Perception is everything.
a short story
John William Tuohy
It was raining when he left DC, although he couldn’t remember leaving the city, or getting into the car or just about anything else that happened that morning. He wrote it off to old age. It was raining when he arrived at the prison in Pennsylvania. He didn’t like the rain and the dark and the overcast that came with it because it depressed him and reminded him of how lonely he was. He should have married. He felt cold. He looked at his hands that were clutching the steering wheel that were almost colorless. He turned the heat up.
Parking the car in the empty rain soaked prison’s guest parking lot, he put on his hat and overcoat and stepped out of the car and opening the back door on the passenger’s side he lifted the overweight Beagle out from under her blanket and carried it to a small grassy area and held the pet up over the grass. And then he waited.
“Go ahead fellow,” he whispered. “It’s all right. When I can’t walk any more, you can hold me up so I can take a leak.”
He opened his hand and placed it over the dog so that the cold rain wouldn’t fall on her face and the sleepy dog leaned forward and gently licked the old man’s wrinkled hands. The dog was sick. He was dying. He’d lived almost 14 years, an old age for a good dog and while he knew that the decent thing to do would be to put him to sleep, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The dog was all he had and he was all the dog had and they loved each other.
After a while, he returned the dog to her bed in the back seat and pulled the plaid blanket up over her and said quietly, “I got to go inside for a little while. If you get cold, old girl, you go under the blanket and wait for me to come back and I’ll make you warm again.”
The Beagle turned itself upright to show him her belly.
“I can’t rub your belly now. When I get back.” He reached over the seat and rubbed the dog’s soft, warm belly and said, “All right, I’ll be right back” and stepped out of the car, covered his head with an Irish walking cap and checked the rear window one more time to be sure Sarah would have enough air. Then wrapping the rain coat tightly around his neck he jogged slowly into the prison. It tired him. It tired him to the point where he felt that if he were to sleep, he would sleep forever.
Sitting alone in the visitor’s room he noticed that the windows were barred but the parking lot sat just outside those windows. Easy escape route. It was cop-think. Other people saw a parking lot. He saw a possible escape route for a felon. He sat back in his chair and listened to the incessant humming from the neon light above him.
Maybe he should sell the house. It was too big for him. He grew up in that house. He had inherited it after his parents died. A townhouse on Veazy Street NW off Wisconsin Avenue. Veazy had been Mayor of Washington. He was an Irishman. He recalled that it was one of the first things he had ever learned.
He sighed as he waited. He had worked on this case for how many years? Thirty? Thirty five years? He had promised himself that he would get to the bottom of it, if it was the last thing he ever did, he would get to the bottom of it.
The room was divided by a glass partition. Bullet proof he guessed. Smash proof anyway. Desks and chairs were positioned every five feet on both sides of the glass partition and just a foot above each desk was a screened opening that allowed the parties to speak to each other. Sort of a soundless glass coffin.
He had read in a magazine that it was best not to grow old in a house with stairs. His house had stairs. But if he took an apartment what would he do with the dog? She loved the yard. She didn’t do much in the yard. She laid under a shade tree but it was still her yard. Dogs should have a yard. People should have a yard.
The imposing windowless metal door that led into the prison suddenly flung open, disturbing the serene silence of the room. Soulokus, that was the prisoner’s name, Nick Soulokus, came in first. Leg irons fastened around his ankles forced him to take tiny steps that were almost effeminate and out of place in the setting. A prison guard with enormous biceps and a crew cut followed Soulokus into the room and sat him in a plain dark wooden chair and then effortlessly pushed the chair and Soulokus closer to the screened opening.
The guard focused his dark eyes on the middle part of the partition that divided them in a way that allowed him to address Soulokus and his visitor without looking at either party and then he spoke in a way that was mechanical and dispassionate but commanding. “You have thirty minutes. Do not ask for additional time in that it will not be given. In the time allocated to you do not raise your voice, stand or make any attempt to have physical contact with each other. Do not expose any part of your anatomy. Do not simulate any type of sexual or otherwise inappropriate bodily behavior. Any infractions of these rules will immediately terminate said visit. Are there any questions?”
“Do you plane to practice any inappropriate bodily behavior?” Soulokus asked his visitor.
“Not here” he answered, “I only do that at home.”
Soulokus turned and looked up at the guard and said, “As long as he sticks to his word I think we’re okay.”
“You gonna be a wise ass Soulokus, you’re not gonna be okay,” the guard said and stepped out of the room, slamming the imposing windowless metal door behind him.
“Before you talk” Soulokus warned his visitor “they’re recording everything you say.”
Hagerty nodded that he understood. He was remembering Soulokus from three decades before. He had aged well. His hair was still dark and full. His face lean. His body was small but muscular. He knew that Soulokus had married twice and divorced twice. There were a couple of sons someplace.
“I’m Nick Soulokus. Who are you?”
“Joseph Hagerty,” he answered.
Soulokus rolled the name around and then shook his head. “Don’t ring a bell.”
“I used to work with you down in the Seventh Precinct, in Georgetown. Well, we worked in the same place” Hagerty said. Soulokus leaned forward and stared at Hagerty and then nodded with the faintest of smiles.
“Oh yeah,” Soulokus replied his eyes narrowing, “I remember you. Burglary division.”
“No homicide,” Hagerty said. “Started in burglary.”
“They don’t call it the Seventh anymore,” Soulokus said. “That’s what I hear anyways.”
“No,” Hagerty said. “The whole thing has changed. The whole ballgame has changed.”
