Flynn Keirnan buys an unusual old photograph at an estate sale, which an antiques dealer tells her might be a “spirit photograph.” Some Victorian spiritualists claimed they could photograph the departed during a séance. When she puts the photo up for auction, she is flabbergasted when the bidding soars over a thousand dollars and determines to discover the story behind the strange photograph before the auction ends.
She soon learns the ghostly images of the woman and two men posed in the picture were the subjects of a sensational murder trial in 1875 Chicago. A young architect was accused of killing his wife and his best friend in what the local press dubbed “The Free Love Murders.”
Flynn tracts the story through many sources, including the trial transcript, a journal kept by one of the victims, and notes from a jailhouse interview with the husband conducted by feminist firebrand Victoria Woodhull for her radical newspaper.
Since Victoria Woodhull was a spiritualist before she became the first female candidate for president and the most widely known proponent of Free Love, she was asked by the accused husband to contact the spirits of his wife and friend to find out how they really died. Were the deaths a double homicide, as the prosecution claims, a double suicide, as the distraught husband fears, or a murder-suicide and, if so, who killed whom?
As the jury deliberates the husband’s fate, Victoria finds herself embroiled in a web of fraud and intrigue that will take much more than a séance to resolve. Before it is over, she will even come to rethink her commitment to the doctrine of Free Love.
Flynn Keirnan discovers the key to solving the Free Love murders lies in learning the provenance of the mysterious spirit photograph itself. When she does, she finds that, like Victoria, her own outlook on love has changed.