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A Cry in the Night, Part 1: Ghosts

[Originally published June 12, 1988]

His lawyer called out his name. He stood up, put his hand on a Bible and swore to tell the truth and nothing but. He sat down in the witness box and looked toward the jurors so they could see his face and study it and decide for themselves what kind of man he was.

"Did you rape Karen Gregory?" asked his lawyer.

"No sir, I did not."

"Did you murder Karen Gregory?"

"No sir."

He heard a scream that night, he said. He heard it, and he went out to the street to look around. He saw a man he did not know, standing over in Karen's yard. The man said to go away, to not tell anyone what he'd seen. He waited for the man to leave — watched him walk away into the darkness — and then he went up to Karen's house. There was broken glass on the front walk. He knocked on the front door. There was no answer. He found an open bedroom window. He called out to ask whether anyone needed help. There was still no answer. He looked through the window and saw someone lying on the floor. He decided he had to go in.

He climbed inside, and there was Karen. Blood was everywhere.

He was afraid. He ran to the bathroom and threw up. He knew no one would believe how he had ended up standing inside that house with her body. He had to get out of there. He was running toward the window to climb out when he saw something moving in the dark. He thought someone was jumping toward him. Then he realized he was looking at a mirror, and the only person moving was him. It was his own reflection that had startled him. It was George.

***

In the beginning, the members of Karen Gregory's family thought that after the arrest everything else would be simple. They had this idea that once a man had been found and charged with Karen's murder, the law would see to the rest. The case would be heard, and there would be something they thought of as justice. It might take a few months. Six at most. But the worst, they thought, was over.

They did not know the criminal courts. They did not know they were entering a place where another language is spoken and where conventional notions of logic do not always apply. They did not expect that there would be a parade of judges and hundreds of motions and one bewildering delay after another. There would be moments when they would want to stand up in the courtroom and cry out in pain. They thought the truth was what mattered. They did not understand that in court, the truth is cut up into little pieces and then rearranged and argued over, one piece at a time. The truth, they would learn, was subject to rules and procedures and maneuvers.

Once they'd seen what the courtroom was like, some of Karen's family decided they did not even want to talk about her there. They did not want her memory brought up in a place that had become so hateful to them. Karen's brother Mark shuddered inside every time he heard a defense attorney speak of her.

Outside the courthouse, though, they talked about Karen constantly.

They'd drive home, and they'd sit around the table and trade stories about her. Some of the stories were funny and had been told so many times they were almost legend. All of the stories were sad, because they only brought Karen back for a moment. Still, the family went on talking about her each night. They kept her alive, as best they could, and they protected her from the courtroom, as best they could. It was a way of holding on.

***

Her name was not always Karen Gregory. The "Gregory" came later, when she was in her 20s and was making a declaration of independence.

She was born Karen Marshall on March 29, 1948. Her father, Delmar, owned an appliance company. Her mother, Sophia, was a homemaker. They lived in Menands, N.Y., a village outside Albany. Karen was their first child. Two years later came her brother Roy, and then there was a pause of five years before Kim, and then two years after that came Mark.

Being so close in age, Roy and Karen were thrown together constantly. They took their First Communion together at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Albany, and a few years later, when it was time for confirmation, they did that together at Sacred Heart, too. They played together and got in trouble together and fought constantly for attention, affection and superiority.

Karen brought a sweet but diabolical determination to this battle.

She would blackmail Roy into bending to her will. She would tell him he could sit in her room — which had a collection of music boxes and other treasures and which to Roy seemed like Oz - if only he would do the dishes for her. She would grant him a few moments to gaze at the latest issue of the Mickey Mouse Club magazine if only he would dust the stairs for her. She threatened him. She made deals with him. When necessary, she used force, squeezing the back of his neck. And on those rare occasions when he would scratch out a small victory in their struggle, she would spend days plotting revenge. Typical big-sister tactics.

One evening, when Karen was about 9 and Roy 7, the two of them were sitting in the living room, watching TV and eating dinner. They were having grilled cheese sandwiches, and their parents were eating in another room. Karen was about halfway through her sandwich when she announced she was not going to finish it.

"You have to," said Roy.

