Authors: Victor Keyloun
Murder My Love
Victor Keyloun, M.D.
For the abused,
and to a greater understanding of their pain
A telephone call to the West Warwick Police Station was entered in the log at 11:05 A.M. In a voice barely audible, a woman told the desk sergeant there was a violent commotion at 172 Elm Street. Sgt. Hank Skinner surmised by the timber of the caller’s voice that she was quite elderly. He was dubious. After all, it was a Sunday in the middle of May and most people were attending church services or having a late breakfast. He politely suggested that perhaps she did not clearly hear what she perceived to be a commotion. The caller was offended by the sergeant’s attempt to dismiss her civic duty. She became insistent. “Young man, I know what I heard.”
“Begging your pardon ma’am.” Skinner retreated. She said the noises sounded like gunshots. Now Sgt. Skinner was skeptical. In this college town, police were more likely to be engaged with traffic accidents or arresting disorderly teenagers for drinking in public. Though reluctant to provide her name, the plaintive voice sounded fearful. In deference to a senior citizen, Skinner decided to dispatch a patrol car.
Officer Steven Huff was seated at the counter of O’Neill’s diner across the street from St. Bartholomew’s Church. He knew from more than twenty-five years on the police force that when the 10 o’clock Mass had let out, the diner would be filled to capacity and a queue of parishioners would form on the sidewalk outside. He had arrived shortly before eleven. Huff had no interest in jumping the queue and subjecting himself to their wrathful glare. He sat at the far end of the counter hoping to be as inconspicuous as possible, but his large frame overpowered the stool on which he was seated. His belly butted against the counter top forcing him to awkwardly lean forward to eat and to reach for condiments. He heard the church bells peal at precisely 11 A. M., heralding the start of Mass. He saw the laggards hurrying their steps. They rushed to be seated lest Fr. Matthews scold them from the pulpit for tardiness. The choir, in full throat, accompanied by resounding organ music, filled the air. The entrance hymn could be heard in the police station at the far reach of Main Street and throughout the parish.
Huff was eagerly devouring a corn muffin while slurping from a mug full of coffee. His favorite waitress arrived with an oversized platter brimming with bacon, sausage, eggs, and a side of home fried potatoes. “Sharon,” he said, “this food will be the death of me.” He smiled broadly and with a twinkle in his eye continued, “But I’m going to eat it anyway.” Sharon shrugged and as she turned away said, “Hurry up and eat, real customers are waiting to get in here.” The mock sarcasm was a ritual they had engaged in for many years. They were friends and often confided in each other. She loved to tease him and he loved the attention. Huff attempted to continue the banter with her but Sundays were especially busy now that spring had arrived. Breakfast at O’Neill’s was a tradition he’d engaged in ever since he had become a policeman and one that need not be hurried. He opined to anyone who would listen about local politics and shared his thoughts about his imminent retirement, all the while scarfing down his fat laden breakfast. Sharon had heard his expansive stories for almost all of the years he had been on the force. She returned to fill his mug with coffee knowing full well that he would not leave until he had finished his yarn.
At 11:06 a crackle from his lapel radio interrupted his meal. He turned toward the wall to shield the message from eavesdroppers. He listened attentively.
“You want me to go where?” He leaned forward as if that would make the directive he received more palatable.
“Yeah, I know where that is. I know the lady who lives there. She helped my wife’s dad.” He looked up at the ceiling, then at Sharon. His furrowed brow expressed his frustration more than his words.
“I’m having breakfast,” he pleaded. After a long pause, “O.K. I’m on my way.”
He looked directly at Sharon who seemed to sense that whatever he was told to do was important. It was so unlike him to hurry off and not finish his breakfast.
“I gotta go. I’ll pay for this tomorrow.”
Sharon shrugged, “Yeah, and I’m the fairy princess.”
He took one last gulp of coffee, hurried out the door, waved to the townspeople in the queue and entered his patrol car. A welcome warm breeze gently swirled about. It partially erased memories of the particularly harsh winter of ’94 and its relentless snowfalls.
