Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Murder in Cambridge

These are weeping birches by the slough. I thought Patty had planted them, but she said they were volunteers, she said they sprang up after the flood in 1990 when there was five feet of water in the yard.

It’s a brisk wind blowing the branches. It’s raining all day out here. It will never stop raining. Rain and Rain until the Day of Judgment. Biblical rain today.

We have Buddhist rain too, it comes slow and steady and it bores you to death.

At times we have Scandinavian, suicidal, stay-drunk-all-winter rain, but I see a glimmer of hope out there -- somewhere the sun is shining.

That would be the Irish rain. If we just had a little bit of luck, then things would turn out right, and the blessings of heaven would sweeten our hearts and enrich our bank accounts too.

The birch trees and the giant cottonwoods still have their leaves on. I give the leaves just a few more days and they will be coming down. We don’t have to rake leaves out here, the wind takes care of that.

ESCAPE FROM FIR ISLAND. I’m planning my escape. I can’t tell you any of the details, because when you’re really serious about something, you can’t waste energy with idle talk. You have to focus. You have to want it. You have to hold it inside and let it build.

So I look out the window. The window faces east, across the fields, five miles to the foothills. All rain, all day on muddy fields. Riley drives the potato truck, but he said they have stopped working -- they would just get stuck in the field.

Jimmy said they left four rows of Yukon Gold potatoes in back of his house. He went out and dug a bucket of really fine potatoes, but it was muddy work, he said. I’ll go over there later and get some for our house.

For the Irish rain. We’ll have buckets of Yukon Gold potatoes and eat good all winter. Gold ! Good luck and pretty women. Or when you’re lucky, the women look prettier. Either way.

But this Thomas Hardy landscape gets to me -- the desolate moors, the faraway cry of the geese

I can tell you this. One day, poof, I’ll be gone. Because I have a plan.

“But you’re coming back, Fred. You always come back.”

SOME READERS OBJECT. In the last issue, we discussed Suicide and Depression -- a dismal topic. Some readers out there in Frog Hospital land turned away, averted their eyes, and tried to ignore the whole thing.

I got a call from Vicki in Spokane. Years ago, we worked together in the Forest Service. Now she and her husband are in real estate.

“Fred, can’t we have happy, pleasant things to read about? Or exciting, dramatic things to read about? We don’t care to discuss these unpleasant topics. We really don’t want to know what you do when you go to work at the hospital. It’s too icky.”

So, I should spare you the details because it’s not appetizing.


And you want health care reform.

“Oh, yes, we want health care reform very much -- so we can write a check, pay a tax, and have it done.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

MURDER IN CAMBRIDGE. Mary Joe Frug was murdered by a knife-wielding assailant on a quiet street in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1991. No one was ever been arrested for the crime, and no motive has been established. I lived only a few blocks from where the killer stabbed Frug, and many days I walked down that quiet leafy street on my way to Harvard Square.

Mary Joe Frug was murdered on Sparks Street on a Thursday night, right outside the Armenian Trinity Church while the choir was practicing and making so much noise that nobody could hear any screams, if there were any screams. Frug, 49, a law school professor and mother of two, was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant with unknown motives, on her way home from the grocery store -- the same grocery store where I shopped

The next day, Friday, carnations and daffodils were strewn over the pavement near the curb at the corner where she died. People walked by slowly and gathered in knots.

At Pentimento, a neighborhood restaurant where I worked, everybody was talking about it. Diane, the owner and chief cook, was very distraught. We discussed the crime while we made soup together.

“I knew her,” she kept saying. “She was a very beautiful, intelligent woman....Oh, damn it, I burned the apricot crumble,” as she rushed to the oven to pull it out.

I said, “You’re upset. This is very terrifying.”

“I’m going to get more locks on the door,” she said. Talk about the murder had been buzzing about the restaurant all morning. Bob, her 23-year-old son, walked into the kitchen. “Locking yourself in is not the answer, you can’t give in like that,” he lectured.

I was about to agree with him, but I held my tongue.

Diane brushed the hair out of her eyes. She said, “I have this recurring nightmare of being beaten to death. Can you imagine how horrible it was to die that way? I knew that woman.”

After work I called Nora. She had read about the murder in the Boston Globe. She said, “It was somebody who knew her.” That was her intuition. A day later the newspaper reported that “police were investigating reports of a man lurking in the bushes near the scene of the stabbing. The man, described as white, in his 20’s, with brown hair, 6-feet tall and wearing dark clothing, is being sought by the police.”