“So you still active?” Soulokus asked. “You still on the payroll?”
“Naw,” Hagerty said with a laugh and wave. “Too old. I’m out to pasture. Retired. Eight years ago.”
They were both smiling but weary of each other. Soulokus didn’t recall much about Hagerty, except that the two of them had never spoken except for a passing greeting in a hallway. He thought that the face matched the name. A Mick with a round red face. After a few seconds, the smile slipped from Soulokus’ thin face.
“What can I do for you Mister Hagerty who’s retired from the force?” Soulokus asked without any emotion.
“I’m going over some old cases, thought you might be able to help me,” Hagerty said.
Soulokus shrugged and pushed out his lower lip. “You a lawyer now?”
“No,” Hagerty said and then took a long, almost majestic look around the room and asked. “How did you end up in here, exactly?”
“Well,” Soulokus said as he leaned back in his chair “I’m sure you already know that.”
“I know bits and parts of it,” Hagerty answered. “The case was hushed up.”
“Okay,” Soulokus said. He figured Hagerty was doing Private Eye work for somebody. “I got no secrets. Back thirty years ago, the practice of the Seventh Precinct was to maintain a "vacant house book" for area residents. Even in those days, Georgetown was filled with people who had more money than God, you know? They had treasures in those houses. Silverware, statues, paintings. You name it. So we set up the vacant house book. A resident would call down to the station and tell the desk when they planned to be away from the house for, you know, an extended period of time and we entered it into the vacant house book and those properties were placed on the patrol watch list. You know, a guy on the beat would walk by the house, make sure everything was okay while the residents were gone. I mean those people are loaded, most of them leave for the summer. They got other places down on the beach someplace, Cape Cod, Newport, Maine, like that. So long story short, we robbed the places.
“Oh you’re being modest.” Hagerty said with a wink. “You and your partner…what was his name?”
“Hammersmith,” Soulokus answered.
“You and your partner Hammersmith” Hagerty continued “robbed over a hundred properties in one summer alone and got away with one point five million in loot and sold most of it to the fences we usually locked up.”
“Yeah that’s right,” he answered quickly and with an edge to his voice. “We did, and I’ll tell you, had Hammersmith, that idiot, stuck to the plan, sold the loot to the fences over in Maryland that we had deals with, like we agreed we would, and not to that antique dealer, we’d all be free today.”
“Oh that’s right,” Hagerty said leaning forward. “Hammersmith sold that expensive clock to the Georgetown antique dealer who had just sold it to a Georgetown family a month before. Bad luck for you.”
“Bad luck for me.” Soulokus repeated.
“Internal Affairs got their hands on him and he worked a deal and you went to jail,” Hagerty said.
“Except Hammersmith,” Soulokus said.
“Except Hammersmith,” Haggerty repeated. “Pretty shrewd deal for Officer Hammersmith.”
“Look Hagerty,” Soulokus said sharply. “What do you want?”
“I want to talk about how you shot your partner.” Hagerty answered quickly. “I want to talk about how you murdered Hammersmith.”
Soulokus threw himself back in his chair to show his exasperation with Hagerty. Then, taking a deep breath he lifted his hands in the air as if he were a solider in combat surrendering to the enemy and he said, “All right. Fine. It’s all a matter of record. I was indicted. Hammersmith ratted us out. But he was all they had. They had no evidence, nothing. Just him and without him they got no case. I called Hammersmith and he’s still playing the fool, pretending nothin is wrong. I told him to meet me at the Holiday Inn way out on New York Avenue. You know the place?”
“Yeah.” Hagerty said. “Hooker heaven.”
“Hooker heaven,” Soulokus said. “So he comes out, goes to the room number I gave him. He knocks. I’m standing behind the door on the other side. I get a bead on him through the little peep hole thing they got in the door. I step back and Bang Bang Bang. Three shots. Direct hits. Down he goes forever and ever. I figured they got him wired up and I was right they did. But all they got is the sound of three shots and him falling dead.
“And there was a squad of cops from Internal Affairs in the room across the hall in the other room.” Hagerty said.
“…and there was a squad of cops from Internal Affairs in the room across the hall,” Soulokus said. Caught me with the gun in my hand and here I am. End of story.
“Oh no,” Hagerty said. “That’s a long way from the end of the story.”
Hagerty sat back in his seat and looked Soulokus dead in the eye and asked quietly “You remember the Mary Cord killing?”
“Can’t say I do,” Soulokus answered too quickly. He knew where all of this was going and only male pride kept him from leaving the room.
“I remember that day very well,” Hagerty said. “In fact I would say that day is as vivid in my mind as if it were yesterday. I go over it time and again and each time I examine it from different angles. It was my first day in plain clothes. It was a perfect October day. I was assigned to the old Seventh in my old neighborhood, Georgetown. You were there for how long? Ten years?”
“Nine,” Soulokus answered. “I put in nine years at the Seventh.”
Hagerty relaxed for a moment and leaned back in his chair. “Remember when parts of Georgetown were blue collar? You know, working people?”
“Sure. I’m a rare bird, a DC local born and raised in the District,” Soulokus said with a smile. “Same thing up by Tenleytown. It was working people when I was a kid up there.”
“That was your neighborhood? Tenleytown?” Hagerty asked.
“It was,” Soulokus said. “I couldn’t afford a shack up there now with the prices the way they are.”
The arrogance had left his face now and the general air of the place had taken on a sense of surrender.
“Like I was saying,” Hagerty continued, “it was 12:30 in the afternoon. I was on the day shift, sitting alone. The old guys didn’t mingle with the younger guys in those days. You remember that right?
Soulokus smiled and shrugged. “Everybody goes through that. It’s always going to be like that, no matter what.”
Hagerty continued, “The radio dispatcher calls in a 25 and 26, both cars assigned to the homicide squad, to go to the C&O Canal in Georgetown. I knew the place, of course, and the station was what, four blocks, maybe? So I ran up there and I get to the bridge on Wisconsin Avenue and I look down on the towpath on the canal and I spot a woman’s body all curled up in a ball. There were no police on the scene except you, and you were across the canal on the other side of the body. But down the canal, I saw the lines of cops forming a dragnet and closing in along the towpath from west and east. They knew there had been a shooting but they didn’t know where the body was. There used to be that gas station right there. You remember that?
“Yeah,” Soulokus grunted.
“Two guys,” Hagerty said “were there changing a tire and they came up to me and say, “We heard a shot and then a woman screamed ‘please help me’ and then there was another shot. We called the police.” I got their names and started down to the canal. I grew up there like I said, and I knew there was a tunnel under the canal that let out just a few feet from where the body was.”
Hagerty put his hands inside his coat pocket and continued. “I look down at her. You remember what she looked like? She was lying in her side like she was asleep. She was beautiful in death, blonde, tall, dressed in a light blue fluffy angora sweater, pedal pushers and sneakers.”
“By then the units had arrived, maybe ten twelve guys in uniform, a half dozen plain clothes guys” Hagerty said and then crossed his legs and said, “We spread out. I was the one who found the suspect. When I found him he was lying face down in the grass on the edge of the river, hiding from us. His name was Roy Crum, a thirty three year old black in what was, in those days, white Georgetown. His clothes were wet. He had cut his hand. He gave us three different stories in less than 30 minutes. He said he had been fishing and had dropped his fishing pole and gone into the river to retrieve it. He said he had been drinking beer and went to sleep and fell in the river. He said he cut his hand on a fish hook even though we later found his fishing rod in a closet where he lived, on the other side of the city, and then he said he cut his hand on a beer can and then on a rock when he was pulling himself out of the river. One of our guys walked into the river and pulled out Crum’s jacket and cap.”
Hargerty repositioned himself in the chair and said, “Another detective found a witness, a guy named Henry Higgins. He was a car mechanic who was working on a vehicle on Canal Road, when he heard shouts for help. Wiggins said he ran to the edge of the wall overlooking the towpath. He said he saw…..”
Hagerty took a small black notebook out of his coat pocket and read the words “a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman."
He put the notebook back and said, “I interviewed a young Air Force Lieutenant who had been jogging on the towpath. He told me that he passed the victim as she walked up the towpath and when he turned and jogged back, he saw her a second time, and walking several hundred yards behind her he saw our man Crum walking up the towpath towards the victim. So we figured we got our guy. Two witnesses. So we booked for homicide. It was a good pinch. Crum had the means, the motive and the opportunity to kill her. He lived across town yet he was seen by two witnesses standing over the body seconds after the shot was fired.”
A sly smile came across Hagerty’s aging face. “The problem was we didn’t have a murder weapon. We searched the towpath and we dredged the canal and we sent divers down into the Potomac, but no weapon. We never found the murder weapon. And that proved to be a deal breaker.”
Hagerty looked around the otherwise empty room and asked, “You can’t smoke in here I suppose?”
“Naw,” Soulokus said. “Federal facility. No smoking.”
Hagerty shrugged it off and turned his attention back to Soulokus and asked, “You know what the legal definition of guilty is?”
“I was a cop for twenty years,” Soulokus said in a defensive tone and then used his manacled feet to push himself further away from the table.
“That doesn’t mean you know what the legal definition of guilty is,” Hagerty answered.
“Why don’t you tell me, oh great one?” Soulokus said.
“Okay I will. The legal definition of guilty is to be found guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of that murdering son of a bitch Roy Crum, you helped to create mountains of reasonable doubt.”
“I did?” Soulokus asked pointing a finger to his own chest.
“After the killing on the canal, word got out that we didn’t have a murder weapon but that we were holding the suspect Roy Crum, on a murder wrap. Crum’s mother called her minister and told him her versions of the facts and the minister formed a neighborhood delegation.” Hagerty wrapped his fingers together behind his head and relaxed. “The minister lined up twenty people in one day and each of them gave a sworn statement that said Roy Crum was a good man who was married and had five children and they believed he was being railroaded by the white establishment. It turned out not one of those people ever met Crum and he was married but his wife threw him out after he locked her in a closet with the kids and then tried to burn the house down. So the minister phones Birdie Roundtree, one of DC’s best defense lawyers, hugely popular in the Black community. She had an acquittal rating of 80% for clients charged with murder and a lot of her clients were charged with murder. The minister asked Birdie to meet with Roy Crum’s mother and a delegation from their neighborhood and she did and she took the case. You know how much she charged Roy Crum for her fee for the trial?
Hagerty waited for an answer and finally Soulokus said, “How in the hell would I know?” He was agitated.
“One dollar,” Haggerty said. “More great publicity for Birdie and that’s why she’s sitting in Congress today.”
Haggerty leaned forward and said, “I sat in the court room that day. Crum’s lawyer, Birdie Roundtree showed up wearing a pink-and-white striped seersucker dress, with white earrings and white shoes. A sight to behold let me say.”
“The prosecution called Roy Crum to the stand,” and then Hagerty sat upright. “Crum’s story was that he missed the truck that would take him to his morning construction job and despite the fact that he was married, decided to stop by the home of a girlfriend to see if she was interested in, as he said ‘doing something’. The girlfriend had a car and they bought a six-pack of beer and a small bottle of gin and drove to the park, where they had sex. Afterwards he drank so much that he fell asleep and the girl took her car and went home and left him to get back on his own. We couldn’t find the girl, if she ever existed.”
“The assistant U.S. Attorney charged with prosecuting the case was Al Huntsman. You remember him?”
“Do I remember Al?” Soulokus laughed.
“Oh that’s right. He jailed you didn’t he?” Hagerty said and then added, “He was a kid back then. Never tried a case before and screwed it up from the get go. You know what he told the jury in his opening remarks? He said, “This case in all its aspects is a classic textbook case in circumstantial evidence.”
Birdie stands up for her opening remarks and stands in front of the prosecution’s table and stares Al Huntsman right in the eye and she says very quietly,” “As this trial revealed, there was no physical evidence—no blood, no hairs, no fibers—nothing that links Mister Crum to the murder. No eyewitness claimed to have seen the killing. The gun was never found.”
Hagerty clenched his teeth. The missing gun. It kept him up nights.
“We launched probably the biggest gun hunt in Washington history,” Hagerty said. “I’m positive of that. We scoured the area. We walked four abreast over every inch of ground where Crum could have walked. When the scuba divers didn’t find the weapon, we emptied the canal and dug up the muck and mud. No gun. I went back there on my own time to look for the weapon. Night after night but nothing, never found it. I went there for years to look for it but never found it and since guns don’t disappear into thin air, that’s really what got me stuck on this case. What happened to the gun? It bothered Birdie Roundtree too. I remember she told the jury, ‘The other problem the state has is that no one has ever seen Roy Crum with a gun, ever. I can call thirty witnesses who are ready to testify that Roy Crum is known in his neighborhood as a fine human being, a good guy. The only exhibit I will use is Mister Roy Crum himself, in all his insignificance. Take a good look at him.’”
Hagerty smiled as he recalled what happened next, “And then without lifting her eyes from Huntsman she points her finger at Crum and every eye in this place fell on this exceedingly unimpressive little man. A small man, I mean tiny really. When we all looked at him he lowered and hung his head. Hollywood could not have crafted a better scene. Birdie walks over and stands in front of the jury and she says, ‘My client, she says, is a poor, confused, harmless little man who was being blamed for a crime he has not committed.’ She even tells the jury that the poor little man cried when she visited him in prison.”
Hagerty stared up at a spot on the gray colored walls as he spoke. “Birdie Roundtree was in rare form that day. She packed the courtroom with supporters. She brought in a map maker who showed diagrams that proved that there were at least six possible exits from the towpath that were not sealed off by the police proving her point that the real murderer had escaped before the police closed off the exits from the area and then proved that the lead investigator on the case never closed the crime scene to the public.
He stopped and looked over at Soulokus and said, “Even though we had the entire area closed down, you know that. You were there. Anyway, then she called the state’s top witness, Henry Wiggins, the car mechanic who was working on Canal Road, when he heard shouts for help. I told you about him. Wiggins ran to the edge of the wall overlooking the towpath where he said he saw “a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman."
“Birdie spent more time with Higgins than any other witness. She slowly and patiently went to work on him, always polite and soft spoken with that deep Southern Virginia tone of hers. She walked him through the details over and over again until it turned out that Higgins now said he was no closer than 100 yards from the crime scene and not a few hundred feet that he told us and that he glimpsed a black man standing near the body for maybe ten or fifteen seconds and not for a full minute. She made it look like the description of what the man was wearing had been written for him by a policeman …that would be me…after I took Crum into custody.”
“Then she rested her case. Well Al Huntsman was just astounded. He asked the judge if they could approach the bench. The judge called them forward and Al says, ‘Never in my wildest dreams did I think Mrs. Roundtree would rest’ and Birdie says for all the world to hear ‘You try your case your way and I’ll try it my way’.”
“She concluded her case without calling a single witness, and in closing remarks, after only one hour of deliberating, the jury found Roy Crum not guilty. So Crum, the violent lunatic walks free to go on to live a life of crime. Twenty-two arrests over the next ten years including charges of assault with a deadly weapon, arson, and rape and then there are the crimes he committed that we don’t know about.”,
“So you’re looking to find out who killed this rich guy’s wife?” Soulokus asked.
“Naw” Hagerty said looking down at the floor. “I know who killed her. The guy we pinched is who killed her. Roy Crum killed her. I’m sure of that.”
“Well you know,” Soulokus said, “I read that she was running around with the President of the United States. Her husband was some kind of super-secret agent, CIA guy. She knew a lot. She could have caused a lot of people a lot of grief.”
“What’s your point?” Hagerty asked.
“Could have been a professional hit,” Soulokus said nodding his head as if to confirm the claim to himself.
“Just before Crum plugged her a second time,” Hagerty said “she yelled out, ‘Someone help me, someone help me’ and then she was shot. What professional gunman is going to let his victim know she’s going to get shot to death? No, those guys are quick and silent. Those guys shoot and walk away before the corpse knew what hit them. No, she was killed in a botched rape attempt and her murderer was Roy Crum.”
“I don’t get it,” Soulokus said. “What do you want from me? You didn’t drive all the way up here from DC to tell me how some jig got lucky and beat a murder rap. What do you want?”
