Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Murder in Georgia

None who heard the murder possibly imagined that’s what it was. An off-season firework, perhaps. Maybe a backfire from a passing car needing carburetor work. Certainly not a gun shot. Not here.

This was, after all, a small town planned community. Houses were separated by greenbelt areas, where trees held precedence over grass or construction and where paved paths wound through neighborhoods for walking or riding golf carts from here to there throughout town. Streets were curved rather than straight grid lines, where children ruled them as their playgrounds for bikes and Big Wheels, or even, the one time it snowed and everything closed down for the day, for their skating/boot sledding rink, taking advantage of the slight hill, and all the cars slowed down to let them. If there were cars out that day, that is.

It was a racially and economically homogeneous neighborhood, meaning white, of course, and thoroughly middle class, and above all, made up of northern imports, mostly from Boston on our street from the southern expansion of Delta Airlines. Whatever your particular prejudices, they all combined to reassure those living here that these kind of things simply happened elsewhere. Atlanta, maybe. Possibly in neighboring Fayetteville or Sharpsburg. Definitely not in Peachtree City. Not in the late 70’s when our thoughts were all turned to raising families. So nothing like murder crossed our minds at the sound.

Though it happened next door, it happened out of sight. The curve on our street, Cedar Drive, and the insertion of a pie-wedge hunk of conservation easement, meant that our house faced west and theirs faced south. I had actually met them and exchanged “Hi”s with them once. Maybe twice. Our interests and paths simply didn’t cross. The part of the street with the north-south orientation was a neighborhood of families, kids who socialized together, bringing parents into contact as well, for good or ill.

We were one of two families from Minnesota. Johnny Mack, up the hill, was not only a Minnesotan but grew up in Park Rapids as well. His family ran the  Rapid River Logging Camp (still there and yummy food!), which our family went to on the very rare occasions when the budget was stretched to eating out. On Halloween, he and his wife sent the kids out for trick-or-treating while they stayed behind, in costumes. His wife was the friendly witch doling out treats, while he was the scary gorilla lurking in the bushes and following departing groups.  It was a tradition of many years’ standing, and the parents knew what to expect, clueing in newcomers. Most found it great fun.

The hill bottomed out at our house, and is what introduced me to my best friend in Georgia. Shortly after moving in, I heard a loud “thump” on my garage door. The house was built as a split entry with a tuck-under garage, with the driveway sloping down to it. Had it snowed more than once, it would have been somewhere between impractical and dangerous, but this was, after, 30 miles south of the Atlanta airport. When I poked my head out to see what on earth had happened, there was a kid on a Big Wheel at the bottom of my driveway, looking very pleased with himself, and his mother hurrying down the hill after him. She was very apologetic about whatever might have happened to my garage door, while I, seeing him, was worried about possible damage to him. Both were fine. It turned out this was a long-standing tradition.

We exchanged reassurances and introductions. She was Andrea, and very definite that it was not “AN-dree-ah” but “Ahn-DRAY-uh”. OK, fine. Who am I to argue? The family was one of the Boston imports. Walter was an airline mechanic. Andrea was a second grade teacher in the next town. Their two sons were Michael, about Richard’s age, and Timothy, here in my driveway. After several years here, their Boston accent was unaltered. There was so much of that accent in the neighborhood, and so little southern accent, that after a while my brain tried to adopt both at once and for a while some of my words were unintelligible, lasting until I consciously worked to erase both.

Timothy was not verbal. He’d gotten different diagnoses of what his handicaps were, including cerebral palsey. Motor control was clumsy, and he walked in a way that instantly identified him as handicapped, even if he didn’t already facially have what Andrea and friends labeled as “the look”. The Big Wheel gave him a sense of freedom and motion that he wasn’t capable of on his own, and riding down the street hill and my driveway hill were some of the best parts of his young life. No way was I going to nix that, especially if he had his mother’s blessing to continue. He was receiving lots of special help, though the family applied for one kind and got refused. Walter was a Viet Nam vet, and had a lot of exposure to Agent Orange. The country was just waking up to the effects of that, and vets were applying for benefits. Their family’s application was denied.