THEY NEVER FOUND THE KNIFE. Where is the knife that killed Mary Joe Frug? Or, I should say, the knife that was used to kill her. The police never found it. But unless it was thrown back into the furnace like the Lords of the Rings, that knife exists somewhere, at the bottom of the Charles River buried in sediment, or rusting in a landfill…. or laying in plain view in someone’s kitchen -- if the murderer had loaned it to an unsuspecting neighbor, wiped clean.

Now Mary Joe Frug merits an entry in Wikipedia for her legal scholarship. Her radical feminist views were controversial at the time. She taught at a non-prestigious Boston law school and her husband, Gerald Frug, taught at Harvard Law School.

This was all common knowledge and very small-townish, if you lived in Cambridge, especially if you lived in that neighborhood -- who the Frugs socialized with, what faction they belonged to in the intensely partisan atmosphere of the law school, and who wrote bitter denunciations of the Frugs in obscure law journals.

I don’t know why this crime came back to my memory 18 years later. I went to the website of the Cambridge Police Department to discover if there had ever been an arrest for the Frug murder. No, it’s a cold case.

But they won’t forget, not in Cambridge, not in New England. They never forget anything.

I bet, if I were there today, and walked down Sparks Street, past the site of the murder, and then spoke to somebody, on the street, or at a nearby store - I bet they will remember this crime in great detail. I bet many of the same people are still there, in the same houses and flats, in the same jobs, going to the same summer resorts every summer -- because nothing every changes in New England.

Where is the murderer? Probably still alive, walking the streets of Cambridge.

Why did he kill Mary Joe Frug? Did he know her and hate her? Or was it a random act? Some people, admitting to a guilty selfishness, hoped the killer was known to Frug, a personal enemy, because that was less frightening than a random stranger who might have attacked anyone -- just killing the next woman who walked by.

In that calculus, you felt safer, because none of the people that you knew were crazed and mad enough to kill you.

Sparks Street intersects with Brewster Street. Robert Frost, the great poet, once lived in a house at 35 Brewster Street. They have a plaque near the front door of 35 Brewster Street telling of Robert Frost.

Two blocks past Brewster Street, you will come to 22 Reservoir Street, the home of Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor, a colleague of the Frugs, and a very well known scholar of great controversy himself.

I had an opinion -- very negative -- of Alan Dershowitz, but one day, when I lived in the neighborhood, I walked past his house, and there he was -- in the driveway in his front yard, playing basketball with his son.

How could I dislike him after that? He was a good guy that plays ball with his son. He lived in a house down the street from me -- two blocks from Reservoir Street.

I lived at 42 Blakeslee in the first floor of a two-flat building.

It was two blocks to Alan Dershowitz’s house, then over the hill, down Brewster, past the Robert Frost house, then to Sparks Street, the site of the murder.

When I got there, I looked around to see if there was a good hiding place in the shrubbery, but there were only low plantings near the sidewalk, so it was more likely that Frug was attacked suddenly from behind, as she walked.

The homicide detectives know where the knife wounds struck. They would know if she put up a struggle. They will never tell us, unless there is an arrest and trial, which is now very unlikely.

Yet there is a very thick file kept secret by the police, compiled in 1991, with photos, and forensic reports, and interviews with neighbors.

“Did you hear anything? Did you see anything?”

And, “Where were you last night?”

Nineteen years later the homicide detectives will pull out the file in a yearly ritual, and try to make it more than a ritual, try to bring it back to life, not just be a memory of a horrible crime. As if it happened last night.

If she screamed, why did nobody hear her? Possibly, some one heard her scream, but still has not come forward, and nineteen years later those same people live on that street, because this is New England, and people never move.

I think she screamed, but nobody heard her. Sparks Street has a very lovely kind of classic New England feel to it.

Screams become absorbed in the historic stillness.

A scream was heard faintly, but from what century? 1991, or 1854, or 1743, or 1697 ?

It goes way back to other crimes, other murders not solved, going back centuries to ghosts from long ago.

IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE. But we’re safe in LaConner, here, all the way across the country. Nothing like that will ever happen here. No knife-wielding assailant brutally murdering an unsuspecting woman -- her screams not heard, a pool of blood, and no answers.

It couldn’t happen here.

No comments: