There was a great piece on NPR yesterday about how musician Chris Butler bought Jeffrey Dahmer’s boyhood home in Bath, Ohio.
The Dahmer house
Of course this got me thinking about I had bought the former home of Andrew Dalzell, suspected of the 1997 murder of Deborah Key. As I was driving with my kids, I then had to tell the whole darn story to them; the scary things that went on there, the nightmares, the power of coincidence and fate… in short, everything I wrote in that piece years ago called Bad Dream House.
The Dalzell house
Well it’s Halloween, what better time for a ghost story. If you have the time and enjoy a good spook I recommend you listen to the NPR piece, and you can read my account of living in the Dalzell residence here at Bad Dream House (enough time has passed that I can somewhat laugh about it now).
But did you know I wrote a sequel? It was part of a chapter for a book that was never published. It’s about how the local police later brought a psychic to the property, to see if she could lead them to Debbie Key’s body. So here it is -it’s called Beyond This Place:
A Post Script: Because I saw the movie Paranormal Activity last night, so to those of you who have seen it: I once found a photo of a kid sticking out of the insulation in the attic at the 500 Robin Road house, just like in Paranormal Activity. I always assumed it was a photo of Andrew Dalzell, but who knows?
Beyond This Place
Sometimes late at night when I’m tired the phone will ring, and for a half second I’ll think it’s her. Other times I’ll wake up in the morning and forget that she’s gone. Hey, I think I’ll call up my sister. Doesn’t she live in Winnipeg now? Oh right, she’s dead. One day I call up my Dad, “Dad, didn’t investigators believe at one point that Theresa had actually run off to New York, and met up there with Vlad?” He couldn’t remember. “Well, if you couldn’t identify the body, how’d you know it was her?” I keep peppering him with these questions. Living the experience vicariously through his eyes. I won’t be satisfied until I’m resting down in that white casket beside her. He reminds me that they had asked him to authorize a dental confirmation. “Why’d they ask me to do that?” he says. “I knew what it would do to her face. Why’d that have to be my decision?” I console him. It had to be done. There was no other way. Besides, we both agree, it would have been just like her to fake her own death. You were always wondering what was coming next with that one. You could just picture it – all this grief and heartache, and she’d be down in Borneo drinking a pina colada with her boyfriend, Vlad. Years later you’d spot her in the crowd with D.B. Cooper protesting the WTO in Seattle. Sipping absinthe in a Paris café with Ira Einhorn. A nineteen-year-old hippie-beatnik Solomon Gursky – spreading mischief, waiting for the ravens to gather. At heart I’m a realist. I don’t harbor illusions about the afterlife. The end wasn’t a tiki bar with a drink in hand; it was a muddy ditch where your body putrefied like a bloated sponge.
I live in a house once inhabited by a psychopath. My wife desperately wants to move. She’s says we’ve outgrown it, but I think it’s a little more than that. I want to hang around just a while longer. Each day there are a dozen little things reminding me that Deborah Key – the young woman who was most likely murdered by the former owner of our home – is still missing. Working in the garden, I’ll unearth some artifact belonging to the former owners. Inevitably, it will be some weapon or instrument of torture – an arrow, a spear, the broken blade from a sword. One time I found a gigantic hunting knife with brown stains on the blade. I turned it in to the police. Later I learned the police had lost it. Another time I found the remains of a dismembered Barbie doll.
The Dalzells – that was the former owners’ name, the Dalzells – never bothered to forward their mail. I still get stuff of theirs. Letters from the IRS, notices of loan defaults, catalogues from companies who specialized in medieval weaponry. My favorite was a brochure from a guy who looked like Bill Gates who promised that anyone could have any women they ever desired through the power of hypnotism.
It would be funny if I didn’t know that a woman had probably died at the hands of this sick-fuck.
Last year my wife started a business; a children’s resale shop in downtown Carrboro. Carrboro is a little bedroom community of Chapel Hill in North Carolina. My wife’s shop is cute. She has a lot of nice stuff. Little Wonders and Baby Gap. She targets customers who can’t afford – or are too embarrassed to pay – $75.00 for a onesie from Gymboree. As fate would have it, my wife rented the space where the bar Sticks and Stones was formerly located. The same Sticks and Stones where Deborah Key was last seen alive. Every day after work I pull into the parking lot to pick up the kids. I always park in the spot where Deborah was last seen kissing Andrew Dalzell against the hood of her car. Deborah’s mother placed a small memorial on the spot with flowers and a plaque. It’s nice that it’s there to remind me. Just in case I forgot.
Not long ago I got another call from our local police. Deborah Key’s body still had not been recovered. Chief Henderson wanted to return and search our property. This time they weren’t bringing a cadaver dog; they were bringing a psychic.