As he drove down Main Street toward Elm he could see that spring had painted a faint palette of green on the Sycamore trees that stood as sentinels along the avenue. Boxed enclosures at their base displayed the charm of bright yellow tulips. Within minutes, Huff pulled up in front of a Victorian styled house that had not seen a coat of paint in decades. He knew the house well. A series of scumbags had occupied it over the years and Officer Huff had often been called to quiet a drunken tenant’s loud radio or subdue a disorderly visitor. He couldn’t imagine anything similar on this spring morning. Linda Greenwell, a nutritionist at Community Hospital, now occupied the house. She had been a tenant for almost two years. She was well respected at the hospital, but her neighbors had made no attempt to befriend her. The last time he saw her at the hospital she asked, “What’s with the people in this town?”
“What do you mean?” Huff replied.
“The neighbors treat me like I had leprosy,” she said.
“Maybe it’s because of the people who used to live there before you,” he replied hoping to offer some excuse for their behavior.
The irony was not lost on Huff. She had been quite helpful to his father-in-law, who suffered with diabetic foot ulcers. He deeply appreciated her professionalism. They’d been on a first name basis as they had seen each other so often when Huff accompanied him to the hospital. Their relationship bordered on friendship. He could not imagine why the neighbors failed to welcome her, nor could he offer her a cogent reason, other than what he offered, as to why they kept her at a distance. Despite her isolation, he wanted to believe that nothing untoward could have happened to her.
Huff struggled to alight from his car. He slowly approached the house. “What could possibly be wrong on a day like this?” he thought. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The forsythia bushes bordering the property were in full bloom. Hyacinths, in brilliant white and blue lining the walkway leading to the porch, were breaking ground, some already in full bloom. He walked slowly up the brick path taking notice of a broken flowerpot with its shards of clay strewn across the walkway and lawn. He surmised that it had fallen off the porch balustrade. He wondered if that was the noise the lady had heard. He wondered why it had not been cleaned up. He inspected the front door and rang the bell. There was no answer. He rapped once on the doorknocker. The door gave way. He entered. Less than a minute later Officer Steven Huff lurched out of the front door, leaped down the three steps of the front porch, ran to the curb, leaned on the front fender of his patrol car and vomited his breakfast. What he had just witnessed shocked him into disbelief. The world was spinning and his vision blurred. He desperately did not want to pass out. He gasped for air sucking in deep breaths. When he had finished vomiting the remnants of breakfast and his last ounce of bile, he walked around to the driver’s side of his patrol car, reached in and retrieved a bottle of water wedged in a cup holder. He took several large swigs and swirled them around in his mouth, hoping to wash away the bitter taste. He then poured the remainder of the bottle on his vomit. He could not bear to imagine the ridicule he’d receive from his fellow officers for his lack of machismo. After two decades on the force he had never advanced beyond patrolman. Living with that was difficult enough but, as a seasoned veteran, his loss of composure was more than he cared to explain.
Huff radioed the stationhouse and spoke to Desk Sergeant Hank Skinner. With a voice as strong as he could muster and with an air of imagined professionalism, he related that he had discovered two bodies at 172 Elm Street, a male in his twenties and a female in her late forties. He also declared that it was definitely a homicide. Skinner listened to his report and then held the receiver at a distance, looking at it as if he was questioning what he had just heard. He was incredulous. There had been random murders in West Warwick in recent memory, mostly in connection with a burglary, seldom with domestic violence. There were accidental shootings by hunters, rarely with fatalities. There were incidents of drunken men pointing weapons in acts of bravado, but never mortal violence such as Huff had just reported. The worst mayhem he could recall was the near riot when students paraded naked on the campus quadrangle in the middle of winter. He could not recall a double homicide in all the years he’d been on the police force.
“Are you sure, Huff? If this is your idea of jerking me around for interrupting your breakfast, I’ll make your life miserable.”
“Sarge, if you saw what I saw...” Huff’s voice trailed off as he lost his composure. Skinner could clearly hear him weeping and immediately placed an A.P.B. summoning all available police to the scene.
Huff remained stationed by his automobile. He dared not reenter the house until his superiors arrived. He called the stationhouse once again.
“Hank, nothing against the Lieutenant, but you’d better call the Chief for this one.”
“It’s Sunday, Steve.”
“I know. But you better let her know.”
“You’re the last guy to be telling me how to do my job,” he scowled.
