A Murder in the Family
When Grandmother White shared that newspaper clipping with me, she knew I would tell
I was in my Grandmother White’s powder-blue living room in her house on Second Avenue in Dodge City, Kansas. The living room was perfect and neat, with low-plush carpeting and a fireplace at one end of the long room. She has lived in this house since before my grandfather died, since before I was born, and I will always associate my grandmother with this soft shade of pale blue.
On that day, Grandmother White decided to share a family secret with me, a family secret so awful it had been buried for almost half a century. I was twentyish and staying with her — I don’t remember why — and we didn’t often talk about anything serious. With no preamble and without words, she handed me a yellowed newspaper clipping that she had obviously kept hidden for decades. The story covered the whole front page of the publication, and the aging newsprint was splitting along the fold lines.
We have always been a family that keeps and guards our secrets zealously. The corollary to that family trait is that secrets so carefully protected must at some point be shared, passed on, in homage to their power. Not shared carelessly, but not lost forever either. If never spoken, they might never have existed, which for some might seem a good thing — but how can unspeakable pain be denied completely? For some reason, my grandmother chose me to carry the secret forward.
A Senseless Family Tragedy
I can’t forget the story. On the hot afternoon of June 25, 1927 — a Saturday — my grandmother’s cousin, 13-year-old William James Maynard*, was out cultivating corn in a distant field with his older brother, Larry. Neighbors described him as mechanically inclined and said he could handle a tractor as well as a man.
Their father, John Maynard, had driven to the grain elevator four miles away for some machinery repairs. The day was stifling hot and humid, with no shade and no relief from the sun, so the two boys had just gone to the house to get a drink, returning to the cornfield together. William, who went by Billy, was a row ahead of his brother when he paused, shaded his eyes as he looked at the vast blue sky, and announced he was going…