Sunday, July 28, 2013

I Am Connected to an Unsolved Ax Murder

This morning started off like any other Sunday in the Cahalan home. I woke up, laid in bed for a few moments debating whether to bother washing my hair today, and headed out to breakfast. Normal. I dug into my Rice Krispies, my sister into her weird cinnamon toast. Normal. As we groggily ate, my mother leaned across the counter, newspaper in hand, and says, "So, want to hear the creepy, creepy story of the day?"

Now, bearing in mind that this is Logansport and this morning's front page headline involved a routine traffic stop turning up a car filled with IEDs - not kidding - even this odd breakfast detail is not that crazy. What followed this query, though, is unusual indeed.

Today, our local newspaper printed the latest in a series of special supplements honoring Logansport's history in this, its 175th year. We had paid little attention to these in our home before today, but this week's supplement covered the 1930s. My grandparents were all around by then. Maybe they'd remember some of the history from this issue! This one, then, my mother took a glance at.

On the ninth page, an interesting and rather un-Logansporty headline caught her eye: "Unsolved murder plays out in headlines."

Murder? Here? No, no, 1930s, you silly, depressed decade - Logansport doesn't have murders. Logansport has problems with amphetamines. Logansport has comically unfounded middle school bomb threats. Okay, so Logansport has the occasional station wagon full of improvised explosive devices. But, statistically unlikely as this may be, Logansport hardly ever has homicides.

On April 2, 1930, though, a body was discovered in a Logansport home. It was the body of 64-year-old Katie Ray, who lived in the home with her 52-year-old husband, James. To quote the paper, "She was believed to have been beaten to death - evidently with a hatchet." Quelle violence, Logansport!

At this point, though, you're probably all wondering, "Why on earth is Sarah writing a blog post about this?"

Well, well, well. The home in which the unfortunate Mrs. Ray's body was discovered? It belongs to my grandparents. They didn't buy the home until a solid 30 years after this incident occurred, but still, a woman was hacked to death with an ax in the house where my lovely old grandparents have lived since the Kennedy administration.

The foot of the main stairs, where my mother would sit on the phone as a teenager and where my sister and I would play games as wee tots, was the spot where poor Mr. James Ray discovered the body of his brutally and freshly ax-murdered cougar wife. My mother's childhood bedroom was the place where a man tore into someone's head with a hatchet before shoving her over the staircase banister. This is disturbing.

It is also, however - by leaps and bounds - the best story I have heard all summer. A blog post and a probable future book deal are entirely necessary.

Because this tale, of course, does not simply end with the discovery of a body at the foot of the stairs. From there, there were suspects to consider, and there were clues to (quite literally) unearth. The primary suspect, unsurprisingly, was Mr. James Ray, the deceased's husband. He found the body and, from the look of the article, had no real alibi for the gap between his alleged departure from the home and his return and subsequent discovery of the body. Everyone pretty much believed him when he explained he was at the butcher shop for the entire period from 6 to 6:45 AM on a Wednesday. Despite these suspicious details, though, he was never charged with any crime, mostly (from the look of it) because he fainted one time in an interview and guilty people just don't faint. Indeed, in the months following Mrs. Ray's untimely demise, no one at all was charged with or even very seriously suspected of her murder. To this day, the question of who killed Mrs. Katie Ray remains unanswered.

If you ask me, I think the cops somehow knew of the relative dearth of murders in the next 80 years of Logansport's existence and decided to not bother with any, you know, cop stuff because they were determined to leave the most exciting story possible for future residents.

After all, if this story doesn't excite you enough yet, there is more. A full year after the murder, the home's new owners were having some renovations done when they found a trap door built into their living room floor. The police - who, just to make it clear, had obviously failed to ever notice this trap door in any of their investigations - returned to the home to try their hand again at the whole policing thing. Under this trap door, they found the bloody mattress and bedclothes that had been missing from the murder scene. (Previously, they had assumed that the mystery murderer had burned these items in an oven. Because murderers with 45 minutes of action time always burn mattresses in the kitchen stove instead of ditching them somewhere.)

In the end, without a murderer or even a suspect, the case, like the trap door, was closed and forgotten, left to be rediscovered by 21st century Pharos-Tribune archivists or unsuspecting carpet installers. For most Logansport residents, it will stand as simply a weird story from a newspaper history supplement. For us, though, it will forever be the story of the woman who was hatcheted to death in grandma's house.

We talked to our grandparents about this, of course, who informed us that they had no clue about their home's grisly past. While this is a disturbing testament to whoever sold them the place (made creepier by the fact that they bought it from my grandma's sister), the alternative is probably worse. Would you rather my grandparents had known forever that a terrible unsolved murder played out in their daughter's bedroom and a scary trapdoor sat under the living room couch without ever bringing this up with their kids? I think not.

As a function of my grandparents' extreme over-preparation for their own eventual deaths, my mother technically owns their house - and I think it's high time she act on this truth and start ripping up the carpet. I want to find that trap door, and I want, in the most morbid way possible, to take a blacklight to a few of those walls. 83 years is more than enough time for this case to be closed; I say we crack it wide open.

I'll leave you all, in case this story isn't creepy enough standing alone, with the picture that the paper ran along with the article. The photo is of a young Mrs. Ray, some decades before her death, and, as it happens, it enhances your reading experience on two levels. Of course, it provides a visual on the story. But it solves another problem, too. Have you ever read my blog and struggled to picture what my oft-quoted mother looks like?

Well, friends...she looks an awful lot like this.

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