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The first time I witnessed Walter kill someone, I was about 6-years-old. He rushed into the house to get me and my little sister, Tina (not her real name). One of the tactics he used would be to act excited, as if he was up to a good thing to get you excited too and to go along. If you were to meet my father, you’d think he was a very passive and meek person. He tended to keep his head down and walked with a slouch, kinda shuffling, and he had the act of “nonchalant” down to an art. You would think he was harmless and move on. I watched him use it many times. People would suspect him but let him pass simply because of the way he looked.
He told me and my sister that was taking us to the park. My sister sat in the front seat and I sat on the back passenger side, as usual. Within minutes, meaning that we hadn’t driven very far, my dad drew my sister’s attention to a little girl playing by the side of the road. He told her to ask the girl to come to the park with us. He stressed to tell her how much fun it was going to be and that we were going to have a good time. The little girl appeared to be slightly younger than me, more my sister’s age, around 5-years-old.
Walter pulled the car up right in front of her and sat quietly, non-threateningly, avoiding even looking in her direction. My sister rolled down her window and happily told the girl that we were going to the park to play and it would be so much fun. We were going to have a good time. With a nod of the head, Walter nudged her to “go on” and my sister asked if she want to go with us. I watched from the back window and when she glanced at me, I gave her a friendly smile. She then looked hesitantly at my dad as he sat unmoving, looking down at the steering with his hands on the wheel. It was like a moment of held breath. With a little more excited encouragement from my sister, the little girl got in the car.
The next thing I remember is being at the park and my sister and the girl ran to get on the swings and go down the slide. They both were laughing and running and playing. The girl’s laughter was so pure and beautiful that I marveled at how the air was filled with her joy. But for me, I didn’t want to go play. I just stood there feeling sad. I think that by this time I was already a very unhappy and withdrawn child. My dad said to go play but I refused. He just shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention to intently watching the girl.
It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes when my dad called to her, “Come over here.” As she walked towards my dad, my sister called out for her to come back and play. My dad grabbed the girl and put her on the ground, pulling up her dress. The girl immediately began to scream in terror, over and over. My dad kept saying to be quiet and he put his hand over her face and held it there as she kicked and struggled. I stood frozen just feet away, mortified at what was happening. It took only a moment and she became still. The air was now silent. My sister had stopped playing and she too watched in horror.
Even though I was too young to have much awareness, I was struck by how only moments earlier the world had experienced her joyful laughter and now that her presence was gone, totally gone, the world must be wondering what happened to it, where did it go.
My dad, still on his knees before the now dead girl, wailed out, “I didn’t mean to do it! I didn’t mean to do it!” His grief was only momentary before he went cold. He picked up her limp body and carried her over to the edge of the clearing and laid her just inside the tall wooded area. Once back in the car, my sister was so very angry at our father. She wouldn’t speak to him but kept turned away towards the window. Dad glanced at her but kept silent. The incident faded from my consciousness before we even got home.
I don’t think my sister even remembers it. We have never discussed it. My sister suffers from severe anxiety, debilitating depression, and panic attacks. Even though I want to talk to her about it, I can’t. She wouldn’t be able to handle it. When I told her I was writing a book, she emphatically didn't want to read it.
My sister’s relationship with our father was very different than mine. While he hatefully assaulted me, he groomed and petted her. Being born with a hole in her heart, she was thin and frail. At age 6, she had open heart surgery for closure. The doctor warned to not let her cry because it could kill her. Many times, Walter would carry my tiny sister away from the house, leaving my brother and I home alone. Later they would return with her in his arms and her eating an ice cream cone.
A while back, I reminded her about the ice cream cone that we never got and she said, “Oh yeah, I remember that. He would buy me the ice cream and that would make it all better.” She stressed the words “all better” with contempt. I insisted that she not blame herself for what happened between her and Walter, reminding her that she was only 3-years-old when she was left with him. She agreed that the child is never to blame.
My sister and I are close, very close. I love her more than anyone in the world, including my own child and husband. And she dearly loves me. If I think hard on how much I love her, I will break down and cry. Growing up, she was all I had and I couldn’t have been in the world without her. Still, I dare not ask what Walter was doing to her when he took her away.
Although. She and I both remember being in an old rickety house with several men, including our father. There were several kids there, including her, our older brother, and I. We remember one man well. He was stark white and doughy. One of the men remarked how he liked being around children because of their good energy. The time came where these men wanted to divide us children among them and one man chose to take my brother, saying that he liked boys. I saw my dad gingerly hand off my tiny sister to a man with a look of warning before he carried her off. As small as my sister appeared in this man’s arms as he held her, she couldn't have been more than 3-years-old, so I would have been around 4-1/2. I don’t remember what happened to me.
