Rigard publishes book detailing 1938 Westline murder

Earl Nightingale is credited with saying, "The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment." Thursie Stroup Rigard, a Westline native and former Kersey resident currently in her mid-80s, epitomized this as she recently accomplished her goal of writing and publishing an account of a murder she witnessed in Westline as a child. The murder occurred across the street from her family's home in Westline one May afternoon in 1938 when Joe Russo, an Italian immigrant, shot and killed his wife, Eleanora. The event had such a profound impact on Rigard that it stuck with her through the years until she finally decided it was time to compile all of the information into a book.Rigard remarked that she finally decided to begin writing her book when she was 85. Titled "Witness to Murder," the work was published in 2011. It not only recounts the murder itself, but also chronicles Russo's trial and all of the information that was presented and led to his conviction. The daughter of Daniel and Vesta Queen Stroup and the second-oldest of 12 children, Thursie grew up in Westline and went to school in Mt. Jewett. "I married and lived in Mt. Jewett for probably 30 years. During that time, I had gotten material from the state police about the murder that had happened in Westline when I was 13, but I never did anything with it," Rigard said. After marrying Jerome Rigard, she moved to Kersey and worked part-time at both The Village Peddler and Goetz's Flowers. Several years ago, after deciding that they wanted to live in a warmer climate but still enjoy all four seasons, Rigard and her husband relocated to Rustburg, Va., where they still reside. In addition to wanting to share her memories of the event, Rigard had a more personal reason to write the book as well. "I had one older brother, and during what happened he went with the boy (Russo's son) to be with the boy when he was hiding because he thought his father was going to shoot him, too," Rigard said. "[My] older brother is now dying of lung cancer, and I thought, 'I've got to get it written before my brother dies so he can have a copy of it,' so that was my incentive after procrastinating all those years." Though she had access to all the necessary information, writing the book was no easy task for Rigard. "Because I have to work on that machine for the blind that enlarges, it took me several months because I would print stuff out and then my daughter-in-law would have to type it up for me," Rigard said. She added that friends in Westline also helped her acquire some of the information. "I even had some friends that, when I was up in Westline, typed the police work for me because it's handwritten and even with my magnifying glass I could not read the handwriting. I had a friend that typed that report up for me because, back then, reports weren't even at the courts. The trial was handwritten. So things were harder to read because it wasn't typewritten," Rigard said. The 22-page work is currently available for purchase through online booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon."It isn't that long of a book because, when I started it, I have all legal proof of what I've written, and to elaborate and to make it a long story, I didn't want to. I wanted to stick strictly to the truth, so that's what I did," Rigard said. She also self-published the work and was able to provide her brother with a copy. "He thought it was very good, and actually, he couldn't believe I had all the facts there," Rigard said. She noted that one of her younger brothers was also impacted by the murder and continues to remember the event to this day. "He was three years old, and to this day he remembers that (the murder). It always, it just was such a shocking thing that even at that age he never forgot," Rigard said. Other family members have been impressed with the story as well. "My brothers and sister are all very happy with it because it involves things that they remember and they're happy to have it so they can pass it on to their children," Rigard said. Though she considers her first book to be a success, Rigard indicated that she has no plans to write any others. "I'm going on 87 and I am just thankful that through family and friends that I got it written and now I can say I did it. I'm thankful that it's done, and that friends that I've given it to, they've all been very pleased with it," Rigard said. While she and her husband visited the area last spring, Rigard remarked that they had likely made their final trip. "I doubt that we will get up there again, but you never know," Rigard said. "I just remember all our friends up there in St. Marys and Kersey, and all the people that I had seen when I was working in The Village Peddler and the flower shop. They're all lovely people and I miss them," she added.