"I'm not going to," said Karen, and with that she took the sandwich and threw it in a wastebasket.

Roy was astounded. One of the cardinal rules of their household was that you finished everything on your plate. Their mother did not allow anyone to waste food. Roy's astonishment quickly gave way to the realization that at last he had the upper hand. He ran into the other room and announced to his parents what had happened. Their mother asked Karen whether she had thrown away the sandwich.

"No," Karen said. "Roy did it. He did it, and he's blaming it on me."

Roy was astounded again. In their house, there was only one thing worse than throwing away food: telling a lie. You'll never get in trouble telling the truth, their father had told them, and Roy believed it. Yet here was Karen. She was not telling the truth. She was grinning. Roy cried and ran around the room. Karen was calm. She told her parents that Roy's loss of control only proved his guilt.

"That's why he's so hysterical about it," Karen said. "He did it, and he's trying to cover it up."

Their mother would have none of it. She told them that if neither of them would confess, both would be punished. Roy couldn't stand that, either. Being punished for something he had not done was bad enough.

But the injustice of their both being punished for the same crime was even worse. Karen may have been his rival in a battle for power, but he worshiped her. So he confessed. He told his parents he'd thrown away the sandwich, and they sent him to his room. As he left, Karen looked at him with an odd expression on her face.

Finally, he had astonished her.

As the oldest of the four children, Karen did everything first. She drove first and went to college first and moved away first. She was the trailblazer, as one of them put it. For years, she reigned over their lives. They looked up to her with a mixture of respect, admiration and fear. She indulged them and bullied them and made them laugh with imitations of the absolutely ancient nuns who patrolled the halls of the parochial high school they attended. Not that there weren't any signs of weakness. Karen was shy and nervous with outsiders, and for a time she had a stutter, which was made worse when a doctor advised her parents to mock the problem out of existence. Even so, Roy and Mark and Kim saw her as invincible.

Her style of babysitting, Roy remembers, was positively military.

She would issue an order, and they would follow it. She was wiry and strong. She wrestled with all of them and always triumphed, even as they grew older. She was an excellent student, especially at art. She had legions of girlfriends who would retreat with her to the sanctuary of her room. Kim, who wanted to hang out with Karen and the other older girls, was usually kicked out during these sessions. Sometimes Karen's friends would appeal for clemency and Karen would allow Kim to stay.

The room really belonged to both sisters. Karen had a big bed, and Kim had a smaller one. Kim was afraid of the dark and would ask Karen if they could have a night light in the room. Karen said no. But if Kim awoke in the middle of the night from a bad dream and asked to climb into the big bed, Karen said yes and would hold her there in the dark.

The Marshall kids showed off a collective talent for scaring the wits out of one another. They inherited it from their father, who inherited it from his father, who had a thing about hiding behind doors. The kids perfected their own techniques. Karen was no amateur - she jumped out of closets to great effect — but Roy raised the art to a new level. He experimented on Kim and Mark when their parents and Karen were gone and he was appointed babysitter. He took his inspiration from episodes of The Twilight Zone. One night, Roy turned off the lights, went into the kitchen and found a knife and a bottle of ketchup. He poured the ketchup on himself and the knife and then cried out as if he'd been attacked. When Kim and Mark found him, he was lying on the floor playing dead. Kim got mad. Mark cried.

Later, Roy would remember the moment and be ashamed.

***

The news reached Kim first. She was at work — she worked at a hospital in Dunedin, in northern Pinellas County — when a colleague walked up and handed her a piece of paper.

"Call this number," said the woman.

Kim had no idea what she was talking about. The number was unfamiliar.

"What do you mean, call this number?"

The woman had a strange look on her face.

"Just call it."

"Well, who is it?"

"Just call this number, Kim. Go in the office, and call this number."

Kim dialed the number. There was a man on the other end of the line, a detective with the police department in Gulfport, a small city that borders St. Petersburg.

"Do you have a sister Karen Gregory?" he asked.

"Yes I do."

"I'm sorry to tell you that she's passed away."

"What?" she said.

"She's passed away," said the detective.

Kim still didn't understand. "What hospital is she in?" she said.

The detective told her Karen was not in a hospital. He said Kim needed to come to Gulfport, to the house Karen shared with her boyfriend, and identify her body.

"Are you all right?" he said. "Do you need a ride?"

Kim said she didn't need a ride. She hung up and called her husband. He drove her to Gulfport. The trip seemed to take six hours.

Kim felt as though they were moving in slow motion. She could not stop thinking about what the detective had said. She was bewildered. When they reached the house, Kim saw people standing on the front lawn.

Around the house was a yellow tape with some words written on it in black: POLICE LINE — DO NOT CROSS.

Kim walked toward the yellow tape. She could hear birds singing.

She could feel the sun on her skin. Two police officers met her, and she said she was Karen Gregory's sister.

"The best thing you can do," said one of the officers, "is to go home and wait to hear from us."

Kim told the officer she had been asked to identify her sister's body.

"The best thing you can do," the officer repeated, "is to go home and wait to hear from us."

So Kim went home. She does not remember how she found out that Karen had not simply died, but had been murdered. Her husband, she thinks, told her on the way back.

At first, after Kim had begun to spread the word, she and the others weren't sure whether the funeral should be in Florida or New York. But their mother, Sophia, insisted that it be up in Albany.

"I want Karen to come home," she said.

By this point, the family and friends were piecing together a few details of what had happened. Karen had gone to a friend's house for dinner on a Tuesday night and had left for home after midnight. David Mackey, the boyfriend with whom she shared the house in Gulfport, had been out of town on business.

It was past 1 a.m. when someone attacked her inside the house.

There was a terrible struggle that went from room to room. Karen was stabbed repeatedly around her neck. Her hands were cut and bruised, apparently from trying to fend off the blows, and the index finger of her left hand was broken. She escaped at one point, running to the front porch. There, she either stumbled or was pushed, and her head rammed through the jalousie windows of the front door, knocking shards of glass onto the walk.

It was there on the porch, the police believed, that she screamed.

She screamed so loudly that more than a dozen neighbors heard her. One said she thought it was cats. Others thought someone was having a nightmare. Some simply didn't know what to make of the cry. But none of them called the police, and Karen's attacker forced her back into the house and finished killing her.

Her body lay inside the hallway all that night, and all the next day, and all the night after that. The police found her on Thursday morning, about 31 hours after the attack, when Karen's boyfriend asked a neighbor to check on the house. She was still in the hall. She was wearing a white T-shirt, pulled up to just below her breasts. A black teddy — a one-piece, body-fitting type of lingerie — was bunched around her waist. On her body were several handprints in blood. A few feet away, on the bathroom's tile floor, was a bloody partial footprint.

As they learned bits of the story, the members of Karen's family searched for ways not to believe it. They had been told Karen had been murdered, but their minds did not want to accept such a thing. Mark told himself that Karen was in intensive care somewhere and was going to recover. Roy told himself that she had been kidnapped and that they would eventually find her. He invented other impossible scenarios that brought her back to life. He pictured Karen lying alone in the hallway of the house, with the phone ringing and the curtains blowing in the wind. She would be all right, he told himself, if he could pick her up and wash her off and put her into bed.

Karen went to school at Nazareth College, a women's college in Rochester, N.Y. She had to fight to persuade her parents to allow her to leave home, and they insisted that the school be Catholic. At Nazareth, she studied art and was pleased when one of her sculptures was placed on permanent display. She made lots of friends and lost her shyness. The girl who once stuttered now stood at the front of a class, making 10-minute presentations.

This was in the 1960s, and as Karen became more independent, she began carrying signs and joining marches. Her parents were embarrassed one day when they saw a photo of Karen in the newspaper, sitting with some other Vietnam War protesters. Karen would come home to visit, take a seat at the dinner table and debate with her parents about the war.

One of the touchiest subjects between Karen and her parents was Catholicism. Karen had more than her fill of it at Nazareth. She said the nuns cared only about rich girls. Roy had similar feelings about religion. He and Karen joked about how if they ever again tried to walk into Sacred Heart, their old church, the big oak doors would slam shut in their faces. Still, Karen lasted the four years at school, earning a bachelor's degree in art education. Her parents could not wait for graduation. But when her mother called to say they would drive to Rochester for the ceremony, Karen said to forget it.

"I'm not going to go up on the stage and get my diploma," she said. "Let them mail it to me."

"Are you crazy?" said Sophia. "We're making that trip to Rochester. If I have to break both your arms, you're going up on that stage."

Karen still refused. So her mother called out the heavy guilt artillery. She told Karen that if she wouldn't do it for her parents, she should do it for her grandmother, who had sewn her a beautiful white dress for the occasion. Did Karen want to break her heart, too?

That did it.

"Okay," said Karen.

The big day arrived, and the Marshall family sat in the audience.

One by one, the graduates filed out. Then came Karen. She was wearing her black robe and underneath it her new white dress.

"What's Karen got on her feet?" asked her grandmother.

The other women were wearing dress shoes. Karen was clunking across the stage in boots. Years later, when this moment was recalled, there would be some disagreement about whether these were combat boots or hiking boots. Either way, Karen stood out. Her mother was dumbfounded.

Her father sat there and burned. Roy just laughed. Once again, his big sister had found the perfect revenge.

They had to buy a burial dress. There had been no time to send up her clothes from Florida, and so Kim and Roy and their mother went out to buy a dress.

"Make sure it has a high neck," the funeral director told Roy.

There was no need to say why. Roy tried to repeat the instruction gently to his sister and mother. They went to Marshalls, the discount outlet. Karen had loved that place. It carried nice clothes, and it had the name she'd been raised with. The joke was that it was her store. So they went there, searching for a dress that had a high neck and was purple, her favorite color. They found it, too. There was only one, and it was Karen's size. It was as if it had been waiting for them.

The wake was that night. As Roy walked toward the open casket, there was a roaring in his ears. This is what skydiving must be like, he thought. This is what it must be like to jump out of a plane.

The first thing he saw was the purple dress. Then he noticed that Karen didn't look right. The family had lent some photos of her to the people at the funeral home to assist them, but still she appeared different. Her hair was shorter than Roy remembered — she'd had it cut since he last saw her — and she was wearing a light pink shade of lipstick that she had hated. Their mother had placed a rosary in her hands, and as he looked at the hands, Roy realized there was something wrong with them, too. They looked stiff and unnatural, and one of them was partially hidden. Suddenly Roy remembered what the attacker had done to Karen's hands. Roy knew she had suffered other, more terrible injuries. He knew she had been stabbed repeatedly. But these wounds were almost too unreal to contemplate. What overwhelmed him was that someone had broken Karen's finger. He remembered how tough her fingers had been when the two of them wrestled as children. He remembered her squeezing those fingers on the back of his neck. He began to sob.

Kim stood there with her husband and said that seeing Karen's body was like looking at a seashell. It was beautiful, but it was empty inside. Kim stroked her sister's hair.

"Give me a sign," Kim said. "Tell me who did this."

After college, Karen went her own way. She taught art to elementary schoolchildren, worked with patients at a mental hospital and, eventually, got engaged. She'd met a young man named Steve Kruse. She told her mother they wanted the wedding to be outdoors.

"What Mass are you going to be married in?" asked Sophia.

"I'm not," said Karen.

Her mother wouldn't go. She did not intend, she said, to go to a wedding without a Mass. So Karen and Steve were married without the family.

The two of them lived in a little place in New Hampshire called Fitzwilliam. There, it was as though the '60s had never ended. Steve worked at a co-op, trading work for food, and Karen tended a garden and prepared their meals from scratch. A few years later, the marriage ended. Karen was still friends with Steve, but they'd drifted apart.

She dropped his last name and took a new one, "Gregory," Sophia's maiden name. She told her father that she'd used his name for 20 years and now she wanted to try her mother's.

Karen stayed in Fitzwilliam for more than a decade. She worked at a children's magazine. She worked at a computer magazine. She fell in love with a potter and moved in with him. She made pottery of her own, cooked vegetarian dishes, lived in a big house filled with cats and the smell of incense. When he went up to visit her, Roy kidded her about how she had become the queen of the hippies. "Miss Whole Wheat," he called her.

