by Hy Conrad
It began as a harmless escapade — four teenagers sneaking into a deserted old house. All they were looking for was a final night of adventure before one of them went off to college. What they found instead was death, a haunting, inexplicable murder that rivaled anything they’d ever seen at the movies.
The trespassing teens were Lilly Kincaid, her younger sister, Anne, and their boyfriends, Mark and Larry. On a sultry August night, a week before Lilly was to fly off to Princeton, the four of them finally did what they’d always talked about, breaking into the eerie Alway mansion at midnight to search for ghosts.
Lilly’s boyfriend, Mark, had been in the lead, using his flashlight to illuminate the cobweb-filled crannies. Despite promises to the contrary, the boys were having their fun, scaring the girls at every opportunity. They had finished exploring the first floor and were halfway down a second floor corridor when Larry turned around and saw that Lilly was no longer behind him.
“Lilly? Where are you?” Their whispers grew louder as they began to backtrack along the corridor. “Stop fooling around.” Lilly was hardly the type to wander off. “Lilly?” And then they heard it. Several muffled shouts followed by a piercing scream. Lilly’s scream.
When Anne and the boys stepped into the dusty bedroom, they saw the 18-year-old girl stretched out on the bed frame. A hunting knife was protruding from her chest, the black handlegrip facing her shoes. At first it seemed like some perverse joke, Lilly getting even with the boys. Anne nudged her sister, telling her to cut out the dramatics. “Lilly?” Anne gazed down at her own hands, now suddenly covered with blood. “She’s… She’s dead.”
Mark was just stepping forward to check her pulse when Anne gasped. “Oh, my God. Did you see?” She pointed out into the hallway. “A man with a knife.”
Instinctively, the boys gave chase, inadvertently leaving the surviving sister alone. No more than 30 seconds later, as they pursued clouds of cobwebs through the downstairs rooms, a second scream brought them up short. “Anne!” Mark and Larry instantly reversed their tracks.
“You left me alone!” Anne screamed as they ran back in. “Let’s get out of here.” The boys agreed. Whoever had done this was still close by, wielding that second knife. They ran, Anne sandwiched between her protectors, and didn’t stop until they’d reached the safety of the police station.
When Ben Alway, owner of abandoned mansion, was told of the murder, he seemed as shocked as everyone else. “How awful! I teach at the high school, so I knew Lilly. A real golden girl. Pretty, smart, sweet. Her folks never went to college, and they’d been saving for years just so one of their kids could go to a good school. Last year Lilly took my class in college board preparation. Anne took the class this year. I guess she’ll be applying to Princeton now. Have you talked to Billy?”
“Who?” The officer took out his notepad.
“Billy Willis. He’s this homeless drunk who’s been squatting in the old mansion for years. I kick him out and lock up the place, but he always finds some way in. The girl must have surprised old Billy.”
The officer wrote hurriedly. “When did you last see Mr. Willis?”
“I caught him in the house this afternoon. He was all strung out and desperate for a drink. He’s got a crazy, violent streak, especially when he needs booze.”
Within the hour, they discovered the middle-aged alcoholic passed out in the park. Two empty pints of bourbon were on the ground beside him and his hand was gripped around a third. Through his alcoholic stupor, Billy denied the murder. “I ain’t been in that place for days. That Alway guy is crazy. Last time, he took a shotgun and put it right up to my head. Said he’d blow my brains out if I ever came back.”
The clerk at Kline’s All-Nite Liquor had been the last person to see Billy that night. “He came in about 11 p.m. Bought three pints of Retchers Bourbon and paid for them in loose change. Billy panhandles on Oak Street. Sometimes he makes enough to splurge on cheap bourbon. ”
Although Anne Kincaid was unable to identify Billy Willis in a line- up, he remains the police’s prime suspect. Do they have enough evidence to make an arrest? You decide.