I have no idea how it came about, but when I was almost 8-years-old, Walter married a woman with two kids, a little girl younger than me, and a little boy. Together, they had another girl. Our little brother, who had gone to live with an aunt, was returned. All total, there were six kids. This woman favored her own children and was not a mother to us. In fact, she was mean. She and Walter started butting heads and it culminated in her pointing a shotgun on him and pulling the trigger. It went click, and he punched her in the stomach. The night before, an angel supposedly told him to take the bullets out of the gun but it must have been a demon.
By the time of their divorce, I was 9-years-old. Our stepmother had tried to have Walter committed, saying that he was insane, but the family rallied around him. Not long after she was gone, Walter decided to take my sister and me down to this abandoned recreational place by a swift, flowing river. The river was about 30 feet across and very deep. The site used to be a thriving picnic area with benches and a cafe stand. It was now dilapidated, littered with broken tables and boards and other debris.
We turned off the freeway onto the long gravel road. Having been silent the entire trip, Walter asked, “Jennifer, do you know how to swim?” This scared me and made me very suspicious. By this time, I did not trust my father. I answered, “A little bit.” My sister, being eager to please him, piped up, “I do.” There was no way she knew how to swim. My dad told her to hush up. Whatever he had in mind did not involve her. It involved me.
When we arrive at the spot, there was a car there. On seeing this, Walter quickly got out of the truck and told us to wait there. He pulled out his knife and started making his way under the shed, stepping carefully between the broken boards towards the back of the cafe. He accidentally made a noise, which caused him to stop. He listened before easing forward. My sister eagerly looked after him the way a puppy would, not understanding the situation.
I didn’t know what he was doing but I knew something significant was happening. I wanted to remember this day, but how? I didn’t know the date. I wasn’t even sure how old I was so I asked my sister on an off chance, “Do you know how old you are?” but the question only annoyed her. She squirmed around in the seat. You would think that by now I would know my own age but in my entire life, my birthday had only been acknowledged twice.
I sat forward in the truck, anxiously anticipating what might happen next when suddenly my attention was riveted to a woman’s scream. Walter came running from around the side of the café, and he didn’t have his knife. “Let’s get out of here,” he said as he jumped into the truck. I asked what had happened and he replied that he had seen a ghost.
We sped down the road towards the main road, throwing up a cloud of dust and gravel. In somewhat of a panic, Walter asked if anyone was following us. I look behind and told him, no, that the car was still parked there. When we arrived at the main highway, Walter went into his relaxed, nonchalant mode. Driving at normal speed back towards home, Walter instructed us to be on the lookout for a white truck just like ours. I spotted one coming out of a small country store. As the two trucks pass each other, Walter stares at him and their eye meet. The young man did not like this act of forwardness but Walter nodded his attention towards his two sweet young daughters, an act he would do many times to disarm others.
Walter parked his truck in the garage and began riding his motorcycle to work. He taped newspapers over the windows and using spray cans, he painted his truck black and sold it.
Walter spent a lot of time with his mother, a lot, and she babied him. He would allude to his activities without really telling her the full story. There was be a slight twist, like seeing the black girl in Arkansas stabbed by someone else.
I heard grandmother telling Walter that a woman had been stabbed in the liver at the abandoned cafe at White Sands, the one we used to go to. The woman had survived. She said to Walter, “Isn’t that where you saw the ghost?” For some reason, I started talking about how he got out of the truck with his knife out but when he came running back, he didn’t have it. Walter looked to Grandma for a reaction but she let it pass with only a disapproving frown. It is apparent now that our grandmother must have been watching the newspapers for activity that might relate to her son. Years earlier, when the little girl’s body had been found at the park, she knew about it, and said that the paper had asked what kind of monster could do such a thing.
The next I heard about it was that a young man who owned a white truck like Walter's had been arrested. He was sentenced to 20 years for rape and attempted murder despite the woman saying that he didn’t really look like the same man. When I remembered this incident in my 40s, I felt awful for the man. I spent two days at a library downtown that held microfiche tapes of all old newspapers for the Houston Chronicle. I couldn’t find anything. I posted a notice in the popular Greensheet that an innocent man had been sent to prison for a crime my father had committed. I gave the year to be 1968, guessing my age to have been 9 based upon when our stepmother left. I never heard anything back.
I am convinced that Walter planned to drown me that day. He never did anything without an ulterior motive. The woman being there saved my life. I’ve asked myself why and what I came up with is that he would use it to get sympathy, “Poor Walter, lost his young daughter.”
I have wondered if the place hadn't shut down because of Walter's activities. These are the types of places that he would frequent. It wouldn’t surprise me much. It wouldn’t have been the only place he shut down.