Mother, three children murdered in Harland’s Cove
By Betty Francis, NMDR Staff Reporter October 11, 2001, 1:37 pm
HARLAND’S COVE, Maine ― Members of Harland’s Cove founding family were found murdered in their home Wednesday morning according to an Independent County Sheriff spokeswoman.
The small coastal community on the north coast was rocked by the murder of a well-liked family. The Sunrise District School Supervisor requested a welfare check around 10 a.m. Wednesday when Mrs. Ilena Harland-Stanovich and her three sons did not come to school. Mrs. Harland-Stanovich taught English and Spanish at the high school.
The Sheriff’s spokeswoman said that a Deputy Sheriff found Mrs. Harland-Stanovich and her sons, ages 8, 13, and 15 brutally murdered in their bedrooms. Investigators from the Maine State Police are assisting with the investigation.
The main business sections of Harland’s Cove consists of two distinct types – the wharf with its docks, processing plants, and warehouses along the protected inlet. One street inland, small shops and service stores straddle the main highway slicing through town. These are mostly individual, two-story brick or clapboard structures, nothing new since WW-II.
Nestled in the middle of this one-block long eclectic collection of quaint shops a stranger to town stood across the street eyeing one in particular. He smiled, a wistful, seasoned smile born of seven decades of worldly experience. He’d come to fulfill unfulfilled dreams – for himself and others.
The narrow office he regarded has a recessed door and large, grilled window. The old, distorted glass still bears the painted sign, “Molly Hanson, Realtor.” A little bell at the top of the door announced the arrival of the almost ancient-looking gentleman. Being between the tourist and fall color times, Molly hadn’t expected anyone that day, or most any other day for that matter. A welcomed surprise. A sensitive person, she felt something unusual about this man.
Silver-gray hairs sticking out from under a short-billed fisherman’s cap suggested age. The deep lines on the well-tanned face and crow’s-feet suggested a life outdoors. Dark brown eyes suggested perception and understanding. A medium-blue, button-down shirt closed at the neck, dark gray denim trousers and black sneakers helped Molly peg the visitor as something more than a lobster fisherman or tourist.
“Good day, Mrs. Hanson.” His voice more robust than expected, an accent she couldn’t quite identify. The stout lady of Asian extraction stood to reach across a nearly paperless desk to shake his hand.
“I am Jasper Murphy. I would like to rent a place until at least next spring, perhaps longer depending on how my work progresses. I have traveled extensively, but this is my first to Maine. What can you tell me about this community?”
“Let’s have seat over here,” she said, indicating a leather love seat and accent chair, a square, glass coffee table between them. “May I get you something to drink?” Jasper declined.
“At this time of year, there are only 483 people in Harland’s Cove. Four-hundred sixty-five Europeans, twelve Native Americans, four Hispanics, and two Asians according to the last census. I’ve lived here my entire life. Everyone knows everyone else. There are no secrets the Lady’s Social Club doesn’t know. It’s that way in a small town. Industry centers around lobster, fish, and lumber. So, tell me about yourself.”
Jasper delighted in her New England accent. “I am a writer. A seventy-four-year-old widower of sixteen months turned out to pasture.”
“What kinds of things do you write?”
“Magazine articles, travel adventure, some fiction for a change of scenery.”
“I read lots of magazines especially about traveling in foreign lands.” She picked up one from the coffee table. “Ever write for Adventures Magazine?”
“Nope. They don’t pay diddly. Much of my work has been for the National Geographic, The Smithsonian, Discover, and Science News.” My focus is on cultures and archaeology. “National Geographic?” She hurried through a stack of magazines on the table and pulled up the yellow journal.
“That is my last story for them, The Lost Treasure City of the Maya.”
“Oh, gracious! It read like an Indiana Jones movie. You did all that?”
“Hacked through jungle? Waded across rivers? Discovered a hidden treasure city?”
“Hacked and waded, yes. Swatted a billion mosquitoes to their demise. Discovered? No. Our team only verified a smart teenager’s researched theory. So, what kind of cozy, quiet place do you have for an old man to time out in?”
Homes in Harland’s Cove line narrow streets snaking around the eroded seashore and up undulating hills. Molly drove to where a weather-worn, single-story house sat among white pine, hemlock, and maple. It was possible to see the ocean but not without walking out of the trees. A Realtor’s trick. Show the worse first so the next looks great. Jasper was savvy. There were twenty-two other homes on the market, eighteen under $170,000. None seemed to meet his needs. Too big. Too small. Too close to neighbors. They looked inside five before he checked into a bed and breakfast to resume the tour the next day.
After a real, home-cooked meal at the only local diner, he went for a walk along a trail above the ocean. Here, in the wilds, alone, he felt at home. Such environs are where he spent his life since a fifteen-year-old orphan on his own. It is where he spent fifty-five years with his wife, as much an adventurer as him. With a sigh, he walked a bit further until the forest opened. Before him stood a weather-worn, two-story house with a tower and a clear view of the ocean.
Trees and undergrowth invaded the cleared space, a once white picket fence lay in broken ruins except for the gate section. A for sale sign hung by one chain from its post. Looking at the disheveled structure, he broke into a wide smile.
“That’s the old Harland place. Jedediah Harland, he was the first to come here after the War of 1812. His grandson, Isiah, built that house in 1897.”
“It has a magnificent view. What condition is it in?”
Molly hesitated, obviously warring if to answer. Finally, she let out a deep breath. “Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Mrs. Hanson, I have traveled the world over for a lifetime. I’ve seen and experienced things no one would believe exists. Ghosts? Yes. So, you are insinuating the place is haunted?”
“Yes, but not just ordinary ghosts. Many have come here, brave people. No one has spent a night there. Even the most determined paranormal investigators. They left, every one of them, screaming, so terrified they never to returned.”
“Fascinating. Something bad must have happened?”
“A horrible, horrible tale, Mr. Murphy. A tale folk here ‘bouts prefer to not talk about. It happened eighteen years ago next month. Ilene Harland, the eighth great-granddaughter of Jedediah, married Russell Stanovich. A nice man, the kind, the generous type who’d give the shirt off his back to anyone down-and-out, but he had one fault – he had an affair with alcohol. They divorced. Shortly after, her father slipped while walking the seaside trail. It had rained and he fell down the cliff. That left her with three boys – one, six, and eight-years-old. She stayed on raising the boys to be like their daddy, without the devil’s brew, of course.”
