Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Clutter Family Neighbor, Holcomb, Kansas

The boys parked by the mailbox and got the shotgun. They walked up to the modest farmhouse and slipped into the kitchen. They surprised Fred and Nora Ward on that cold November evening sitting snug by the fireplace. Perry motioned for Dick to look upstairs as there were kids in the house.
            Perry looked down at Nora as he prepared to gag her.
           The slight gray haired woman watched as the second intruder padded up the stairs holding the shotgun tightly.
            “You’ll be sorry.” Nora whispered, looking up at Perry with muddy eyes.
            At that moment Perry had doubts, his enthusiasm seeped away as air out of a balloon. Maybe they should cut and run. Call it off.
           Perry hesitated and stepped back. What did the old lady mean?
           Sorry…sorry for what? For the invasion, the robbery? Or was there something upstairs?
           Dick paused at the head of the stairs and crept into the main bedroom. There in the dim light sitting in a corner was a teenage girl in a simple navy dress. She had long black hair that framed her narrow, alabaster face and was alluring. Perhaps there was time for a dalliance. As Dick approached the silent girl and started to speak she looked at him with startling yellow eyes that bored into Dick’s soul.
           She put finger to her lips. “Shhh.”
           Dick wanted to explain, to wave the slide shotgun, but he seemed frozen. The girl rose and slipped around him and led Dick back downstairs. Perry was startled as they stood in the hall.
           Nora Ward murmured behind her gag, “I told you so”.
           Neither man spoke. They followed the girl out of the house and back to their car by the mailbox.
           “I am Eleanor and I will take you to the house you seek.” She said and climbed in the backseat.
           Dick drove and he followed directions to the nearby, prosperous looking farm.  Eleanor knew what they needed. Dick parked on the dirt road and the girl popped out of the back and boldly led them up the walk to the porch.
            Fluffy the cat was asleep on the welcome mat and looked lazily at the approaching figures. Fluff saw dark Eleanor staring at her with her yellow eyes and the cat leaped up hissing, back arched, and then flew off the porch. The party of three went through the front door. No one locked front doors in Holcomb.
             “No witnesses.” Eleanor said as they entered the still house. “Hair on the the wall."                 
             There was dead silence, even the wind paused and the windmill out back creaked to a halt. Then two blasts, a few minutes of silence, and then two more blasts.
             The shots rolled across the desolate Kansas prairie. Fred and Nora looked at each other, acknowledging retribution for the social slights. Nora smiled.
             When it was over the family of four was dead. But there was no safe, no money. The boys drove Eleanor back to her home. She exited from the back and the boys drove off, heading for Vegas.
              The killers were quickly apprehended in Las Vegas, returned to Kansas for trial and found guilty, condemned to hang. A writer who befriended Dick and Perry recorded their motives and feelings. In one interview, the writer sat across from Perry at a table. Sunlight streamed in through the cell bars, capturing dust motes. Perry stared intently at the strange, yellow afternoon light and it reminded him of Eleanor. He thought back when he gagged the old woman, the moment he wanted out, had doubts about the plan. The old woman had said, -You’ll be sorry.
               Perry banged forward in his chair. Yes, the old woman had been right. At that moment he wanted to call it off. But when Dick came down the stairs with Eleanor and she looked at him with those yellow eyes, his doubts vanished and his spirits soared.
               “It was the girl…” Perry blurted.
              The writer lunged across the table. Something new! Perhaps a tidbit, a girl involved! A new angle! The plot thickens!
              But Perry never mentioned the girl again and the boys were hanged on a dismal December day. The evening of the hanging the Ward family got in their black Oldsmobile and headed west. To California, of course.
             Today the ramshackle Ward farmhouse is for sale, but no buyers.  Even the town party kids steer clear. No one knows why, but the house sits empty.

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