Tuesday, November 10, 1964
I didn't usually go to mass—I didn't exactly classify myself as a believer—but I felt I had to go this time. Hank was going to fill in the seminarians.
I had to sit through the entire mass to hear him say, "Dave Johnson is being held for questioning in the death of Father Fox. That's all I can tell you. Oh, and Dan is at home with his mother."
Tell the truth, but tell the minimum. He went with that, and it was plenty, like the igniter on a bomb.
I didn't really get the sense of it until my first class, and the sophomores were on fire. "What's up with Dingo Dave's arrest?"
"It's not an arrest," I said. "He's being held for questioning."
"Yea, right. Does that mean BJ—er, Father Fox—didn't die of a heart attack?"
"Don't know." I said. A lie.
"Well, how did he die?"
"I thought he died of a heart attack," I said. Another lie. Never true.
"How did Dingo Dave kill him?"
"Who said anybody killed Father Fox?"
"C'mon, Mr. Foote. Why is he being held for questioning?"
"I guess the police think he can provide some answers. I don't know." Well, I did know. They thought he was the guy.
"They think somebody killed him."
"You don't know that." Kinda true.
"Yeah, and they think it's Dingo Dave. I knew it!"
"Stop it! You're jumping to contusions,"
"Very funny, Mr. Foote. How did Dave kill him?"
I shut off the conversation and continued with the class, as best I could.
After classes were done and the boys were engaged in recreation, Hank assembled the staff and filled us in. The DA had decided to charge Dave Johnson with involuntary manslaughter, a lesser charge that Eli had explained was chosen in the belief that Dave's action was more like a prank gone bad than intentional murder. In other words, he had not intended to kill the priest. The detectives genuinely believed this—and it made sense to the DA.
Eli had been allowed to observe the interview but not to advise his client, a practice that was common in those days. In fact, permission to observe the interview was something of a concession. He was finally allowed to talk to Dave in the morning, after the DA decided on the charges. Eli reported that Dave was clearly agitated by the questioning and his situation, which was understandable, and he continued to deny being involved in both the threatening note and the poisoning.
The DA arranged for a preliminary hearing before a juvenile judge, but that wouldn't happen until tomorrow. In the meantime,Dave would have to spend another day in a cell by himself.
"That's tough," I said.
"It could get worse," Hank said. "A lot worse. This is a homicide case and Dave is almost 17. He could be handed over to the adult system."
"Is that likely?" I asked.
"Eli thinks it's unlikely, given the charge and the prank-gone-bad theory." Hank said. "Dave came across more as a kid—frightened and confused—than a hardened criminal. If the judge buys into that, he'll go more in the direction of counseling and rehab."
"So he's going to get a slap on the wrist?" Father Fish said. Of all the staff, Phil Fischer knew Bernie Fox the best. Bernie and the Fish had been on the spent a couple of years together teaching at Niles. They weren't close, but the Fish respected him and didn't buy the rumors.
"If he's found guilty, he'll probably be sent to a juvenile institution of some sort," Hank said. "But only for a couple of years."
"A slap on the wrist," the Fish repeated.
"Maybe," I said. "But his future isn't exactly sparkling."
"He killed somebody," Father Frat said. Franco Fratelli, the math teacher, spoke as if the facts added up.
"Innocent until proven guilty," I said, proud that I kept myself from shouting.
"Bert's right," Hank said. "We need to let the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges play their role. We need to hold that attitude when we deal with seminarians."
"That'll be difficult," Father Hop said.
"But necessary," Hank said. "We need to keep cool, detached, let things play out."
"So what are you going to tell them at dinner?" I wanted to know.
"Only what the authorities want people to know. To wit, Dave's been arrested in the death of Father Fox. We'll know more in a few days. That's it."
"Okay, good for now," I said. "Are you going to handle calls from the media the same way?"
"Yep," he said. "We can do worse than follow the lead of the authorities."
"Tell the truth, but the minimum."
"You got it," he said.
With those marching orders in hand, I decided to skip dinner at the sem and drop in at the homestead. Time to talk to Butch. I didn't have much news, but the little I had was big. He wasn't going to be happy.
Just before dinner
"NO!" Butch didn't usually scream. I waited, expecting him to ask for details, which he did.
"I don't have any," I said. "All I can tell you is that he's been arrested in the case."
"But I thought BJ ..."
"Father Fox," I corrected.
"I thought Father Fox died of a heart attack."
"Apparently not," I said.
"The sheriff's department isn't releasing any details. All I can say is that he's been arrested. They did question his brother as well, but they released him."
"So they are blaming Dave?"
"Seems like it," I said.
"Can I see him?"
"We'll see," I said. "Right now, the only people allowed to visit him are his lawyer and family.
Down the road, other visitors might be welcome. Maybe."
"I can't believe it," Butch said. "He couldn't have."
Well, that was a problem. He could have, and that seemed to be enough for everybody except Butch. And maybe me. I needed a meeting.