“She had many admirers. Her daddy was a good-looking man. He married a girl of Moorish-Spanish descent while overseas during the Great War. He was a twenty-year-old Sergeant in the Army. Came up through the ranks. Boys became men a lot faster then. She was pregnant when he brought her home. Ilene inherited the best of both, a beautiful girl with long black hair and orangish-tan complexion. Guys hung around her like flies at a picnic. The rest of us girls hung close to her to catch the cast-offs.” Molly chuckled. “That’s how I caught my husband.
“When her daddy died, she should have remarried except that fire seemed to have just gone out. Her entire focus was on teaching – she taught English and Spanish at the high school – and raising her three boys. How she dote on those boys. They were true gems, handsome, smart, respectful. The youngest, Victor, tended to be something of a rascal in a good way.
“Everything was fine until October 10th, 2001. That’s a date folks hereabouts want to forget. It was a Wednesday. The Sheriff got a call from the school that Robert, Terrance, and Victor were absent and Ilene hadn’t shown up for work. Nobody was answering the phone. A deputy stopped by to check on them. It was horrible, just horrible.” Molly’s eyes began tearing up. “They’d been murdered, all four of them. They’d been tied up and brutalized only the dear Lord knows for long.”
Molly grabbed several tissues from a Kleenex box on the coffee table. “She was such a sweet person. I was her brides’ maid. And those boys . . . I’m sorry, Mr. Murphy.”
“I understand.” Jasper instinctively reached out and patted her hand. When she calmed, he said, “It must have been a lovely home. There is a captain’s walk on top. Was Isiah a sea captain?”
Molly sniffled once as she composed herself. “Isiah Harland owned several fishing ships and would watch for them to come in. The view from there is really spectacular.”
“The house looks the right size and the location is perfect. I would like to take a look inside.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Murphy! You wouldn’t like it.” The woman’s copper coloring paled significantly.
“It is available, is it not?”
“Yes, but . . . You want a place away from people . . . it’s . . . ”
“Yes.” Her voice raised an octave.
“Fear not, my dear. I’ve dealt with ghosts over the years.”
“But – but . . . we’ve had ghost hunters come to make their inquiries, even some who claim they could exorcise them. No one, absolutely no one has spent more than a few hours in that house before they come out screaming.”
Jasper laughed. “Well, I would like a peek, anyway. May I have the key?”
“You won’t need one. The place isn’t locked. Never was. No one dares go in there, not even the toughest kid in town.”
Jasper stood at the broken, picket gate staring up at the captain’s walk, a small, square room forming a third story with windows on three sides. “Yes, that would make a wonderful place to work,” he thought. A rectangular, two-story box, the porch and captain’s walk gave the house a unique character. Climbing the wide stairs, he stepped onto the wrap-around porch. He easily imagined sitting beneath the canopy with Beatrice listening to the gentle patter of a summer rain, smelling the blend of a pungent ocean breeze, the sweet scent of wet pines, and earthy smell of fallen leaves. Approaching the door, he turned the ornate handle and pushed it open. The hinges groaned loudly.
He chuckled. “Perfect ambiance.”
A parlor set on the left, a larger living room on the right joined by a large dining room to the rear. The center hallway passed a small bathroom to a spacious kitchen with modern appliances and a beautiful black and cream wood stove with silver trim. The kitchen and dining area occupied the back half of the lower level. Stairs went up to the second floor from the kitchen entrance. A large master bedroom with its own bath and walk-in closet occupied the back quarter of this floor. Eight bedrooms and a bathroom capable of handling upwards of three or four people at a time took the rest. Ae narrow, circular stairs at the head of the main staircase went to the captain’s walk. The windows needed cleaning but the ocean view was indeed spectacular. A railed balcony wrapped around the structure which he paced as twelve feet square.
Preparing to walk back down, he encountered a small boy blocking the door. Except for the enraged glare he had pleasing features – light, silvery brown hair, dark blue eyes, moderately full, heart-shaped mouth. He raised both hands above his head and screamed, a high-pitched, strident attempt at maniacal.
“Well, that is not a very nice way to greet your elders, young man. My name is Jasper. What is yours?”
The boy’s narrowed eyes popped open with disbelief. He again raised hands above his head and screamed.
“That is pretty good. You keep working on that. Now, if you don’t mind, I am going downstairs.”
The boy turned and fled down the stairs yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!”
Mommy waited for Jasper at the bottom of the circular steps. “Good day, Madam.” Her face contorted into a hideous snarl as she issued a roaring hiss.
“Not bad. Not bad at all. If you will excuse me, I wish to have a look at the plumbing in the kitchen.” He walked past and down to the first level. She and the boy followed whispering to one another.
Jasper knew plumbing, having had to repair a few things in the home he and his wife’s lived in for forty-seven years when not traveling. On his knees, he looked under the kitchen sink. Everything appeared in good condition. About to stand, he said, “Young man, you may hold that knife in any threatening manner you wish, but you know as well as I, you can not physically hurt me.” He stood and faced a handsome young man. “You must be Robert.” The boy looked positively dumbfounded.
“You’re not scared?”
“No. Should I be?”
“We hate people.”
“That is unfortunate. I plan to make this my home until finishing a current assignment. It is best we get along. Now, put away that knife away before you hurt yourself.”
Jasper walked passed the boy and went to the parlor. He sat in a wing-back chair by the fireplace. “Mrs. Stanovich, would you and your sons please join me. We need to have a conversation.”
Jasper’s heart felt to melt as the woman entered ahead of three boys. She so reminded him of his wife when they married. Medium height, slender figure with milk chocolate skin, blazing dark brown eyes, long, flowing, silky black hair.
“Get out! Leave! You are not wanted here,” she snarled.
“Nevertheless, here I am and here I plan to stay. Please sit down so that we may discuss a workable arrangement.” He motioned to the settee. “Please.”
“Why aren’t you scared of us,” the small boy, Victor, asked.
