The Murderer I Knew, by Ellen Behrens

 I once knew a man who ended up being a murderer. He took a hammer to his sickly, elderly mother’s head because she refused to give him money. After he killed her he went to the nearest bar, ordered a drink, and confessed.

auto-shopThis was not one of those, “He was such a nice, quiet neighbor” situations. He was a creep by all measures, but no one in my hometown suspected a murderous heart beat within him.

Clyde, Ohio, was then, and is still, a farming and manufacturing community. When my first car needed an oil change, my father suggested that — rather than drive to the dealership in the next town — I should take it two blocks over to the local garage, the one on the backside of the courthouse. He explained how small towns work: everybody shops at the local grocery, gets their hair cut at the place on the corner, picks up prescriptions at the Rexall Drug on Main Street.

So when my clothes needed dry cleaning, I went to Joe’s Cleaners. Joe Maltese was a short, red-haired Sicilian (a Gambino, on his mother’s side) who, when I was younger, drove a sports car, showed off expensive pointy-toed boots, and made the hair on the back of my father’s neck stand up. Joe was married to his high school sweetheart Gloria; both were classmates of my mother.

Gloria was as mousy as Joe was a braggart. In the 1970s she was past fifty yet she wore her hair in the same style from her high school years (think: June Allison in “White Christmas”) – smooth, pale brown hair rolled under just past her shoulders.

Joe and Gloria had two sons, Mike and younger Steve, a year ahead of me in school. The Malteses lived in a relatively new house, and the two sons got everything they wanted. The boys, especially Steve (who knew he fell farther into the range girls called “cute” than his older brother Mike did), lived lives that teetered on the knife-thin edge between enticing and dangerous. We were fascinated and repelled by them, sort of like ogling a car wreck.

clyde_porchI remember one occasion, probably among a few, when the Maltese family visited our house. The adults sat in the small kitchen, drinking coffee, discussing local politics (Joe no doubt having the last word) while we kids surrounded a table in the living room, playing Monopoly. The Maltese boys cheated. We were appalled and politely tried to give them an out, a way to recover their error without embarrassment, but they snickered and pressed on, sure they had the upper hand.

Eventually, I left that small town for college and other places, returning years later during one particulary tricky life transition. I took a pleated silk skirt to Joe’s Cleaners where Steve managed to press out all the pleats, only claim there was no fixing it. Who was I to argue? Then he asked me out. “I’ve always liked smart women,” he said. He’d outgrown cute and was, at this point in his thirties, a skinny, slimy creep who’d been accused of making advances on minors, plying them with alcohol and pot. And I was smart enough to turn him down without upsetting him, take my skirt to a cleaner who knew how to properly take care of it, and put the incident out of my mind…

bloody-hammer..until years later when my mother called to tell me Steve had murdered Gloria. Joe had died less than a year before, older son Mike had taken on the bulk of the business, and Steve glided from family handout to jail time and back.

Somewhere along the way, all those years of giving flipped on Joe and Gloria. Steve, especially, felt entitled. Eventually, on that fateful day, Gloria either had enough of his taking or didn’t have enough to give, and that sent Steve over the cliff, hammer in hand.

He pleaded guilty to murder, got fifteen to life and was denied parole in 2014. He’s not eligible again until 2021, when he’ll be 65 years old. Until then – to the end of his days, I hope – he’ll sit behind bars where, ironically, he’ll continue to live off others’ hard-earned money.

Thank you, MMO, for letting me share my story about knowing a murderer. Have you ever known a murderer? Maybe a kidnapper? I’d love to hear the story!

ellenbehrenscoversYuma Baby, Ellen Behrens’ second Rollin RV Mystery, is now available in print and ebook formats. She’s been writing fiction since she could hold a fat pencil in her six year-old fingers, and is the author of three novels, a short story collection, and a nonfiction book. She learned as much about writing by being a fiction editor for a literary magazine as she has from writing itself, and is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Fellowship. She blogs about writing at ellenbooks.com and about her travels with her husband as a full-time RVer at http://bobandellen.wordpress.com. And she loves getting email at ellenbehr[at]aol[dot]com.

yb_bio-1Details about her books and information on ordering can be found at http://www.ellenbooks.com or http://bobandellen.wordpress.com

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12 thoughts on “The Murderer I Knew, by Ellen Behrens

  1. Yikes, how creepy to avoid getting involved with a future murderer. Actually how smart. “Saved by the pleat” (sorry). I guess this one is a pleated plot. Ellen, that is one sad story and you are obviously not the docile type considering your adventurous lifestyle driving all over the place. I think it’s a good idea to rely on intuition somewhat to stay safe. It doesn’t always work when a person is born into a family of creeps. It doesn’t pay to be docile unless it’s a ruse. Killing one’s mother brutally is right up there at the top of the creep list and creeps right over into the psychopath list.
    That was a good read and some insight into small town America. Best to you and your books YUMA BABY and PEA BODY and to your writing and travel adventures.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, MJ! Yep, one of the great things about getting old (and there are a few, actually) is seeing how things and people turn out. This family seemed to have everything (on a small town scale), and ended up with nothing. Cute teenager turned into creepy murderer. Sadly, he’ll be up for parole again in 2021 — I’m hoping he doesn’t get out.

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  2. Very interesting (and creepy/sad) story, Ellen. It just goes to show you never can tell. I coached youth baseball (13 & 14 yr.-olds) for several years. One kid was the nicest guy you could imagine. It was always “yes sir” or “no sir” and he would do anything you told him to do without question. He wound up winning the team’s “Best Sportsmanship” trophy both years he was on the team. Imagine my shock three years later when he was charged with murdering a fellow high school football team member! It was over steroids. He shot the guy several times with a .22 pistol and then burned the body. A couple of weeks ago I read an article about him getting a new trial because he was 17 when it happened. Some law changed to where he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult. I have mixed feelings about it. He did the crime; should he do the time (life sentence)? Or, should he be given a second chance? By all accounts he’s always been remorseful, and has been a model prisoner. He’s now spent over half his life in prison. So sad.
    Thanks again, Ellen, and Happy Trails to you and Bob! 🙂

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    1. Ikes! Teen killers are very very scary to me. Believe it or not, as we travel we’re more wary of the threat younger people pose than the adults. This is a very sad tale. Sounds like this young man had a great life ahead of him — and he made one decision that changed everything.

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  3. Model prisoners scare me. Regardless of the age of the person there is a lot that is not known about psychopaths. The ability to make people believe in remorse after crimes is questionable. This is a good plot for books and is a common one for life. Even shrinks have a lot of trouble and are often made fools of by persons who seem young or maybe can be rehabbed after such crimes. Sometimes there is no way to rehab people. It is just the truth. As to the cause? Many times I go back to the existence of evil. And to Shakespeare saying there are more things in heaven and earth than is dreamed of (in philosophy) . Why are people so interested in crime? I imagine it is because most do not understand how things that are done can be done and why, The conflict between innocence and evil is an eternal one and I think we will all be reading and writing about it sad or not.
    I doubt that time generally makes a difference. But I know that there are people who are incorrectly imprisoned. As I have said, all topics of humanity should be dealt with and the plots are wild.

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  4. All of your remarks are appreciated, MJ. However, if you had known this kid–and his parents–you would probably be struggling as I am with this case. In the course of 3 years, how did this docile kid turn into a steroid-addict who would murder his fellow teammate over a case of steroid drugs gone bad? It’s incomprehensible to me. Not to say he shouldn’t pay the consequences–I truly believe he should. It’s just shocking that a model kid could turn from “sportsman of the team” to “cold blooded murder” in the course of 3 short years. I suppose I’ll never get over this case. 😦

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    1. There is no real balance in this case, is there? Unlike Steve, who killed his mother and will spend the rest of his life rotting away someplace, the teenager you know was so young, and steroids (from what I understand) make people especially aggressive… yet the teammate he killed is never coming back. Maybe it’s one of those cases where the family should decide…. If they can live with the murderer walking the streets, maybe that’s what should happen….? I can see why you can’t get over this one, Mike!

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  5. Wow, fascinating in a creepy kind of way. They are truly among us everywhere, but somehow, I never expected to read about this coming from farm country, Ohio!

    I went to a private school where, on the first day of Freshman year the nun went around the classroom and asked what our fathers did. Several owned waste removal companies, one girl stood up and announced her father owned a firm that made a product that was just like another product but she was pretty sure no one ever heard of it because the company was really a Mafia front. And the odd father was doing time for extortion. No one batted an eye. My dad was an industrial engineer who lived vicariously through the stories I brought home and had his own about Dutch Schultz and running beer under a place called Chicken Island. But knowing a murderer. I don’t think so. At least not that we knew about.

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  6. Hard to know. I think there were people who took care of things, but not in the group I went to school with. Definitely in their circle, though. The girl whose father ran the front had bodyguards from time to time, and they made no secret of their protective capabilities. It was beneficial in a way. These men (and they were all male) were protective of all of us. None of us ever had to worry about how we were getting home from dances or parties if things got out of hand.

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  7. I love that phrase, “people who took care of things…” And what an odd way to feel protected! The patriarch of family I wrote about — Joe — liked to brag about having connections to the mafia but we never believed him. Back in the rum-running days, a fair amount of booze smuggling went on up the road around Sandusky, Ohio, on Lake Erie, and to this day various families in town claim “connections.” But — fortunately — I’ve never known who was all talk and who wasn’t.

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