Friday, June 3, 2016

Chapter 59

Friday, March 18, 1965


It took better than two weeks for the wheels of justice to grind into a conclusion of sorts. After Gina Scarpelli thanked my wife for pushing her to do the right thing, I took her over to see Chief Ziolkowski, who I thought deserved the honors rather than the sheriff's department. 


Eli then went to work, negotiating Dave Johnson's release with the district attorney and juvenile court. Eli, in consultation with me, arranged for Butch to give him the news. Butch wouldn't tell me what went on in the room, but he must have used some magic. Dingo Dave came into the waiting room, extended his hand, and thanked me for my efforts. He didn't say more than thathe seemed a bit choked upbut it was heartfelt. 

Eli found Gina Scarpelli a lawyer who had her work cut out for her
or maybe not. Chances were better than even, Eli thought, that Gina would work out a plea deal that would involve pleading guilty to something in return for the lightest sentence. On the other hand, there was a chance she would want a trialjust to rub the reputation of Father Fox aka Berhard Fuchs in the mud. The congregation, I expected and Hank confirmed, would much prefer the former. We'd all have to wait. 

At least Dingo Dave was exonerated, quickly becoming the hero of the story. That one of the sisters was the culprit was particularly satisfy to the seminarians, who to a man swore they knew all along that "the nuns did it," and this became the partly true legend. 


Dingo Dave and his brother knew better and remained a little bitter, knowing that their lives were affected by rumors. Dave harbored only good will for Butch, and a package arrived for him the previous week. It was an Australian outback hat, which Butch came to treasure.

Neither Dave nor Dan wanted to return to the seminary, not surprising under the circumstances. CSC officials were mortified at the injustice done to Dave and, to a lesser extent, to Dan. Hank told me on the QT that the order would probably offer Diane Johnson free tuition at Notre Dame for a year or two for both of her boys. Details to be worked out. 


Butch was a little smug, but I decided to view it as an air of confidence. Sissy was glad to be able to attend more soirees at the seminary, having honed her skills at working the room. 


Sarah and I were getting comfortable with living apart togetheror something. As I was thinking about such things, Sarah invited me upstairs for a tete-a-tete. "The time is right," she said taking me by the hand. 

We chatted a bit about how we seemed to have worked out something, living together apart. That night we took another step farther. 


And Sarah laughed.

Chapter 58

Friday, January 29, 1965


And so we waited. I had given up on Gina appearing. I didn't think much of the odds to begin with, and I went back to teaching, having come to the conclusion there was no happy ending to this story. 


I won't say there was a happy ending, but Gina Scarpelli did appear. After lunch, I found the new secretary waiting for me outside of the dining room. She told me I had a guest in the waiting room at the front of the building. 


It was Gina Scarpelli. In spite of her new status as a civilian, she looked every inch the nun. She had short hair, barely covering her ears and no makeup. She wore the same institutional wire glasses, the emblem of a religious woman. 


"I'm Gina Scarpelli," she said. "You might remember me as Sister Angela."


"I do," I said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" It seemed a ridiculous thing to say. 


"Guilt," I suppose. "Perhaps despair."


I said nothing.


"I have nowhere to go," she said, choking a bit. "Well, that's not true. I've been working as a nurse, thanks to good recommendations from my order. But I'm a fish out of water. I belong in the order, but I can't ... " She stopped.


I looked at her, still saying nothing. 


"It's all I know. The convent. I was raised there. It's my family, but now ..." She stopped again. "The boy? Is he well?"


"The boy? You mean, Dave Johnson?"


She nodded. 


"My son visits him," I said. I didn't bother saying that he would have nothing to do with me. 


"He's doing as well as could be expected."

"He didn't poison anyone."


I said nothing. 


"I did. The man deserved it. At least I used to think so."


"And now?"


"I watched him kill my father. He hit him with the butt of his rifle, knocked him out. Then he looked at me, turned around, and said nothing. He had this scar across his eye. Same as Father Fox. It was him. I know it was."


"And you poisoned him."


"There were yew bushes in front of the building. I knew it was a poison. Midwives used it as an abortifacient. Of course I  never used it for such, but we learned about it in nursing school. I made a tincture, a strong one, and added it to the altar wine. It was an abomination that he pretended to serve the Lord. I thought it was a good way for him to die. On the altar, poisoned by the blood of Christ. I thought he deserved it."


