Stories That Stay With You

Driving back from our annual Georgia get-together this week, Kruse started talking about interviewing our friend and just-retired TB Times colleague Jeff Klinkenberg for a what-I’ve-learned blog post. Somehow the following story from 1987 came up, and I asked Kruse to read it out loud in the car. He struggled through it. We both cried and sat in silence for a few long miles. What is it that makes certain stories unforgettable?

Jeff Klinkenberg
St. Petersburg Times

I liked to climb to the roof at night and throw water balloons at passing cars, and when that lost its novelty I hurled guavas, a common tropical fruit. One night, a couple of teen-agers whose car I smashed with a guava chased a friend and me over fences, through bushes and into back yards where dogs snapped at our heels. We somehow escaped.

One night, a friend and I built a dummy, and, hiding behind a bush, threw it in front of a passing car. The car screeched to a stop, and an elderly man got out, shaking, certain he had killed somebody. I am still ashamed.

By the time I was 14 I was a fishing fanatic. I fished for snook in a canal that passed through a golf course in Miami Shores. I had to trespass to fish, but I was good at climbing high fences, and I didn’t mind running from the cops. The cops would take you to the police station, call your parents, and confiscate your tackle. They never caught me.

Sometimes I wish I had been caught. If I had, maybe I would have stayed away from the golf course once and for all. Maybe Keith still would be alive, and on those nights when I lie awake in a cold sweat I would no longer hear him screaming for his mother.

I went back last week. In Miami for business, I had a couple of hours to kill and drove to the golf course. I walked along the first fairway, crossed a bridge that spanned the canal, passed under the railroad trestle — and then stopped when I saw the dam.

I was staring at the dam when a golf course ranger drove up in an electric cart. “What are you doing?” he asked. I told him I’d come back to the scene of a tragedy that has haunted me for 23 years, a tragedy my mind continually dredges up whenever I am depressed or I start worrying about the safety of my own sweet children. Death is no abstraction to me. That a lot of people live to old age is, I know, a matter of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. I am afraid to trust happiness.

“I remember it,” the golf course ranger said. “I lived across the street from the 16th fairway. I remember all the excitement. It was awful.”

“I was there,” I said.

“Kids still sneak on the golf course to fish,” he said. “I chased 10 away already this afternoon.”

“Take it from me,” I said. “It’s no place to fish.”

I walked along the 11th fairway and looked at the sign hanging from the fence at the dam.

“Danger,” it said. “Automatic Gates Open Without Warning.”

I introduced the twins, Keith and Kent, to fishing. We were 14 and in ninth grade. Kent was tall, thin, and, like me, a nerd who didn’t know how to dress and blushed whenever a girl approached. Keith was short and built like a bulldog, with big bones and a neck about as wide as his shoulders. He got into a lot of fights at school, and when we played football, he always wanted to play tackle instead of touch.

Nobody could bring him down.

It was a Sunday morning. My parents were at Mass. I met Keith and Kent at the golf course fence, and we climbed over. It was March, a little early for snook, but we wanted to try anyway.

Kent did his casting from shore; Keith and I stood together on a little walkway at the front of the dam. From there, you could cast under the dam and reach the spot where water and minnows trickled in from the other side.

Keith threw his yellow Creek Chub Darter lure under the dam. It got snagged on the floodgate, the mechanism that opens and closes to regulate the flow of water. Keith cussed and said, “I’m going to unsnag my lure.” It was the last thing he said to me.

While I continued casting, Keith climbed over a guard rail, to the other side of the dam. He lay on the floodgate and reached inside to recover his lure. There should have been nothing to it: Just lean in, get your lure, get out.

The tide, at that moment, must have reached its highest point.

Suddenly, the dam roared to life. Gears turned, machinery rumbled and the floodgates began opening. That was when Keith screamed.

Actually, it was a shriek. I still don’t know how this happened, and I don’t know if I can adequately explain it to you, but what happened was his upper body somehow got pinched between the floodgate and the rest of the dam. He could go neither forward nor back. As the gate came up to allow water to flow from below, life was squeezed from his body. I’ll tell you what he said, though it doesn’t mean as much unless you can imagine how he shrieked.

“Mommy, mommy, mommy. I don’t want to die. Oh, God, I don’t want to die.”

Kent and I leaped the railing and tugged on his legs, which were kicking, but we couldn’t haul him out. Pretty soon his legs stopped kicking.

Kent sprinted to the clubhouse a half mile away for help. I stood crying at the dam, until two doctors, playing golf, ran over to see what happened. One reached into the dam and took Keith’s pulse. “He’s gone,” he said.

A doctor told me to go home; there was nothing I could do. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to go home and cry in my parents’ arms. I pitched my tackle over the fence, jumped on my bike and pedaled home as fast as I could, my lungs almost bursting with effort. In my front yard, I jumped off the bicycle, while it was still rolling, and ran into the house screaming for my mom and dad. They were still at Mass. I went into their bedroom, fell to my knees and prayed loudly for a miracle I knew was not going to happen.

Keith, my friend, a boy my age, was dead.

Nothing would bring him back ever.

She Said ‘No’

Writing fro Oklahoma State’s student newspaper, Kassie McClung: Ashley sits at a wooden table and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear with a sweaty palm. Her eyes shift nervously from the officer to the floor. OSU Police Officer Colt Chandler places his folded hands on the table and looks at her, waiting for her to say something.

Ashley wishes she was alone.

Chandler slides a document in front of her.

“All I need from you is a signature right there,” he says in a video provided by OSU Communications. “You can read through there and see what’s going on.”

But Ashley knows what the document says. As soon as she signs the paper her case will be closed, so she scribbles her signature on the bottom line without hesitation.

“Is there any particular reason why we chose to do this?” Chandler asks.

Ashley pauses for a moment.

“I just don’t think it’s a strong case,” she says.

It was the alcohol, the lack of evidence and the little support she felt that shaped her decision to not press charges against her rapist.

It crushed her.

“I felt like I didn’t matter, and what happened to me didn’t matter,” Ashley said in a recent interview with the O’Colly. “I felt like a statistic pushed under the rug.”

Vape Life

Leah Sottile: Two men in flat-billed hats and baggy t-shirts stand back-to-back on a dimly-lit stage. On cue, they bend at the waist, draw their e-cigarettes to their mouths. Wisps of smoke gather around them. And then, slowly, they straighten upward as they inhale. Finally—like human fog machines—the men blow thick, billowing clouds of bright white vapor into the air.

These guys are called “cloud chasers,” the name for e-cig hobbyists who pride themselves on blowing bigger, thicker, longer plumes of smoke.

The win goes to a guy calling himself “The Push,” who bested an entire bracket of cloud chasers during a three-hour livestreamed event in late September. The announcers, two other guys also wearing flat-billed hats, thank everyone who came out to the watch.

“Thank you very, very much,” one says. “Wanna give a big shout to … all the companies that were out here supporting the event, supporting the cause … the cause being fuck Big Tobacco.”

“FUCK Big Tobacco,” the other announcer concurs.

It’s a scene from AmeraVape Technologies’ cloud-chasing competition (you can watch the whole thing here) in Carlsbad, California, the first “pro-vaping circuit” event. AmeraVape Technologies is a manufacturer of vaping equipment, particularly for folks who want to modify their devices to produce more smoke. A few days before, over the phone, AmeraVape’s CEO Erik Hutchinson told me he’s organizing competitions like these in order to bring greater awareness to vaping.

Shadow Of Doubt

Part I, from Cary Aspinwall and Ziva Bransetter: Prosecutor Tim Harris stood before jurors deciding Michelle Murphy’s fate and told them police found someone’s blood near her slain baby’s body — blood he implied could be hers.

“Ladies and gentleman, beyond a reasonable doubt this woman killed her child,” he told them.

What Harris didn’t tell jurors is that as the trial started Nov. 14, 1995, he possessed a report from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation that said Murphy’s blood type was different than the type found at the scene. That test determined DNA found at the scene was not hers, contradicting Harris’ implication to jurors about what the Tulsa police lab tests showed.

A Tulsa World investigation shows the state of Oklahoma relied on faulty blood analysis, the dubious testimony of a troubled 14-year-old neighbor and an unrecorded, incriminating statement to convict Murphy. All three elements were so problematic they should have been challenged in court. Also, jurors never heard other evidence that might have given them reasonable doubt about convicting Murphy, who spent 20 years in prison.

‘I’ll Never Forget That Day’

Baxter Holmes: ON ALCATRAZ ISLAND, Calif. — John Hernan dug through memories from six decades back when he patrolled this rock as a correctional officer. And his 93-year-old blue eyes lit up at the mention of basketball.

“If I would’ve known that you were going to be here today,” said Hernan, pointing at the reporter from Boston, “then I would have brought with me a photograph.”

A heartbeat later, Hernan was presented with a black-and-white photo, dated 1956.

“That’s it!” he said.

In early August, Hernan ferried over to this windswept 22-acre island dotting San Francisco Bay for the 80th anniversary of the federal penitentiary’s opening, an event organized by the National Park Service, which runs Alcatraz as a historic site. Hernan was joined by fellow former officers, ex-convicts, and family members who lived here when America’s most notorious prison operated from 1934-63.

But in the infirmary ward on the second floor of the ancient cellhouse, where park rangers served lunch, Hernan found himself discussing two Celtics Hall of Famers and a moment that has all but slipped through the cracks of time.

