Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Killing, Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington

The killing still haunted Mason. That fatal evening on the lake, caught in the storm. He was lucky to be alive. Everyone said it was an accident, but Mason knew better.
          Pausing outside, he eyed the large, gray house set on the shore of Lake Washington. It was a dreary, wet evening. His instructions were to enter the house from the side entrance which would be open. This was Mara’s house, the Winsted Lake House. Delores, Mara’s step-mother, had sent a note that there was news, a development in Mara’s death that might help them find resolution.
          Mason went up the side steps and into the kitchen. He called out, but there was no response. Delores said she had turned her ankle and that she would be in the living room. Mason paused, feeling uneasy in the silent, old house which creaked in the wind.
           He recalled the sailing accident, the sudden storm, the unexpected leak with the small Comet filling rapidly, and then tipping as the storm hit the lake. He and Mara struggled in the icy water, his wife slipping out of her life jacket. Mason tried to hold her, but Mara slipped away in the choppy water. Her face was pale, her dark eyes fearful, accusing, and then glazed. She sank like a stone.
          Mason’s eyes watered, as he thought about his dead wife and their sailing. She had been his faithful sailing partner, his “jib-mate” Mara used to laugh. Mason ached when he thought of her. Such a loss.
           Hearing a noise in the house, Mason shook off the haunting memories. He went through the dining room to the spacious living room. Delores’s chair by the fireplace was empty. Feeling annoyed, he hesitated. His intuition told him to leave, but Delores’s hint that someone had sabotaged the sailboat tugged. What did Delores know, or suspect?
           A hiker with a dog had spotted him struggling in the water and alerted authorities. Delores was supposed to keep an eye on them, but she had unexpected guests and lost track of the small boat, or so Delores said.
          Mason went into the hall and looked up the wide staircase. Mara’s father Ralph had tumbled down these stairs and broken his neck five years previously, leaving Delores the doyenne of the wealthy family. Outside,the distant rumble of thunder. Cocking his head, Mason listened, hearing muffled voices upstairs. He called again and then slowly started up. Delores should be in the house along with her two step-children, Ron and Avery. The servants were gone for the day. 
           Perhaps they were all upstairs in the game room, which overlooked the water. Mason reached the top of the stairs and listened.  But all was quiet. He turned right and padded down the hall, stopping at the game-room door and knocking. He opened the door and peeked in. There on the couch he saw Ron and Avery with their heads back, their mouths open, blood trickling down the front of their faces, a bullet hole in their foreheads.
            Mason felt the hairs at the nape of his neck stand up. He stiffened as the wind blew and a branch scraped the side of the house. He reached for his phone, but remembered it was in the car. He went out into the hall and again heard a low murmuring. He paused at the master bedroom, where Delores slept. He listened at the door and heard an indistinct voice. Perhaps it was Delores. His thought was to retreat, but instead he slowly turned the knob and pushed open the door.
            Delores was lying on the bed, propped up with pillows and she smiled as Mason entered the room. His eyes went hard as she tugged a sawed-off shotgun from under the sheet and pointed it at him.
            “I want it all.” Delores said tartly.
            Mason gaped, and then felt a shove that threw him to his right. Then a blast and stinging in his left shoulder. A rapid pop, pop of an automatic.
           When Mason awoke he was lying on the downstairs couch with a paramedic bandaging his left shoulder. A man hovered behind dressed in a sports coat with a police badge hanging around his neck. He introduced himself as Detective Haynes, saying how lucky Mason was the police team got there in time.
            The detective had shoved Mason out of the line of fire and shot Delores who had fired at them.  Apparently, Delores had killed her two step-children and had planned to shoot Mason, and then she would put a revolver in Mason’s hand. It would appear as if Mason had broken in and killed the step-children then gone to kill her. Delores would plead she had killed Mason in self defense.
             “Now you are all that is left of this star-crossed family.” Haynes concluded. 
             “But why did you come? How did you know?”  Mason asked.
             The detective explained he got a call from a young woman who said there were killings underway at the old house. He and a team had arrived as Mason went into the bedroom. 
             “But who called you?” Mason asked Haynes.
             “The caller said she was a friend of yours. That you and she used to sail together, that she was your jib mate.” 
             At that moment the paramedics brought down a body bag. The detective told Manson it was Delores Winsted and he nodded solemnly toward the procession.  Mason slowly rose and noticed that Haynes came to attention, tilting his head in respect.
            Haynes was right, he was the only one left in the wealthy family. Mason bowed his head…and smiled.



