Monday, April 15, 2013

An Accidental Murder at Chase Lodge, Lake Leech, Walker, Minnesota

Brandy suggested rat poison to kill her venomous stepmother. But Lou had a better idea, an accidental murder. The plan dawned on him as Lou studied the front of the rustic house set on a stone foundation.
          Brandy's stepmother,Martha Ann Manning, had her bedroom  next to the garage for her convenience. What had been a library in the “lodge” had been turned into a master suite, easy access for the cane-ridden Martha.
          Lou sat with Brandy in the upstairs back bedroom and detailed his scheme that would begin with an extra sleeping pill in Martha Ann's wine, then carbon monoxide from the adjacent garage. All quick and painless, apparently an unfortunate accident.  Brandy was disappointed; she wanted her custodian to suffer.
          But sacrifices had to be made.
          The objective was to get control of the Manning multi-million dollar trust that was designated for Martha Ann and Brandy in joint custody. When one of them passed, the survivor would gain control of the fortune. Brandy promised Lou $3 million if he could dispose on her meddlesome stepmother.
          Lou watched Brandy think about his plan. She was an eighteen year old coquette, a honey blond, with blue eyes and shapely in tight jeans and a purple sweater. When she had control of the trust, she said she would travel a year, then return and go to University, Brandy’s plan.
          “I want my stepmother to suffer.” Brandy pouted and then added. “But nothing is perfect.”
          Lou returned downstairs where Martha Ann was by the fire, listening to her classical music, a Mozart concerto, which Lou found depressing as the music echoed through the lodge. Martha motioned him over and pointed at the wine decanter. Lou nodded, fetched the wine and sat across from the elderly woman in black who was bone thin, with translucent skin, a pinched face, and watery blue eyes with tightly coiled gray hair.
          Lou poured them a glass of the fine burgundy, raising a toast to Martha. It was late afternoon and Lou hated to drink before dinner. Alcohol had been the root of his problems when he lived in Minneapolis where he orchestrated a high social life as an estate lawyer and wealth advisor. Drink had cost Lou his job and family.
           After the breakdown, Lou went to rehabilitation in Walker, a small town on Lake Leech, one of Minnesota's largest. After rehab, he joined an upkeep company, maintaining the large area estates. When the elderly owner died, Lou took over and the company began to prosper as the widows liked Lou, a rugged, a good looking man in his early 50s.
          “We should do it when as spring warms up.” Martha Ann said interrupting Lou’s daydreaming.
          “My stepdaughter loves the lake, so that will be the perfect setting. Go sailing with Brandy and take the helm. Brandy can handle the jib. Pick a windy day with whitecaps and jibe into the wind, letting the boat tip over. Grab the paddle as you go in. Brandy should be in the water under the sail, so you hit her hard and stun her. In that cold water, she will sink like a stone.”
          Lou stared at Martha Ann. It was good that he was paid well and also that he had no soul, no compunctions. His drinking days had drained him.
          “How about it?” Martha asked. “Sound good?” 
          “I like it.” Lou agreed.
          The lonely woman tried to coax Lou into another glass of wine, but he worked free of her web. Driving around the lake back to his Walker office, Lou felt good. His spirits surged. Brandy approved his plan and she had agreed on his payment of $3 million, which would set Lou free. Martha Ann, tightfisted and out of touch, had offered him $200,000 to kill Brandy.
          That night Lou returned to the house, parking on the isolated lake road where he could see Brandy’s bedroom with a light on. After a restless hour of waiting in the car, Lou saw the bedroom light blink twice, a sign that Brandy’s stepmother was in her room and asleep. Martha Ann had perfected her sleep formula: two or three glasses of wine and a sleeping pill.
          Lou left the car, walked to the estate’s drive and went to the stone foundation to the right of the garage. He had already dug a passage between the stones and shone his flashlight, seeing the aluminum heat duct inside. With a battery-run drill, he quickly opened a hole in the duct slightly more than an inch in diameter. He knew from the lodge drawings that the heating vent led to Martha’s bedroom, which was just to the right on his drilled hole. 
          Lou sat on the ground in the chill air going over the plan. He was almost ready. On the designated night, Brandy would arrange to be out, having planned a sleepover with a friend. Lou‘s alibi was the movie complex out on Route 34. He had already seen the movie, but he would buy a ticket and sit near the front, then sneak out a few minutes after the feature started.