Andrea became my friend, and was the only one to remain so when I got caught in a stir that was probably the most notorious thing to happen on our street at that time, next to the murder, of course.

Pat Shadle ruled the neighborhood. I never understood quite how, or why everyone let her do it. She’d sit looking out her window at all the neighbors pretty much all day. You walked by, looked up, and the the curtains rustled. She complained, they bowed. Figuratively, of course. At least I think so. Unfortunately, she lived across the street.

There were four kids. It was to have been three, but the last was a “vasectomy baby”, a result of  ignorance and unprotected sex before the six week wait had ended. Luckily he is the spitting image of his father, and the family joked about it. The middle two were David, the start of the issue, and Mary Jo, friends with Steph for a while until her mom pulled the plug and nobody was supposed to play with my kids. The girls went on walks together, including one day when they took Lovejoy along, a fuzzy underbite-special adorable little mutt. Unleashed, he ran into the street when challenged by a territorial large dog as the girls crossed its yard, and under the wheels of a passing car. Steph carried him home, watching him die in the front yard while I tried to locate an emergency vet. She’s been a determined cat person ever since.

David, as I said, started the whole thing. While we couldn’t build on that pie-wedge conservation easement, we had to mow it. We could also put in a modest garden. When my kids reported that David Shadle had stolen and eaten a carrot from my garden, I confronted him about it next time I saw him, letting him know I knew and wanted him to stop. The next day Pat confronted me in the street, in front of some neighborhood kids, calling me a liar and assorted other things. Apparently David had given her a different version of events. I was naive enough to try to set her straight, but the confrontation ended in her slapping me before storming off.

Had it been private, I likely would just have grumbled to Andrea, knowing the neighborhood would get the true version soon enough. But somehow I had this hair up my a** that the kids watching needed to know this was not OK behavior on Pat’s part. After much thought, next day I went to the police department and swore out a complaint. I also was naive enough to harbor the hope that the outcome could be that Pat get some counseling, something I felt was badly needed.

She got arrested. Yep, picked up from her house, fingerprinted, photographed, the works. She also got an attorney. It was suggested that we all get together to work out some kind of settlement. At no time did she accept my version of the carrot story, of course, because David could do no wrong and never lied to his mother in his life. It was also impressed on me that counseling was never in the cards. Pat could do jail time. While not much, that was never what I had in mind. Thinking she’d had enough (yeah, poor poor Pat), I agreed to drop the charges. I also got talked into accepting half the costs of the action, something I’d not do again. And I returned home to find the family shunned by the neighborhood, something only Andrea’s family disregarded. Every time I walked out into the front yard, I thought I could feel the emotional daggers Pat was sending my way from her window perch. Perhaps it was just imagination. I was never forgiven, however.

So with this the only major excitement in the neighborhood, and for that, coming a year or so later than the murder, it’s no wonder it’s not what anybody thought of at the sound. We did perk up our ears at the sirens several minutes later, especially when there were lots of them and the flashing lights stayed around for a long time. Within a few more hours after they left,the story came ‘round.

The neighbors were on a second marriage. While  divorce is way too common today, it was not so much then. What stays true is that some abandoned spouses just can’t handle the double rejection of not only not-me but somebody-else-but-me. Now I apologize for some imperfect details, but I believe that the rejected wife rang the bell, and when the new wife answered, she was shot in the neck. Obviously she bled out quickly. The shooter was quickly found, and the local cops reassured the rest of us that there was no more danger, if there even ever had been for us. So we all settled in to our routines again, the story a one-day wonder, briefly revisited at sentencing.

So for all that build up and so little story, why am I writing about this? Because it’s had repercussions through the decades. I do occasionally think about the what-ifs were someone to become so irate about somebody in my family that the same thing would occur to them. After all, you do hear about it. So I try to make sure I never tick off anybody that seriously. It keeps me from thinking seriously about checking into legally tapping into my ex’s social security check after I retire. I do qualify, and due to the move to Georgia cutting my education plans short, he’s always made more money than I have. But I have a (mild) dread of him showing up at the door with a shotgun. And I worry about family members getting involved with partners during and after divorce. Just how crazy are the crazy people out there? And why should I/we push it enough to find out?

No comments: