From day one, when she moved in across the street, I knew this was going to be an interesting neighbor. Simple friendly gestures, such as a wave of the hand, were completely ignored. She was unresponsive to my attempts to engage her in friendly conversation from across the fence when she walked from her car to the front door. It was as though I didn’t exist.
I tried several times to break the ice because we are a very tight-knit neighborhood and want everyone to feel welcome. We also want our neighbors to be active. I was the block captain. Welcoming the new families to their homes was my responsibility. All efforts failed. I even went over and introduced myself and asked if she would like to attend one of our block meetings. She declined and closed the door on me.
I decided I would back off, but remain polite and friendly, even though her actions made this difficult. I simply convinced myself that she was a very private person and just needed some time to get settled in. Over time, she would see what a friendly a neighborhood this was.
However, this never happened.
A lot of other things happened over the next two and one half years. I will just touch upon some of the major ones.
From the beginning, there were several people living at the house. This included both adults and several children. The kids ranged in age from an infant to one about twelve years old.
There were always several cars parked in the vacant lot that went with this property. Most days you could count up to five. Before long, appeared a number of what seemed to be abandoned cars and old trucks with spare motors, transmissions, and various other auto parts. Several times, I would see strange people who didn’t appear to live in the house, working on these vehicles in the vacant lot.
Soon an old boat, a trailer along with old tires and a number of other items began to collect on the lot. It looked very much like a junk yard.
The people that lived next door to them and who were long time members of our neighborhood came over and asked me if I had met the new neighbors yet. I told them of my unsuccessful attempts.
They then described having several of the children just walk uninvited into their house. They would ask if they could stay for supper or whatever meal time it was. When quizzed about where their mother was, all they would say is she works in a pool hall. They said their grandmother was babysitting them and was too tired to cook. When asked where their father or grandfather was, they would only say they didn’t have one. These kids not only seemed hungry, but tired and rather unkempt as well. They never seemed to have clean cloths, or anything to play with like toys or a bike.
The unfriendly dog they had staked out in the middle of the yard was a Pit Bull Terrier. It rarely had water in its dish and always seemed to be lacking food. Even the kids avoided it. It had a well worn circle around the makeshift dog house. It barked at everyone and everything that came near it or the house.
From her seat on the front porch, the grandmother would attempt to keep the kids in order. She was constantly yelling and threatening the kids with what she would do to them if they didn’t behave. It was easy to tell she was overwhelmed. She was a chain-smoker and when she would holler at them she would begin coughing; at times, almost uncontrollably. She would send the kids up the block to buy her cigarettes. I figured she must have sent them with a note, because they were too young to do so without permission.
I would see the new SUV from time-to-time, but there was always a large African-American male driving it, not the lady who I saw driving it the first day. She drove a relativity new, top-of-the-line car. It seemed that neither she, nor the guy I had seen driving the new SUV, kept regular hours. They would come and go at any time of day. I noticed that the license plates were special plates assigned to those who had a DWI record.
The junk in the vacant lot keep piling up. The yard was never keep up and had seldom been mowed. It appeared that they had a brand new riding lawn-mower and had just started mowing when they hit the bright blue standing water-pipe that was sticking six inches out of the ground. This had obviously stopped the mower and two months later, the mower hadn’t moved. Growing up all around it, were weeds and tall grass.
To allow snowplow access during the winter, there was not supposed to be any parking on the streets between 12 and 6 am. One of my biggest complaints was that she did it anyway. When the snowplow came by it would cause a large ridge to form. The narrow streets made it hard to get out of our driveway. When I attempted to talk to her about this problem, she was unresponsive, except to inform me that it was a public street and that she would park where she wanted.
At the beginning of the second summer, I began to see a pattern. Cars would cruise around the block a couple times then stop directly in front of the house. The driver or passenger would get out and run up and hand money through the ripped screened door. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they were dealing drugs.
This made me very uncomfortable. I realized from the beginning this was bigger than me.
The more traffic, the more it generated talk amongst neighbors. There was a lot said about it at the block club meeting and informally between neighbors.
The property also attracted the city inspector’s attention. Several correction orders were issued along with citations for the vehicles on the lot. There also were many other ordinance violations such as the height of the grass and weeds. The community officers seemed to be regulars at the address.
There were visits from the county checking on the welfare of the children. It appeared that after these visits a number of those adults living in the house would move out. Shortly thereafter, new people would move in.
The kids became more aggressive about asking for food. Without being invited, they would walk right into some of the neighborhood homes.
The grandmother seemed to be losing what little control she had over the children. It wasn’t uncommon to see them challenge her authority by openly arguing with her. Many times I heard, “You’re not our mother; I don’t have to listen to you!” The kids used to leave their toys, bikes and jackets in the street or all over the neighbors yards. They rode their bikes across the yards, which resulted in several sprinkler-heads being broken. Efforts to speak to either the mother or grandmother were met with denial and a defense of the children.
It got to the point where the overall neighborhood became hostile towards the family as a whole. One neighbor even went so far as to meet with the police department and discuss his concerns about the alleged drug dealing. All the police would say is they have had received complaints and were aware of the situation. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone in a vehicle parked a ways down the block watching the comings and goings of the cars. It appeared they were recording the license plates.
The local police would just stop the neighbors and make small talk. The conversation would always lead to talk about that family and house. We all knew the house was under surveillance but it didn’t seem to make any difference.
One of the neighbors, with kids who went to school with the children from that family, would find out bits and pieces of information and relay it to the other neighbors. There never was a way to be able to know what was truth or just speculation. I never really took a side or relayed any of the gossip. Being one of the block captains, the pressure to do so was great.
I knew this was a no-win situation. I just remained neutral. I had no proof of wrong-doing.
Early one Sunday morning in June, all that changed.
I had been working in our garden at Ms. D’s and hadn’t had occasion to go to the front of the house. Hearing a commotion, I went to the front to investigate and noticed that there were more than the usual numbers of cars parked on the street. I watched as a more arrived.
There was also a police car parked out front. The police had been in the house. Coming from the house they saw me standing in my driveway and walked over to ask me if I knew the lady of the house, or any of the family. I told them that I really didn’t know much about them. I explained my experiences. All the questions had been around whether I had known her fiancée. I said I didn’t even know she had a fiancée. I knew there was a big guy who used to come over and stay, but I didn’t know what the relationship was. They took my name and number and told me that a detective would follow up with me. Then they left.
As I turned and headed back towards the garden I noticed a note on my car windshield. I stopped and pulled it off.
It read; “Please don’t call the police to have all the cars ticked that are parked on the street. There will be several cars coming and going over the next several days. My fiancée of eight years was murdered late Saturday night.”
She signed her first name followed by ‘the lady across the street’ in parentheses. I hadn’t previously known her name.
Now I did.
What a way to find out, I thought to myself.
What else didn’t I know about her and that family?
I was soon about to find out.
copy write all rights reserved 03-23-07 D. Jerzak