Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What the Detective Said

Message from C. two days ago, coming through hotmail. She and the boys took the ferry to Nantucket at the end of last week. They’re staying with a friend she used to nanny for ten years earlier, an extremely nice woman who now probably rightly thinks that I’m a total monster.

The syntax of C’s message was brief, without salutation, and absolutely void of any emotion, a simple factual report of where they were staying and who with. Of course I emailed back to apologize—I don’t think either one of us is ready to talk on the phone. Plus I have no idea what I’d say, how I’d even begin. Just thinking about it makes my mouth feel like a kitchen sponge. Nothing like what happened last week has ever happened to me before. It’s taken me this long just to write these words, and it’s all I can do not to delete them again.

Meanwhile, I’m here in Ashford.

My editor at U of C actually sprang for a rental car when I told her what I’ve uncovered…more on that below…

Unlike some of the other towns along the route, Ashford is actually a town. They’ve got local businesses, a civic center and a police station. I went in there yesterday and ended up in conversation with a local detective, a man who’s lived here most of his adult life. He’s asked me not to use his name here, so I won’t. It’s the very least I can do considering what he’s told me since then.

I asked him about Isaac Hamilton, and he asked me why I wanted to know. I explained about the book I was writing -- or trying to write. I showed him some of the pictures I’d found of Hamilton and his supposed victims, and the house Jay and Amy checked out with me. After what felt like a very long time, the detective asked if I’ve ever heard of someone called The Engineer.

Apparently, one summer back in the early 1980s, children began disappearing around here again—throughout these same seven towns. It began June 12, 1983, the detective said, in White’s Cove, and ended with the disappearance of the last child on August 22nd, in Gray Haven. All the victims were twelve years old and younger. When the story went national, the press started calling the perpetrator The Engineer, based on an eyewitness description of a man in bib overalls, a handkerchief and an Engineer’s cap.

It was only a matter of time until the nature of the man’s crimes, and his choice of killing grounds, lead to an inevitable comparison to the ur-boogeyman himself, Isaac Hamilton. Copycat killings with that kind of historical pedigree are like ripping off Jack the Ripper, or H.H. Holmes, who murdered an untold number of young women at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Except the Engineer was never caught.

The conversation with my detective ended somewhat abruptly—he had to go back to work, he said—but he told me he’d try to find time to continue our conversation. Meanwhile, I’ve been pounding the crap out of my search engine digging up everything I could about the Engineer killings of 1983. When I got on the phone with my U of C editor, she made a noise like a kettle about ready to blow. This was, apparently, exactly the sort of “modern-day” corollary to the Hamilton murders that might put the project back on track, even in the mainstream press. That seems a little overly optimistic to me, but she felt strongly enough about it to rent me a car and extend my expense account to check it out in greater detail.

Something about the detective makes me feel like there’s more to it. I’m sure it’s a dark piece of fairly recent history that nobody’s proud of, but with this detective, it feels…I don’t know, personal somehow. He claims he worked on the case, and even that doesn’t seem like quite sufficient an explanation.

I’ll post again when I get more info on the Engineer. Love to find the connection between him and you-know-who.


Blogger PhillipC said...

Who's writing this? How much do you really know about what happened back in 1983? I would very much like to know the name of the detective you spoke to in Ashford -- and in detail, what he told you about what happened.

How much time did you spend in Gray Haven asking questions when you were there?

2:12 PM  
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11:18 PM  

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