By January of 1983, she was ready to leave New Hampshire. She was tired of the snow and the cold. She decided to move to Pinellas County, where Kim and her husband lived. It was not easy, starting over in Florida. Karen found an apartment and began working as a waitress to pay the bills. One of the places she worked was the Garden, a restaurant and bar in downtown St. Petersburg. At first, Karen didn't mind the job — she'd waited tables in college for tuition money — but soon the boredom and the hours and the drunks got to her.

"I'm a waitress," she'd tell Kim. "What am I doing?"

There were other adjustments as well. After Fitzwilliam, Pinellas County seemed like a metropolis, filled with strange people. Karen started locking her doors at home and in her car — something there had been no need to do in New Hampshire. One night she was at Kim's house when someone knocked on the door. It was late, but Kim got up and opened it without thinking twice. It was a neighbor, looking for his cat. Once he was gone, Karen gave her little sister a lecture on safety. She said she couldn't believe Kim had opened the door without seeing who was there.

"You've got to be more careful," Karen said. "What if somebody was to come in here and attack you?"

Kim never worried about things like that, but Karen did. Years before, the two of them had seen Looking for Mr. Goodbar, a movie about a woman who is stabbed to death in her home. Afterwards, Karen and Kim went to a restaurant to talk. Karen sat with her hands wrapped around her throat.

"I never want to die like that," she said.

***

Their mother wanted a Mass for the funeral. It was held at Sacred Heart, the church Karen had joked about never entering again. In his eulogy, the pastor talked about how Karen had gone to a Catholic high school and a Catholic college and about how she had been a talented artist. Roy imagined Karen standing beside him, making faces and giggling about the oak doors slamming shut in their faces. It also occurred to him that Karen was still the trailblazer, even in death.

It rained that day and was still raining that night when the family finally went to sleep. Roy dreamed about Karen. He dreamed that he went to the funeral home and took her body from the casket and carried her out of the home and deep into some woods. It was raining, and Roy placed Karen's body in the mud and lay there with it and tried to push his way into the ground so they could be buried together.

When he woke from the dream, Roy was half-crazed. He got out of bed and and went outside. A house was being built across the street, and he went over to the construction site and lay down in the mud, just as he had in his dream, and let the rain wash over him. He wanted to die. He wanted to be with Karen.

Karen was happy in Pinellas County. She loved the beach and the sun, and because she worked at night she had hours during the day to ride her bicycle. At the same time, she and her mother were growing closer.

Karen's parents were divorced now, and while Sophia would never agree with everything Karen did, the two of them had grown to understand each other better. Sophia even laughed when she thought back to Karen's graduation. Sophia was planning on moving to Florida so she could be close to Kim and Karen.

"We'll have a chance to talk old ladies' talk," she said.

"Yeah," said Karen. "We'll have fun, ma."

At night, Karen would talk by phone for hours with her New Hampshire friends. But she told Roy her hippie days were over. She got her hair cut. She began wearing a little makeup and dressing stylishly.

She even bent her vegetarian rules enough to eat chicken once in a while. Roy told her not to do anything rash.

"You know," he said, "You don't have to get into an IBM business suit and drive a BMW right off the bat."

She was making new friends, too. She moved into an apartment on Pass-a-Grille Beach with Anita Kilpatrick, a free-lance writer. And she became close to a woman named Neverne Covington, an artist who had a similar love for slightly offbeat humor. Karen also had found a new boyfriend. His name was David Mackey, and he was an administrator of a counseling program for Vietnam veterans. They hit it off from the start. They went sailing and to reggae music concerts, and when Karen's 36th birthday rolled around in March 1984, David threw a surprise dinner for her and took her to see Black Orpheus, her favorite movie.

That spring, Karen moved in with David. He lived in Gulfport, in a white, three-bedroom house on the corner of 27th Avenue S and Upton Street. There were some big oak trees in the yard, and 27th Avenue was paved with red bricks. It was a quiet neighborhood. A man who lived across the street had a citizens crime watch sign in his front yard.