“Frankly, I have encountered far more frightening things over the course of my life including a ghost that would frighten you. He was a Mayan warrior, quite ferocious and very capable of tearing any intruder limb from limb with his bare hands. He couldn’t, of course. As you know, when Master Robert threatened me with that knife it would simply pass through. You are not allowed to physically harm anyone. Scare, yes. That is the rule. Molly Hanson told me some of what happened. I am truly sorry. You are here for a reason.”
“I watched as he abused each of my sons unmercifully before murdering them, then he raped me. I was alive but died as he killed each of my boys. The police came and made a big show of their investigation. They thought to accuse my husband, ex-husband. A good man but an alcoholic. He was in jail for drunk driving again when we were murdered. They looked at everyone in town and then visitors. We will be here until that person is found and punished.”
“I spent nearly fifty years as an investigative writer and may be of help to find your murderer and bring him to justice if he is still alive.” The woman’s countenance softened. “That should help you out of your current situation, but we do need to get along.
“You have taken care of this place, however, to maintain appearances I need to hire a housekeeper. Because of your reputation, that may be difficult. If fortunate to find someone, you will need to . . . disappear . . . ” he looked at the boys surrounding her, “and behave yourselves. Deal?”
“But mother,” the middle boys, Terrance, half-whined.
Jasper laughed. “I know. Scaring the Heebie-jeebies out of people has been fun, but at least this once? So I can get on with the investigation.”
“Alright. For now.”
Nearly two weeks of hunting Jasper finally acquired a lady to come help tidy up the place. Nervous at first, Jasper stayed close and the boys behaved admirably although once spotting young Victor peaking around the corner. Obviously weakening to temptation. Jasper wiggled a warning finger. The boy retreated.
The first evening he took possession of the house they spent time in the parlor by a crackling fire of comfortable size conducive to intimate conversation. In days past, gentlemen would sit and sip their whiskey and enjoy a cigar or pipe while discussing politics. Ladies would sip tea with their fresh-baked crumpets and talk women things.
Retaining its old-world charm, the walls were covered with a paisley-pattern paper of pale tan, soft gold and rich red. An area carpet in the center of the room lie over plank flooring. The centerpiece, of course, was the fireplace. Jasper assumed the wing-back chair of cream-colored leather once Mrs. Stanovich and her two youngest sons sat on the settee. The older boy, Robert, stood behind them.
“To begin my investigation, I will need some base information,” he said, not wasting time. They couldn’t identify their murderer.
“He was totally dressed black except for a narrow slit for the eyes. It had to be someone local. He knew our schedule too well. People in this town are nosy and would notice a stranger hanging around. Everyone watched out for their neighbors, especially if they belong to the Women’s Social Club,” Ilene said. “That is all adult women who want to know what others have seen or heard about their family members.”
“I have my work cut out, but if he is still alive, I have a few tricks to flush him out.”
On subsequent evenings the boys sat cross-legged on the floor peppering endless questions about his adventures. Robert wanted to know everything about the treasure city. He’d read the NatGeo article and knew there had to be more.
“How could you? You left the house,” his mother said, harshly disapproving.
“I’m sorry mother.” The boy hung his head. “I’ve read everything here . . . I just wanted . . . There are nights I can’t sleep, so I go to the library.”
“What if someone saw you?”
“I was careful.”
“The thirst for knowledge is what has made this world what it is today, Mrs. Stanovich. Learning should never stop, even in death.”
Forever eight-year-old Victor seemed stuck on the Mayan warrior.
“Several years ago, a young man a little older than Robert, predicted the location of an unknown Mayan city based on a theory that they aligned their cities with stellar constellations. His data proved very interesting and plausible and generated a great deal of interest. However, there is an interesting side to archaeologists. If they did not come up with a find or theory, they tend to bash it. In this instance some “noted authorities,” Jasper wiggled two fingers on each hand in the air to indicate quote marks, “jumped on the negative bandwagon. In general, they admitted that the Maya were very good astronomers interested in certain stars and celestial objects, but trying to correspond a modern star map and ancient man-made features is simply . . . in their words . . . ‘an interesting Western fantasy.’ They are dining on crow because of what we found in that city’s library.”
“You found it, ” Robert said.
“A couple of months, after the negative dust settled so-to-speak, I received a phone call from a fellow writer and motion picture producer. When I arrived at his estate, the young man who proposed the theory occupied a chair next to me in a private theater room. My friend and I had collaborated on several projects. He reviewed the boy’s research, displaying a satellite photo of the area in question overlaid with a star chart.
“You believe there is a city beneath the star in question. Your detractors claim it is a fallow maize field. Hump! That is a very long way from the nearest civilization,” he said and then put up another satellite photo of the same area. The special, high-definition photo left little doubt that more than a cornfield there. I nearly broke my jaw when it dropped on the table.
“He then displayed Mayan Stella from different city sites. They were all the same. The young man had learned to read their glyphs and asked him, “What does it say?”
“Noj u Ah Idzat. City of Ah Idzat,” his reply halting as he struggled to decipher the pictures.
“And who is Ah Idzat?”
“Itzamnaaj, a major Mayan god associated with writing, divination, wisdom, and secret knowledge.”
“I think there is something important hidden in that piece of jungle,” my friend said. “I’ve assembled a team – archaeologists and locals. Jasper, I want you and the boy to travel there and verify exactly what it is.”
“We had to hike nearly sixty miles through the jungle. It took nearly two weeks. Sure enough, there was a city and what a city. Totally overgrown, it had been abandoned just before the Spaniards invaded leaving behind a wealth of what archaeologists consider real treasures – their library. We encountered a problem, however. Paal Buluc-Chabtan. He is godborn. That means his father is a Mayan god and his mother human. Paal means son or child. Buluc-Chabtan is the god of war, violence, and death to whom they regularly sacrificed humans.”
“Like us,” Terrence put in, his tone bitter.
“No. You were outright murdered. Mayan sacrifice involved a lot more ceremony. Most were prisoners of war, but others went willingly. The people fled the city when it came under attack. Paal Buluc-Chabtan lead the warriors to defend the people as they escaped. Of 135 warriors, he alone survived, but the invaders suffered great losses as well and left. He stayed to protect the city until the people returned. They never did.
