It was Friday, April 29, 1977. Nearly 30 years ago...damn. I came home from school and was about to call my best friend, Joann, to ask her opinion about which dress I should wear to the ESYA Sports Banquet the next day. (I was a cheerleader) (yes, really) As I reached for the phone, it rang and Jo was on the line. "Oh, I was just gonna call you. I need your help..."
"Laur, we need you to come down here," Joann interrupted. "Down here" meant her house, which was around the corner from my house, and "We" meant Joann (12), Dean (9) and Ellen (5). You see, We (Jo, Dino, Ellie, and me) were the youngers--the youngest brothers and sisters of the families in our neighborhood. I was the oldest of the youngers.
"What's wrong," I asked.
"Little Richie was running around the neighborhood by himself and he has something on his pants. He said 'Daddy has a knife,'" she answered. Richie was about 3 years old, by the way.
[Background information] Richie's mom was white, and his dad* was black. I know that shouldn't matter, but in small town America, it did and still does. They were not married. Carol (the mom) had begun dating someone new. The dad had made threats, thrown rocks through her windows, and generally harassed her constantly. Oh, and Carol and Richie lived with her grandfather, whom everyone called Pop. I don't know how old Carol was because I was at an age when anyone over 18 seemed all grown up and old.
I took the shortcut through our backyards. My dad (who was home for a brief reconciliation with my mom) was talking to Jo's dad over the back fence. It was a beautiful warm spring day. Jo pointed to Richie's pants. There were splatters on his thighs, like paint. I asked him again why he was outside and he said, "Daddy has a knife." Dino told me he saw Richie's dad run across the backyard, so we knew he wasn't around anymore. We decided that Carol and her ex were probably fighting and it was safe to bring Richie home now. I led the way, with Joann a few steps behind holding Richie's and Ellie's hands. Dino came up beside me. Carol's house was a single story, with an attic. Everyone used the backdoor, so that's the door we went to. I climbed the stairs and was about to knock on the screen door when I saw it--a body, covered in blood, sprawled on its back in the middle of the kitchen. At the foot of the body, wheel pointed toward it, was Little Richie's Big Wheel. He must have been riding on it when the ordeal began, which I guess would explain the splatters on his pants.
I screamed. LOUDLY. And in the midst of the scream I said something like, "Carol's dead! She's been stabbed!" I flew off the porch without hitting the stairs at all and ran like the wind across the street to Dino and Ellie's house where my brother Brian was visiting his girlfriend, Sharon, who was Dino's sister. Jo picked up Richie and ran after me with Ellie dragging behind. Dino took a peek in the window and then ran with us.
I threw myself into Brian's arms and somehow managed to tell them what I saw. Sharon called for an ambulance. Debbie (another sister) called the police and was put on hold. Within minutes our neighborhood was crawling with cops, ambulance, media, and looky-loos. Brian, tired of consoling me, passed me off to my brother Roy, who took me home, where I curled up in a ball in the big armchair in my parents' room.
Thanks to Dino's information about Richie's dad running across the backyard, the police were able to track his footprints across Carol's yard and the next yard, to the street, where other neighbors reported seeing him running. Dino gave the police the name, a familiar one with local cops, and they went to his apartment where they found the him freshly showered. The damning evidence was a Dial soap wrapper in his trash can with Carol's blood on it. I don't remember if they found the murder weapon or his bloody clothes. I don't remember much about those few weeks after.
As it turns out, the body I saw was Pop's. He was stabbed over 40 times. Carol was found in the attic, near a slatted window, with several slats removed. The police theorize she was trying to escape. Carol was stabbed over 100 times, with most of the wounds on her chest and face.
I probably saw the scene for only a few seconds, but to this day I can tell you exactly what it looked like--where everything was, how the body was situated, the exact position of the Big Wheel--only I never see color. It's always black and white.
Over the next couple of weeks, police and media were all over our neighborhood and I managed to evade them every time (even then, I was a slippery one). Eventually, I had tell the police what I did and saw. In August, Dino and I were called to the hearing. My dad came with me because I was still pretty shaky. In September, the trial began. I was subpoenaed along with Dino, Ellen, Debbie, Jo's Dad, and others who I didn't know. None of my family came with me. NONE!** I was 12!!! The Police Chief picked me up at school, and let me tell you, nothing solidifies your reputation more the the Chief of Police coming to your classroom and leading you away. I mostly sat in the library at the court house with Dino, Ellie and Debbie. They called us into the judge's chambers before the trial, with the murderer sitting a few feet away, and asked us stupid questions like "How old are you? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What's your favorite subject in school?" to see if we could testify in his presence. Ellen, the poor little thing, couldn't remember how many brothers and sisters she had (there were 6 of them) and could only name Dean and Debbie. She was not called to testify, even though she was in the house when the threats occurred. Dean and I were the main witnesses.
The press had a field day with this fact, calling it "The Children's Hour." They tried to dismiss our testimony because Dino didn't know the upper part of your leg was called your thigh (but he pointed to the exact same spot I did, so there), and because, according to his father, Richie couldn't say "daddy." Okay, fine, he may have said "dada" but we were around the kid all the time. We knew what he was saying. Dada, daddy--it's the same freakin' man. In the end, he was convicted. Richie was placed for adoption. I met a guy when I was in my 20's who knew Richie and said he was a well-adjusted kid who didn't seem to remember any of this.
And that's that. Maybe tomorrow I'll tell you about my out runnin' of the law (you have to imagine Waylon Jennings saying that).
*Yes, I know his name. No, I won't say it because he may be out of jail by now and I fear him.
**My anger here is really directed at my father, who by this time had left again, and my mother who couldn't be bothered to take time off work to accompany her youngest daughter to court, to testify--against a MURDERER!! Sure there were bills to pay, but I was scared.