Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
It started out like any other day. Isn’t that always how the best stories begin? Well, and the worst.
6 a.m. — my eyelids peeled back in utter disgust at the demanding screams of my alarm clock. I don’t know why I still wake up this early — I’m currently in-between jobs, so I could sleep in a tad, but I guess I find myself wanting to squeeze as much self-loathing time out of each day as I can. Anyways, once I rolled out of bed, I shuffled to the front door to retrieve my daily newspaper. Yes, I still have the paper delivered to my house. I tell people it’s to support local journalism, but really, I think I just love the aesthetic of a 1980s father of three reading up on the latest news before heading out to his 9-5.
Newspaper in hand, I sat in my crimson red, tufted linen armchair to dive in. Traditionally, my news consumption consists solely of front-page stories — the important stuff. But with my current job situation — or lack thereof — I’m finding myself with much more time to enjoy the entirety of the paper, from the overly-detailed local sports section to the semi-relevant Associated Press wire stories.
Today’s read was pretty lighthearted — just feel-good features and the usual political melodrama. But then I flipped to page A10 — the obituaries.
Have you ever done a double-take so hard your vision goes blurry for a second?
When my eyesight recovered, his face was crystal clear; among the array of portraits of poor souls who’ve passed on from this realm to the next was an old, grainy photo of Mr. Roland Acre — my neighbor. I was shocked — flabbergasted, really. Roland was the first person I met when I moved all the way to Indiana for my new job. Bad luck, really. He was forty-something years my senior and was in no uncertain terms the crankiest neighbor I’d ever had. His nickname on the block was “Oscar,” as in “Oscar the Grouch.” Oscar and I had an unspoken agreement for the past ten years — I avoided seeing him at all costs, and he didn’t aggressively strike up another one of his profanity-riddled monologues about my “consistent inability to keep that unruly lawn manicured.”
But honestly, despite all that, I felt a little heavy-hearted knowing that that was an argument I’d never have again. I mean, I didn’t even know he was sick. Sure, he was somewhat of an older man — in his 70s, I think — but he was always outside, tending to his garden, going on walks, and staying active. He was certainly the healthiest senior citizen I’d ever met, so the news of his passing was quite unexpected.
Over the years, it had become part of my morning routine to look out my kitchen window and watch grouchy ole’ Roland take care of his lush garden. I hadn’t seen him in a few days, though, and now I knew why.
I knew it was just going to make me even more melancholy, but I chose to go look out the kitchen window anyway — for old times’ sake, I guess.
Have you ever done a triple-take so hard you nearly go blind?
Outside, next to Roland’s budding flower bed with a watering can in hand was Roland. The same Roland whose face was currently plastered in the death notices section of our small-town paper.
But I have to say, once I regained my composure after a melodramatic gasp or two, I realized I shouldn’t be entirely shocked that this atrocious misprint slipped past the editorial staff at The Bulletin Gazette. Just a few years ago, the paper was at the center of what has now been deemed “Wahlberg Gate.” It was 2014, and the story was displayed on the front page — “Actor Mark Wahlberg to visit Upland.” People were lining the streets with signs and shirts decorated with his face. And you can imagine their disappointment when the crowd was instead greeted by a confused Mark Walberg from Antique Roadshow. So I’m sure you understand my initial assumption that Roland’s death decree was a mere fact-checking failure.
But there was no way I was going to bring this up to Roland — he’d blow a gasket. If my lawn was worth a lecture, then this misprint was worth a riot. Or maybe he already knew. Afterall, I couldn’t help but notice how Roland seemed to be taking to his hedges with the gentleness of a bull on roller skates. Half of the roses had been decapitated in his rough attempts to trim, which screamed to me of a man unwell.
In that moment, I resolved to abandon my ’80s dad aesthetic and embrace my inner armchair detective — I whipped out my laptop and googled Roland’s name to see if other news outlets were reporting the same thing as The Gazette. At first, I thought my spelling was off, because the results weren’t even in the ballpark of what I expected — “Man found stabbed to death at Pipe Creek,” “74-year-old stabbed to death, stuffed in garbage bag,” “Coroner: Grant County man dead for days before being found by Pipe Creek.”