“So, he died and became a ghost?” Terrance said, sitting straight and attentive.
“Yes. He had sworn to protect the city, especially the library. He remained there out of duty. I discovered the entrance to their library by accident and that’s when we met.”
“Did you fight him?” Victor asked.
Jasper laughed. “Who? Me? A seventy-four-year-old wordsmith fight a mountain? Paal stands nearly seven feet tall and nearly as wide. Here, let me show you a picture.” He produced a photo stored in his wallet.
All three boys sucked air.
From head to feet, the Mr. Universe body was painted black. Thick, belly-length, brown hair framed a face painted white. Blackened eyes, nose, and cheeks gave an otherwise regal face the appearance of a skull. The torso and legs were painted to represent a realistic-looking skeleton. A near ankle-length loincloth of turquoise cloth with elaborate red, gold, and turquoise trim hung from an hourglass waist. The headpiece perched upon his head added another two-feet to an already imposing height – a human skull atop a Jaguar’s head surrounded by jet-black feathers.
“Holy crap, I’d run like hell,” Robert said.
“Robert! Watch your mouth.”
“Sorry, mom, but look at this guy.”
“Perhaps you are right, but watch your vocabulary.”
“What’d you do?” Victor pumped for more story.
“That was not the first time I’ve encountered a ghost and knew in that condition he really could not hurt me. He swung this massive war club with obsidian spikes. It went plumb through me. Not having dealt with a human in five-hundred years, that surprised him. I sat down and said, ‘Now that you got that out of your system, let’s talk. We understand that this is a sacred place and have no intention of removing anything. All we want to do is read and copy the books to learn about your people.’ We became friends and spent a lot of time talking about what it was like being a godborn when he was alive. I have focused of much of my writing over the years on the story of people. Now, I have your story to research.”
Over the next few weeks, the relationship grew closer. Robert wanted to know everything that happened in the world from Jasper’s travels. Victor followed him like a puppy. Terrance remained remote and distrusting. Ilene and Jasper talked into the late evenings about many things as she did with her father and husband when he was sober.
Jasper began fact-gathering with several trips to the County Sheriff’s office. A painstaking examination of the evidence and notes became enlightening. How the investigators failed to see the markers pointing to the real murderer was short of incredible. The photos were beyond painful. What each of the boys endured beyond belief, the victims of an obvious psychopath.
“I can not believe it could have been him,” Ilene said when Jasper explained his findings. He was only seventeen. He lived a quarter mile from here. Always looking for odd jobs. We hired him several times. When John and I parted company, he’d come by frequently. Thinking back on it, I let our relationship get too friendly. I hired him to paint the house. It was warm and I made sure he took a break every so often. I baked cookies or a snack, and make lemon-aid. We’d talk. I didn’t think anything of his comments about being alone.
“He was here on Monday to fix the picket fence. It was warm and he took his shirt off. It was a planning day, so I didn’t have class. I made lemon-aid and we chatted as usual. He mentioned how lonely he felt. I sympathized. He suggested we could help each other’s loneliness. He proposed to move in and suggested we could share my bed. My response wasn’t very kind, but he persisted. When he touched me inappropriately, I slapped his face and told him to leave and not bother to come back.”
“But he did,” Jasper said.
“Yes. He was here, waiting, when Victor came home from school.”
“Mom always had a snack on the kitchen table when we came home from school,” Victor explained. “Mom left a note, at least I thought it was from her, saying that she had to visit a sick neighbor and to have my snack and then change clothes. I remember drinking the milk and getting really tired,” Victor said. “I don’t remember anything until waking up. I was tied to the bed and didn’t have any clothes on.”
“I got out of school a half-hour after the little kids,” Terrance explained. “I saw the same note. Like Victor, I ate a couple of cookies with milk and that’s the last I remember until waking up tied to my bed like Victor.”
“And what about you?” Jasper asked Robert.
“I had football practice. I’m a wide receiver, or was. Practice got over at five and I walked Marilee Ashborn home, and then came here. There was a note that said Victor was sick and mom and Terrance took him to see the doctor. It was too close to dinner and didn’t want to spoil my appetite. I went upstairs to take a shower. I was wiping off the mirror when I saw him standing behind me. That’s all I remember until waking up tied spread eagle on my bed. I had a huge headache.”
“What about you, Ilene?”
“I came home after grading some papers. About a half-hour after Terrance gets out of school. I called out but nobody answered. I thought that unusual, so went upstairs to check. When I opened Terrance’s door, I saw him on the bed. I thought to hear something behind me. When I came to, like Robert, I had a terrible headache. I was naked, tied to my desk chair, blindfolded, and gagged. That’s when the horror began. He rolled me into Victor’s room. I had to listen to his screams.”
“You were first?” Jasper said.
“Yes. It went on forever. It hurt so bad.”
“I know sweetheart.” Ilene pulled her son close.
“What did he do?”
“He had some gadget to regulate the amount of electricity” she explained. “After a while, he took off the blindfold and made me watch as he slowly killed my son. Each time he shocked him, Victor would lurch and scream. I think it went on for an hour. When he got tired of that he – he – he . . . ” Ilene began to cry.
Robert put an arm around his mother. “It’s okay, mom. It’s done.”
When she managed to recover enough to go on, Ilene said, “He used Victor’s baseball bat. He smashed his legs and arms, and then his body.” She sobbed.
“I was next,” Torrence, the generally silent one, said. “He used that electric thing like forever and do all sorts of sexual things. The funny thing, just before he killed me, I saw my clock. It had been two hours. I really wanted to die and get it over. He used a knife to cut my belly open and pulled out the intestines.”
“I heard him scream,” Robert said. “He’d scream, go quiet, then scream some more. When it went quiet, I knew I was next. It took a long time before he came through the door pushing mom in her chair.”
“He went downstairs to fix something to eat,” Ilene said. “He tortured my Robert for over three hours doing the most horrible things to him. My babies screamed and screamed and screamed,” Ilene wept, “and there was nothing I could do. I had to watch each one of them die by that monster’s hand.”
“Then it was your turn.”
