Monday, November 9, 1964
Monday was supposed to mean back to normal. It meant something else, especially to the Johnson brothers. Yes, the brothers.
The morning went smoothly enough. I didn't have a class, which meant I had a chance to walk out to the lake and see the two detectives rowing toward Dingo Dave's island. They landed on the south side of the island, out of view of prying eyes, and stayed there, I guessed, until the second class began.
Apparently, the search clinched things for them. By lunch time, with Hank's help, they had spirited away both of the Johnson brothers. I hadn't foreseen their interest in Dan Johnson. In retrospect, I should have. The brothers were different. The younger brother exhibited little interest in his Aussie background and didn't share the "Dingo" appellation with his brother. However, he did express open discomfort with hints of homosexuality in both his classmates and Father Fox—it was he who began using the nickname "BJ" to refer to Father Bernard John Fox. Dingo Dave, on the other hand, appeared to be less interested in the issue. On the third hand, the detectives had found a collage in Dave's locker, which led to the idea that he might have put the offensive collages on Father Fox's door.
One thing had been bothering me about Dingo Dave's impending arrest. What was his motive? The idea that the Johnson brothers were in cahoots made some sense. At least a little.
The detectives' action had gone so smoothly that the seminarians didn't catch on until later in the day—when both were missing from their classes and their respective flag and touch football teams. Then the chatter began. This was a problem because Hank had gone with the detectives "in loco parentis" and didn't return until late afternoon. He had no news of their status, but he was the adult observer until Eli showed up and received approval from the boys' mother to act as their attorney. This didn't happen until later in the day. By then the detectives had questioned both boys separately in what Hank said was a business-like and not particularly aggressive manner. They concentrated mostly on facts, getting Dingo Dave to admit that, yes, he had a small yew tree growing in the locker room; yes, he knew there was a yew tree growing on the island; yes he knew yew was poisonous; yes, he was the sacristan and had been in the sister's chapel the evening before Bernie's death; yes he created and posted the insulting collage on BJ's door; no he wasn't responsible for the threatening note, which he claimed not to know about; and no he didn't try to poison Father Fox. When they heard this, the detectives were a bit more insistent, repeating the question in different ways, but Dave held his ground.
Dan Johnson knew his brother was the sacristan in the sister's chapel, but he claimed not to be aware of anything else, including Dave's interest in yew trees. He admitted to disliking Father Fox, questioning him in class, and teasing "homos" but to nothing else.
Eli had arrived rather quickly. After consulting with Hank, the detectives invited him to observe the questioning—even though he hadn't been approved by the boys' mother as their attorney. In fact, at this point the mother hadn't been informed that her sons were in the sheriff's custody and the reason why. The detectives had left a message for her as soon as they arrived at the station and were waiting for a callback. When she called—some time into the questioning—Sergeant Hayden left the room and didn't return for fifteen minutes. Hank said he couldn't imagine what that conversation was like. After that, the two boys, Hank, Eli, and Sergeant Hayden talked to her in that order. The round-robin discussion took the better part of an hour, during which time questioning stopped.
Hank was exhausted. With Eli okayed to act as the boys' attorney, Hank felt free to leave. He called his secretary, who phoned my room and found me in. She asked me to wait for him in the vestibule, which I did. When I saw him drive up, I went outside. "So what do you think?"
"I think the detectives think the detectives are certain they have their guy—or guys."
"I don't know how that will play out or what the consequences will be for either one of them. I had a chance to talk with Eli while the mother was talking to the boys. He pointed out that they are both juveniles, which means the consequences won't be near as dire as they would be if they were adults."
"You mean they won't face long years in an adult prison."
"Correct," he said. "Of course ...."
I finished his sentence. "Their lives will be changed dramatically, almost surely for the worse."
"Well, there will be obstacles."
"Obstacles?" I said. "Expulsion from the seminary. Confinement somewhere. A reputation as a murderer."
"Which they may be able to overcome."
"Really? Are you going to break into song."
"No, but it happens," he said.
Hank paused. "Look at Father Fox."
I thought about that for several seconds. "Keep that thought. It sounds like the Johnson family will need it."
"In the meantime, what are we going to tell the seminarians?"
"The rule is—tell them the truth, just not too much of it."
"Can it wait?," he wanted to know. "We'll probably know something specific later tonight."
"No, I think you better say something at dinner."
"How about telling them that I wondered where the Johnson brothers went and called their mother, who told me that there was a family crisis but that the boys are safe."
"That'll work," I said.
And so he did—after we said grace and sat down for dinner. And it worked, for the moment.
I knew that after dinner Hank was going to check with Eli about developments. As much as I needed a meeting, I decided to hang around the faculty lounge waiting for news. By the time Hank came in a few minutes after 7 P.M., Brother Rufus and I were the only ones still there. He looked at Rufus, then at me, and asked me to see him in his office. Rufus raised his eyebrows, but Hank just turned on his heels and left the room. I followed him.
"That was awkward," he allowed, "but Rufus is a bit of gossip and I preferred not to speak in front of him."
"So you're just going to let him think you're taking me to the woodshed?"
"Better that," he said, "than to talk in front of him or ask you to come to my room. Like I said, he's a bit of a gossip."
By then we were at his office. He unlocked the door, sat down, and reached into his drawer for a bottle of scotch. He didn't bother asking me if I minded. I did. Mostly it bugged me that he could do this, be lucid, and not feel like punching my lights out.
I took out my pipe and busied myself in that way while he told me what was what. Dan was released to his mother, who had arrived two hours after her phone conversation. Dingo Dave, on the other hand, was cooling his heels in a cell—by himself, at the urging of Eli—with the prospect of being charged with something related to the death of Fr. Fox. The detectives were going to meet first thing in the morning with the DA, who would decide on a charge and arrange for a hearing before a juvenile judge. After that, there were unknowns. Depending on the charge, the judge could do anything, ranging from letting him go, to mandating a period of confinement within the juvenile system, to turning him over to an adult court. Eli would do what he could, which might be very little. So far, the authorities were allowing him to represent the boy, but that was a gift, he told Hank, probably because of the Notre Dame connection. Someday, legal representation for juvenile suspects would be required, but this was not the case in Indiana at this time. The juvenile judge had all the power. We would know more tomorrow.
"Obviously, the detectives think Dave is the guy," I said. "What does Eli think?"
"He won't commit," Hank said. "He pointed out that the case against Dave, while circumstantial, points to him and no one else. He admits to being troubled that Dave denies anything to do with the poison."
"Wouldn't you expect the culprit to deny everything?"
"That's just it," Hank said. "He made no effort to deny the evidence. He made no effort to deny that he did the collage on his door. He admitted being familiar with the yew shrub and its toxic properties. He just denied trying to poison anybody. The detectives gave him plenty of chances to admit doing so."
"And he didn't," I said.