Huff’s shoulders sank perceptibly. His body looked like a deflating balloon with a slow leak. His opinion had been dismissed once again. He held no stature among his peers. Most treated him as a loveable teddy bear rather than a professional police officer. Having never risen above patrolman lent legitimacy to their assessment. He paced along the sidewalk awaiting the arrival of his lieutenant. His body trembled. He clenched his teeth trying to hold back waves of nausea. The news of a double homicide spread like wild fire among the police. The entire force was instantly on alert. Six patrol cars arrived almost simultaneously, bringing the few officers on duty and those on the night shift, roused from sleep by the gruesome news. Chief Abigail Wilson, who had been at home and off duty, arrived in civilian clothes. She had no time to dress into her uniform. She wore blue jeans, a sweater with a cowl neck and tennis shoes. As she took long strides from her car to the crime scene, her badge, dangling from a string around her neck, bounced haphazardly in tandem with her blond ponytail. She immediately approached Huff and asked him to describe what he’d observed. When he tried to relate what he’d seen he began to tremble and his voice trailed off to a whisper. He held on to the Chief with both hands and began to weep. Chief Wilson patted Huff on the shoulder and whispered,
“Only one more year, Huff. Hang in there.”
With that reassurance Huff regained his composure long enough to answer the Chief’s questions.
“Did you reenter the house since you called in the crime?”
“Good. Did you secure the crime scene?”
“By the book, Chief. By the book.”
He recounted every movement he had made from the time he’d been summoned at O’Neill’s and the steps he had taken to secure the scene. He told the Chief how he had conducted himself. The area surrounding the house was immediately cordoned off with yellow tape. He had positioned his automobile in the intersection to divert traffic away from Elm Street. Several police cars arrived with their flashing top lights competing with the late morning sun. Many more off-duty police officers arrived in their private automobiles and trucks. The flood of vehicles choked the intersection of Elm and Third Streets. The policemen stood outside the yellow perimeter that Huff had set up, waiting for instruction from the Chief. Most of the neighbors were attending church services. At the sight of so many police cars the few remaining curious ones began to assemble on the sidewalk across the street from the house. Fortunately, a police photographer, a member of the Crime Scene Investigation team, lived in a nearby suburb. A police car was dispatched to promptly escort him to the crime scene. When the police photographer arrived, Chief Wilson called three senior officers to assemble on the porch: Lieutenant Jeff Stanton, Detective Sergeant Bruce Devlin and the lone woman cop on active duty, Gail Kurtz. They could only speculate as to Huff’s accuracy given his emotional state, so they planned their strategy for assessing the crime scene prior to entering the house. The remainder of police who had assembled was somewhat upset that they were not participating in the investigation of the crime. Their curiosity was palpable. They grumbled among themselves but knew according to protocol that too many police in the house would cause confusion and contamination.
Wilson and her cohorts, together with the photographer, inspected the broken flowerpot. They dismissed it, as it seemed irrelevant to a homicide. At the least, they assumed that the perpetrator knocked it over as he fled from the house. However, as a precaution, photos of it were taken. They first concentrated on the front door. With gloved hands, they opened and closed it several times and assured themselves there was no evidence of forced entry. They all agreed that whoever was responsible for the crime was probably let in by one of the victims. They took note of a hinged panel that could allow a small dog to enter or exit the house. They wrapped their shoes in paper booties and entered the house in single file. The layout resembled a classic Colonial home. The entry foyer was neat and tidy. Several coats were hung on a rack by the front door and an umbrella stood upright in its stand. They entered the center hallway. The furniture in plain sight was neatly arranged and undisturbed. Scatter rugs in the foyer and hallway seemed to be appropriately placed. In the living room to the left of the center hall, the furniture was also undisturbed, as were the table and chairs in the dining room directly opposite the living room. The oak floors were waxed to a brilliant sheen. To the rear of the living room was a small study. At the far end of the center hall was an L-shaped staircase with a landing half way up to the second storey. In the crook of the L was a door they assumed was a water closet. At the foot of the stairs on the right side of the center hall was a swing door leading to the kitchen. The neatness and orderliness was at variance with what they expected to see. Pictures were perfectly hung throughout the house. Drapes and lace curtains were neatly hung. Had officer Huff somehow hallucinated? It was curious to the observers that nothing to indicate the presence of a dog was found. There was no leash in sight, nor a water bowl or kennel.