“Yes, but I had already died in my mind. He could do anything he wanted and did. I felt nothing but hate – hate – hate.”
“And there is the problem why you remain here in the house. Until you release that hate, it will be impossible to move on.”
“You expect me to forgive him? After what he did? I can’t.”
“Neither can I or Terrance or Victor. I want him to come here and get a taste of what he did?” Robert added.
“And how do you intend to take revenge in your condition. Scare him to death?”
Robert’s mouth worked up and down but no words came out. Frustrated, he stomped from the room.
Having them relive the events surrounding their deaths had been an excruciatingly painful experience. Jasper preferred avoiding that, but understood to accomplish the work ahead he must drawn it out.
One afternoon a week later, Jasper finished his umpteenth interview, the grocery store owner. Like many others, remembering posed roadblocks. He and his wife had a close relationship with the family. Encouraged by his wife, they answered Jasper’s questions but added nothing new. Outside, he met two men in white shirts and tie.
“Good day, Mr. Murphy. I’m Ronald Hardesy, President of the Town Council. This is Mike Thorne. He’s also on the Council. I shall get to the point. Your going about digging into the murder of Ilene Harland-Stanovich and the boys is resurrecting unpleasant memories and upsetting a lot of people. That unfortunate incident happened a long time ago. The police have not been unable to uncover the culprit, but they exonerated anyone living here. We have been trying hard to put it behind us and move on. We see your dredging up all this pain as nothing more than an attempt to make a few bucks and further your career.”
“What Mr. Hardesy is saying,” Thorne said, “we want you to stop, pack up, and leave.”
“Thank you for that invitation. What I am doing is not to make money or further any career. I have more than sufficient money and established my career long ago. What is happening here is retribution. Someone committed that heinous crime and that someone still lives in this community. It is time that person is held accountable.” Jasper’s intense glare unsettled both men.
~ ~ ~ ~
Ilene began to marvel at Jasper’s work ethic. Up before five each morning, she’d see him walk out to the trail skirting the cliff dropping precipitously into the ocean. He claimed these trips were to mentally work over what he’d learned and plan that day’s activities. Ilene sensed something more happened that he didn’t mention. An hour or so later he’d return, shave, shower and then sit to a bowl of granola cereal.
“No wonder you are so thin,” she mumbled, wishing to have the ability to fix him something more substantial.
Jasper had several folding tables moved to the captain’s walk. One he used as a desk facing the ocean. Two other tables placed along the solid, western wall held accumulating research. He worked until she sent one of the boys up to remind him to eat lunch. He’d then leave, return, and leave again, returning by eight and work until after ten. After two weeks of this, she went to the walk to remind him to eat dinner. The tables lie buried beneath folders and boxes. The afternoon walks, as he called them, were for gathering and digesting the information.
Unable to do anything for him, Ilene felt useless. With some prodding and encouragement, she convinced Jasper to have the cleaning lady also prepare meals. Naturally superstitious, the mid-fifties, Hispanic, immigrant become more comfortable being in a house with a reputation.
Jasper deftly explained, “The boys and adults who came here seeking a thrill had over-active imaginations and those paranormal folk fabricated their story to enhance selling a video.” Keeping Victor’s bedevilment in check remained a constant struggle.
Hortensia Valdez arrived each day a 12:30 on the dot, leaving by five. How she managed to accomplish anything at first should be listed the eighth wonder of the world. Forever looking over her shoulders. Not encountering anything more than a stray mouse, she eventually relaxed enough to sing. A pleasant voice, Ilene enjoyed hearing music in the old place again. The extra chore – and money – for preparing lunch and dinner only added an hour to her schedule.
One evening after dinner, Ilene came into the parlor. Jasper had begun reading to the boys from one of the books from the library along one wall. Stopping, she felt her body soften. Robert sat cross-legged as usual on the floor in front of Jasper’s chair. Terrance occupied a seat away from the activity pretending to not participate. What touched her heart was Victor. He sat curled next to Jasper taking in every word. The boys’ grandfather read to them every night while she sewed. Jasper reminded her so much of him.
Chapter finished, Jasper closed the book. “It’s bedtime, gentlemen. I’ll be up directly.” Like grandfather Harland, he had begun tucking them in.
“Will you tell me a bedtime story, Uncle Jasper?” Victor asked as he stood.
“Uncle Jasper?” Ilene said to herself as the glare of hate mellowed.
“Alright. A short one.”
“A ghost story?” Robert said, half in jest.
“I do believe to have one about a short ghost.” That quip aroused a giggle from Victor and Robert. Even Terrance’s perpetual frown cracked. “Now, hustle along.”
“Why doesn’t Robert have to go to bed when we do?” Victor asked.
“Reaching the age of fifteen allows some privileges. One is staying up later on non-school nights.”
“That’s not fair. I’ll never become fifteen.” A whine tinged Victor’s protest.
“At this point of time, you won’t, but that can change.”
“When?” Terrance said, the rare time he spoke.
“When you let go of hate. Now, up to bed with you.”
When Jasper moved into the house, he chose to stay in a room furthest from the others with a queen-size, four-poster bed.
“I tend to snore, rather loudly sometimes, according to my Beatrice, although I disagree. I have never heard me snoring.”
Ilene continued using the master bedroom with its balcony and ocean view. Robert slept in the room next to his mother, his window overlooking the ocean. Terrance’s bedroom was now empty. He had moved to stay with Victor who too frequently experienced terror dreams. Understandable. He needed comforting reassurance, too. With a knock on the door, Jasper poked his head into that room. The boys lie beneath the sheets of the queen-sized bed. He sat on the side Terrance occupied.
His story of a short ghost caused Victor to giggle. Terrance fought the urge – not entirely successfully. Victor fell asleep near the end. He then spoke to the thirteen-year-old.
“Terrance, you only prolong the hurt by sitting alone and sulking.” His voice was firm, yet gentle.
“You want me to forget what happened? You might have hoodwinked my brothers, but I will always remember what happened to me. Somehow I’ll find a way to get revenge. Make him hurt like he hurt me and the others.”
