On the night it happened—July 5—the sun didn’t set until 8:33. I went back later and checked the weather cartoon on the Evening Register’s front page: a smiling face on a fiercely bright sun. I checked because it was the heart of summer, and I couldn’t stop thinking about that long light and all the people who were out in it; I’d seen them sitting on porches, drinking Pepsis and listening to WTHO’s Top Fifty Countdown on transistor radios. I knew they were getting a laugh out of Peanuts or Hi and Lois in the newspaper, thrilling to the adventures of Steve Canyon. Cars were driving along High Street—Trans-Ams and GTOs, Mustangs and Road Runners, Chargers and Barracudas. Some of them were on their way to the drive-in theater east of town—a twin bill, Summer of ’42 and Bless the Beasts and Children. Others went downtown. Teenage boys were ducking into the Rexall or the new Super Foodliner to pick up a pack of Marlboros or Kools. Couples were strolling around the courthouse square, lollygagging after supper at the Coach House or a steak and a cold beer at the Top Hat Inn. They were window-shopping, the ladies admiring the new knee-high boots at Bogan’s Shoe Store, high school girls looking at the first wire-rim glasses at Blank’s Optical, the flared-leg pantsuits at Helene’s Dress Shop, the friendship bracelets and engagement sets at Lett’s Jewelry.
Enough time and opportunity, and yet no one could stop what was going to happen.
We were just an itty-bitty town in Indiana, on the flat plain beyond the rolling hills of the Hoosier National Forest—a glassworks town near the White River, which twisted and turned to the southwest before emptying into the Wabash and running down to the Ohio. That day, a Wednesday, the temperature had gotten up to ninety-three and the humidity had settled in and left everyone limp with trying. The air held in the smell of heat from the furnaces at the glassworks, the dead fish stink from the river, the sounds of people’s living: ice cubes clinking in glasses, car mufflers rattling, screen doors creaking, mothers calling children to come in.
In the evening, when the breeze picked up enough to stir the leaves on the courthouse lawn’s giant oaks and dusk started to fall, the air cooled just enough to make us forget how hot and unforgiving the day had been. After the hours spent working at the glassworks or the stone quarry or the gravel pit, people were glad to be moving about at their own pace, taking their time, letting the coming dark and the rustle of air convince them that soon there might be rain and then the heat would break. I was content to sit at the kitchen table, noodling around with the story problems I planned to use the next day with my summer students, one of whom was Katie Mackey.
Later, there would be a few folks who would step up and say they had something maybe the police ought to know. Their names would be in the newspapers—papers as far away as St. Louis and Chicago—and on the Terre Haute and Indianapolis television stations, people who would be in the notebooks of all the magazine writers who’d come—slick-talking out-of-towners with questions. Newshounds from Inside Detective, Police Gazette. They’d want to know how to find so-and-so.
I’ve never been able to tell this story and my part in it until now, but listen, I’ll say it true: a man can live with something like this only so long before he has to make it known. My name is Henry Dees, and I was a teacher then—a teacher of mathematics and a summer tutor for the children like Katie who needed such a thing. I’m an old man now, and even though more than thirty years have gone by, I still remember that summer and its secrets, and the way the heat was and how the light stretched on into evening like it would never leave. If you want to listen, you’ll have to trust me. Or close the book; go back to your lives. I warn you: this is a story as hard to hear as it is for me to tell.