THE WYCHERLY WOMAN                 Part Sixteen

                                                                                                       SPOILER ALERT




                        Just to Clarify, Phoebe Wycherly is in a Sanitarium in

                                     Palo Alto, not a Morgue in Terranova


Dr. Sherrill is a busy man, protective of his patients and suspicious of the law, but when Archer gets him to understand that Phoebe is in danger of being charged with multiple murders that she probably didn’t commit, the conversation becomes productive.

  • She has only been at the clinic briefly; she flew in from Sacramento early yesterday and ran off last evening.
  • She is four month’s pregnant.
  • Bobby admits that when Merriman walked in on them with the body of her mother, Merriman agreed to help if Phoebe agreed to impersonate her dead mother until the house could be sold.
  • Merriman kept her in her mother’s apartment for a week, then took her to Sacramento, forcing her to eat and learn to be comfortable wearing her mother’s clothes, and practicing her mother’s signature, till she could impersonate her mother well enough to sell the house to Merriman’s accomplice, Stanley Quillan. As an added bonus, Merriman forced her to cash her mother’s alimony checks to help fund the scheme.
  • The story is still confused—according to the doctor, Phoebe told him that she met a man at the Hacienda Inn and hired him to kill Merriman.


There’s only one person with the answers.



                                                         Hello, Phoebe


      Archer and the doctor interview Phoebe in her room. It’s a very long scene, and well done. She is deeply upset and ridden with guilt, which takes the form of digressions and confessions to impossible crimes. I will limit myself to the take-away points.

  • Phoebe feels responsible for the divorce of her parents for good reason. After she saw her mother and her Uncle Trevor kissing in a car, she told Aunt Helen, Trevor’s wife. You remember her, I’m sure; the woman with the hatchet face. Why Phoebe could possibly have thought this was a good idea is beyond comprehension. She has certainly suffered for her mistake.
  • Helen Trevor wrote the poison pen letters. And because Phoebe read the first one, she knew exactly who sent it. Phoebe’s emotional problems that made it impossible for her to continue at Stanford started at this time. Guilt and dread were probably near the top of the list.
  • Catherine was already dying when Phoebe arrived at the house. The dying woman said, “Your father did this to me.”
  • Phoebe felt responsible for everything that had happened, and felt she had to protect her father. There was nothing more she could do for her mother. So when Bobby came in, she lied and said she had killed her mother. Given that Phoebe had taken her father’s side in the divorce and that Catherine had made a violent scene earlier that day, it’s not as implausible as it sounds.
  • When Merriman showed up, Phoebe repeated the same story. But that put her in the clutches of a blackmailer who was prepared to take full advantage.
  • Phoebe went along with the forced eating partly because of Merriman and partly to keep other self-destructive urges at bay. She felt she would have killed herself except for the baby.
  • Merriman and Quilllan made her practice her mother’s signature, partly for the alimony checks but primarily to prepare for the real estate settlement in two months. Merriman promised that if Phoebe gave him the proceeds of the house he would give her some money so she could go off and have her baby. Of course, when the time came he simply paid her hotel bill and gave her a few extra dollars, keeping the bulk of the proceeds, $50,000, for himself.
  • Once the settlement was over, Phoebe broke down even further and told Merriman that she hadn’t killed her mother; that the murderer was her father. Whatever her reasons were in repeating what her mother had said, it just made things worse. Merriman, the last person anyone would trust with anything, knew the true identity of Phoebe’s father.
  • Phoebe has another confession. After Merriman left, she was contacted by her uncle, Carl Trevor, who came to her at the Champion Hotel. At first he thought she was her mother; when he saw it was Phoebe, he broke down and cried. She told him that her mother was dead.
  • Trevor insisted that she move to the Hacienda; she couldn’t go on staying at a place like the Champion. He told her not to tell anyone that her father had killed her mother.


Dr. Sherrill ends the interview on a hopeful note.


“All my choices were wrong. When all I wanted was a chance to go away and have my baby in peace.”

      “You’ll have your baby,” Sherill said. “In peace.”

      She seized on the words with hungry eyes and mouth. “Will it be all right to have my baby? In spite of the heredity and everything?”

      “It would be wrong not to.”


Phoebe may be at peace, and looking forward to her life with Bobby, but Archer’s work is not done.






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