Lillian de la Torre

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

The daughter of José Rollin de la Torre Bueno and Lillian Reinhardt Bueno, Lillian de la Torre was born in New York City on March 15, 1902. After receiving her associate’s degree from the College of New Rochelle in 1921, she began teaching high school in New York (1923-1934). At the same time, she pursued graduate studies, specializing in the eighteenth century, and earned master’s degrees from Columbia University and Radcliffe College.

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After her marriage to George S. McCue in 1932, de la Torre moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where her husband began a twenty-seven-year tenure in the English department of Colorado College. De la Torre also taught for a few years at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs before becoming a full-time histo-detector. Her first published story, “Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector,” later retitled “The Great Seal of England,” is based on the actual disappearance of the seal from Lord Chancellor Edward Thurlow’s house on March 23, 1784; de la Torre’s solution appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for November, 1943, and most of her subsequent accounts of Sam Johnson’s investigations into the real and imagined crimes of eighteenth century England have first been printed in that periodical. Occasionally, her interest has led to more extensive treatment: Elizabeth Is Missing (1945), her first book, suggests what happened to Elizabeth Canning, a servant who disappeared for four weeks in January, 1753. The Heir of Douglas (1952) attempts to determine the rightful claimant to the vast Douglas estates and so resolve a case that bedeviled the Scottish courts for seven years in the 1760’s, and The Truth About Belle Gunness (1955) examines the fate of this notorious murderess, who disappeared in 1908.

De la Torre’s interest in amateur theatricals led first to performances as “Mama” in I Remember Mama and “Mrs. Cady” in Beggar on Horseback, then to plays that extended the scope of her histo-detection to figures such as Lizzie Borden. A pair of biographies (on the Jacobite Flora Macdonald and the actress Sarah Siddons), two cookbooks, a volume of poetry, and various articles round out a career that has earned for her widespread recognition. She received awards from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (1953) and the Colorado Authors’ League (1953-1957), was nominated in the best fact crime category by the Mystery Writers of America in 1956 for “The Truth About Belle Gunness,” and served as president of that organization (1979). She also received the Medal of Distinction in the Fine Arts from the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce (1980).

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