In the summer of 1991, 37-year-old Martha Brailsford befriended a neighbor, Tom Maimoni, who told her his wife had recently died of cancer. Subsequently, Brailsford disappeared and her body “tied to an anchor” was found off the coast of Salem, Massachusetts. Maimoni, who was actually married to his fourth wife, had a history of approaching women with the “dead wife” gambit. He claimed that he panicked after Brailsford died by accident aboard his boat, Counterpoint, but he was convicted of second-degree murder. Press, a local resident and author of two mystery novels set in Salem, keenly illuminates the people and places surrounding the tragedy of a woman whose compassion led to her downfall. Of special regional interest and also recommended for larger true-crime collections.
Gregor A. Preston, formerly with Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Mystery novelist Press helps uncover a real-life murder in her hometown of Salem, Mass. Press, known for her convincing fictional portraits of New England’s seamy side (Elegy for a Thief, 1993, etc.), came across a poster in 1991 of a missing local woman, was intrigued, and followed the tangled trail. Artist Martha Brailsford went for a quick sail with her neighbor, Tom Maimoni, a recently widowed engineer. She never returned. Press does a solid job of conveying the anxiety of Martha’s husband and her twin sister, and the sordid whispers that swirled around the small town. Within a few days, the police discovered that Maimoni was not an engineer, nor was he widowed, and when Brailsford’s body was found by a lobsterman, Maimoni became the prime suspect in an ugly murder investigation. Other women stepped forward: In the weeks before Brailsford’s death several had gone sailing with the suspect; he would strip once they were out on the water, and the experience had left them either embarrassed or afraid. Maimoni, when questioned by the police, offered a series of conflicting tales, including the assertions that a nude sunbather had killed Brailsford and that the dead woman had been drinking and slipped off the boat. The obligatory trial scenes are dull, and Press’s fascination with Salem witch Laurie Cabot, who added little to this case, seems jarring. While Press believes Maimoni to be a psychopath, she offers little corroboration for her claim. The stage for the crime is evocative, but the telling of the tale is flat and, coming from a crime novelist, strangely lacking in mystery.