A few nights later Lou returned to the lodge and attached a garden hose to his car’s exhaust and then ran the hose though the foundations stone into the heating duct. He got inside his car and stepped on the gas, the exhaust traveled into the duct,exiting into Martha’s bedroom. After fifteen minutes, Lou entered the garage and into the hall. He slipped into Martha’s bedroom on the left, checked the old lady, and then took the car keys from her purse. He went to the garage and started the engine on her old Cadillac. He had left Martha’s bedroom and the garage hallway doors open, but closed the hall door to the living room.
         Lou exited the garage, leaving the car’s engine running, which would fill the garage with exhausts that would drift into Martha Ann’s bedroom.
         Let the experts figure it out, Lou smirked.
         The next day Lou went to the lodge at ten for his usual morning chores. He was surprised to find the lodge silent. The plan was Brandy would return early from her overnight and sound the alarm, presumably finding her stepmother dead in her bedroom. Lou had expected flashing red lights and the EMS on the scene , police scouring the house.
          Lou entered the downstairs and was overcome with the stench of auto exhaust. Covering his nose, he went to Martha’s bedroom and found the old woman on the bed, stone still, her face blue. Lou backed into the hall and checked the open door in the garage, but the Cadillac was quiet, probably out of gas.
          Next Lou yelled up the stairs for Brandy, but no response. He hesitated, but suddenly felt woozy. Not wanting to fall prey to the fumes, he ran outside and called 911 from his mobile.
          It wasn’t long before the city police and the EMS were on the scene. Lou asked one of the paramedics to look for Brandy on the second floor. An unmarked car pulled into the drive and Lou recognized Dr. Peterson, Martha Ann’s personal physician, who the police escorted into the house.
          After the discovery had been made and the house searched and cleared, Martha Ann’s body was taken away. Lou stood in the drive with the two policemen explaining his role, how he took care of the ground floor and did the lawn work. Dr. Peterson, tall and patrician, came over. Lou asked about Brandy, Martha’s stepdaughter.
          The policemen started and looked at Lou suspiciously. Dr. Peterson appeared confused, then cleared his throat and said.”Brandy drowned two years ago in a sailing accident.”
          Lou was stunned and realized he had drawn attention to himself. He quickly explained that Martha always talked about the girl, but he had never actually seen her.
          All three men shuffled their feet and looked around. Finally, Dr. Peterson came to Lou’s rescue by explaining that Martha Ann had never accepted Brandy’s drowning, as the girl’s body was never found in the lake.
         “Martha began to slip after Brandy drowned.” The doctor said solemnly. “I recall her talking about Bandy being upstairs which spooked the former maid who had been with the family for ten years. On one of my visits, the maid told me she had to leave as the old lady unnerved her. Fortunately, Lou came along and they did okay.”
         Lou nodded, acknowledging his role in the household.
         “Ironically, Martha Ann had been improving, but now this tragic accident: looks like she left the car running in the garage.” The doctor concluded.
          “So you never saw Brandy?” The lead policeman asked, looking at Lou who shook his head.  “No, I just heard Mrs. Manning talk about her stepdaughter.”
          The two policemen stood, considering.
          “I was usually only around in the morning to do the dishes and clean downstairs. Once every two weeks I did the grounds, cut the grass and so forth.” 
          The questioning and scene examination took all morning. Lou had plugged the cement hole he had made near Martha’s bedroom. But no one thought to go behind the shrubs and look at the stone foundation.
          Lou finally got home to his two-bedroom lakeside cottage at twilight. It had been an exhausting day. The tragic accident at the Manning’s had consumed his energies. He had a light meal, a hot shower, a glass of wine, and then fell into bed, immediately falling asleep.
          After midnight, Lou awoke with a start. He was on his left side and could see the curtains fluttering at the open window. A pale moonlight reflected silver on the dark lake. Lou was rigid, frozen in place, and held his breath. Someone was in bed next to him.
          Slowly turning on his back, Lou found Brandy raised on her elbow and staring down. Her blond hairs cascaded to her shoulders and her blue eyes were curious, her left eyebrow arched. There was a slight smile on her lips.
          “Where‘s my money?” She asked.


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