What She Left Behind

By: Ellen Marie Wiseman

For my husband, Bill—who believes in me always


Once again, it is with great joy that I honor the people who helped, supported, and believed in me throughout this amazing journey.

First and foremost, this novel would not have come to fruition if not for the work of Darby Penney and Peter Stastny, authors of The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic. It was your book that inspired the idea and opened my eyes to the often heartbreaking world of the insane asylums of the past. I’m especially indebted to Darby Penney for taking the time to answer my questions about Willard State and what it might have been like for female patients in the 1930s. I hope you’ll forgive any historical inaccuracies and creative licenses I’ve taken.

For answering my questions about women in prison, I thank Deborah Jiang Stein, author and founder of The unPrison Project. Thank you also to Andrew Thompson for sharing his knowledge of correction officers.

Thank you to my family and friends for understanding my crazy schedule, for forgiving me when I had to say no, and for allowing me the time and space I needed to make my deadlines. I’m forever grateful for your belief in me, for your patience and understanding during this sometimes-bumpy ride, and most of all, your steadfast love.

To say that I’m grateful to my author posse at BP is an understatement. I can’t imagine experiencing this crazy, exhilarating ride without your friendship and brilliant advice. Together, we’re conquering the world, one book at a time!

It is with great pleasure that I send my love and gratitude out to my friend and cosmic sister, Barbara Titterington. Thank you for being one of my biggest cheerleaders and for reading an early draft of the manuscript. It helps knowing that in your eyes, I always sparkle.

Again, I’m eternally indebted to my wonderful editor, John Scognamiglio, for his faith in me, and to my patient and insightful agent, Michael Carr. I can’t thank you enough for your unwavering support, your great advice, and for helping me make this story stronger. Thank you also to my publicist, Vida Engstrand, for getting the word out about my novels, and to Meryl Earl, Director of Sub Rights, for securing foreign rights for my books. Thank you also to Kristine Mills-Noble for your gorgeous cover designs. And again, a thousand thanks to the rest of the Kensington team for all the hard work you do behind the scenes.

I cannot write a note of thanks without a shout-out to the people who live in and around my community. Whether you are a librarian who invited me to do a presentation, a journalist who did a story on me, a member of a book club who invited me into your home, an online supporter, or someone who read my work and made sure to tell me you enjoyed it, I can’t begin to tell you how much your encouragement and thoughtfulness has meant to me. Seeing your smiling, excited faces has filled my eyes with tears and my heart with pride. It truly has been one of the highlights of this experience and I will remember it always.

As ever, thank you from the bottom of my heart to my beloved mother, Sigrid, for being my rock, and my dear husband, Bill, for seeing me through. Words cannot express how much you mean to me. Lastly and most importantly, I want to express my immense love and gratitude to my children, Ben, Jessica, and Shanae, and my beautiful grandchildren, Rylee, Harper, and Lincoln. You are my greatest accomplishment, and I love you with everything that I am. You, alone, make life worth living.



Willard State Asylum


Within minutes of setting foot on the grounds of the shuttered Willard State Asylum, seventeen-year-old Isabelle Stone knew it was a mistake. If anyone saw her standing on the cracked and potholed main road of the vast, tree-lined property, they would have no clue of the horror festering inside her head.

On that hazy Saturday in late August, the warm breeze smelled of cattails and seaweed, occasional gusts rustling the grove of pines to the left of the open yard. Heat rose in shimmery vapors from the sunbaked earth and cicadas buzzed in the long grass near the woods, a droning, live thermometer that grew higher pitched and more insistent with every rising degree. Willard’s manicured lawns sloped away from the main buildings, gently rolling downward toward the rocky shoreline of Seneca Lake. Sailboats bobbed across the waves and a long pier stretched like an invitation into the sparkling waters.

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