“Retribution? As in retaliation and revenge? A rather fruitless pursuit considering your limitations to only be seen and make noises. There is another side to retribution. It’s justice and punishment. That is the natural course in life. It is part of what people call consequences. For every choice we make, there is a consequence sometimes a whole series of consequences. Some good, some not so good. As an example, each of you made the choice to hold a consuming hate in your heart to have revenge on the person who murdered you. As a consequence, you are denied moving ahead in the hereafter.”
“That’s not fair.”
“In the short run, that’s what it seems, but in the long run agency, the freedom to chose what we do, is the one law that exists throughout the universe. He pulled up the comforter around the boy’s neck.
“I don’t know if I can stop hating him. It hurt so bad.”
“My Beatrice and I couldn’t have children. That has always been a deep disappointment, but the reason was the result of a choice I made as a hot-headed youth. I picked a fight with another boy when about Robert’s age. I don’t remember why, but a stupid choice. He stomped the hell out of me, literally. I ended up in the hospital. The outcome was that I could never have children. That revelation came when we failed to conceive and discovered that I am sterile. I could have hated that boy, even gone after him. The pain of feeling an inadequate failure burned in my breast, but the fight had been my choice. Denied a family the consequence.”
“So, we are to stop hating and forgive the guy that murdered us?”
“Forgiving is another issue and choice. First, you need to put hate aside. There is nothing you can do to rectify what happened. Let the natural law take its course and move forward to a much better existence. Sooner or later the consequences of what he did will enact justice. However, in this case, I am working to see that happens sooner. You need to reconcile that and move on.
“In my case, hate changed to disappointment. I resolved to put that behind and move forward. That choice resulted in the consequence that my Beatrice and I enjoyed one another for fifty-five years and came to know many, many children who found a place in our hearts.”
“Like us?” Victor said. He hadn’t really been asleep.
“Yes, Victor. Like each of you. Now, may your dreams be as a gentle breeze. Good night.”
When Jasper turned off the light and closed the door, Terrance lie staring at the darkened ceiling, Jasper’s words echoing repeatedly in his mind. He had a lot to think about. So much for sleep that night.
“Why the tears, my dear?” Jasper asked, encountering Ilene in the hallway.
“All these years my soul has fed on hate and I stoked that fire in my sons. You come along and throw water on that fire and turn my sons back to what they once were, beautiful, wonderfully loving children. I had forgotten.” She kissed his craggy cheek. “Thank you . . . Uncle Jasper.”
“All in a day’s work, my dear. All in a day’s work.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Over the years, Jasper learned to recognize body language. The way the woman ahead of two others walking toward him meant trouble. The charge of an angry rhino.
“Good day Mrs. Thorne. Ladies.”
“Mr. Murphy, you are a despicable sensation seeker,” she blurted.
“That is what I like. Charge and drive your horn into the Landrover.”
That threw the woman into steaming confusion. “What?”
“No beating around the bush. Come straight to the point, which is?”
“Your prying into the Harland murders is tearing this town apart. You are forcing people to remember things we have tried to forget. Now people are accusing their friends and neighbors of committing that horrible crime.”
“My dear Mrs. Thorne, if the good people of this community had not buried their heads in the sand, they would have helped the police bring the culprit to justice.”
“We told the police everything we knew.” Her anger began peaking as the tone of her voice increased.
Jasper didn’t raise his voice but there was no mistake as to his attitude. “No, you did not or I would not be here to uncover the truth. Frankly, I am surprised how everyone said how much they loved Mrs. Stanovich and her sons, yet did not lift a finger to help the police, leaving them to suffer needlessly in limbo. You can rest assured justice will be met. You can remind your husband Mrs. Thorne, and yours Mrs. Hardesy, of our conversation the other day. I am here to stay to the bitter end. Now, good day ladies.”
Later that afternoon he exited the corner pharmacy with some interesting information. A Deputy Sheriff stood leaning against his patrol car, standing erect as Jasper approached.
“The one and only.”
He handed Jasper a folded paper. “That’s a restraining order signed by the County Judge. He has received a number of complaints about whatever it is you are doing here.”
Jasper read the document. “Ah, the Thornes have been busy.”
“You have also been declared a public nuisance and are hereby ordered to leave town.”
Jasper was calm, yet firm. “No can do, Deputy. As a homeowner, this is my place of residence. Obviously, whoever filed the complaint neglected to mention that. You have my permission to go back and tell whoever to stuff that into their pipe and smoke it. As for the restraining order, it is too vague to withstand judicial review. Considering the amount of interference to my work, I have touched the right nerve. That said, I have concluded my inquiries, therefore, will only bother one individual – the murderer of the Harland family eighteen years ago.” The young man looked to be new to the profession. Mouth open, he didn’t have a response. “Have a good day.”
~ ~ ~ ~
That evening being Friday, Jasper said Terrance and Victor could stay up late, a tradition when he was their age, but they needed to change into sleepwear – short pants and baggy T-shirts. “That makes putting you to bed much easier if you fall asleep.”
Finished with the investigation story, Jasper turned to Robert who now came to the walk whenever Jasper was there to read, sometimes to talk. “You better get ready for bed, too. I will be down as soon as I double check everything is in proper order. Entering the parlor, he found the boys seated with their mother on the floor next to the fireplace looking longingly at a large, thick book Robert held in his lap.
“What have you there?” Jasper asked.
“A family photo album.”
“May I see the pictures?” With permission, he sat on the hearth behind Robert who explained each photo – a vacation to Nova Scotia before Ilene and Russell divorced, him catching a winning touchdown pass, opening Christmas presents. “Who is the pretty girl?” Robert blushed. His mother, who had been sewing, lift eyes from the work.
“Sort of,” Robert answered softly.
“You were practically attached at the hip,” Ilene teased, increasing his embarrassment. “That must be the picture when we were at the beach.”
“We were going steady. We knew there wouldn’t be anyone else the minute we kissed.”
Ilene’s left eyebrow arched into her hairline. “You were kissing?”
Robert’s face became redder than the album’s clothe cover.
“Now, mother. How old were you when you kissed a boy for the first time?” Jasper said.
She became flustered. “Fourteen, but . . . ”
“I can’t kiss her or any girl now.” Depression spread over the boy’s face.
