with black men.”

“Well,” the son said, “if she’s dead once, she’s dead twice, in a southern town.”

Police suspicion initially pointed to Dr. K.K. Rand, a Beckley dentist who died a few years ago at age 101, but his air-tight alibi of first attending a Lions Club meeting, then going to an evening movie, “Desert Fury,” along with the subsequent passing of a polygraph test, exonerated him of any involvement.

“I’ve been working, really and truly, ever since I was 10 years old, in a strange way,” the author said.

“I’ve never been a disinterested observer. I was always inquisitive about what was taking place around me, always recording and revisiting those memories that never fade with time. I’ve collected so many memories of my dad ... I can still conjure up these guys up in a meeting.”

Tabscott was a Mullens High School basketball standout, an all-State selection in 1955 when the Rebels captured the Class AAA crown, and had a number of relatives in the Beckley area, where he lived part of his childhood.

His unquenchable thirst for the true story of the Rand-Bailey slayings took him into many old haunts but some acquaintances imparted only a stony silence when he revealed his motive for discussing the case and a relentless search for clues.

At times, some who surfaced on the trail grew passionate with threats.

“Some guy called me anonymously and said he wanted to know what I would take for selling the manuscript, and I said I would take $250,000 in $20 bills in a Florscheim shoe box, but I didn’t know how to pick it up at Tamarack,” Tabscott related.

“He told me, ‘Well, I want you to know something, you know, there are a lot of gullies and ditches on the highway between Beckley and Charleston.’ ”

Tabscott learned early on that feelings often hit a fever pitch as he dug into the past and ran into people who, in one way or another, had a connection to the generation in power when the murders were pulled off. And he is not without a sense of compassion.

“The only thing I worry about right now, in a way, is that I don’t want to hurt anybody,” Tabscott added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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