"And now?"


"I don't know. I confessed it, but my heart wasn't in it, and I said so. The priest wouldn't forgive me without true contrition, and I don't blame him. But ... " She paused for what seemed like a long time. "It's the boy. I feel guilty about the boy. I felt it as soon as I heard. I haven't been sleeping well. It's the boy. As far as Father Fox goes, I'll take my chances with Our Lord. But having that boy's life be ruined because of something I did, I can't do that anymore. I'm willing to turn myself in if it will help the boy."


"I expect it will," I said.


"Mother Lucia said your wife was very persuasive."


"She can be," I said.


"Any chance I can meet her?"


"If you don't mind walking over to the library, we can do that." I did wonder if she might change her mind on the way, but I thought not. She had thought about this for too long.
And so we went to meet my wife.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Chapter 57

Saturday, January 16, 1965


Sarah called the motherhouse at 8 A.M., which I thought was chancy on two accounts. First, it seemed a bit early to call. Second, it gave the community a chance to turn us away. 


Sarah didn't agree. "They're sisters," she said. "By eight, they've attended mass, sung lauds and matins, had breakfast, and started their housework. It's practically the middle of the day." She dismissed my point two out of hand. "It's polite," she said. "And why wouldn't mother superioror her second
agree to see us."

"Because ... Oh, never mind."


Sarah also got her way on driving up there in her car. She didn't think the Edsel was reliable. I didn't argue with her about that one. 


The motherhouse was really a big house, set into a residential area. "I'll take the lead on this," she said, as we were walking up the front porch. She did let me ring the doorbell.
A sister in a white habit, probably a novice, opened the door, welcomed us inside, and sat us in a front room, simply but tastefully appointed. In less than two minutes, another sister appeared and introduced herself as Mother Lucia.


"May I call you Mother," I was tempted to ask. I did not. I just shook her hand, after she shook Sarah's hand. This was a house of women, after all. 


"Perhaps we should meet in my office," Mother Lucia said. We dutifully followed her into her office, which was not much larger than the waiting room but which featured a big desk, a swivel chair for the boss, and two nice armchairs across from her. We sat in those.


"What can I do for you?" she asked.


Sarah described the death of Father Fox, the subseqent investigation, the arrest, and punishment of Dave Johnson. Then she paused.


"And the problem is ..." Mother Lucia said with an invitational pause.


"We don't think he's guilty."


"We?"


"His lawyer, my husband, and I."


"But everybody else thinks he's guilty," Mother Lucia said.


"Not really," Sarah said. "We know that the basis for pinning the murder on Dave Johnson was flawed. Someone else did it, for a different motive. We're sure of that. Well, almost sure. And we think Sister Angela
Gina Scarpellihas some answers."

"Explain."


Sarah explained that we all thought the murder had to do with the rumors about Father Fox molesting students. I was glad that she took pains to say that the rumors appeared to be based more on revenge than on truth. She then explained how we had begun to think that the murder might have been related to his background as a Nazi, which we had learned about in considerable detail.


"What's this got to do with Gina?" Mother Lucia said.


I was getting nervous. This was a good question. 


Now Sarah explained that Bernhard Fuchs was a deserter, apparently repenting of his deeds, taking refuge in the Vatican. "Something happened there in Italy."


"Something like the Nazis losing the war?" 


Mother Lucia was no fool. I felt myself beginning to sweat. 


"Fair question," Sarah said. "One shared by others. But this Bernhard Fuchs was clearly repentant. He didn't have to join the Congregation of Holy Cross and become a priest. Obviously he was making amends for his actions during the war. We think something about Italy put him over the edge."


"So ... "


"So, Gina Scarpelli was there, orphaned after an SS officer killed her father with the butt of his rifle. Her parents had been hiding a Jewish couple, who were taken away in the raid."


"And ..."


"We think Berhard Fuchs might have been involved."


"And ..."


"Sister Angela, while serving as the nurse at Holy Cross Seminary this school year, recognized him, perhaps as far back as September."


"And ..."