“But you said there’d be a time when that would change,” Terrance said. A glimmer of hope entered Robert’s dark, reddish-brown eyes.
“Yes. When you change your attitude, your existence will change. You can meet a girl and even have a family. There is life beyond death. But that might not be with Cindy McDugal. I spoke with her the other day. She’s thirty-seven now and has three children.”
“Three! That’s all? We planned to have ten.”
Jasper began laughing. “The hormones of passion frequently limits the understanding of reality.”
“Huh?” the boy asked.
“When a man begins creating children, he must go to work to support them. The more children, the more work . . . and less bedtime. Less bedtime because of exhaustion and little ones coming to sleep in mommy and daddy’s bed. Both are great birth controls.” Now, Ilene began laughing.
“Is that why Terrance is five years older than me?” Victor asked.
Ilene didn’t reply, turning her head and pursing generous lips to fight down an embarrassed laugh.
Victor was on an inquisitive role. “What did it feel like? The first time you and Cindy kissed?’
“I was nervous. I liked her a whole lot. I was afraid – what if, you know, I screwed up, made her mad or something.”
“And when did this take place?” Ilene quizzed.
“On the beach when we took a walk after dinner. We were talking about getting married after graduating from high school and how many children we’d have. She said it was weird, talking about having children and we hadn’t even kissed, yet. It was dark.” Robert explained.
“Not that dark. You guys stood there like forever looking at each other and holding hands until you gave her a quickie,” Victor answered.
“You little sneak! You followed us?”
“Of course. Then they kissed again, a lot longer. I wondered if you guys’d ever come up for air.”
“How was it?” Terrance asked, opening up a little.
Robert’s broad shoulders slumped. “It was great. I’d never felt so . . . I don’t know . . . complete?”
“Is that how you felt, Torrance, when you and Peggy Ashbourne got in a kissing war?”
“Torrance?” Ilene said.
“I’m gonna beat the crap out of you, you little . . . ”
Jasper began, a chuckle building into a belly bouncer.
“What’s so funny?” Robert said.
“The look on your faces is priceless.”
“And how often did you two kiss those girls?” Ilene wanted to know.
“Robert and Cindy kissed, but they spent most of the time holding hands, and looking at each other, and hugging. They didn’t kiss nearly as much as Torrance and Peggy a couple days later. They rolled all over the ground.”
Torrance glared. “You are dead meat, big mouth.”
Victor stuck his tongue out at him. “What are you going to do? I’m already dead.”
The mood changed dramatically from humorous and embarrassing to melancholy and glum. Jasper turned serious as quickly. “The first kiss can be a precious moment. Something to remember and cherish. Robert and Cindy obviously began developing a memorable relationship.”
“And how far did your relationship go?” Ilene pressed Terrance.
He hung his head. “Oh, Torrance, you didn’t.”
“They didn’t,” Victor said. “They kissed and touched each other all over but didn’t get naked.”
“I really wanted to, but, but I, I got scared, and then grandpa whistled calling for us to come home.”
“Your grandfather whistle?” Ilene said.
“I did,” Victor admitted. “I started getting scared they’d do it.”
“Thanks, bro,” Terrance said softly. “Her family left on vacation the next day. She started dating Phil Lee when they got back. I guess I was too young.”
“That jock changed girlfriends more than he changed socks,” Robert said.
“Would you have had sex if you stayed together?”
“I don’t know, mom. I got to thinking about what you said about respecting girls after she left.”
“Guaranteed, if Victor had not whistled, you would have lost your virginity,” Jasper said. “I saw that happen many, many times. When puberty strikes, hormones are unleashed and it takes time to learn how to control them. Some people never do.”
“I actually kinda felt relieved when she took up with Lee.”
“That’s when he started spending a lot of time with himself,” Victor chucked in.
“Will you shut up?”
~ ~ ~ ~
Talking to townsfolk who were around at the time of the murders proved a daunting task. Getting folks to dredge up unpleasant memories proved difficult. Patience and Jasper’s non-assuming, easy manner won their confidence. Filtering fact from hearsay and gossip became the challenge. Each evening the five spent time going over what he learned. Finding the necessary evidence to bring the murderer to justice remained elusive until talking with the pharmacist.
“Not to worry,” Jasper consoled. “The time for the unveiling and retribution is at hand.”
He felt comfortable having identified the murderer. Proving it in a court of law remained the sticky point. Gently working with Ilene and the boys to abandon their hate, he felt it now necessary to employ a trick or two to finish this assignment. The first trick – don’t be too eager. Drop a hint here and there, like dangling a worm before a wary fish. The person he needed to help remained unresponsive to subtle hints until patience wore thin and a more direct response seemed needed. Finally . . .
“Yoohoo, Mr. Muphry.”
“Good day, Mrs. Hanson.”
“In addition to selling real estate that was supposed to be haunted at an exorbitant discount, I write articles for our little town newsletter. You poked a hornet’s nest. Could we talk about your research into the Harland murders?”
“Good heavens! It’s about time,’ he thought. “How about over a cold glass of lemonade?”
“Have you reached a point to name the murderer?’
“I have, but there is one last piece of evidence to be sure. I will then hand all my work over to the Sheriff. I am expecting that will be delivered this evening. Tomorrow will be the day of reckoning and I would like you to come. Call it your biggest scoop ever.”
Excitement flared in her dark eyes. “No hints?”
“No hints. I do not wish to accuse someone without absolute, rock-solid evidence. If the information I receive tonight does not verify my research, then it has all gone for naught.”
“Is it someone local?”
Jasper leaned back in the metal chair and laughed. “Good try, but no comment.” He lean forward and lowered his voice to speak in earnest. “I will tell you this much. The person I suspect is someone no one in this town would have thought of and that is why the police were unsuccessful in their investigation.”
~ ~ ~ ~
The back door of the Harland house inched open emitting a person of average build dressed head to foot in black. Carrying two, large containers, he began spreading the contents about the kitchen and down the hall to the front. The suffocatingly pungent odor of gasoline filled the air. A light showed under the closed parlor door. Opened with great stealth, the intruder slipped inside with a half-filled can. The door closed, he set the can down and drew a semi-automatic weapon from his belt. Fifteen feet away a wing-back chair faced a cold fireplace. The top of a brown-haired head peeked over the back. The gun’s report shattered the silence.