Karen moved in gradually. For weeks, she loaded her belongings into her white VW Rabbit and made runs from her apartment on the beach to David's house. By mid-May, she had carted almost everything over. Other changes were going on in her life. She was no longer a waitress. Now she was working as a graphic artist at a St. Petersburg firm. The new job was a challenge — she had always worried that she had little talent as an artist — and she loved it.

The last time Kim saw her was May 19. It was a Saturday, and Kim and her husband and daughter spent the day with Karen and David. They went to the beach and swam and then returned to the house for dinner.

David was going out of town Monday for several days to attend a conference in Providence, R.I. Karen was nervous about staying by herself. There was something else. Karen said she had been having trouble sleeping for the past few nights. Kim asked whether anything was bothering her. Karen said no. She had the new job. She felt good about moving in with David. Everything was fine. She was just having trouble sleeping.

Three days later was Tuesday, May 22. After work, Karen drove to the apartment at the beach and piled another load of her belongings into the car and took them to Gulfport. One of the things she was moving that night was her plant collection. She had complained that David didn't have any plants in the house, that nothing was living or growing there. She was determined to change that. Later that evening, she went to her friend Neverne's house. Neverne was going out of town for a wedding, and Karen had agreed to look after her home and her cat.

So Neverne gave her instructions and a key, and they ate dinner and talked and drank wine and told silly jokes. Finally, sometime after midnight, Karen left.

"I'm going to miss you," she told Neverne.

Neverne laughed. "I'm only going to be gone for a week."

"I know, but I'm really going to miss you," said Karen. She hugged Neverne and drove away.

That night it was Kim's turn to suffer from insomnia. She lay there in her bed, wide awake.

"What's the matter?" asked her husband.

"I just can't sleep," said Kim. "I don't know why."

Late the next night, Kim got a call from David. He was worried about Karen. He'd been calling her all night at the house and had gotten no answer. Had Kim seen her? Kim said no. David hung up.

It was the following day when Kim's colleague walked up to her with the piece of paper.

"Call this number."

The first thing that went through Kim's mind afterwards was the memory of the two of them seeing Looking for Mr. Goodbar and of Karen sitting with her hands wrapped around her throat.

I never want to die like that.

Roy hoped there had been some horrible misunderstanding, that Karen was not really dead. Before she died, Karen had made it known that she wanted to be cremated; that wish had been followed. When he peered inside the urn, Roy was surprised. He had thought cremation ashes would look like other ashes. But they were thicker, heavier. He sifted through them with his hand, staring at them, wondering whether they were really all that was left of his sister. Then Roy found a small piece of chain from the rosary their mother had placed in Karen's hands in the casket, and he knew she was gone.

Karen's mother found herself looking back over the years. Sophia told herself that she'd been a failure as a parent. She wished she hadn't been so strict with Karen. She couldn't believe she had been so stubborn that she had missed her daughter's wedding. For hours she would sit in a rocking chair, staring out the window at the branches of the trees swaying in the wind. If only Karen could see this, she'd say to herself. If only Karen were here, sitting beside me.

Not knowing who had murdered Karen plagued them. They did not understand who could have done it or how it could have happened.

Karen's father called Kim from New York, where he lived.

"What is going on?" he said. "What is going on?"

From the start, the Gulfport police assumed the murderer was a man.

Karen had been found half-naked, with semen inside her, and there was blood on the bed, so the detectives concluded that she had been raped as well as murdered. As the months went by, the detectives checked out one suspect after the other — many of them friends or acquaintances of Karen — but could not find the evidence to prove that any of them had been in the house the night of the murder. They talked about the possibility that the killer had been a stranger. Perhaps a drifter had wandered into the neighborhood.

This theory made no sense to Kim. She drove by the house a couple of times, circling the block, trying to imagine what had happened. It had been raining the night of the murder. Why, she asked herself, would a drifter have been out on such a night? She remembered that both David's and Karen's cars had been there in the yard. Why would a drifter risk approaching a house that appeared to be full of people?

Kim found herself wondering about everyone around her. She'd stop at a traffic light, and she'd look over at the man in the car beside her and ask if it could be the one. She could not get it out of her head that the murderer was out there, going on with his life. What he did for a living? Did he have a family?

