Murder Most Foul
by JoAnne Myers
When two dismembered and unidentifiable torsos wash up on a local riverbank, beautiful 29-year-old registered nurse Jackie Reeves, believes the killer is a man from her past with a history of mental problems. She contacts the dangerously handsome 34-year-old FBI Special Agent Walker Harmon, who arrives in the sleepy town of Pleasant Valley, and met with a reception of lies and threats from local police and citizens. Under constant pressure from both the media and public, along with taunting messages aimed at Agent Harmon and Jackie from person's unknown, the agent races against time to catch the killer before he strikes again, and before an innocent man is convicted. With a suspect list involving the victims' parents, ex-lovers, Satanists, a contaminated crime scene, corrupt police, and the motorcycle gang the Devil's Disciples, circumstances turn the hunt personal, as the hunters become the prey.
On the morning of October 15, 1982, David Weland reported as missing his nineteen-year-old son, Shaun, and Shaun's eighteen-year-old girlfriend, Lorena James. Now adults, they required a twenty-four-hour waiting interval before David could file a missing person's report.
David, a fireman and part-time diver, left Shaun's photo and the telephone number of Annette’s stepfather, Vernon James, with Sheriff Jeff Brown.
Sheriff Brown, an antique clocks collector and horseshoe enthusiast, immediately contacted Mr. James and his wife, Helen, a receptionist for a local optometrist, requesting Lorena's photographs.
Even before the James family brought in the photos, the sheriff was uneasy. Their background contained all kinds of odd kinks. The courtship between the tall gaunt, Vernon and submissive Helen was brief.
A second marriage for each, they married in Xenia, before Vernon moved his new wife and her two small daughters to the Pleasant Valley area.
A non-drinker and former single parent to his only child, Barry Lee, Vernon had a strict, domineering reputation. He ruled his home with an iron fist, belting out orders like a drill sergeant, presenting an intimidating figure.
One of Vernon's acquaintances claimed, “The only time you see Vernon with his family is when they eat at the Shake Shop on Wednesday nights. They walk into the place in single file, led by Vernon.
It's like a mother duck takin' her ducklin's to water. Even then he'll be wear’n that butcher knife tied to his belt.”
Others described the ex-Air Force Sergeant as having a temper, very possessive of his property and family, but still a likeable guy.
The plumb bottle-blonde Helen, a mother at twenty, divorced her children's father and showed little interest in her two daughters, counted few friends, yet worshiped Vernon.
“Helen stays on the farm if she's not working,” a co-worker said. “She always caters to her husband and has chores to do.”
Choosing photos of Lorena from the family albums, Vernon and Helen drove to the Sheriff's Department, late October 15th. Inside, Vernon handed the sheriff three nude photographs of his stepdaughter, taken at the tender age of thirteen.
Flabbergasted, the lanky, wavy-haired sheriff squinted his green eyes. “Why do you give us nude pictures of your step-daughter?”
“These show Lorena's true beauty. They're her legacy for her children and grandchildren,” the self-employed carpenter said.
Alerted by the odd answer, Sheriff Brown said, “Folks, we need to ask you a few questions.” He escorted the couple into one of the interrogation rooms. “Someone will be with you in a few minutes.”
The couple sat on the hard plastic chairs in the white, unfriendly 8' x 12' room, and waited patiently. Vernon smoked a carefully, hand-rolled cigarette. Helen calmly removed needlepoint from her suitcase-like, black leather purse and began sewing.
Minutes later, thirty-nine year old Detective Jack Malloy and his younger partner, Benjamin Thomas, entered. Introducing themselves, Malloy sat at the head of the long table and took out his pad and pen. Leaning against the wall behind the suspicious duo, well-built Thomas, provided any needed muscle.
“Those pictures just happened durin' one of those occasions when you wished you had a camera,” Vernon literally gushed. “When we first moved here, seven years ago, I bought a cabin, but–‘cause of legal technicalities—we weren't allowed to live in it. Then, one night, while we slept in a tent, I heard my dog barkin'. Three men were tryin' to break into the cabin. When I wuz outside investigatin', I heard Lorena say, ‘Kill those thievin' bastards, daddy!'
“I turned around to see her naked, holdin' my shotgun. The next day, we took pictures of her posin' like that.”
“Did Lorena frequently sleep in the nude?” Malloy asked.
“All the time,” Helen said, and Vernon nodded agreement. Keeping her big brown eyes focused solely on her handiwork, Helen added, “We're not Jesus freaks. We just know our bodies are a gift from God and nothing to be ashamed of.”
The captain could not shake his suspicions that the overly calm couple were hiding something.
“Aren't you worried about your missing step-daughter?” Malloy asked.
“Not really,” Vernon said. “They jest run off and got hitched.”
“When was the last time you saw Lorena and Shaun Weland?”
Slowly scratching his head of thick gray hair, Vernon hesitated. Both detectives viewed this gesture as a stalling motion.
Finally clearing his throat, Vernon explained, “Well, detectives, I reckon we last saw Lorena the end of September, when we ran into her and that black bitch, Sheila Weland, in the parking lot at the Amos Department Store. They acted like they didn't see us. But I went right over to their van and gave that Weland woman a piece of my mind. I sure did!” He beamed like the Cheshire cat.
Malloy scowled. “So you hate black people, eh? Is that why you disapproved of Shaun Weland?”
Wiping his brow with the back of his hand, Vernon stayed mum. Helen spoke for him, “We think whites should stay with whites, and blacks should stay with blacks. That's how Vernon and me raised our girls.” She calmly returned to her sewing.