He eyed the photograph, recognizing the faces: Bill Russell on the left, in the hat, and K.C. Jones in the middle, with the picturesque smile, both of them baby-faced, just weeks removed from winning a second straight NCAA title with the University of San Francisco Dons. And on the far right, a Jesuit priest, Father Richard Scannell.

Then Hernan unspooled an improbable story that even his son had never heard; a story that historians, researchers, archivists, and others associated with the prison, the college, and the area had never heard; a story that some USF players on those teams had never heard; a story that, for some reason, never made the newspapers back then and stayed below the radar since.

It is a story that has faded as those who were there when it unfolded fell ill or died. The few tied to Alcatraz who are still alive — many in their 80s and 90s — refer to themselves as an “endangered species.” But Hernan, who worked at the prison known as “The Rock” from 1955-58, was there. And he remembers.

“I’ll never forget that day,” he said.

Gaining Independence, Finding A Bond

Dan Barry: EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Sunday wedding that was months away, then weeks away, then days away, is now hours away, and there is so much still to do. The bride is panicking, and the groom is trying to calm her between anxious puffs of his cigarette.

Peter and Lori are on their own.

With time running out, they visit a salon to have Lori’s reddish-brown hair coiled into ringlets. They pay $184 for a two-tier cake at Stop & Shop, where the checkout clerk in Lane 1 wishes them good luck. They buy 30 helium balloons, only to have Peter realize in the Party City parking lot that the bouncing bobble will never squeeze into his car.

Lori, who is feeling the time pressure, insists that she can hold the balloons out the passenger-side window. A doubtful Peter reluctantly gives in.

“I’ve got them,” she says. “Don’t worry.”

Peter Maxmean, 35, and Lori Sousa, 48, met five years ago at a sheltered workshop in North Providence, where people with intellectual disabilities performed repetitive jobs for little pay, in isolation. But when a federal investigation turned that workshop upside down last year, among those tumbling into the daylight were two people who had fallen in love within its cinder block walls.

The Priviledge And Burden of Franklin McCallie

Joan Garrett McClane: They came from across the city. They came black and white to the towering brick house on Read Street.

Bankers, lawyers, judges, government workers, retirees, contractors, small-business owners — a constellation of the middle class.

Greeted with tiny coffee cups and wedges of chocolate cake, they stuck name tags to their shirts and blouses and exchanged polite hellos and handshakes until a bell rang and the crowd settled like dust into chairs and couches. Forty-five people, many meeting for the first time, crammed into the living room and waited for a word from the host.

Franklin McCallie looked across the room and was in awe of the sight. The mix was just right, he thought.

This would be the perfect beginning to his small revolution.

Into The Black

Charles Anderson in New Zealand: He awakes alone in the black at 12.03am. He does not look at the clock but he knows the time. He cannot see their faces but he knows who they are. The silhouettes surround him in silence. He is not afraid. He closes his eyes and remembers their story. It is his too.

He remembers the taste of salt, the smell of gasoline, the constant slap of water against his skin. He remembers what absolute loneliness feels like.

He will say he was ready to die. He will say his entire life led up to the moment when he decided not to.

There were nine, including him. They had set out together on a boat called the Easy Rider. The only difference in their story is that he is alive and they are not.

Lost Orphans

Scott Atkinson: FLINT, MI — Ermina Hagerman could not have known she was sending her children to die.

It was November 1885, and it was a desperate time. Her husband, Charles, had died just a month before. He had enlisted in the Civil War at 14, lying about his age, and had survived it all. But now at 34, he was gone, leaving Ermina — or Minnie, as she would be known all her life — alone with their four children. It would have been impossible in such a time for her not to think of how she should have had five children, had they not already lost Leo, one of her oldest twin boys, when he was small.

Minnie was 33 years old. The year 1885 was not a time when you would expect a woman with four children to work, and anyway, the village of Constantine, where she lived, was not one of great opportunity. “Nothing spectacular about it, other than the St. Joseph river flowing through it,” as one local historian said.

Minnie applied for government assistance. She had family in nearby Three Rivers, but they could offer only so much help when it came to her children. Rice and Grace, her two youngest, twins, were deaf.

In this, at least, there was hope. In a city called Flint, halfway up the state, there was a new school operating under what was still a radical idea: Perhaps the deaf and blind could be taught. Perhaps they were capable of learning like the rest of society, capable of learning skills, contributing to and participating in the world, and communicating with it. Her children would have a chance at a future, a trade and a voice.

It was also a boarding school. Minnie’s child-rearing load would be halved. And so she traveled with them, one after the other, to the Michigan Asylum for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, and returned home.

She could not have known that she was sending them to their deaths, nor could she have known that in time, her two youngest children would come to be called orphans, lost to history and forgotten for more than a century until someone came to find them.