The Canal Murder, Chapter Four

This is the fourth in a series of chapters from a new novel called “The Canal Murder,” by Evelyn Geisler, RPh, CDE, of Tehachapi, California.

| Sep 1, 2004

Chapter Four

Next morning, I headed over to the Indalia Daily News and spent the morning there going over old issues of the newspaper. Of course, the paper had more than a few articles about Cindy’s death and the ensuing investigation. I made copies of the stories but was aware they might contain inaccuracies. Also I was sure Don hadn’t released all the facts of the case to the reporters.

I logged on to my information agency’s Web site and typed in requests for data I needed. Details of a suspect’s personal life frequently came in handy.

Next I called the Seabolds to set up an appointment with them to discuss Cindy. It wouldn’t be pleasant. Betty Seabold was still understandably emotional about her daughter’s death. However, I needed to know what made Cindy tick—what her life had been like.

I decided to tuck my insulin pump inside my bra and, instead, to wear a tape recorder on my waistband for the interview. The recorder was about the same size as my pump and would go unnoticed by the Seabolds. Some people clammed up when they knew they were being taped. I didn’t want that problem to occur with Betty and Clint. I also wanted to capture the nuances of their voices as they answered my questions.

The Seabolds lived in a bungalow in a lower middle class section of the city. A concrete curb bordered the small front lawn, and some flowerbeds were scattered around the house. The few blooms present struggled for space between the encroaching weeds.

Betty answered when I rang the bell. Stringy brown hair streaked with gray framed her haggard face. She looked like she’d probably lost weight; her body appeared to hang loose inside her housedress.

“Miss Burton, come in.” She gestured toward the front room. It was a clutter of dirty dishes, newspapers, and mail. “Sorry, I haven’t had time to clean up.”

“No problem,” I replied. “Please, call me Claire.”

Clint was sitting in an easy chair watching television. He pushed a button on the remote control to turn the set off when I came into the room. He was a hard man to read. His face had been expressionless every time I’d seen him. Just those cold gray eyes looking at me. He heaved his stocky body out of the chair and offered his hand.

We shook hands; then I sat on the couch and took a notepad and pen from my purse. I knew the notepad would be a further diversion from the tape recorder. “Mind if I take notes while we talk?” They assured me note-taking was okay.

“Can I show you a picture of Cindy before we start?” Betty asked.

“That would be great. I was going to ask you if you had a picture of her anyway.”

Betty went to the bookcase and picked up a silverframed eight-by-ten photograph. She handed it to me. A girl in a cheerleading outfit smiled at me from the picture. She was slim with blond hair and hazel eyes. “Perky” would have been a good word to describe her. What a waste. Cindy had gone from being a popular girl at her high school to a pale corpse floating in a canal. I was determined to find her killer.

“She’s beautiful,” I said.

“Yes, she was.” Betty choked out the words. Clint reached for a tissue from the box sitting on the coffee table. His response was so automatic, I realized he must have handed Betty lots of tissues over the past months.

I waited for her to compose herself, then continued the interview.

“What was your life like with Cindy before you married Clint?”

“It was tough after Bart passed away. He died in an accident at work, so I did get some money to tide us over. Cindy and I hung in there together.” Betty smiled, evidently thinking about the old days with her daughter. “Eventually, though, I had to get some training to get a decent job. I went back to school and became a medical office assistant. Cindy was upset at first that I was working and couldn’t spend as much time with her, but she came to understand that I had to pull in some income.”

“Did she become a wild kid then?”

“No, she acted up a little bit, but she was in junior high then, too. You know how kids that age are.”

I smiled. “Can’t say that I do personally, but I’ve heard stories from my friends.”

“She settled down after a few months and seemed fine. Here’s all the records I could find about Cindy. You can see for yourself what activities she was in and what a good student she was.”

Betty pushed a basketful of papers and albums toward me. The albums contained pictures of Cindy from babyhood on. There were photos of her in grade school, at birthday parties, Brownie troop activities, in junior high, and part of high school. Her grades for the most part gave her a solid B average. I could see a dip in junior high, then her grades improved. High school was a different story. She started offwell, but suddenly in her junior year, her grades plummeted. There was no record of a senior year.

“What happened here?” I pointed to Cindy’s falling grades.

Betty sighed. “That’s the year everything came apart. I need to backtrack a little bit so you understand what happened. Please let me get us some coffee first, though. I’ve forgotten my manners.” She went to the kitchen.

Clint and I sat in silence for a moment, then he spoke. “I hope you can put an end to this thing. I’m afraid Betty’s going to have a heart attack or a stroke over it.”

“I can certainly understand. Losing a child has to be the worst thing that can happen to a parent.”

“That’s true, all right, but let me tell you, that Cindy was a handful. She . . .” He stopped speaking as Betty entered the room. She shifted some books and set a tray with a coffeepot and the rest of the fixings on the coffee table. We each poured a cup, then Betty began speaking again.

“Let’s see. Where was I? Oh, yes. After Cindy got used to me working, everything went fine for a few years. I even found a new romance.” She smiled at Clint.

“How did you two meet?”

“He came into the doctor’s office where I worked one day. We hit it offand began dating. One thing led to another, and we got married.” She took Clint’s hand.

“Is that when Cindy started acting up?”

“No, that’s the strange thing. You’d think she would, since she had to share me with Clint, but she didn’t right away. She was happy that I’d found someone. Besides she had her own beau. That Bobby Spears.” Betty sneered. “She understood what I was feeling. It wasn’t until about six months after Clint and I married that she seemed to unravel. I never figured out why.”

I looked up from my notes. “She didn’t confide in you at all? You seemed to be a very close mother and daughter.”

“That’s another strange thing. She always talked to me about her problems, but I couldn’t get a word out of her at that point. She shut me out.”

“No mention of boyfriend or school problems? Any problems with one of her friends?”

“No, she just wouldn’t talk to me anymore. Started staying away from home a lot; then went wild for awhile. She stayed with Bobby some of the time. He finally got fed up with her. That’s when she lived on the street for a few months.” She shivered. “I think she got the message then.”

“What do you mean?”

“She found out how dangerous it could be and decided she’d better clean up her act. She showed up at the house one day after Clint went to work. Said she wanted to be close to me again.”

“Did she move back in then?”

“No,” Betty shook her head. “She said she wanted to live on her own. She was looking for a job and was planning on sharing an apartment with some old girlfriends.”

I continued making notes. “I’ll need their names.”

“Of course. Anyway, we started seeing each other several times a week.”

“Did you go out as a family?” I gestured to include Clint with Betty.

“Not too often. We had an occasional dinner out together, but Cindy said she wanted time alone with me. She didn’t want to share me with anyone else when we were together."

I raised an eyebrow. “That’s quite a change from when you first married Clint, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but I figured she was trying to catch up on mother-daughter time.”

“What happened then?”

“We continued to see each other; then about the time of our family reunion. . .” Betty’s voice began to shake. Clint’s reflexes kicked in as he handed her another tissue. I turned to him.

“What were you doing at that time?”

Clint shifted in his chair. “It was Betty’s family’s reunion. We decided to have a big blowout. We were going to meet in Parkersburg and do some things over there, then come over here for an afternoon of boating on the canal.”

“Sounds like a big affair. What did you have to do to prepare?”

“We spent a few days in Parkersburg making sure the hotel rooms were adequate, and the restaurants were all set up. Then we waited for all the folks to come in and helped them get settled.”

“How many people did you have to accommodate?”

Clint thought for a moment. “About seventy-five, I think.”

“And you were together the whole time?”

“Uh, yes, of course. It took the two of us to pull all this together.”

Betty looked at Clint for a quick second, then teared up. “Cindy was so looking forward to . . .” She buried her face in the tissue again.

Clint’s face softened for the first time. “What she’s trying to say is Cindy was looking forward to seeing her relatives again. She wanted to be part of the reunion.”

“So she was helping you with the activities?”

Betty was under control again. “No, she had to work, but she was looking forward to taking part in everything. That’s why we knew something wasn’t right when we didn’t hear from her right before the reunion.”

Clint nodded in agreement. “We decided to go to her apartment to see if anything was wrong.”

“Anything else you think is important for me to know?”

Betty furrowed her brow. “I—I can’t think of anything. I do have a question. Did you figure anything out about that paper we gave you?”

“Not yet, but I have something to check on in connection with some of the initials. By the way, do you have another picture of Cindy I could have?

“Sure. Just a minute.” Betty rummaged around in a desk drawer, then handed me a wallet-sized cheerleader picture.

I rose to go. “You have my card. If you think of anything else you feel is important, don’t hesitate to call me.”

Betty saw me to the door. “Thanks so much for your help. I feel you care.”

I gave her a quick hug. “I haven’t done anything yet. I’ll need that list of friends Claire was staying with. Also, could you give me the names of some of the people who were at the reunion?”

“Yes, but I don’t see how they could help you.”

“Just covering all the bases. I’d appreciate it if you could drop the names by my office tomorrow.”

Questions swirled through my mind as I drove home. Would Cindy’s friends know anything important? Would the boyfriend be able to help in any way? Why did Betty look at Clint when he said they’d been together at the reunion the whole time? And would Don be able to help me with some of the initials on that piece of paper?

I sighed. Lots of bits and pieces to string together, but having too many leads was far better than having none at all.

To be continued

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The Canal Murder, Chapter One

Jun 1, 2004

The Canal Murder, Chapter Two

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The Canal Murder, Chapter Three

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The Canal Murder, Chapter Five

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The Canal Murder, Chapter Six

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The Canal Murder, Chapter Seven

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