The story behind Sister Lost

The story behind Sister Lost

I, like many fiction authors, am often asked where I come up with ideas for my books. Honestly, the answer isn't usually all that straightforward. I draw inspiration from my own life experiences, true crime TV shows, and sometimes ideas are ripped straight from the headlines.

Case in point: Sister Lost, my haunted house mystery novel. The book itself is fictional, a suspenseful and thrilling journey with single mom Lexie Novak as she tries to uncover the mysteries of the house she just bought -- before she becomes its next victim. Sister Lost was inspired by a true story I saw in the news many years ago.

In 1999 I was 23 years old, in the early stages of my marketing career, working for a manufacturing company based in northeast Minneapolis. The campus was located right on the Mississippi River in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city – a perfect location for a history buff like me. 

I spent many happy lunch breaks walking around the area and exploring. I remember one house in particular that caught my eye: an abandoned turn-of-the-century clapboard two-story, painted pink and surrounded by lilac bushes gone wild. I would glance at the front window as I walked by and imagine the ghost of a child looking out at me. 

And then the story of Latanisha Carmichael hit the news in November of that year, and the story that would become Sister Lost over twenty years later started to take shape. 

Latanisha’s mother, Madeline, beat her three-year-old daughter to death in 1979 and hid her little body away in a closet in her New York City apartment. It would take twenty years and questions from the girl's curious twin brother before she would finally be found.

Latanisha’s twin Andre was key to solving her disappearance. His toddler daughter Andrea reminded Madeline so strongly of Latanisha that she asked Andre to never bring her back. He asked his older sister Sabrina about the twin he’d heard about but didn’t remember, and she filled in the gaps.

Madeline Carmichael was convicted in October 2000 of second degree murder in Latanisha’s beating death and sentenced to 15 years in prison. I haven’t been able to track down what happened to her, but if she’s still alive, she would be in her eighties. Her son Gregory, Latanisha and Andre's older brother, was convicted of negligent homicide for having a hand in Latanisha’s death. 

Latanisha’s sad and sordid story stuck with me. I felt compelled to explore it, to try and understand how a mother could do such a thing to her own child. I still don’t truly know, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of honoring little Latanisha’s memory.  

If you want to learn more about the Carmichael family and the secret they kept for twenty years, check out Andre and Sabrina’s book, Family Skeleton: A Brother and Sister's Journey from Murder to Truth.

The archived Associated Press story about the discovery of Latanisha's body can be found here.

Rest well, little one. Your life mattered.

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