When I’m not writing on the weekends or at night, I am the elected Clerk of my small, wooded Vermont town (pop. 1,763) from Monday through Thursday. No joke, aside from being a mother, helping my neighbors negotiate their property tax bills or dig up warranty deeds, even tagging their dogs and nagging the road crew, has been one of the most fulfilling roles of my life.
And, at times, it’s been really weird.
Take, for example, this latest episode from the Town Clerk Chronicles:
A middle-aged couple who’d been living together for years came in to get a marriage license. You could say these two – we’ll call them Jason and Jane – are known to us due to their numerous citations for improperly housing chickens, ducks, dogs and a goat that is occasionally spotted standing on the roof of their now foreclosed house. Rumor is that Jason chauffeurs various panhandlers around the area, from the local grocery stores to the hospital and busy intersections.
Nevertheless, we don’t judge here in the TC office; we help. And help they needed since their marriage license application was peppered with numerous misspellings, including that of the state from which they both hailed, Vermont. (Spelled by them as a commonsensical Vermount.)
The challenge, of course, was to preserve their dignity while obtaining the correct information for the license that would eventually be sent to the state as a permanent vital record. Marriage licenses are chains of title, so to speak, much like land records. You should be able to follow wife to daughter to mother to grandmother, etc. Accuracy is of utmost historical importance.
So, I decided to read back each entry, gently questioning if, perhaps, Jason’s father, “George” was actually “George,” and not, as he put it, “Gorge.”
But it got really interesting when I came to the prospective bride’s mother’s name because the first and last names rhymed like, say, Anna Banana.
“Anna Banana?” I asked, fingers poised over the keyboard.
“Yes,” said Jane, sitting up. “She died when I was a teenager. She was murdered.”
The true crime nut in me went on alert. Having worked as a reporter in Vermont and New Hampshire where premature deaths are usually the fault of too many beers and too many guns, I kept a mental roster of all slain women. Anna Banana, to my knowledge, was a new one.
“The I-91 killer.”
Whoa. Stop the presses. The I-91 killer supposedly was responsible for the deaths of numerous women in the 1980s in Vermont and New Hampshire. The theory was he used the anonymity of the interstate that runs up the eastern border of Vermont from Massachusetts to find unsuspecting women at remote exits (and, in one case, a rest stop) whom he proceeded to stab in a V-shaped pattern on their chests. I’d read a book. I’d read all the articles.
So, yeah, I was riveted.
Jane spared no detail. Her mother had left one afternoon to pick up her son, Jane’s brother, from school and was never seen alive again. Her car was found months, maybe years, later, miles away in bucolic Lyme, New Hampshire, propped, improbably, on a rocky hillside. Eventually, the police found her skeleton sitting up against a tree, encircled by photos of Jane’s children.
“Your children?” I asked. “But weren’t you a teenager?”
“I was a mother at fourteen,” she replied. Which, when I thought about it, explained a lot about everything.
Anyway, it gets weirder. The police returned to Jane only her mother’s dentures and a few other personal belongings in a plastic bag. Just so happens, Jane was working as grave digger at the time and her boss made her DIG HER OWN MOTHER’S GRAVE.
“I had it with grave digging after that and quit,” she said. Understandable.
We completed the license and I told Jane that I would go home and get Ginsburg’s book and photocopy the pertinent passages about her mother’s demise and send it to her.
Except I couldn’t because no Anna Banana had been found dead in Lyme, New Hampshire. She didn’t appear anywhere in Ginsburg’s book, nor in any of the numerous articles I dug up online. As far as I could tell, Anna Banana had died in the mid 1980s, not when Jane was a teenager, but when she was about 24. And there was nothing from the obit of Jane’s father to indicate that Anna’s death had been anything but natural, if, albeit, premature.
So, I guess my question is, why lie? Why lie about something as grim – and easily unconfirmed – as your mother being the victim of a serial killer?
Any and all theories welcomed.