“Good evening. I have been expecting you.”
Panic slammed the intruder as if hit by one the bullets as he looked in all directions until spotting Jasper standing in the shadows by the bookshelf. He pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
“I believe your gun has jammed. How fortunate. Retribution has been long overdue for your crime.”
“How? . . .”
“You were a very clever and thorough person to execute a crime of passion despite the psychedelic drugs you imbibed.”
“I really don’t remember what happened.”
“Using latex gloves, you very carefully left absolutely no evidence traceable to you. Of course, you and your clothing were drenched in blood, but a trip to the beach allowed a bonfire to reduce everything to ashes which you deposited well out in the ocean. That swim eliminated any trace of blood from your body. Re-dressed in clothes stashed there earlier, you casually walked home and role-played the horror-struck citizen very nicely. Of course, everyone will want to know why?”
“She was one of those haughty Harland snobs. It was their town to run as they pleased. I was their slave, doing all sorts of work for damn little pay. She slapped me just because I told my feelings toward her. I was going to get what was due, but how did you know? How could you know?”
Jasper chuckled. “I logical guess, but now the whole world knows. The research you are so intent on destroying has already been transmitted to the authorities as well as a live feed of this conversation.” There was an audible click. “Which is now off. A good friend traveled a very long distance for this momentous occasion. May I introduce the man you shot in the back?”
The head in the wing-back chair moved as its occupant stood to an impressive height matched only by an equal span. “It is my honor to introduce Paal Buluc-Chabtan, the son of the Mayan god of war, violence, and death. Of course, being godborn, he can only have one attribute. He chose death.” When Paal turned, the murderer screamed and lurched backward tripping over the can of petrol, falling into its contents spreading over the floor.
“Oh, dear, you’ve drenched himself in gasoline. I do hope you did not spread any of that in the kitchen. If the hot water heater were to ignite, the whole house would become an instant inferno.”
He tried getting up, but feet slipped on the gasoline-covered, wood floor. He fell again, his clothing acting like a sponge. In a third effort to escape, he grabbed the door handle. It came off in his hand.
“I have been meaning to tighten that.”
Looking toward the only window, he saw it blocked by the giant, black, skeletonized mountain.”
“I am not allowed to extract retribution directly. That is up to the legal entities or fate.”
The house shook as a subtle boom resonated through its timbers followed by an eerie whooshing that grew louder. Hardesy knew exactly what happened, going into a panicked frenzy trying to re-attach the door handle until a blue flame slithered under the door. Leaping back was pointless as the gasoline he’d spilled flash-ignited the room – and him. Turned into a running, a screaming Roman candle, he fell before reaching the window, writhing until the screams ceased.
Stepping off the porch, Jasper walked to where Ilene and the boys huddled near the broken gate. Her eyes the size of dinner plates as the internal fire blew out windows allowing flames to leap upward like tongues to envelop the house.
“Was that our killer screaming?” Terrance asked.
“Yes. With all his brilliance, he forgot about the possibility of the water tank igniting the gasoline he distributed before its intended time.”
Victor stared slack-jawed at the behemoth coming up behind Uncle Jasper. “Are you the warrior Uncle Jasper told us about?” The Mayan only smiled a reply. “Wow! I’m glad you’re on our side. You are on our side, right?”
“Yes, young one.” His voice rumbled like distant thunder.
“Thank Heavens you were able to get out,” Ilene said.
“An interesting exit,” Robert said, eyes narrowed and looking suspicious. “You forgot to crawl when you came out of the window. I re-read that National Geographic last night on your desk. The one about the treasure city. I read the magazine cover to cover. Most people probably miss some of the great information among the ads in the front section. ‘Long-time contributing writer and adventurer, Jasper Murphy died of natural causes while covering the search for a lost Mayan city in Central America. See article in this issue.” The article went on about your career.”
“Are you a ghost?” Terrance asked.
“No. Ghosts are those who have things in their life needing correcting before moving on.”
“Like us,” Ilene said.
“Yes. However, there is no sitting on a cloud, playing a harp. I am charged with helping folks like you make the transition. My friend, here, and I. The sirens I hear suggest it is going to become extremely crowded in a few minutes.” Reaching out to take Ilene’s hand, he said, “It is a beautiful evening. Let’s take a walk.”
“Small one, you ride,” Buluc-Chabtan said, lifting Victor as if a piece of paper and setting him on a broad shoulder.
Molly Hanson watched Murphy’s simulcast on her Asus tablet, arriving behind a Sheriff’s deputy and a fire truck. All they could do was keep the fire from spreading into the trees. As for the house, century-old timbers burned with such intensity that only a pile of white ash remained. The community was stunned to learn that a leading businessman, church Deacon, and City Board President had been responsible for the gruesome murder of the Ilene Perez Harland-Stanovich and her three sons. From the live feed, the police knew he was in the house. All they found was his fancy high school graduation ring on a piece of skeleton finger buried beneath a pile of ash.
Ronald Hardesy made a choice in life eventually requiring him to pay the piper. Unlike Ilene and the boys, there was nothing to change. His life played like Monopoly, forbidden to pass go.
As for Jasper Murphy, Molly Hanson sat in her office the afternoon following the fire, weeping. From Jasper’s video, they knew he was in the house and presumed to have perished in the inferno. She barely knew the delightful old man who had somehow touched her heart. When the little bell above the door sounded its delicate tinkle, she looked up.
“Jasper!” she shrieked.
“Good morning, Mrs. Murphy. My, my, my. Your eyes are so red.”
“When the hot water heater ignited the gasoline Hardesy spread throughout the house, I made a hasty exit. He was not so fortunate. By his own doing, justice has been served.
“That lovely home. What are you going to do now?”
“I have finished my story here and the next takes place elsewhere. You have been a delightful acquaintance and did not feel it right to leave without saying goodbye and thank you.”
“If you ever come this way again I have a little cottage overlooking the ocean that would be perfect for you.”
“I shall keep that in mind. In my line of work, one never knows where their work will take them.”