Vernon added, “Yeah! Lorena coulda had her pick of any white man in town. She didn't have to give herself to no darky. I told her and Sheila Weland both that. I tried talkin' to my little girl, but that Weland woman got right in my face. If I weren't such a gentleman, I'd a punched her out, right then and there!”
Both detectives struggled not to laugh, aware Vernon had a ruthless reputation. What's more, many officers considered him borderline crazy, though he had never harmed anyone–so far. Malloy went on, “When was the last time you saw Shaun Weland?”
“That I will never forget!” Vernon replied, turning hostile. “I seen that long-haired punk in late August, when I caught him in Lorena's bedroom when she was changin' clothes.”
“Oh really? How did you feel about Shaun's being in your daughter's bedroom while she was dressing?”
“Well Hell! I did what any God-fearin' father would do—I cussed him up one side and down the other. I shoved him out the door an told him ‘don’t come back...and he didn't!” Vernon ended, red-faced.
“Well, old man, you're quite the character, aren't you?” Malloy grinned.
“That Shaun Weland was a snivelin' little punk. After I chased him off that day, his daddy called me. He said Shaun threatened to kill himself if he couldn't be with Lorena all the time.”
“Only a disturbed person considers suicide,” Helen said calmly.
“So you believe the kids are dead—a murder and suicide?”
“Oh, no, they're alive,” Vernon said. “I'm sure of it.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“‘Cause I'm psychic,” Vernon said.
Jaw falling open, Thomas asked, “You're...uh...psychic?”
“Yeah, I'm psychic,” Vernon repeated. “But I don't talk about it, ’cause I don't want folks thinkin' I'm strange.”
Both Malloy and Thomas muffled grins.
“You can poke fun if ya' like, but it's a gift,” Vernon claimed.
“What did Lorena do, when you kicked banned her boyfriend from the trailer?” Thomas asked.
“She asked me why Shaun couldn't watch her change clothes, so I made it clear to her. I said, ‘We got certain rules inside this home, and if you can't honor them you can leave.’”
Helen inserted her two bits worth, “And, later that very night, when me and Vernon was gone, she packed her stuff and left. We didn't know where she went, but she was old enough to be on her own.”
“Anything else you wanna add?” Thomas asked Vernon.
“Yeah! When I first met Shaun, I thought he was okay. But he was like glue around Lorena. He was always at the trailer. He always wanted to go on our campin' trips with us. He wanted to be around Lorena all the time,” Vernon explained.
“So he was obsessed?” Thomas asked.
“Exactly!” Vernon said. “But it was just a physical attraction. I told my little girl that, too, but she wouldn't listen.”
“And how did you know that?” Malloy asked.
“Well, when I came home early one afternoon, I saw Lorena and that Weland kid sneakin' out of the barn gigglin' and holdin' hands. I got the notion those two kids had jest had sex in my barn and I got hotter'n hell.” Vernon abruptly shot to his feet again. “All Shaun wanted was sex. I don't think he ever took Lorena on a real date.”
“Did you do anything about the barn episode?” Malloy asked.
“I went straight up to that boy, grabbed him by his lapels, and gave him the shakin' of his life. That's what I did! And I ain't a bit sorry for it,” Vernon said, rearranging himself in the chair.
“So you didn't approve of Lorena and Shaun Weland's engagement?” Malloy asked, hoping for a heated response.
Pointing a rough finger at the senior detective, the silver fox declared, “No way was Lorena engaged to that black boy. Her and me just had some personal problems. We coulda worked ‘em out and everythin' woulda been fine. It was that Weland kid puttin' notions in her head. Turnin' her against her maw and me.” Vernon gritted his teeth and stood again. “Now, I want outta here.”
“We're almost finished,” Malloy said, and Vernon sat again.
Thomas left the room to return with a pitcher of water and two glasses. He poured each of the cagey twosomes a drink.
Malloy continued his questioning while Helen removed a tissue from her purse and used it to pat Vernon's sweaty head. She then offered him a prescription Valium, which he eagerly accepted.
After gulping his water, Vernon wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before returning the empty glass to the table and shrugging his shoulders. “People die every day. It's a part of life. When your number's up, it's up,” he added.
Malloy's mind spun with suspicion due to the couple's unusual attitudes since notified of Lorena's disappearance. “Let's discuss the rumors about your family being nudists, and Lorena's being permissive with local boys.”
This time, though, Malloy's probing got him nowhere–the Valium had kicked in, mellowing Vernon. “Those rumors are all lies. Sure, we got some family problems-what family aint? But we're just normal folk, like yourselves,” Vernon said, smiling oddly at the detectives then at his submissive wife. She returned his eerie gesture with an equally tight-lipped grin.
It was obvious to Malloy—Vernon had Helen wrapped around his finger and tucked in his pocket. Still, he wanted a confession. Since the nude photos were his only evidence, this line of questioning appeared futile. Holding Vernon required hard proof. Malloy was certain such a sick, twisted man—who photographed his daughter in the nude—must had more provocative photographs, somewhere. However, without any substantial evidence, the detective had no legal grounds for retaining Vernon and Helen, and the couple could leave any time.
“Lorena left some diaries at the Weland house and I wanna back,” said Vernon.
For a final wrap-up, Malloy mustered the courage to ask a question he felt might infuriate Vernon–a bomb ready to explode.
“How close was your relationship with Lorena?”
“Now anythin' that happened between me and Lorena was consensual,” Vernon declared, folding his arms across his chest. “And that's all I'm gonna say.”
Believing the diaries held information Vernon wanted kept confidential at least partially satisfied Malloy with the initial interrogation. He considered Vernon the prime suspect.
Yet, the county's citizenry of sturdy mining stock from foreign countries—never before having such a shocking crime in modern times—was stunned and scared.For, what the volunteer searchers eventually found- was absolutely unthinkable.