"And we don't know," Sarah said. "But Gina Scarpelli does."


"You think Sister Angela might have ..." 


Sarah interupted. "Mother Lucia, we don't know. We think Gina Scarlelli knows something. Perhaps it wasn't Berhard Fuchs she recognized in September, and we're barking up the wrong tree."


"Perhaps."


"In any case, we think Gina Scarpelli ought to know we know she might be involved.
Like I said, we are pretty sure that Dave Johnson has been convicted of something he didn't do. Gina Scarpelli might help us untangle that." Sarah paused. "Do you know where she is?"

"If I knew, I wouldn't tell you," Mother Lucia said. 


"If you know, perhaps you can pass along the information we've given you."


"Perhaps," Mother Lucia said. "Thank you for coming."


With that she got up, ushered us out of the room, shook Sarah's hand and then mine, and opened the door for us.


Sarah and I got in her car without saying anything. Finally, I said, "Well, that was a waste of time."


"I don't think so," Sarah said.


"How so?"


"Mother Lucia will pass on the information to Gina Scarpell."


"How do you know that," I said. "She probably doesn't even know where Gina is."


"She probably does."


"How do you know?"


"If she didn't know, she would have said,. 'I don't know where she is.' Instead, she carefully said, 'If I knew, I wouldn't tell you.' This is a woman who can lie only with difficulty. She knows where Gina Scarpell is, and she will tell her what we know and what we suspect."


"And how do you know that?"


"She doesn't want the unjustified punishment of Dave Johnson on her conscience," Sarah said. "I'm hoping the former Sister Angela feels the same way."


"What do we do now?" I asked.


"We wait."

Chapter 56

Friday, January 15, 1965

By now, I had become convinced that no one on the staff could have, or would have, poisoned their colleague. Their biographies didn't produce a motive. Besides, Gina Scarpelli, aka Sister Angela, was looking pretty good as the culprit. 


The problem was that she had left her order. While this only increased our suspicions about her, we had no idea where she was. Finding her was no walk in the park. Her family was the order. She had been raised by them, worked with them, and joined them. That's all she knew. 


Somebody in the order would know where she was, I was sure.  Getting that person to tell us was the problem. Sarah, who knew more about women religious than I did was pessimistic. Gina Scarpelli was family, even if she had flown the nest. 


Still we had to try. The only other option was tough going. It meant searching medical institutions, on the theory that she'd take a nursing job somewhere. We didn't have a net that wide, though Sarah pointed out that this did make it more likely that somone in her order would have served as a reference and would then have a clue about her whereabouts.


Again, we had to try to crack the sisterhood.


We didn't have a strong interest in nailing Gina Scarpelli for murder. In some ways, we could have cared less. If Bernhard Fuchs participated in the death of her father, and indirectly her mother, maybe he deserved what we got. But we needed to pin the murder on somebody else in order to get Dingo Dave released. Eli had made that clear. He promised to look into Dave's release, but he wasn't optimistic. Chief. Ziolkowski wasn't either, noting that the county authorities would not reopen the case without proof. And so it went. If we were to get Dingo Dave any help, we were going to have to find Gina Scarpelli and get her to confess.
Easy Peasy. Yea, right. 


I talked it over with the team at suppertime. Sarah agreed to make another trip up to the motherhouse, hoping mother superior or her assistant would be forthcoming. Sarah herself wasn't optimistic, explaining that mother superior would feel an obligation to someone whose only family had been the order. Still she agreed to try.

Then Sissy put in her two cents. "Go ahead, Mom. Sure, they won't tell you right off, but when you explain that there's an innocent boy in jail ..."


"It's not really jail," I said.


"He thinks it is," said Butch.


"Okay, in a group home that feels like jail," corrected Sissy. "Anyway, you're trying to help a boy who was wrongly accused and Sister Angela, um Gina, can help. Even if they won't tell you where this Gina is, I bet they'd tell her about Dingo Dave. Maybe she'll feel so guilty she'll come forward."


"You think so?" I asked. "She could be charged with murder."


"I bet she can't carry the guilt she feels," said Sissy.


"You know, Sissy has a point," said Sarah. "We're dealing with super Catholics here. If we use a little guilt ..."