The weeks passed, and still the police could tell them nothing. It got to a point where they did not think the murder would ever be solved. Desperate for answers, some of those close to Karen went to psychics, knowing that detectives themselves sometimes turn to such people for help. The psychics pointed the finger in different directions and at different people. David Mackey found one woman whose son had died in a traffic accident and who said she had managed to contact his spirit and had taken solace from the contact. David asked her to join him and Kim one night at the house of Neverne Covington.

Neverne felt a little self-conscious about it. She had never dealt with a psychic before. But after Karen's murder, Neverne did not know what she believed in anymore. Her mind was open to anything that might help.

She wanted to find a way, she said, to make the illogical logical and the incomprehensible comprehensible.

They sat in a circle of chairs in Neverne's living room. They turned off the lights and turned on a tape recorder. The psychic asked them to join hands and close their eyes and think about Karen. Kim thought about their last day together, when they were at the beach, dunking each other in the waves. Neverne thought about the crystalline quality of Karen's eyes. Soon the psychic spoke of sensing Karen's presence in the room. Neverne felt a pricking sensation at the back of her neck. Slowly, she and the others began to speak.

David said he saw an image of Karen stroking a cat she'd once owned, a cat that had died. Neverne said she could see Karen looking at them. Karen was crying. She missed them. It was painful for her to look at them. The psychic said she was picking up something about Karen and plants. She asked Karen to tell them anything she could. She said she sensed surprise ... perhaps an initial blow so horrendous that it had sapped much of Karen's strength. David said he felt a numbness that started in his left cheek and spread downwards. He said he had an image of Karen going into a tunnel or a cavern. He said he saw a bridge made of rope that sloped steeply downwards into deep space, then sloped back uplike a roller coaster, he said. Then he began talking about something else: "I just got this image of a wrench being used to turn a bolt of some sort. It seems to be kind of a rusty wrench on some kind of old machinery."

"What kind of machinery?" asked the psychic.

"Some kind of engine, it seems."

"Look at it. Is it big?"

"It's not really big. It could be a car engine. Part of a transmission, perhaps. I just have this image of a man, a man's hands turning, working on this, this automobile."

"It seems," the psychic said, "like Karen wants us to know as much as she could know about her assailant. I see a man putting all his tools back in a green oblong toolbox and driving off. I also get a dark green or dark blue outfit on this man. Not — it's not a uniform, but it's one of those work clothes like a mechanic or a, someone who works with machines might wear."

***

It was the spring of the following year when the detectives first talked about a new suspect. They had gone over this person's initial statements, and some things didn't jibe. His story of what he had seen and heard the night of the murder kept changing.

"Something's going on," a detective told Kim.

Then the investigation stalled, and the months rolled by again. It was 1986. The two-year anniversary of Karen's murder was approaching, and still there had been no arrest. Then, in March, the waiting ended.

The FBI had identified the person who had left the bloody footprint found on the tile floor of the bathroom. It was the new suspect. On Saturday, March 15, the detectives arrested him and took him to the Pinellas County maximum security jail.

The man was 24 years old. He had a wife and a baby daughter. He was a firefighter with the St. Petersburg Fire Department. He also happened to be a friend of the chief detective in the case; the detective, who was a notary, had presided at his wedding. At the time of the murder, the firefighter had been a neighbor of Karen's and David's. He lived across the street. His yard was the one with the crime watch sign.

On the day of the arrest, the court case began.

The chief detective — the one who had been the friend — typed out a sworn statement. The statement included a brief summary of the particulars of the crime. It said that at approximately 1:15 a.m. on May 23, 1984, the defendant: unlawfully, while engaged in the perpetration of, or in an attempt to perpetrate the crime of sexual battery, did strike in the head with an unknown blunt instrument and did repeatedly stab a human being, with a weapon; knife, thereby inflicting upon her mortal wounds, of such said mortal wounds, and by the means aforesaid and as a direct result thereof, the said Karen Gregory died.

The charge was listed at the top of the page.

MURDER; IN THE FIRST DEGREE

The name of the detective was at the bottom.

Lawrence C. Tosi, Jr. At the jail, the officers made the firefighter take off his uniform.

