Reality Bites – Ruth’s Turn

Jon and I spend most of our free time within a fictional world of murder.

The dead body in the story might be many things. A fully developed character sometimes. Sometimes just a means to a clever conclusion. But murder mysteries always have a resolution. Mostly good, sometimes horrific, but at the end of the day our fictional detective has more often than not resolved the story with a nod of hope or human resilience that is in one form or another a parable of the human condition. Reading as many mysteries as I do I am often able to put real life atrocities in the back of my mind. Although aware and horrified by the daily deaths occurring in the Middle East I’ve insulated myself from the day to day stories. The statistics may overwhelm me but homicide occurs everywhere. Here and abroad. Add the horrific accidents that occur daily through machinery, fire and weather and sometimes it’s hard to understand why I retreat into the genre of mystery but I do or at least I have.

This is all a preamble to explain last weekend. Jon and I were busy. A pile of books to review, a pile of movies to watch, great weather that allowed me downstairs and into the garden for two solid days. The Hope of Spring , the comfort of home. Still my latent catholic self kept abreast of the Pope contest. Checking our news server whenever I looked at e-mail and briefly scanning a local story about an elderly couple killed over 4,800 hundred dollars. I thought to myself stories like this are why I hate my Grandmother being a thousand miles away. On Monday I went to work, put in a full day and did the minimum when I got home. Tuesday began like normal, a too short workout and too much coffee with a lot of Spider solitaire. I turned on the radio and in my morning fog the truth came to me in the form of a name. Uttered the same way I’ve said it hundreds of times myself. You see I knew the old couple who’d been murdered on Friday. Had seen them at least once a week ever since my marriage. I was jerked out of my mystery reader fog with enough violence that I became physically ill.

And now I share a real story with you all that is very simply a tragedy.

The couple was in their early eighties. They had escaped the work camps of the eastern bloc and immigrated to the U.S. in the mid fifties. They found a home and raised a family in Milwaukee. They helped to establish one of the most stable neighborhoods in our city. A neighborhood where everyone still knew one another and the casseroles were still forthcoming during an illness . I went back over the news story. They were repeatedly stabbed with a knife. There were no less than thirty defensive wounds on both corpses. The woman was dead first and during the attack the husband managed to escape from the basement into the backyard. Mortally wounded he screamed for help thinking only to save his wife who was already dead. A neighbor heard him and came to aid with no thoughts of his own safety. He suffered minor wounds and shook the perp up enough that he fled to his car. Atwelve year old girl followed that car and got the man’s plates. Vanity plates of course. For this man wasas stupid and amoral as any fictional criminal I’ve ever read. The very dregs of our society.

He had befriended my couple you see. Gained their trust and as it became harder for the husband to function had said to him, “look I can do your banking for you, I don’t mind.” He stole 4,800 dollars and although suffering from onset post-stroke dementia the man had lucid days and soon the discrepancy in his bank account became apparent. He presented the man with documentation. He wanted full reimbursement or he was going to the police. The presentation of papers occurred on Thursday afternoon. At his arraignment last Monday the man said he decided on Friday morning that his only way out was to try reasoning with the elderly husband and if that failed he’d need to kill them both. And he did. Our perp is a sixty plus gentleman who has in his lifetime somehow decided that the trading of two lives is a fair exchange for seven years in prison.

A daughter is distraught. She’d tried to get her parents to move close to her for years but they wanted to die in the house where they’d found peace. Whenever the subject of moving came up her father said , “I’ve lived a good life in this home and I want to die here.”. He did. There’s nothing we can do for her except give condolences and telegraph good thoughts. Oh and the casseroles. The neighborhood is insulating itself. Participants in the attempted rescue are refusing to be named by the press. Former co-workers are saying only what a great couple and wonderful friends they were. This neighborhood has been made all too aware that sometimes it’s real even if it isn’t on television. And me I have no clever social commentary to add to this story. Only the shame that when I first read it I treated it like one of my books. How could this relate to my world?

This time it did. And it’s real.