"Something you're good at, Mom," said Butch with a straight face.
"World class," said Sissy with a not-so straight face.


"Looks like we're depending on your wiles, Sarah," I said.


"Looks like it," said Sarah.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Chapter 55

Wednesday, January 13, 1965


Students arrived on Sunday, and we were back in business as an educational institution on Monday. I was a little preoccupied with that. 


Meanwhile, Sarah had been working her network, trying to find a connection to the sisters who had served the seminary and left in a huff. Finally, one of her classmates, now a member of the Adrian Dominicans order, acknowledged being high-school chums with a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Her friend was teaching at a high school in Ann Arbor, and Sarah had arranged to ambush her on a day trip, which turned out to be yesterday. 


Sarah's contact hardly knew the two cooks, which was disappointing, but she did know the nurse. They had served together on their previous assignments. As it turns out, Sister Angela grew up in Rome and had been orphaned during the war. At one point, she shared her story. Her Catholic parents had been hiding a Jewish family. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, they managed to get the two Jewish children to a Catholic orphanage. The Jewish parents stayed behind but were discovered in an SS roundup and carted off to a camp somewhere and lost to the holocaust. During the commotion, Sister Angela's father had protested the treatment by the SS. Sister Angela, then only eight, saw one of the officers knock him out with the butt of his rifle. Her father died before the family could get him to a hospital. Her mother died a few days later, of a broken heart according to Sister Angela, but not before telling her daughter to make her way to the same orphanage that was hiding the Jewish children.


At this, Sarah asked where she was, knowing that we would have to talk to her. 

"No one knows," her friend had said. "She left the order around Thanksgiving."


"Okay, then," I said after Sarah finished her story. "I think we have a suspect."


"You still have only suspicions, but they are logical," said Sarah.


"Because of the timing," I said, my voice rising as if asking a question. 


"Yes, it certainly makes you think," she said. "Plus, Sister Angela had the opportunity."


"The sisters could access the chapel at any time."


"Yes, the method fits her as well."


"Why?" I asked, knowing the answer but wanting Sarah to verify it.


"Her gender. Poisoning is more common among females."


"Moreover ..."


"She's a nurse. Even better, my contact said that Sister Angela had been trained as a midwife."


"Why is that better?"


"Because the poison might have been known to her as an abortifacient."


"And you knew that because of your work with the Right to Life Society."


"I remember it from a seminar about various techniques and potions in use to abort babies in the early part of a pregnancy. Yew came up."


"I came up?" I said, trying not to smile. I never could pass up this pun. 


"Y-E-W, you jerk."


"You know I know."


"Stop it."


"Anyway, it seems to fit," I said. "What about the connection to Italy."


"You tell me."


"It appears she was in Rome when Bernhard Johan Fuchs was there, perhaps involved in rounding up Jews. Maybe he was the one who cold-cocked her daddy ..."


"And she recognized him," Sarah said.


"Exactly. I bet she remembers that scar on his face."


"Oh, I didn't know he had a scar," Sarah said. She had never met him. 

"Well, a few people have scars from WWII," I said. 


"But it fits. Right now, it's coincidence. But it does fit. Here's a question. Did Father Fox talk much about the Jews in the Holocaust. I thought he was focused on homosexuals."


"In retrospect, I don't think that's accurate," I said. "The Johnson brothers reacted to his sympathetic defense of homosexuals, but this was in the context of Nazi attempts to exterminate Jews and other groups as I understand it. He also mentioned gypsies. I don't know whether he lingered on the persecution of homosexuals or whether that was just in the mind of some of the students."


"So ... where are we?" Sarah asked. 


"I think we know the story, but we don't have any proof
and our likely suspect has skipped. I'm not as juiced up about findig Sister Angelathe former Sister Angelaas on getting Dingo Dave off the legal hook."

"You think we can do that without proof?"


"Probably not, but I'll talk to Eli," I said. "My suspicion is the authorities are unlikely to budge without proof. Anyway, how do we find the former Sister Angela?"


"Would it help if you knew her civilian name?" Sarah asked, giving things away with her grin.


"Well, yea ... you don't?"


"I do. Gina Scarpelli from Detroit."


"You think?"


