Two boys playing hooky from school to go squirrel hunting found the young woman’s body lying facedown in the muddy creek at the bottom of Dog’s Run. At first, Wayne DeCross thought it was a dummy and started to approach it, but his buddy Chance Carver grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
“No, Wayne, that ain’t no dummy, that’s a real woman and I think she’s dead!”
“Naaa,” Wayne told him disdainfully, shaking the other boy’s hand off his arm. “You got too much imagination, Chance. Besides, even if it was a real woman, I ain’t scared of no dead body. Are you?”
“I’m not scared,” Chance said with a shake of his head, even though he was. “I just don’t want to be messin’ with no dead body.”
“Well what do ya think those squirrels hangin’ off your belt are? Ain’t they dead bodies?”
Chance couldn’t deny the reasoning but he still didn’t want to get anywhere near the thing laying in the creek. “That’s different. These are animals and pretty soon they’ll be food. That there’s a dead person.”
“Ain’t people animals, too?” argued Wayne. “And if we don’t get her out of that water pretty soon she’ll be food too, for the crawdaddies.”
“I ain’t touching her!” Chance said. “We need to go tell the Sheriff.”
“I swear, you are such a sissypants. Dead is dead, ain’t it? Don’t matter if it’s a squirrel or a chicken or a person.”
“Well I ain’t never been haunted by no squirrel or a chicken before!”
“And when was you ever haunted by a dead person?” Wayne asked.
“I wasn’t. But you ask Pete Ledbetter about gettin’ haunted. He’ll tell ya! He was haunted by his mother-in-law after she died ’cause they never got on.”
“Pete Ledbetter?” Wayne scoffed. “Hell, you know well’s I do that old Pete’s drunk most of the time, and he’s got a worse imagination than you. If he heard a tree branch scrapin’ the side of his shack, he’d swear it was old Bessie Green scratchin’ on the door tryin’ to get in!”
“I don’t care. I ain’t touching no dead body!”
“Fine, then hold my gun and I’ll do it. I ain’t scared of nothing!” Wayne said, handing his old Savage single-shot .22 to his friend and walking up to the body.
And there was no doubt that it was indeed a body he determined when he got closer. A hank of long, curly yellow hair waved off to the side in the muddy water and the back of the woman’s white dress had ridden up, exposing her upper thighs and the cheeks of her butt. Being a normal thirteen year old boy, Wayne couldn’t help pausing to admire the curve of her rear end for a quick moment before he put his hand on her shoulder and tried to pull her over. She was surprisingly heavy for such a relatively small woman. He called out to Chance, “Stop bein’ such a baby and come here and help me.”
Chance hesitated for another moment, then screwed up his courage. He wasn’t a Catholic, in fact he wasn’t much for Sunday School of any kind, but he crossed himself like he had seen that priest in the Saturday matinee at the Rigley Theater do last week, then laid the three squirrels they had shot, Wayne’s rifle, and his beat up old Savage 20 gauge on the creek bank and joined his friend. The water covering his ankles was cool, but that wasn’t what made him shiver.
“Who is it?”
“Don’t know,” Wayne said. “Guess we’ll find out when we roll her over. Here, give me a hand.”
They grabbed the woman’s right arm and pulled her onto her back and were greeted with the sight of a fat crawdad hanging from the corner of her left nostril by one pincher.
All thought of false bravado disappeared as both boys screamed and ran splashing out of the creek, leaving their guns, the dead squirrels, and the body behind them as they fled Dog’s Run.
Police Chief Lester Smeal took a bite of his meatloaf sandwich and smiled at Mary Jo, nodding as he chewed. “That's just delicious, darlin’,” he said as he swallowed.
Mary Jo beamed and said, “I'm glad you like it Les. Anything else I can get you?”
“Well I can think of several things I’d like,” the chief said. “But most of them are immoral, and I'm pretty sure a couple are flat-out illegal.”
Mary Jo blushed and cackled, slapping his arm playfully. “What am I going to do with you, Lester J. Smeal? You’re incorrigible!”
“Yes ma'am, I am,” the chief said with a wide grin, before taking another bite. That's just one of the reasons you love me.”
“Oh, I love you, do I? I think you're assuming a lot there, big fella.”
“Well, if it ain't love, it must be lust,” the chief said, drawing another loud laugh from the waitress.
Their daily flirtation was interrupted when the door to the Sunshine Café burst open and two muddy, excited young boys rushed inside leaving a trail of footprints across Mary Jo's linoleum floor.
“What in the world are you boys doing stomping in here like that?” Mary Jo demanded. “You take yourselves right back outside and wipe your feet and then come in and close the door like gentlemen!”
Normally Wayne and Chance were well behaved boys, but this day they were too excited to even hear her, much less obey.
“Chief, we found a dead body! Come quick!”
“What? What dead body? Where?”
“Down in Dog’s Run. She's lying in the water and a crawdad was eatin’ her face,” Wayne said.
Chief Smeal knew the boys by sight, though he didn't know their names. They were like most of the youngsters from Dog’s Run; often unwashed, dressed in hand-me-down clothes, and allowed to run free most of the time with little parental guidance. Dog’s Run was a shabby collection of shanties and thrown together houses on the east side of Elmhurst. The town attracted refugees from West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, who came to Ohio looking for work in the factories around Toledo and a better lifestyle than the coal mines and hardscrabble farms they had left behind could offer. Most were decent, hardworking folk, but there was also a hard element among them that included moonshiners, petty thieves, and ne'er-do-wells.
“Slow down boys. Now just where did you find this body, and who is it?”
“She's down in the creek at the bottom of the Run,” Chance told him. “Just upstream from the bridge. I don't know who it is, we just looked and ran when we saw the crawdad eating her.”
Mary Jo's face had gone pale at the boys’ revelation and she said, “Oh my Lord!”
The chief looked at the boys sternly, and asked, “You sure about this? You boys ain't just pulling my leg? Because if you are and you come here interrupting my lunch like this, we're going to have a problem.”
Both boys shook their heads vigorously.
“No sir, it's a dead lady and she's layin’ there in Dog’s Run!”
Dog’s Run is a steep-sided ravine that begins somewhere just across the line in Michigan and continues southward to the west side of town before petering out at Swan Creek. Chief Smeal parked his Buick Roadmaster under a hickory tree near the bridge and followed the boys down a worn footpath to the water’s edge.
“Where is she?”
“Right up there around the bend,” Wayne said. “I ain’t going no further. I don't want to see her again.”
“No, you're both going to show me exactly where she's at,” Lester said. “I still don’t know what you found, but until I get to the bottom of this, I'm not letting either one of you out of my sight!”
Reluctantly the boys led him upstream and around the short bend, where the chief stopped abruptly. “Holy shit! You boys stay right here and don't you go nowhere, you hear me?”
Both boys nodded emphatically, relieved not to have to get too close to the body again.
Chief Smeal walked a few yards farther and surveyed the scene. The woman lay twisted onto her left side, her upper torso in the water. Nearby, on the creek bank, he saw a rifle and shotgun and the dead squirrels the boys had left behind. Walking out into the water, he felt it rise to just above his ankles as he squatted next to the body. The crawdad that the boys had seen was no longer in evidence, but small marks on the woman's face told him that it'd been there.
The woman had been pretty in life, but in death there was little left to show of what she had been at one time. Studying the body, the chief noted the dark bruise on the side of her face, that her left ankle was twisted at an odd angle, and that the scrapes and abrasions on her arms and legs had come from something more than crawdads.
“Oh Wanda Jean, what’s become of you now?” Lester asked the woman.