I pulled into our driveway one afternoon. The now familiar sight of police vehicles greeted me. There in my driveway was an officer sucking a slurpy. Why was there always a cop nursing a slurpy? He indicated the back of the property and muttered, “they’re back there.” I wandered to the back of the lot. There was John Lowe, the detective from last summer, and police chief Henderson. They were conversing with a short lady. It must have been the psychic. I exchanged greetings. Lowe introduced the psychic. Sid. Just plain, old Sid. Lowe pulled me aside confidentially; Thanks for letting us come back to your beautiful home, bla-bla-bla; It’s totally changed since the last time we were here, you would never know that a psychopath used to own it, bla-bla-bla… Sid was walking the property to get a feel for the place. She didn’t think Dalzell strangled Key here; that had happened somewhere else. Sid was trying to pick up on the energy. They weren’t looking for a body, now they were searching for Deborah Key’s aura.
“What makes you so certain she was strangled?” I said.
This had always bothered me. They had always talked as if they knew she was strangled. Like they had some secret piece of information. Detective Lowe looked embarrassed. There was no proof of strangulation, he said. But another psychic – one they had consulted the previous year – had told them Key was strangled. And “Sid” had confirmed it. I didn’t know who I felt sorry for most; Sid, the detectives, or Deborah Key. That’s when I noticed the film crew, and things got really embarrassing. There, beyond Sid’s shoulder, stood a cameraman and I guy with a boom mike. I thought it was a Ghostbusters thing; they film the site, then take the footage back to the lab and look for “ghosty” images. Chief Hendo clarified the situation,
“We didn’t have the budget to afford Sid’s fee, so we agreed to let her film everything.”
Apparently Sid was all the rage back in Colorado, where she came from. I was told she had even worked on the Ramsey case. So who exactly didn’t work on the Ramsey case? Now she was preparing for her prime time debut. Sid had development money. She was putting together a pilot. If I played my cards right, I might wind up on television. It was only then that I realized how self-conscious Sid looked in front of the camera. She kept mugging it up; playing the part of someone pretending to be a psychic. Sid flashed me her best “CSI” furrowed brow, then delivered her line,
“Was this pile of debris always here?”
“No, that’s my compost heap. I made it myself.”
She grabbed a handful of dirt and sniffed the air.
“I keep getting birds. Birds…”
No shit, lady. We live on Robin road. The place vibrates like a fucking aviary. You can’t hear yourself think for all the chirping. Wait. It wasn’t dirt in Sid’s hand. It was a ring – a man’s ring. She was fingering it like some sort of talisman. Lowe offered,
“We found it in the driveway two years ago. It belonged to Dalzell. She’s seeing if she can get a reading off it.”
Sid held the ring up to her eyes and studied it. Then she turned to the detective,
“What’s this on the side there? Does this look like blood to you?”
I looked at the ring. Actually it did look like blood. A small brown spot of what could have been very old blood. Sid looked puzzled,
“Did you guys ever have this tested?”
There was a long silence. Hendo and Lowe looked at their feet, hoping the question would go away. It didn’t. It just lingered in the air.
The afternoon dragged on. I wanted them to go away, but they insisted on looking inside the house. At one point the cameraman shouted at me, “Just act normal! Just pretend that you’re walking into your house!” What the hell else was I going to do? Before they left, the cameraman gave me his card; in case I ever needed any work done. Anything really; weddings, bar mitzvahs. Colorado really wasn’t as far away as I thought!
Detective Lowe pulled me aside one last time, “You should really get Sid to help you out with your sister.”
Like that was going to happen. I don’t understand this “psychic” business. They always seem to be able to see everything that is totally extraneous. They do everything but the one thing police ask them to do: solve the crime. The Dube case used psychics to try and find the body. They never did. Ten-year-old boys found Manon’s body. The psychics were a waste of time. This was no different. Lowe continued to gush about Sid,
“She had a vision that Deborah’s body was in a place with woods and a lake.”
“Well did she take you to this place?”
“No, she couldn’t find it.”
Uuugghh! How useless is that! I was losing patience with these people. Me and a psychic? Yeah, right. The chances of me contacting Sid were remote to say the least.
Not that I didn’t try. After she went back to Colorado, I called. Several times – she just never returned my call. Her TV pilot probably got picked up. She was no doubt by now a big celebrity -a famous television star. Who was I to turn my nose up at Sid? I was desperate. She could do no worse than the police had done.
One day a friend called and told me about this psychic from California. Not Sid, another psychic. Only she didn’t call herself a psychic, she was a medium. She talked to the dead. This made me tingly. How did she do it? I wondered. My friend said that that was the interesting part. You didn’t have to visit her. She did it all over the phone. What do you mean she did it on the phone? How could she pick up on your behavior, your “tells”, as it were? That was the thing, it wasn’t a gimmick; my friend had done it. It was amazing. She had a conversation through the medium with her dead relatives. It was creepy. There were details this medium knew about my friend’s life that only people who had “passed” could have known – little pieces of knowledge that no one could find through deception. My friend came to a conclusion. Either the medium was really a psychic and she was reading your mind; or it was for real, and she talked to the dead. My friend suggested I arrange for a consultation with my sister. The medium charged two hundred dollars an hour. I said I’d think about it.