“I’ll tell you what I want,” Hagerty answered. “But first let me ask you something. Do you know anything about the woman he killed that day on the canal?”
“She was a rich guy’s wife, something like that,” Soulokus shrugged.
“On the day of the murder,” Hagerty said. He was growing to dislike Soulokus with every word he spoke. “One of the senior homicide guys, I’ve forgotten his name, you knew him, told me to go and find out who the dead woman was. Ask questions. A crowd had formed by then. I asked around, and the shop keepers knew her. They said she was an artist and she had a studio nearby, and she had gone out for her usual lunchtime walk. They had seen her painting on the tow path. They didn’t know her name but they all said she was pleasant and pretty and what a shame it was about what happened and all.”
He leaned very close to the desk between them and said, “I found out who she was. Her name was Mary, Mary Cord. Everyone I talked to about her said the same thing. That she was ethereal. I didn’t know what that meant. I had to look it up. It means sort of otherworldly, fragile. She was the niece of the Governor of Pennsylvania and two United State Senators. Her family owned a bank along with a couple of hundred thousand acres of land in Virginia and Maryland. Did you know that she had so much money that she lived off of the interest on the interest from interest? Can you imagine that? The interest on the interest from interest.
“No,” Soulokus answered sarcastically. “I can’t imagine that.”
“Anyway, she attended Vassar.” Hagerty lifted his head, looked at Soulokus and said “That’s a very good school.”
He lowered his head again and continued, “She wasn’t one to sit on her duff, even with all that extra money lying around. She worked as a journalist, a magazine writer, went to graduate school at Georgetown and got an advanced degree in Fine Arts. She married a guy named Michael Cord. A blue blood. He was a Yale graduate and a former Marine Officer, who served in action in the Middle East, and lost an eye to a bomb fragment.”
He looked across the table and laughed. “The guy actually wore an eye patch.”
Hagerty sat back in the chair and said, “They should let you smoke in here.”
Soulokus didn’t respond so he continued. “Eventually Michael Cord joined the CIA and ended up running their media propaganda and disinformation service.”
Soulokus was wearing a sly smile and nodding his head he asked, “And when did the princess start dating the President?”
“She knew him,” Hagerty said quickly. “All those people in that small, tightly woven universe of privilege all knew each other. But that’s as far as the facts go. The rest is hogwash. A few years before he was elected to the White House, the President served in the Senate for a term and he took up residence over in McLean Virginia, bought a mansion right next door to the Cord’s. The wives knew each other and the men had been at Yale at the same time. There were some drunken cook outs, and swim parties, so who knows what may or may not have happened at one of those things. I guess you heard our dead President had a tendency to play grab ass in his living years with just about anything female that could walk.
Anyway, in the first days of the President’s administration Edward Wilson, in his capacity as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency asked the President to name Michael Cord ambassador to Guatemala. The suggestion was rejected out of hand. The President didn’t trust the CIA that he inherited and he didn’t trust Director Wilson, whom he inherited and for some reason he disliked Michael Cord. But Cord had his hopes up and when the rejection came he took it hard, real hard. That’s why, later on, he began his campaign to black ball the President and that eventually led to his asinine story about his wife having an affair with the President. He started the whole thing, the entire story about his wife and the President comes from him and no one or nowhere else.
During the President’s first term the Cord’s dog, a golden retriever, was hit by a car on the curve of highway near their house and killed. Mary mentioned to some friends that she was afraid the same thing might happen to one of her children. Well it did. A few months later the Cord's nine-year-old son, Michael, was hit by a car on the curve of highway near their house and killed. It was the same spot where the family's golden retriever had been killed a few months earlier.
The tragedy didn’t bring the couple together. They never got along. Hell I don’t think they even liked each other from what I could tell from what people said about them. So that Fall Mary filed for divorce. In her divorce petition she alleged ‘extreme cruelty’, mental in nature, which seriously injured her health, destroyed her happiness, rendered further cohabitation unendurable and compelled the parties to separate. In other words, he smacked her around good more than once, especially when the little weasel drank too much and he drank too much a lot.
So she left him and filed for divorce and then she was murdered. Mary Cord’s death would have faded off into oblivion had the National News Enquirer not printed a story about a two-year affair she had with the President. The source of the story was a reporter named Robert E.L. Prewitt.
Michael Cord, Mary’s husband, ran a department at the CIA that was known as the ‘dirty tricks department’. Part of his job was to manipulate the press. He ran a project called Operation Parrot Influence. His group paid off journalists, or they bugged them, set and controlled hundreds of phony magazines, and newspapers all over the world where they ran thousands of fake stories on whatever subject they needed the story to have swayed their way. Cord used to feed insider Prewitt information and in return Prewitt would occasionally write disinformation stories for Cord.”
Hagerty stopped speaking and looked around the room for a water faucet. There wasn’t one.
“A few months after the murder,” Hagerty said with a deep breath, “Graham Phillips, who was the publisher of the Washington Capital Newspaper, took the microphone at a publishers meeting in Arizona and blurted out something about Mary Cord, having an affair with the President. He would have rambled on no doubt had he not been pulled from the stage. A lot of people assumed it was true because he said it. He was a friend of the President. He wrote drafts for several major speeches. He successfully lobbied for the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury, and he was known to have advised the President multiple times about other appointments. Of course very few people knew that at the time he was in the throes of the mental illness that led to his suicide three months later. Crazy leads to crazy. Apparently Phillips picked up the story from Robert E.L. Prewitt.