Friday, April 20, 2012

The Bernie Madoff Ploy, Lake Bemidji, Minnesota

It was the perfect crime. The victim vanished from the face of the earth, as if snatched by aliens. The neighbors all came to the party, never suspecting. Good fun.
        Billy-Ray Burke stood in the driveway of the estate house that overlooked Lake Bemidji in Northwest Minnesota. This was the big one and Billy-Ray, known on the edge of legerdemain finance as Winston Farnham, was dressed for the kill in a navy blazer, ecru shirt and smart khakis. His black hair was slicked back, his angular face clean shaven and his sky blue eyes, which few women could resist, focused on the lake-side retreat. This was his ticket to Portland, Oregon and the winery he coveted.
        Winston marched to the door and in a few seconds, Luella Anne Kellogg greeted him, looking younger and fresher than Winston recalled her in the super market. She was neatly attired in a smart, black dress with a white, v-neck collar. Her face was lightly rouged and she wore a pale lipstick. Her brown eyes sparkled with intelligence, which gave Winston pause.
         Luella smiled radiantly and ushered Winston into the large hallway with its oak floors. She directed Winston to an elaborate, ebony leather chair, while she took a seat on the couch in the opulent living room.
        On cue, a large Latino dressed in tan slacks and a white shirt entered with two drinks and snacks on a platter.
        “It’s after two and I feel naughty.” Luella said, as the man set the drinks and canapes down.
         Miguel nodded a solemn greeting, and then backed out of the room. Luella took her glass and raised it to toast Winston, saying she hoped he could be helpful. Winston smiled and took his drink, noting the two olives on the toothpick, guessing he was having afternoon martinis.
         They sipped in silence and then Luella apologized for banging into Winston’s shopping cart at the Lueken’s Village Food Market. She noted again she was distracted by the death of her long-time investment advisor who had keeled over a few days before. Luella felt adrift in the world of finance and was delighted when Winston offered his card, noting he was a certified financial planner, summering in Bemidji at the Ruttgers Inn. Unfortunately his firm Golden Eagle was closed to new clients, but he had offered to discuss investment options with Luella and she had invited him to a late lunch.
          “I did talk to my partners.” Winston said after a decent interval. “We might have an opening in our private-client group, our most prestigious investors.”
         Luella perked up at this news and set her drink down. She titled her patrician head and her brown eyes opened wide in hopeful expectation.
          “There is a minimum investment.” Winston intoned… a warning note.
           The dowager put her hand to her throat, as if bad news was on the way. Winston tilted his head, and then looked at her seriously with his Lothario blue eyes. His approach was to set the minimum at one million. If she balked, he would posture a bit, then take pity on her. He would excuse himself and pretend to make a call to his phantom partners. After much back and forth, presumably arguing for Luella, Winston would return and say they could make an exception and reduce her initial investment to a half a million.
          As they sat sipping their drinks, Luella gripped her hands, asking how much was the initial investment. When she heard a million dollars, she sat back. Her brown eyes fluttered and she looked away, as if calculating.
          Winston held his breath, sat straight and sipped his drink. Finally, Luella leaned forward conspiratorially and asked in a hushed tone. “Could I invest two million?”
          Taking a breath, Winston feigned a reflective look. He nodded his head, telling Luella that would be acceptable.
          “Robert had me in Treasuries and some gold. What is you approach?”
          Winston explained that Golden Eagle had prime notes, which were special short-term credits for reputable corporations, the Fortune 500. Emergency cash flow to tide companies over. Luella could expect a yield no less than 12%.
          The older woman puckered her lips, not bad. She passed the canapes to Winston who took one and nibbled.
           “At 12% a year, your money doubles in 6 years.” Winston added, driving in the nail.
           Winston finished his snack and looked at Luella, who suddenly was double, two of her sitting side by side. He blinked his eyes and felt very sleepy. He tried to rise, but was helpless.
           His new client smiled, “too good to be true.”
           When Winston awoke he was strapped down on a table, a bright light shining down on him. He could not move; looking to his right he could see Luella grinning down at him. Behind her was Miguel wearing a hair net and a white butcher’s apron and sharpening a nasty cleaver.
          Luella looked back at Miguel. “I think ribeyes.”
          “Si, Senora.”

