Friday, November 27, 1964
We were on Thanksgiving break, and I took the opportunity to set up a meeting with Dingo Dave's mother. Eli had greased the skids, notifying Diane Johnson by phone that I might be contacting her and assuring her that I was on Dave's side when precious few others were. Even so, she wouldn't go along with the deal until Eli reminded her that I was Butch's father. Until he mentioned that, she didn't put together that the guy who told the cops about her son and the father of Dave's only friend were one and the same.
It was still a little tricky, but she did agree to see me at the restaurant after three P.M. I wasn't looking forward to another drive to Fort Wayne, but at least the weather had cleared and warmed some.
When I got there, she waved me over to a booth, asked if I wanted coffee. I said yes, and she set us up with two mugs and took a seat across from me.
"How are you doing?" I asked.
"Exhausted. It's not so much the work as this thing with Dave. I guess I'm depressed."
"There's nothing wrong with you. This is depressing."
"Thanks ... I think," she said. "Mr. Bonpere said you didn't think Dave was guilty."
"Not of poisoning Father Fox," I said. "Even there, it's more accurate to say I have my doubts."
"All of the external evidence points to him, which is what the authorities have locked on. But the motivation and intensity doesn't fit. As far as we know, Dave didn't have that much interaction with Father Fox. He didn't have him for a class. He didn't play bridge with him—or basketball. Dan was the one who had some run-ins with him."
"Yes, Dan told me about that. He didn't like that Father Fox taught history backwards, and he didn't like that he said so much about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals."
"Was it the homosexual issue that was bugging him?"
"Maybe. I don't know. Dan is intense. He thought that teaching history backwards was nutty. When Father Fox brought up the persecution of homosexuals, he thought that was nuttier. When Dave told him that Father Fox should have put more emphasis on the genocide against Jews, that just gave Dan more ammunition."
"Dave was the one who told him that?"
"Of course," Diane said. "Dave's identifies with Jews. He is, was, taking Hebrew classes over at the synagogue, you know."
"Dave feels pretty intense about that?"
She looked at me. "Yea, I guess, but not enough to poison the man."
"Sorry," I said. "That doesn't make sense to me either, but then nothing about this situation makes sense. Eli, Mr. Bonpere, told me we're not going to be much help to Dave until we figure out what really happened."
"You mean who really did it."
"That," I said. "And we don't have much to work with. Two things bother me. The first is that your boys admitted posting an insulting collage on Father Fox's door. Twice."
"Insulting in what way?"
"The content suggested Father Fox was a homosexual."
"I have no evidence of that," I said, "and it's not the point."
"Mrs. Johnson, it sounds like you're justifying what they did. Do you know something?"
"No, it's just ..." She stopped, and there was an uncomfortable silence.
I had my answer and decided to press on. "The other thing is that Dave admitted putting an envelope in Father Grieshaber's mailbox. It turned out to contain one of those notes that uses cut-out letters—like a kidnap note. This one suggested that harm might come to Father Fox. Dave denied creating the letter—or knowing what was in the envelope—which I'm inclined to believe." I stopped and looked at her. She squirmed, and I continued. "Your son doesn't strike any of us as a liar. He admitted all the things that led to his arrest, but he clammed up on a couple of points. I think he was protecting someone."
Mrs. Johnson went white at this, looked down, and said nothing.
"I think, maybe." She was holding the coffee mug in both hands. Her grip was so strong I thought she might break it."Okay, I gave him the envelope, but someone gave it to me, thinking I could get it into Father's mailbox—through one of my sons if nothing else. I didn't know what it was. It was sealed, and I didn't open it. She said it was important to put it in the mailbox, that I not be seen."
"Um, well, yes."
"I'd rather not say."
"You may have to," I said. "Didn't you think it was odd that she didn't want you to be seen."
"Not really. I thought it might be a donation. You know, anonymous. She didn't want her identity known, and she didn't want Father Grieshaber to grill me."
"Like I'm doing now," I said. "I get that, but it's a different kettle of fish if the contents were not an anonymous donation but a message threatening harm to Father Fox."
She looked like she had seen a ghost.
"It's important," I said. "This could help your son."
"I know. I know. But I can't. I can't."
And she got up and went into the kitchen. I finished my coffee and left, knowing I was onto something but not sure where to go next.