So now it’s a rumor with legs and it’s going places. Another writer said that Roy Crum was the perfect patsy, better even than Lee Harvey Oswald. Mary was killed by a well-trained professional hit man, very likely somebody connected to the CIA"—the idea being that she knew ‘too much for her own good’. You know, it got to the point where, for the longest time, I started to think there was a conspiracy to kill her.
It was a juicy story and it made sense in a way, Mary having an affair with the most urbane President we have ever had. She matched him in the social and intellectual credentials, perhaps exceeded him. She was beautiful and witty and full of life, a better than average self-taught artist who was noted for her abstract paintings.
The problem with that, as I said, is that she didn’t have an affair with the President. That story was encouraged by her husband. What the diary listed were the dates that her husband visited her at her studio and threatened to kill her for leaving him and the times he broke in drunk, and beat her up. She even told people that if anything happened to her that they should check her diary. This reporter, Prewitt started to suffer from mental illness, paranoia, that kind of thing. He got fired from his job and he moved to Mexico and spun a series of remarkable but baseless stories about, among other things, Mary Cord being involved with the President. Again, the source of his stories was his good and close friend Michael Cord. Like his boss, Prewitt eventually committed suicide. When his wife was pushed to produce the damming pieces from Mary’s diary that he said he had, she said that it had been stolen by the CIA.
So you take the mean spirited lies of a jealous husband out to protect his fragile ego, feed those tall tales to mentally unstable newspaper people, toss in a remarkably blundering CIA director and mix them with the oddities of the case….missing paraffin tests, missing murder weapon…..and you’ve got yourself a conspiracy. And a goddam good one at that. Next thing you know sensational fragments of the story start to turn up like Mary Cord was the wife of a major CIA guy, and Mary Cord slept with the President. Conspiracy theories pop up everywhere. Who really killed Mary Cord? Was Roy Crum set up? By whom? Why? I can’t say I blame people, I mean it’s a hell of a good story, that’s why it grabbed the public’s imagination that worked on two possible narratives.
The fact is that if Mary’s diary revealed a romantic connection between the President and Mary Cord no one has any evidence of it. It’s a baseless rumor started by her malcontent husband.
On the day she was killed, Mary’s sister and her husband John Hodges Choate, the executive editor at the Washington Capital Newspaper, went to Mary’s townhouse in Georgetown. It was just a few blocks down from their place on N Street. They weren’t looking for her diary, that’s more fabrication. They were just doing what any family would do after the death of a loved one. While they were there Edward Wilson, the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency pried open the lock on the front door of Mary’s townhouse and let himself in only to confront the Choate’s. He told them that his wife, Mary’s Cord’s best friend and former college roommate, had told him that Mary kept a diary and he felt that it was best, in the name of national security, that he take the dairy and destroy it. He said it contained names, dates, places and photographs that could, as he put it “affect things in the negative.”
Edward Wilson wasn’t just another government worker with a great job title. He was a son of a bitch and was a special son of a bitch. Not one single, solitary person I interviewed had anything good to say about him. He was so despised and feared inside the agency that when a new director came in he actually tape recorded his firing. When I interviewed the new director for this little investigation of mine and I asked about that, about the recording, he said it was true and added that it was one of the best things he had done as CIA director.
Wilson knew about the diary and the pages and pages of comments by Mary about how her husband threatened her and how he beat her senseless and how he threatened to kill her. He knew because, like I said, he was married to Mary Cords closest friend, Sissy, who was also her roommate at Vassar. She told him about the threats Cord had made and how Mary was recording it all for the divorce proceedings.
I interviewed Wilson’s wife too. She said that she saw Mary once or twice a week but never with her husband because he was Mary’s husband’s boss and it would have been inappropriate but also because Mary, like just about everyone else in DC, didn’t like Edward Wilson. Didn’t like him from the moment she met him. She said he was creepy and that she was sure he was tapping her phone, and she also suspected that one of Edward’s people had entered her house undetected, looking for something to blackmail her husband with.
So Wilson and the Choates searched the house and they found the diary and Wilson took it. The Choates only knew him in passing, but they knew who he was and what he did for a living and they knew Mary was married to a spy, so it all made sense. So they handed the diary over to him.
“If there was no funny business going on” Soulokus said “with her and the President, then why would the Director of the CIA want her diary? I mean think about it, she’s so bored all she does is paint pictures and stroll down on the canal in the middle of the day.”
“Blackmail.” Hagerty answered flatly. “Like I said the only thing of note in the dairy was one passage after another about how Michael Cord had shown up unexpectedly at her studio in Georgetown and just about anywhere she went. He was stalking her. And she wrote it all down. In the meantime his position and power within the CIA continued to increase. The diary was something to hold over his head, keep him and his famous temper in line. I mean why would the CIA give a shit about her diary? You think she knew something they don’t know? The CIA and the Navy have bugs in every corner of every room in the White House. They have everyone in the White House from the cook to gardener on their payroll. They know what’s going in the White House before the White House does. So what could she possibly know that was so scandalous?
“Well, copper” Soulokus grinned, “things are never what they seem are they?”
“I rebuilt her final day. At approximately noon on October 12, Mary Cord finished what would be her last painting. She then dressed in warm clothes and set out on a walk by herself while the painting dried.
She left her studio, between N and O Streets in Georgetown, and walked down towards the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. As you know, the towpath is located between the old C& O Canal and the Potomac River and it’separated from the Potomac by a wooded embankment. Crum had tried to pull Mary off the canal towpath to the wooded area to rape her. She struggled with him. She ran and grabs a tree. He pulled her from the tree and dragged her 22 feet away. I know that because she left an impression in the dirt on the path.
