Things like this only happen to other people.
By “things” I mean crimes.
I’m obsessed with crime—shows, that is, like CSI, NCIS, Law & Order SVU, etc. (any show with an acronym apparently.) I’m also hooked on Discovery’s crime shows like “Dark Minds”, “Cold Blood” and “Deadly Women” (which put all together strangely sounds like me during my divorce.)
And, by “other people,” I mean the victims of those crimes, strangers from someone else’s family and someone else’s town.
You often see them in the news, all smiles in a photo from better times. There’s the shirtless guy on a boat, holding up a Bud Lite and a flounder. There’s the hippie couple in bell bottoms and Birkenstocks. There are the pimply teenagers in pastel prom attire.
“Wow,” you’ll say as you read the gory details, “Did you hear about the woman who got murdered by the Domino’s guy? He’s her ex-boyfriend who just got out of prison and he found out she’d been cheating on him with his best friend so he suffocated her with a Wisconsin Six Cheese Deep Dish Pizza. Mm mmm, six cheese. Anyway, then he cut her up and delivered her body parts to the new guy with an order of CinnaStix. Mm mmm, Cinnastix.”
Things like this only to happen to other people.
I’ll never forget seeing a photo of a suburban Maryland townhouse gift wrapped in yellow police tape. It was in a town not far from where I grew up. Not only was a crime committed there, it was, according to authorities, “particularly heinous.” (Insert Law & Order “dun dun” sound here.)
Oh, and by the way, the house belongs to my sister.
Lisa had rented her home to a woman who rivaled Aunt Bee for down to earth Mom and apple pie goodness. (Google “The Andy Griffith Show” if that reference escapes you.) Lisa ignored dozens of calls from potential renters when “Bee” arrived in person oozing charm and grace. She introduced her teenage son-- let’s call him “Opie”-- who was shy and polite. Hook. “Bee” was a soft spoken, single Mom--a recent widow whose husband had died in a tragic Christmas Eve fire. Line. She had a good job and a check ready for the first and last months’ rent. Sinker. Bee was in.
Little did Lisa know that Aunt Bee had a darker side--like Martha Stewart off her meds when a soufflé flops darker. A few months after moving in Opie stabbed his Mom’s boyfriend to death in the master bedroom. Then Bee helped him clean up the mess and they dragged the body into nearby woods and set him on fire. Hours later a passing cop saw smoke and found the body.
If only these numnuts had watched more crime shows they might have had a better plan. There’s always the standard taking his wallet and watch to fake a robbery trick (although most robberies happen on subways or in liquor stores, not in the woods.) Or, bury him in the basement since basements already have a “weird smell” and most people use them to store things they don’t need anyway. Or better yet, dump him in a more remote location--like New Jersey.
The trial revealed that Aunt Bee was a serial con artist with a prison record. (Note to wannabe landlords: Background Check.) She was suspected of starting the fire that killed the last of her 4 husbands. She’d embezzled a nursing home and a seminary then went on a crime spree eluding police in three states when she faked a suicide. By the time of the murder, she was embezzling the company where she now worked and, to cover her tracks, was slowly poisoning the woman teaching her the computer system.
After Bee and Opie were arrested, another son surfaced. Let’s call him “Goober.” The “Goob” was caught breaking into my sister’s house in broad daylight. He confessed that he planned to steal his Mom’s stuff and sell it. Guess he figured “Mom won’t need a wide screen TV in the joint.” Well, neither would he.
The evidence against the Maryland Mansons included the smoldering remains of Bee’s boyfriend, bleach spots all over the house where she and Opie tried to clean up the blood, the murder weapon-- a kitchen knife--still in the dishwasher and an open box of rat poison under the sink. Aunt Bee’s Mayberry jig was up.
She pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder to spare her older son a 30 year sentence—which brings tears of maternal love to my eyes. Her younger son ended up in “juvie” watching a much smaller television.
I can’t wait to see their crimes reenacted on Discovery’s “Nightmare Next Door.” They were much too stupid to end up on “Almost Got Away with It.”
Not to be outdone by Lisa, my husband and I took our turn at being landlords.
Last year we decided to rent our getaway cabin in a mountain town outside of our Los Angeles home. We hired the real estate duo of “Sue and Lou” (all thumbs up on a bus stop bench ad ) who “with 30 years’ experience” were confident they’d find us the perfect tenant. And they did.
Let’s call him “Paulie Walnuts.” Walnuts was a single, amicably divorced screenwriter who wanted a quiet haven out of the Hollywood city life. Hook. His mother was sick with cancer and he planned to move her from Texas to peacefully live out her last days with him. Line. He had no cats, dogs, birds, kids or anything else that could ruin the carpets. Sinker. Walnuts was in.
His rent checks arrived on time and Sue & Lou’s occasional drive by visits showed nothing unusual or out of place. We had the perfect tenant. So perfect he was incredibly patient with a leaking roof that gave way and doused his computer. We had it patched while he was in Texas selling his ex-house and packing up his sick mother.
Then Walnuts missed a payment. Because of his patience with the leaky roof, and his sick mother, we gave him some time to catch up. Sue & Lou (with their 30 years’ experience) were convinced he was good for it.
Then he missed another payment. Sue and Lou were nervous, but sure any young man had to be okay if he was taking care of his sick mother.
Then she died and he missed another month.
The true story finally came from the local police.
Walnuts had been arrested for growing a pot farm in our house—which explains those trips to Texas. He was turned in by his weed sitter who he’d pistol whipped and knocked down the stairs for letting a plant die. One plant. A SWAT team nabbed Walnuts, his crop, eight guns-- and a dog which had ruined the carpets.
When I told my sister my true crime experience she smugly replied, “God, you are so competitive.”
Some things never change. There will always be more Aunt Bees and Walnuts in this world, and I’ll always be fascinated with their stories. But, I’ll watch them with my fingers crossed hoping these things only happen to other people.