John’s public defender sited mental illness. He suggested John had been physically abused by his parents. The prosecution brought witness after witness to deny the allegations of abuse.
The neighbor, Ben Hathaway, had been called to the witness stand. “The boy was wild and cruel,” he testified. “I caught him beating my dog one day with a poker,” he said. “I took it away from John and asked him what he was doing. He just laughed.”
I swallowed hard and kept reading. Ben’s testimony continued. “His parents had finally had enough. He was going to be sent away to military school. Bill Leach told me he just didn’t know what else to do. He thought the school could straighten him out.”
The prosecution called an official from the school. He confirmed that John Leech was to be enrolled for the next term but he added, “If we had known the full extent of his issues, he would not have been accepted.”
The defense had placed two psychiatrists on the stand who both testified that they thought John Leech was incapable of understanding right from wrong and should not be held responsible for his actions.
In the end, the jury agreed. They declared John Leech not guilty by reason of insanity. The town had been stunned and outraged according to the multiple letters to the editor and opinion pieces scattered throughout subsequent issues.
Perhaps the jury had believed the abuse allegations or maybe it had just been too hard to sentence a boy that young to death as the prosecutor had wanted. He hadn’t gotten off ‘scot-free’ though as some of the letters had suggested. He’d spent a brief period at The Manors only to eventually be placed in Gravely Mental Health Facility.
I read the name as my heart skipped a beat. The local news station had aired an exposé on the facility a year ago. The list of abuses was long. Patients had been brutally beaten. Others had been tied up and left for days without food and water. John Leech had escaped prison but ended up in a place far worse.
“Still reading up on that flood?” the voice startled me and I jumped.
The friendly librarian had returned. She looked over my shoulder and grimaced when she saw the headline. “Such a terrible tragedy.”
“Do you know what happened to John Leech?” I asked. I knew Gravely had been closed after a public outcry.
“He was released,” she replied. “I remember how scared I was when he returned back to his parents’ farm to stay. It’s only a few miles from my house.”
I swallowed hard. John Leech had sounded like a psychopath before Gravely. I couldn’t begin to imagine how disturbed he might be now. “So he’s still living there?” I asked.
She sighed with relief, “Thank God, no.” She whispered to me, “Some of the town made it pretty uncomfortable for him to stay.”
I wasn’t sure what that might have entailed and was afraid to ask. “Do you know where he went?”
“No, only that he isn’t here,” she replied. She shivered visibly even though the room was warm. She gave herself a little shake as if to ward off the thought of John Leech and then pasted the smile back on her face. “Do you need any more help?” she asked.
“No, I think I found everything,” I replied. I picked up a few sheets of paper where I’d written down the address of the Leech farm and a couple of the names from the trial. She’d probably seen my notes but I didn’t offer any explanation as I folded the papers and stuffed them into my jean’s pockets. I put the big, bound books back on the shelf. “Thanks for all your help.”
She eyed me speculatively but merely said, “You’re welcome.”
I followed her out of the room as she turned the lights off.
I was nearly out of the library’s main entrance when I heard her say, “I’d stay as far away as I could from John Leech. He’s dangerous.”
The words echoed through my head as I put the address in my GPS. I reached into the glove compartment and pulled my father’s pistol out. I loaded the gun and put it back. The closer I got to the farm, the harder my heart pounded. When I finally pulled onto a gravel road, I grew even more anxious as I realized how remote the property truly was. When the librarian said her home was nearby, she must have meant in the country sense of less than five miles.
At the end of the gravel drive stood a white two-story house with peeling paint. I pulled the truck off the side of the road. If John Leech had returned, I didn’t want to announce my presence. I opened the glove box and grabbed the pistol. I made sure the safety was on and then placed it in the small of my back, tucked down into my jeans. I pulled my shirt out to cover the bulge. I stared at the dilapidated house. Could Daniel and Chris be inside?
I crept slowly from the truck, listening for any slight noise. I only heard some birds singing in the distance. I reached the house and gingerly pushed at the door. It swung open a few inches. I stepped inside, avoiding a rotted floorboard on the porch. I peered around what would have been the living room. Eighties style overstuffed furniture still sat in the room. Mildew and the smell of dead mice assaulted my nose. The couch had a covering of bird droppings. I noticed one window had a pane smashed out.
Staying close to the wall, I made my way to the kitchen. The smell almost made me gag. Dishes were still in the sink and decaying food littered the table. I backed out quickly unable to stand the stench. I’d gotten a fleeting glimpse of an expanse of battered oak cabinets and tattered rose pink curtains on the windows.
My hope began to flag. I didn’t think anyone could stand to use that kitchen, even someone as disturbed as John Leech. I spied a hallway and walked slowly toward it. The doors to the two rooms leading off it were closed. I grasped the gun and pulled it out of my jeans. I held it down at my side. I put my hand on the knob and turned it in tiny increments. Pushing the door open, it made a loud screeching sound. I held my breath. If anyone was inside, they’d probably heard that.
No one yelled at me. No sounds of running. My heartbeat slowed to normal.
I stepped inside to find a faded pink frilly bedroom. The wooden white twin bed had a canopy over it. The pink ribbons swinging from it were frayed. The bed was unmade with the bedspread thrown back. A couple of dolls with matted hair were thrown across the dust-laden carpet.
Then I saw the little heart shaped pillow with Casey embroidered on it. A lump formed in my throat. An innocent, young girl had suffered through the unimaginable. Where had Casey spent the rest of her childhood once her brother had been sent to Gravely? I wondered if she’d lived at The Manors the entire time until she was of legal age. I hadn’t seen children on my visit but their policies could have recently changed.
The sudden screech of a creaking floorboard brought me sharply back to the present. I spun around to find myself looking down the barrel of a shotgun.