The gun didn’t belong to Crum did it? She carried a pistol because she was certain she would have to use it on her husband the next time he showed up drunk and wanted to punch her around for leaving him. So she bought a gun. And being rich and innocent, she bought the best gun on the market. Now when Crum approached her, started to molest her, she pulled out the gun but he takes it from her, like candy from a baby. Now he’s got the gun and she cries out for help twice, and from the footprints in the dirt on the tow path, her sneakers left a distinctly different imprint than our copper’s shoes. She tried to run for it. He chased her and then he shot her in the back. She cried for help, and he put one in her temple to get her to stop screaming. It was a brutal murder. That first bullet traveled from left to right and struck the right side of the skull, then ricocheted back to where it was found in the brain. The second bullet entered over her right shoulder blade and traveled down through the chest cavity, piercing the right lung and the aorta, the heart’s biggest blood vessel. The third shot also came from no more than six inches away, for it too was encircled by a dark halo of powder burns.
Henry Wiggins, worked at the M Street Esso station, you remember that station? Well he was called to the area of the towpath that day in order to jump start a gray Rambler with a dead battery. As he got to the vehicle on Canal Road, he heard a woman yell, ‘Someone help me, someone help me’, from the towpath down below. He then heard two gunshots and ran to the edge of the wall overlooking the towpath. He saw, in his own words, a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman… Crum was drunk. He came to his senses and remembered to drop the weapon where he fired it and then he ran down towards the river. Both wounds showed signs of being inflicted by shots fired very close to the skin. The first shot, the one to her back, produced blowback and caused blood and brain matter to spew on the shooter. …so he ditched the jacket in the water. Wiggin’s testimony confirmed that. So Wiggins jumped in his truck, sped back to the Esso station, and called the police department. That was the call I heard, the one that took me over to the towpath……….”
“Look Hagerty” Soulokus cut him off. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh I think you know why I’m here,” Hagerty answered with a smile.
“Nope” Soulokus said with a bored resignation. “I can’t say I do. Why don’t you tell me?”
“You were on the scene before anyone else.” Hagerty said.
“I was on patrol.” Soulokus said raising his voice “I told you that. Somebody had to get there fast. It was me. It could have been you, but it wasn’t. It was me. I knew the neighborhood. Like I told you, I grew up not far away, so when the call came out I got there fast. So when I got there, I see the woman all dead and everything across the canal. Then I see you next to the body.”
“When I arrived,” Hagerty said “I ran down to go through the tunnel that goes under the canal but by the time I got there you had already used the tunnel. You got to the crime scene first, you took the gun, and you hid it on your person someplace. I looked at the case against you. You murdered your partner, Hammersmith, with a Walther PPK.
“So?” Soulokus shrugged.
“Where did you get the gun?” Hagerty said looking him in the eye. “And don’t say you didn’t have the gun. You were holding it in your hand in the hotel room when Internal Affairs kicked in the door.”
“I don’t remember where I got the gun,” Soulokus said.
“Well you must have gotten it in Europe, or in Germany,” Hagerty offered.
“Yeah,” Soulokus said, “I don’t know. You never know where things come from.”
“You’ve never had a passport. I checked,” Hagerty said. I also checked on the serial number of the gun. Did you know that all Walther pistols made prior to 1948, like the one you used to murder your partner, were individually stamped? Each part, stamped with its own individual number. High quality gun. Easy to trace. I checked with the company and the pistol you used to kill Hammersmith was sold to Michael Cord who gave it to his wife. That was the gun she was carrying when Crum attacked her, the gun he took from her, the gun he killed her with and the gun you stole from the crime scene.
When I figured out that you stole the gun I went down to the property room where the physical evidence in murder cases was stored. I wanted to see her sweater, Mary’s bloody sweater, because nowadays a DNA test on that sweater even after all these years, could have told us something, but it was missing. All the evidence from the case is missing. And I figured, well okay, score one for the conspiracy crowd.”
He leaned forward and looked directly at Soulokus and said, “I thought you had destroyed the Paraffin test too, but you didn’t destroy them did you? And the reason you didn’t destroy them was because there never were any paraffin tests to destroy were there?”
Hagerty waited for an answer and when no answer came, he continued, “You clowns never gave him a Paraffin test did you? You figured you had your man, open and shut case. Then Crum gets a lawyer who actually knows her ass from her elbow. She requests copies of the Paraffin tests results, and you guys realize nobody took the test so you lie. You say the tests are missing from the file. So with the evidence missing, I went back to the field reports and went over the evidence taken from the scene. There was a set of emerald earrings, gold wrist bracelet, and four rings, with an estimated value for the whole catch, $500,000. She was wearing her expensive jewelry, most of it family heirlooms, because her husband had a nasty little habit of breaking into her townhouse and stealing things, expensive things that he had given her over the years as gifts. The detective in charge was Ruberts, you remember Ruberts? He was a decent guy and he knew how the DC morgue worked, and that the morgue attendants can and will steal everything they can off a corpse.”
He stopped and smiled, “Did you know those bastards were actually shaving the hair off of some of the homeless dead that were brought there? Yeah. They were selling to a wig maker over on Capitol Hill.”
