Local authors collaborate on book centered around 1950 murder

One night 1950, Harry Christensen’s father had left his family’s house on Washington Street, right in the middle of a terrible storm that had engulfed the town of Marblehead. He returned later in the night, only to receive jokes in the morning from his family that he was the one who had committed the murder of Beryl Atherton. 

Christensen was later told the story at a young age, and immediately became fascinated by the case. Soon after the murder became public, it was the talk of the town and as Christensen notes, there wasn’t a person in town that didn’t have their own theories and thoughts about who did it. 

“Throughout my early years, the murder mystery was common around Marblehead,” he said. “You could hear facts about it, you could hear theories at every coffee shop in Marblehead, every dime store in Marblehead, paper store, filling stations, you name it. Everyone had a theory and everyone thought they knew who had killed her.”

More than 70 years later, the murder remains a mystery to this day, but Christensen, along with co-author Richard Santeusanio, have put together their decades long research into a fully non-fiction murder mystery book: Murder in Marblehead: Who killed Beryl Atherton?

And they leave it up to you to decide who did it. 

Both Christensen and Santeusanio are lifelong residents of Marblehead, but they meet each other through their employment at Danvers Public Schools, where they became good friends. Flash forward to now; Christensen has compiled more than 50 years of research into the murder, and Santeusanio was able to convince him that it was time to put their brains together and publish the book. 

“We chattered a lot about doing the book,” Santeusanio said. “But we never quite got around to it because, frankly, the main suspects were still alive. So then they passed away, so interest in doing the book resurfaced.”

Christensen’s idea for writing a book on the unsolved mystery came while he was attending school. In one of his classes, he had to write an essay on a local mystery. Christensen was stumped on an idea, but after consulting his mother, she brought up the Atherton murder. 

That’s when interest turned into research for Christensen. 

“I began researching it, and I was bitten by the bug, and I’ve never looked back,” he said. 

Christensen spent half a century conducting interviews, getting information from local police, and sifting through numerous files in order to obtain enough information to write a book. While he was the one that had done the extensive research, Santeusanio had great writing skills and experience, and Christensen notes that he was the one that got the gears turning on the publication. 

“Richard convinced me this was the time to get together,” Christensen said. “He has writing experience, so he engineered this book.”

With Christensen’s immense research into the case, and Santeusanio’s established writing talents, they made the perfect storytelling duo. 

After years of deliberation, the book was finally released a few weeks ago at the end of October, just in time for Halloween.

The authors present three theories in the book on who potentially committed the murder. However, they leave it up to the reader to decide if they want to go with any of the three described in the book, or if they go with a theory of their own. 

On the front of the book, readers will see an icon that says “YOU SOLVE IT!”. Santeusanio encourages readers to go to the book’s website: murderinmarblehead.com, and comment their ideas and theories on who they think committed the crime. 

“We really hope people contribute their ideas because maybe we’ll do another edition of the book and include our readers ideas on who did it,” Santeusanio said.

The authors will be signing books at the Marblehead Christmas Walk on December 1st before holding a book party at the VFW in January. 

  • Ryan Vermette is the Item's Marblehead reporter. He graduated from Springfield College in 2021 with a Bachelor's degree in Communications/Sports Journalism. While in school, he wrote multiple sports articles for the school newspaper, the Springfield Student, and joined Essex Media Group in August, 2022. Ryan is a college basketball fanatic and an avid Boston sports fan and in his free time, enjoys video games and Marvel movies.