All of them reported some slight variations of the same chilling story: “An elderly man was found stabbed 13 times and stuffed into a garbage bag on the banks of Pipe Creek Thursday evening. The victim was identified as Roland S. Acre, 74, of Upland, Indiana.”
At this point, I was gently coming to grips with the fact that what I was seeing outside, plain as day, now bowed down and weeding his flourishing beets, was Roland’s ghost. I thought it was funny, really — of all the things to do as a ghost, of course Roland would choose to be tending to his beloved garden.
But there was no way. It had to be a case of mistaken identity.
So, I took another fact-checking route and went stalker mode. I scanned the obituary’s “is survived by” section to find any living relatives, and my eyes landed on “Richard Acre — brother.” I quickly typed his name into the Facebook search bar, and — wow — the adrenaline rush. There he was — Richard Avery Acre. The second I saw his profile picture, I knew it was the right guy. He looked just like grouchy ole’ Roland.
I scrolled through Richard’s timeline to see if he’d posted anything about his brother’s untimely death — that’s how I planned to confirm Roland’s passing for good. But he hadn’t posted a single thing about it. I considered shooting him a message, maybe offering my condolences for the loss of his brother and letting him know that if Roland had truly passed on, his ghost was still walking among us.
But then I realized reaching out to Richard might not be as easy as I thought — his last Facebook post was on December 17, 2013. Was Richard himself dead? Determined to unravel this shoe-string-tangle of a mystery, I turned once again to every prying mind’s favorite tool — Google — and searched for “Richard Avery Acre.”
I was expecting to find an obituary or maybe proof of life of some kind. Instead, I found next to nothing — just a bunch of links back to his Facebook page. But I was so invested at this point that I had to dig deeper and do the unthinkable — go past the first page of search results. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I would’ve just thrown in the towel, because all the way on page 7, I found something that rocked me out of my chair.
It was a blog — not a fancy, well-designed modern blog. This was a stone-age WordPress blog. The exact URL was www.RichardsRuse.wordpress.com. It sounded like a recipe for a virus, but out of an abundance of itching curiosity, I clicked on it. And what I found was… Well, I don’t even know a word to describe it.
The site was run by an Indianapolis woman who went by the pen name Barb, a self-described “investigative journalist for hire.” The blog’s description claimed that Barb had been hired by a “concerned relative” to investigate the unfortunate life of none other than Richard Avery Acre.
There was almost too much information to digest in one sitting — posts on posts on posts of Barb probing the weird coincidences that had followed Richard around all of his life. It seemed like Richard had led a rather miserable life. His youth was plagued with death and misfortune, which followed him into adulthood. As a result, he was in and out of psychiatric hospitals all of his life. In Barb’s research, she found that he checked himself into mental health wards all across the country — from Utah to Kansas to Kentucky.
But here’s the kicker: in each state where Richard had spent time at a psych ward, there had been three notably similar murders — and during the timeframe he was there, too. But with each state, the murders were different. In Salt Lake City in 2008, three men ages 20 to 45 were brutally beaten with a baseball bat and left to bleed out. In Vermont in 2010, a young girl, a middle-aged man, and an elderly woman were killed just a few months apart. They’d each been shot execution-style then set on fire.
Barb’s latest post on her blog was a short one. She said she’d received a tip that Richard had once again checked himself into a psychiatric hospital — this time in Indiana. Immediately, a sinking feeling dug into the pit of my stomach. I hurriedly googled “trash bag murder Indianapolis woman,” and my stomach sunk even further when my half-baked theory was confirmed. The articles about her death were hardly a week old. Deep down, I knew what the stories said without clicking on them… But I had to check.
“The body of an Indianapolis woman was found on the side of North Corral Boulevard early Monday morning by a motorist. Police say Michelle Barbara Moran, 57, was left in a trash bag on the side of the road and had been stabbed 13 times.”
I stepped away from my computer to collect my thoughts for a moment and looked out the kitchen window once more.
At that moment, I felt all the blood drain not just from my face but from my entire body…
He was closer now. I could see the way he held his shears, knuckles white and tight with rage — the blood stains and splatters across the front of his shirt and jeans and face. And that’s when I realized — he was staring right at me.