Driving home from work. Stuck in traffic. I take the slow lane. I’m in no hurry. Listening to Electro-Shock Blues. “You’re dead, and the world keeps spinning, take a spin through the world you left.” Thinking. How her eyes would dance. A knowing smile. Like the cat that ate the canary. A real wisecracker. Thinking. What had she taught me? Not much. Shoplifting was at the top of the list. “…cause I don’t know how to let you in, and I can’t let you out.” The two of us at a toy store. A red super-ball. A dare. My descent into kleptomania. A real daredevil, that one. High risks and kicks. Caffeine and adrenaline. I can’t think of one lesson she ever handed over to me. I pass the Dean-Dome. Traffic starts to move again. I run with the flow. Remember. You have to stop to pick up diapers. Thinking. Should I call the medium?
At mid-life I cut my losses and became an accountant. The reasons were simple. Numbers were easy. There was only one way to add them up. While the world whirly-gigged; this was something I could control.
Evening and I’m sitting with my wife in the kitchen. She’s reading the Pottery Barn catalogue; I’m paying bills. I ask her about the medium. Should I do it? She says go for it, and leaves the room. I go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. I have gray hairs. I’m 39; she’s still my big sister. One day I’ll be an old man, but my sister still will be 19. My 19-year-old big sister. She would kill me if she knew how I had changed. I work for the government. A bean counter. It’s not a pretty sight. I stuff the checks in the envelopes and look for my roll of stamps. Thinking. If I hand deliver my mortgage payment I could save $4.44 a year on postage. Oh boy. Forgive me for becoming such a dullard.
On the weekend I phone my parents and ask them about the medium. They say, why not? I talk with my brother. He can’t think of a reason not to do it either. Curious. I was hoping one of them would stop me. At Barnes & Noble I “inadvertently” wind up in front of the New Age section. My medium’s staring at me from the cover of her book. What’s going on here?
The following week I take my family to a government finance conference at the beach. The Carolina shoreline. Calabash. Free HBO. I skip the afternoon seminar, Business Ethics – what you need to know and slip back to our room. My kids are watching television. They should be down at the beach, but they’re huddled around the tube watching Home Box Office. It’s free. Some documentary with a bunch of old people is on. What is this? Where are the cartoons? Were at the beach; where’s Spongebob? This is depressing. I look at the screen and yelp. There’s my medium on TV!
“Dad, you should see this lady, it’s really cool – she can talk to the dead!”
The following week I mailed my $200 check. The medium had rules. Send the payment and your telephone number. She’ll contact you to set up a reading. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery. I also had rules. I sent just the check, and my phone number at work scribbled on a piece of paper. No cover letter. No information of who I was or what I wanted. If she was going to talk to the dead, she would do it clean. I went to her website to see what else I could learn. Two hundred dollars bought me one hour of her time. No speakerphones or cell phones. And I was allowed to tape record the reading. I was instructed to stay open about the reading. I was not to have heightened expectations about who would be contacted. “You may have your heart set on contacting a specific person”. No shit. “Another relative or friend may step forward, sometimes a cherished pet…”
One thing was certain: I wasn’t paying $200 to talk to the dead cat.
A couple of weeks later at work the medium called me up. I was so flummoxed, I practically jumped out of my chair. Was she reading me now? Did she know how I was going to die? I was expecting some California valley girl type; she sounded like my mom. Almost too normal. What was the catch? She gave me a date and time to call her in a couple of weeks, and recommended I read a book on channeling. That was it. She looked forward to the reading. Until then, stay “open”.
I read the book. Why not? It was different. I wasn’t going to start surrounding myself with crystals, but it was okay. If it did anything, it helped me to relax. This was happening in the fall; around the time police were deciding whether or not to investigate. I was pretty tense. To use a hockey analogy, I was definitely “gripping the stick too tight”. There was this channeling exercise. The book suggested that you ask yourself a question, then see what answer came back to you. Then do the same thing again, only this time channel your energy first – polarize your intentions, or something like that. I did it the first way and asked, “how do I solve my sister’s murder?”, I got nothing. I did it again, but this time “channeled” and asked, “How do I solve your murder?” I got back an answer. “Look at everything”. That was it. “Look at everything”. Not a voice, a feeling. But not my instinct, it was something else. Look at everything. It was spooky.
As the date of the reading approached, I tried to find some rational person who didn’t buy into this nonsense. Well, not really. If I really wanted that, there were the square-pegs at work. They already thought me eccentric. Did I really wish them to think I was insane? My wife was getting excited, “Do you think you’ll get to talk back? Is it like The Exorcist, where the medium will talk in devil-voices?” I didn’t know. Did I really think I was going to talk to my sister?
Finally in October, the day had arrived. I closed my office door and checked my tape recorder. Everything set. I tried to relax, but there was no need. I was relaxed. Over the weeks I’d come to convince myself that this was perfectly normal. La-la-la, Come in to the office. Grab some coffee. 10:00 am staff meeting. 11:00 am meeting with the County. Lunch, followed by 1:00 pm conference call with your dead sister. I took a deep breath and dialed the medium. Rather than explaining what transpired, I’ll just let the tape roll in the next chapter.