He shook his head in disbelief at his own story and continued, “And her credit cards. Somebody charged fifty thousand in household appliances and electronics on her card before it was cancelled. You stole the gun, the jewelry, and the credit cards. You were assigned, or you volunteered to bring the evidence to the property room. You stopped someplace, took the contents and refilled the evidence box with junk and signed it into the property room. If it disappeared no one could blame you. You had done your job, and you signed in the evidence.”
“You know Hagerty,” Soulokus hissed, “I met a million guys like you, old cops with nothing to do but relive the glory days, the days when they mattered, before they were old and lonely and alone. Alone because the job was the only thing that mattered to you. And I’ll tell you something else I know.”
Soulokus leaned as close as he could to the screen that divided them and said, “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Soulokus sneered. “And you’re an idiot too. You read the report about my arrest in the hotel room right?”
Hagerty nodded in the affirmative.
“Did you read that when the clowns from Internal Affairs kicked open the door, they cuffed me?” Soulokus stopped and looked hard at Hagerty, “And then what do you do? What’s the procedure Hagerty?”
“Search and body pat,” Hagerty answered.
“Yeah,” Soulokus said, “and that’s when they took my service revolver.”
The guard entered the room and Soulokus stood and turned his back on Hagerty and as he walked slowly from the room he said, “Hammersmith had the gun. He was waiting in the room not me. I was the rat not Hammersmith. I was the guy who tried to hook the expensive clock to the Georgetown antique dealer. They had me cold. I squealed. I was the one wearing the wire.”
He stopped walking and turned to face Hagerty. “I opened the hotel room door. Hammersmith had the weapon ready to shoot me. I was faster, and stronger. I got the gun. I shot him dead. So now the Department’s got a dead cop and a real mess on its hands. I mean, come on, cop’s robbing the very houses we were supposed to be protecting from thieves. The public doesn’t want to know that. The politicians don’t want to hear that either. So I selected to take the fall. I was looking at life, easy. You know, they get upset when you kill a cop. I could have dragged it out, asked for a trial, aired lots and lots and lots of dirty laundry. Things that would have interested you.” He stopped and grinned and then continued, “But, like I said the public doesn’t want to know that. The politicians don’t want to hear that either. So we worked a deal. I agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, third degree murder. I do ten years. On the upside, you’re right, I took her jewelry. Made a quick ten grand on it.”
“And Hammersmith took the gun” Hagerty said in a voice filled with resignation.
Soulokus smiled, shook his head at the cop’s naiveté and turned and walked towards the door again and stopped. “There’s one more thing.”
“What’s that?” Hagerty asked as he stood up from his chair.
“You had almost everything wrong.” He smiled a deep self-gratifying smile “You think you’re so slick, so smart. Well Sherlock, Crum didn’t kill anybody. He was some poor dumb son of a bitch who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hammersmith and me, we seen her before, this Mary Cord. How could you miss her? Blonde hair and tall. I mean you know yourself, she was a knock out. You don’t ever see women that beautiful in real life.”
“Hammersmith, he was a little sick when it came to women.” He stopped and smiled broadly, “Well, he was a lot sick when it came to women.”
He continued, “Hammersmith took a liking to her. That day, the day she got whacked, we were on patrol on her street. We saw her leave the house so we followed her in the patrol car, you know, for something to do. We got to the canal and Hammersmith says, ‘wait here’ and he walked up the path to talk to her. So he’s talking to her on the other side of the canal and I’m watching and he tries to pull her into woods. She fights back, he gives her a slap and the bitch pulls out a gun. That’s when I got out of the car. He shoots her, I mean what else is he gonna do right? He jumps into the woods. You show up, Mister Boy Scout copper and you see me. A few minutes later ten million cops show up on the scene and Hammersmith just blends in.”
He stopped talking and tilted his head to the right and said, “See copper, you ain’t all that smart after all are you?” Then Soulokus turned to the guard and said, “Let’s go,” and the metal door slammed shut.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.” he shouted after him. “I want you to sign a deposition.”
He collected his note pad and pens and stepped out into the cold rain and the darkness of the day. In the car he found his beloved dog sleeping but breathing heavily. The animal opened his eyes wearily and looked at him and wagged her tail once and closed her eyes again. He reached over the seat and pulled the blanket up closer to the dog’s neck and then warmed her gently with his massive hands.
“We’ll go get a hotel,” he whispered, “get you something to eat, and warm you up.”
At 4:45 that afternoon, Detective Sargent Lawrence Hoicowitz reluctantly answered his phone. “District Police, Internal Affairs, Hoicowitz.”
The voice on the other end of the line was direct and business like. It was a lawyer who represented Nick Soulokus.
“Yeah, I knew Nick” Hoicowitz said.
“There was a retired cop named Joseph Hagerty who had been to the prison and was harassing his client, Mr. Soulokus,” the lawyer said. “Are you familiar with Hagerty?”
“Oh sure, I knew Joe,” Hoicowitz answered. “Knew him well.”
Where could this Mister Hagerty be reached, the lawyer wanted to know. He wanted to mail him a letter, a certified letter, informing him that his client was greatly disturbed by his visit to the prison and that he was not to contact his client again, by any means at all.
“And you say this happened when?” Hoicowitz asked.
“Yesterday,” the lawyer answered.
“You’re saying to me,” Hoicowitz said, “that Old Joe Hagerty showed up at the federal pen yesterday and questioned Nick Soulokus, is that right?”
“Yes,” came the reply.
“Well you’re mistaken then,” Hoicowitz said. “Joe Hagerty died a week ago. I was at the funeral. He had a dog. The dog died and old Joe died a few days later. So I think you’re mistaken.”