Weeks later Adele and Arthur Fairhaven were sitting on the lawn by the lake. Arthur looked up from his chair and sniffed the air. “Luella must be grilling.  My guess is steak.”
         Adele looked over. “She’s having her summer kickoff next week. We must go as she is featuring an eclectic menu.”
         Her husband chuckled. “Martinis and grinders.”
         Adele sniffed and looked down her nose. “What is a grinder?”


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Ivinson Mansion Murders, Laramie Plains, Wyoming

The first Ivinson Hall murder was in the spring of 1928. That was seven years after Edward Ivinson, an esteemed Laramie businessman and banker, had given the Victorian Queen-Anne style house with its forbidding gothic air to the Episcopal Missionary of Wyoming.
        Edward directed that the mansion become a boarding school for teen-age girls who lived on remote Wyoming ranches.The ground floor was comprised of teaching rooms, a dining area, and a kitchen. The second floor was an open dormitory, while the third floor was reserved for senior girls who had achieved merit. Alice Morton had the first room to the left of the stairs on the third floor and was suffocated with a pillow, in death her eyes wide with terror.
           Of course there was a flurry of investigative activity, but it was a mystery how someone had entered the house and crept up to the third floor and murdered lovely Alice. There were forty-five girls in the house at the time and not one heard or saw an intruder. Alice had no known enemies.
           Exactly one year later the second girl, Laurie Bessel, was murdered in the same fashion. The town stirred and detectives from the Cheyenne Marshall Service joined in the investigation. Again there was no likely suspect. Some thought a drifter might have entered the house unnoticed and murdered Laurie on a whim. But then what about Alice? Had the drifter returned?
           Then a third Ivinson Hall Girl, Jane Hardy, was murdered, a year later to the day Laurie was smothered. All three girls were murdered on the revered third floor.The town rose in frenzy. Windows were shut and doors locked. The governor dispatched an investigator to take charge of the case. Then out of the blue, Maude Hall stepped forward and said her husband, Isaac Hall, was the killer. He worked as the groundskeeper, cut the grass and tended the flowers.
          Isaac was arrested and questioned. His wife pointed an unwavering accusatory finger at Isaac who she claimed had a brutal streak, kept odd hours, and was out all night each time a girl was killed at Ivinson Hall. Isaac Hall also drank to excess, was known to be erratic, ill tempered, and had a weathered, fierce countenance. He also gave confusing testimony.
          - He was home; no he was drunk and spent the night in an alley. The dates of the murders? Oh, he got home late or maybe not at all.
           The accused was his own worst enemy and a jury quickly found Isaac Hall guilty of the murders. The judge gave him the ultimate penalty. A few months later, Isaac was hanged by the neck until dead at the Laramie Frontier Prison. Justice was served. Alice Morton, Laurie Bessel and Jane Hardy, the unforgettable Ivinson Hall Girls, could rest in peace.
            Or could they?
            The next spring and a year after Jane Hardy was murdered, there was an occurrence which shook Laramie to its roots. Maude Hall, who had condemned her husband, was found murdered in her bed. She was smothered with a pillow, a look of unforgettable terror on her face.
           Today Ivinson Hall serves as the Laramie Plains Museum. The third floor is closed, locked tight.