They confiscated his badge and his wallet and his watch and his boots and his pen light and stored them in a property box. In place of his other clothes, they gave him a plain blue shirt and pair of plain blue pants, just like the other prisoners wore. They typed his vital statistics into a court computer. The computer assigned him a number, just as all people charged with crimes are assigned a number. His was: 00538288. The case itself was also given a number.

86-03400. And a name.

The State of Florida vs. George A. Lewis

***

Anita Kilpatrick, Karen's friend, wanted to see his face. If she saw him, she told herself, maybe she would finally understand. So that day, when he was arrested, she asked when he would first appear in court.

Tomorrow morning, she was told. At a hearing in a courtroom inside the jail.

The next day was Sunday, March 16. It was raining that morning when Anita showed up at the jail. David Mackey showed up as well. The two of them went to the front desk and said they were there for the hearing. A man at the counter asked for their names and the name of the prisoner they had come to see.

"George Lewis," said David.

The man wrote the names on a log. Then he wrote that David was a friend of Lewis'. David did not see this, but Anita saw it and stopped the man before he made the same mistake with her. Later, when she knew more about the system, she would understand why the man had assumed they had come on behalf of the accused, not the victim.

They walked through a metal detector and were directed to a small room next to the courtroom. The small room was for spectators. It had a window that looked out into the courtroom and a loudspeaker that piped in the sound. Six or seven other people were sitting in the room. One woman, it turned out, was a sister of Lewis'. She was by herself. She appeared to have been crying. David and Anita sat down and waited for the hearing to begin.

Lewis and other prisoners who had been arrested within the past 24 hours were brought into the courtroom. It wasn't much of a courtroom.

There were benches and a few tables, surrounded by walls of concrete block. Sitting at the front of the room was Circuit Judge Harry W. Fogle, a white-haired man with glasses. When the prisoners were seated, Fogle explained that this was an advisory hearing. Its purpose was to make sure that newly arrested prisoners were aware of the charges against them, understood their rights, had access to legal counsel and were not left to languish behind bars without appearing before a judge.

Similar proceedings were held at the jail every day of the year, including Christmas, so that people would always see a judge within a day of their arrest.

Fogle called out the names of this day's prisoners and reviewed their cases, one by one. Anita and David barely heard what the judge said to the other prisoners. They were watching Lewis, who was sitting quietly in his blue jail uniform. They didn't know much about him. Even though David had lived across the street from him, the two of them had barely spoken. Karen, as far as David could remember, had never even said hello to the man.

Two lawyers were there to represent Lewis. When it was his turn before the judge, the lawyers stood up and said bond should be set for their client. They pointed out that Lewis had no criminal record and had strong ties to the community. A prosecutor was supposed to have been at the hearing. He had even been told in advance that he should push for Lewis to be held without bond. But there had been an accident.

The night before the hearing, an electrical storm had knocked out the power at the prosecutor's home. His alarm clock had not worked, and he had overslept.

Fogle, who did not know this, was not pleased. The judge said he was not sure what the law required him to do. He said he wished a prosecutor were there to argue the other side of this question.

Anita and David wanted to stand up and pound on the window. They had waited so long for the police to make an arrest. Now that someone had been finally brought into court to answer for Karen's murder, no one was in the courtroom to speak for her.

Fogle set bond at $150,000. David was sure that was an unusually low amount for a murder charge. As soon as the hearing was over, he went looking for a bailiff. He identified himself, said he had been a friend of Karen Gregory's and asked to speak with the judge about the bond. The bailiff disappeared for a few minutes, then came back. The answer was no. "The judge doesn't want to get into that for the time being," he said.

That same Sunday, there was an article in the St. Petersburg Times.

The headline said: Firefighter charged with killing Gulfport woman.

Early that morning, a friend of Lewis' showed up at Detective Larry Tosi's house, banging on the front door. Tosi's wife Debbie answered.

The friend was angry. He was talking loudly. He wanted to know what he was reading about Tosi arresting George. It was a mistake, he said.

Larry had made a mistake.

Debbie listened to the man complain, then watched him walk away.

She knew there would be others who would be angry. She knew what was ahead. The hard times were just beginning.

A Cry in the Night, Part 1: Ghosts 04/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 3:17pm]

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