(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge:
“Is My Dad in Heaven?”·
It’s Wednesday, September 21, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Mary Adella Albrecht must tell her two girls that their father is dead.
“I need to collect Pearl and Jewel before they hear from someone else of their father’s death,” said Mary. “I need to leave right now.”
“Of course, thank you for your help,” said Detective Salmon. “Again, our condolences.”
“Mary, I’d be happy to drive you, if you wish,” said Reverend Luckett.
“Thank you,” said Mary. “Let me see if Cora has time to accompany us.”
“We’ve got the jail covered without her,” said Sheriff Fay Brown, Cora’s husband. He was referring to Cora’s responsibilities as the jail matron and cook.
Suddenly, the crowded house began to empty. Fay left first to speak with Cora, who was on the front porch. Deputy Sheriff Martin Jolliffe was ready to continue his paper route after a long delay. He had been the one who discovered Harvey’s body on the floor of the house while attempting to serve him a petition for divorce. Even Chief of Police George Duckworth took the opportunity to leave. Once outside, Duckworth extinguished his smoking pipe, and took a deep breath of fresh air.
Remaining behind, but not for long, was Detective Salmon and the Johnson and Son’s undertaker team, including co-owner William H. Johnson.
Before departing, Mary noticed Alto Stearman, her neighbor, in front of his house. She stopped for a minute to tell him of her husband’s death and that he had killed himself. Stearman shared his condolences, then said, “I’ll look after the house.”
Shortly, Reverend Luckett opened his car door for Cora, who climbed into the back seat. Mary joined Luckett in the front. They would stop at the Oxford Café to pick up Jewel, 18, who was a waitress, before driving to the high school to notify her sister, Pearl, 15.
“What’s wrong, mother?” asked Jewel, surprised to see her mother with Brother Luckett “What are you doing here? Is Pearl hurt?”
“Can you leave with us, now?” replied Mary.
“What’s wrong?” asked Jewel. “Is it Pearl? . . . It’s daddy!”
Mary confirmed her guess with a nod. “Can you leave with us, now?” she repeated. “We’re going to pick up Pearl at school.”
“Yes, give me a second,” said Jewel as she began to untie her apron, “let me tell my boss.”
“What’s going on?” asked Pearl, noting the presence of Reverend Luckett. Having had two bothers drown when she was younger, her next question didn’t seem out of place. “Did someone die? Is Jewel okay?”
“Let’s talk outside,” suggested Luckett.
Outdoors, Jewel and Cora watched from their automobile as Pearl learned of her father’s death.
“It wasn’t an accident,” Mary said, “It was suicide. Daddy took poison while at the house. He was afraid of going to the penitentiary.”
Pearl turned to Luckett and asked, “Is my dad in heaven?”
“Your mother suggested we go to the sheriff’s residence and talk as a family about what happened,” said Luckett.
“As a family?” asked Pearl. “Fine with me,” said Pearl, “but that’s my only question. Is my dad in heaven?”
At Luckett’s automobile, Jewel was waiting for Mary and Pearl as they approached. All three simultaneously opened their arms, welcoming one another, closing the circle with fear and love. One of the girls, it sounded like Jewel, said, “I’m sorry Mama.”
The Albrecht’s and Brother Luckett sat in the living room of the sheriff’s residence. Jailer Jess Blanpied was in his office, in charge of the prisoners. Occie Phares Hamilton, Cora’s sister, freed up Cora by taking on the duties of lead cook for the evening meal.
Cora and Fay were waiting in the wings, talking quietly in the kitchen with Occie. They wanted to be available and supportive to the Albrecht family they had grown to love, but they also wanted to give the Albrecht’s private time with their minister.
“Do you think he killed himself from fear of going to the penitentiary, like he said in the note?” asked Jewel.
“That’s what he wrote,” answered her mother. “If I hadn’t filed for divorce, he’d be alive today.”
If Cora had been in the room, she would have put that theory to rest. She had already told Mary that Harvey was the violent one, that he could have also hurt Pearl during the physical assault. Mary did what was necessary. She was protecting herself and her children.
“Brother Luckett,” said Mary, “in Corinthians it says that God will not let us be tested beyond what we can handle. Did I do the right thing by seeking a divorce? I didn’t see another choice.”
“The scripture you mention, 1 Corinthians: 10:13, is often viewed as God giving us trials and tribulations to strengthen us. Actually, the scripture written by Apostle Paul to the Christian church in Corinth is about temptation, not about adversity.
“As human beings, at some point we’ll face things that are more than we can handle. The promise of scripture is not that we won’t go through hard times. Scripture promises us that at all times, good or bad, God wants to be our help and our strength.
“It’s not that God won’t give you more than you can handle,” said Luckett, “but that God will help you handle all that you’ve been given.
“We all need help at various times in our lives and God wants us to ask for help. God wants us to cry out in prayer, but we are also here to help one another. We were created to help one another.”
Pearl, quiet since sitting down, asked Reverend Lockett: “Is my dad in Heaven?”
“Yes,” answered Luckett. “I believe he is. Romans 8:10 states: ‘But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.’ God loved Harvey even if everything he did wasn’t in keeping with what God would have wanted.”
Pearl was quiet. She had mixed feelings. She also had other questions, but they would wait.
Jewel said, “He chose suicide over possibly going to jail? He chose suicide over us?”
“Suicide is a sin. It’s murder,” said Luckett. “But the underlying sin is one we all struggle with—lack of faith. He couldn’t see himself coping with his life any longer. Like many before him, he didn’t necessarily want to die, he wanted the pain to stop.”
“My sadness is mixed with guilt and anger,” said Mary. “Like Jewel, I feel like Harvey chose death over family. It hurts that Harvey left us the way he did.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.
Jim Potter says
Thank you, Alex!
Nancy Julien Kopp says
Well done, brought emotion to this reader.
Jim Potter says
Thank you, Nancy!