"Worth a try."


Chapter 54

Monday, January 4, 1965


Things were quiet. New Year's had passed uneventfully, which for me was a good thing. In previous years, I had spent New Year's Day comatose, having partied on New Year's Eve and gone out for Tom and Jerrys on New Year's Day. The latter came with a particularly savage custom, though the veneer was holiday cheer. In most places, the first Tom and Jerry was free. Of course, etiquette required that you order a second one for regular price. Then it was off to the American Legion for the same drill. Then to a VFW lodge further down the road for two more. Since each cup of the hot drink had a shot of rum and a shot of brandy, the entire escapade required drinking twelve shots of 80 proof spirit. I had built up my tolerance over the years, so I managed to make it home more or less conscious. But the the practice led to another custom, sleeping away the afternoon. This year I was sober and was able to watch a couple of bowl games, though I believe I might have slept away most of those. Habit, I guess. New Year's Day had to be one of the more boring festivals ever invented. Men did the Tom and Jerry thing and watched footboall. Women mostly wanted no part of it, though my wife did consider this a "Holy Day of Obligation," the Feast of the Circumcision in those days. I resolved to ask Eli about that.


Today, the unfortunate festivities were finally behind us. Sarah was back at work. The library was open for business, even though classes had not begun yet. She had plenty to do but time enough to meet for coffee downstairs and plan strategy. By now, we had a good picture of young Bernie's life as a Nazi. He had been party to a massacre in Italy and other things we didn't know about. The massacre occurred not long before his defection, so we surmised it might have been the straw that broke the camel's back. We were guessing, but the time was right. We also guessed that the massacre would have given someone a motive for seeking revenge. 

However, Sarah pointed out that, as a member of the SS, Bernhard surely would have been party to other atrocities, creating reasons for revenge all along his career. His background as a Brown Shirt was interesting, the connection to the persecution of homosexuals suggesting some context for his passion on the subject. Then again, he was involved in the rounding up and transporting Jews to extermination camps, but maybe he didn't know what happened at those camps. Sarah doubted that.

Still, I was intrigued with the Italian connection. We had progressed a lot in our surmises, but we were getting nowhere with anything solid. We were back to looking at the staff, including the good sisters.


Sarah volunteered to look into the background of the three nuns. "I have a few connections." She had been a novice once, though not in the same order. Still, she knew people and people who knew people, as Eli might have said. 


The rest of the staff was on me. I had managed to get most of what I needed from Hank, though he wasn't happy about it. 


Father Hopfensperger, aka Father Hop, was the son of parents who emigrated from Germany near Czechoslovakia in the 1920. He joined the Army after World War II, fought in Italy and got sent home with a wound that left him with a permanent limp.

Our religion teacher, the aptly named Mathew O'Connor was of Irish descent, something he was quite proud of, though you had to go back three or four generations to find the Irish emigrant. 


Father Franco Fratelli, our math teacher, had an Italian name and was also second-generation American. His people came from the North, Hank thought. 


Father George Pieczi, our phyics teacher, was Polish descent, also second generation out of Chicago.


Father Phil Fischer had a German name and a French background, his great-grandparents having come from somewhere in Alsace Loraine. Ironically, he was fluent in French and Spanish, which he taught, but not in German, which he didn't teach.
He had taught at Notre Dame Niles, had worked with Bernie Fox there and respected rather than liked him. He acknowledged that he could be hard to get along with but verified that Bernie had a habit of going to bat for the underdogs.

Brother Rufus Meyer, maintenance man, was American born, son of German immigrants from near Luxemburg.


Then, of course, there was my friend and patron, Hank Grieshaber, grandson of German immigrants. 


I wasn't sure what this got me. 


The staff was American, but all had descended from Europeans and might have ties to the old country. I'm not sure what that got me. Fathers O'Connor and Fischer had worked with Bernie Fox. Neither seemed to like him, any more than I did, but both swore they respected him. O'Connor compared him to Dorothy Day, who had visited the seminary earlier in the year and had answered student questions rather sharply, almost rudely. "She's a thorn in the side of good people," he said. "A good thorn, but a thorn. Bernie was like that."


That was Bernie. Someone you could admire. And someone you wanted to avoid.