We knew we were going to have to do a lot of cleaning.
The first thing I remember seeing, and being grossed out by, was the thing on the kitchen floor.
“I hope that’s a hot dog,” I remember saying to my husband before I snapped a picture.
We bought our house in 2006 from an estate sale, and our real estate agent said everything in the house was up for grabs and encouraged us to make offers on anything we wanted.
My husband and I looked through the house and decided to ask for the dining room set, a desk and three barrister’s bookcases, which were included in the price we originally offered.
We had snagged the worst looking house on a great street, and we’d be paying for the deal in renovations and hard work. We hired a roofer and an electrician immediately, and then got to work removing the pipe-smoke-saturated wallpaper from every single room in the house.
We made the decision to switch to electric heating because the oil tank in the basement was an insurance liability. Where the radiator had stood in the hall, I found a ticket to a school concert from 1958 and an unopened card addressed to "The Andersons*." While cleaning the dining room set, I found a picture of a man accepting an award. One of the barrister’s bookcases had a drawer built into the base. There were boxes of photos and a pile of portraits in cardboard folders tucked in it.
I asked my lawyer, and there was nowhere to send anything, so I packed it up and set it aside.
A few weeks after we took possession of the house, my parents (who live one street over) ran into one of their neighbors. She told my parents she’d heard I’d bought her uncle’s house.
And then it clicked for my dad whose house it was.
On a Saturday morning in early December, in the early 1960s, a 10-year-old girl asked her mother if she could visit Toyland at Manchester Robertson Allison, the biggest department store in Saint John, while her mother shopped.
Her body was found in a stockroom, just before noon.
The little about the girl that appeared in the local paper described a tall girl who had skipped a grade, who was an Explorer and a member of the YWCA.
William Anderson, a 16-year-old stock boy, was remanded to the custody of his parents, until just after Christmas. He was charged with capital murder. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity before passing out in the packed courtroom. After a final Christmas at home with his parents, he underwent a psychiatric assessment (helpfully referred to as a "mental check" in the newspaper), and was declared fit to stand trial about seven weeks after the murder.
In the newspaper clippings I would eventually dig up from the library, the reporter refers to his home address: my home address, and the address that appears on the stamps and stationery I found in his father’s desk, alongside a bunch of hilarious office supplies from the 1960s.
At the trial, it came out that Anderson reported finding the body and took a female sales clerk to see it first, who then called the male store manager.
He also had reddish stains on the knee of his pants and his shoe, as well as a colorless stain on the front of his pants.
He had a notebook in his possession with the girl’s name written in it.
Not long after we found out whose house we lived in, my husband was in the basement, insulating. My husband crawled under the basement stairs to get at the wall.
Underneath the landing, there’s a space that’s big enough for a couple of adults to crouch in.
Tacked to the underside of the stairs was a cardboard box, which made a shelf. Inside were the remains of a candle, an empty liquor bottle and a few books.
One was about the world’s oldest profession, another was about the mating habits of ancient cultures, and another was about loose women. Essentially, they were the kind of porn a teenage boy would have managed to get in a small Canadian city in the early 1960s.
The later trial coverage talks more about William Anderson. He was adopted and was an only child.
William was sent away to a boys’ school in Montreal when he was 14. It doesn’t specify a reform school in the story, but it does say William was sent home for an incident involving another student, a fire and a bicycle.
After he arrived back in Saint John, William spent a few weeks the New Brunswick Hospital, an asylum, which would, after the trial, become his home.
One of his doctors recommended the job as a way to keep William out of trouble.
Anderson was found not guilty, but was held on a Lieutenant Governor’s Warrant, which meant he could be held in custody until it was determined he was no longer a danger to the public.
In the mid-1980s, they closed the criminal ward at Centracare and William was sent to another hospital, far away from his original crime. He convinced a psychiatrist he was better and was released. He attacked a woman and served several years in federal prison. He was put back in a criminal psychiatric ward and was allowed out on a day pass to attend community college. His privileges were revoked when he was caught stalking a woman on campus.
He’s still in custody today.
Going through the boxes of photos, I found some that have to be of an adult William, probably in his late 40s. He’s in a classroom, behind a podium. On the chalkboard beside him is written "Mr. Prez?" with an arrow pointing away from him. In another shot, he’s sitting at a desk, his classmates in the background.
There is a portrait of a small boy in a suit. His smile is shy.
There’s a color shot on Kodak paper of what’s clearly our backyard (the garage next door is visible), before the bushes took over the place, with an older lady in a pretty coat and a little girl in a snowsuit.
The Andersons, Lil and Chuck, continued living in their house after their son was sent away. Chuck ran his business from his office in the basement. Lil played bridge and was active in their church.
The house has always felt to me like it was a happy place for the Andersons. The boxes of photos are full of happy faces and shots of roller coasters and cottages. The cards recall happy visits and wish for more.
These treasures are stored in empty stationary boxes, which lead me to believe one of them, probably Lil, wrote a lot of letters. Chuck was a huge reader. There were books everywhere when we initially viewed the house, and a serious stain above the tub, probably from Chuck reading and smoking his pipe there.
I have never had the creeps here, despite what we found in the basement. I do, sometimes, feel a little sad for what Lil and Chuck seemed to want so badly.
There are cup hooks in the mantle, perfect for hanging stockings.
There are only two.
*All names have been changed.