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· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge:
Brother Luckett and the Death Flies·
It’s September 21, 1927 in Hutchinson, Kansas. A man has killed himself by taking poison. Everyone presumes the deceased is Harvey Albrecht, Mary Adella’s husband. Waiting outside for permission to enter, Mary has grown impatient. Finally, she opens the door, saying, “I’ll identify my own husband. No one knows him better than me.” Reverend William Luckett follows her inside.
Reverend William Luckett arrived on the scene of a suicide, and immediately recognized Mary Adella Albrecht sitting on the front porch. He also recognized the death flies.
A detective from the Hutchinson police force had called him and asked him to respond. On the telephone, Detective George Salmon told the minister, “We’re about 100% sure that the deceased is Harvey E. Albrecht, a member of the Church of the Brethren. Do you know him?” he had asked.
“Yes, I know Brother Harvey,” answered Luckett.
“He left a suicide note,” said Salmon.
“I can leave here immediately,” said Luckett. “Are you at Harvey and Mary’s home?
“Yes, on Avenue A, west,” said the officer. “Mary Albrecht’s outside. We’d appreciate it if you would identify the body and give Mary some support. Suicides can be tough.”
“I’ll leave right now,” said Luckett. “Thank you for calling.”
As Luckett, 37, drove to the Albrecht house, he said a prayer for the Albrecht family and reviewed his history with them. He tried not to judge them, reminding himself that only Jesus Christ was perfect.
The Albrecht’s had already had their share of challenges and now the survivors—Mary, Jewel, and Pearl—would have to cope with another death.
Years ago, after the two Albrecht boys drowned in a farm pond, Harvey had questioned his faith. He became insular and hard to reach. Recently, a little over a week ago, Harvey severely battered Mary. She, in turn, filed for divorce. The family was unraveling, and now, if Harvey was dead, there would be more questions about why a loving God had permitted it to happen.
Like many mothers, Mary Adella, 51, had picked up the slack when her husband stumbled. She had done her best to hold the family together even while her husband had taken his anger out on her.
Luckett considered Jewel Albrecht, 18, and her sister, Pearl, 15. They were no longer little girls enjoying summer ice cream socials and Vacation Bible School. They had gradually stopped practicing nonconformity, simplicity, and modesty in dress. It was as though they had been captured and programmed by the radio, music, and movies of the 1920s.
Brother Luckett tried to evaluate the spiritual progress of Jewel and Pearl so that he’d be ready to help the girls accept their father’s death. They hadn’t claimed Jesus as their personal savior yet, and they didn’t seem to be actively working towards salvation. Even though they probably had the knowledge and the understanding, they lacked the commitment. Of course, he prayed they would grow spiritually and eventually choose the act of believer’s baptism.
Mary Adella Albrecht entered her home, no longer sobbing, followed by Reverend Luckett.
Cora Brown, 33, who had hurried to the house to comfort Mary, wasn’t sure if she should follow her inside the home or remain outside. Reverend Luckett was with Mary, and the house already had a crowd of people.
Police Chief Duckworth, 60, standing inside the door, smoking his pipe, said to Mary, “Are you sure you want to see your husband?”
Mary replied, “Everyone else has seen him, but I’m the one who will be able to tell you if he’s Harvey.”
Duckworth moved aside.
Something smells different in our house, thought Mary, and it’s not just the tobacco smoke. Then she saw the flies. “Shoo! Shoo!” Mary said, as she swept her hands at the insects.
She knelt down to the man’s body, lying on a blanket, and was able to see the side of his face. There was no doubt. It was her husband.
“It’s him,” she said, her voice calm.
Sheriff Fay Brown, 36, said, “Mary, my deepest sympathies to you and your girls.”
Deputy Martin Jolliffe, 64, smoking a cigar, said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Albrecht.”
“Thank you, thank you,” answered Mary.
“May we pray?” asked Reverend Luckett as he closed his eyes and bowed his head.
“Dear Jesus,” said Luckett, “we ask that you watch over Mary and her girls in this time of sorrow. We seek that you give them strength to accept their deep personal loss. In your name. Amen.”
“I’m Detective Salmon,” said the city police officer to Mrs. Albrecht, “my condolences. I have a few questions for you, but they can wait until later, if you wish. Are you sure you want to remain in here?”
“How much longer does Harvey . . . How much longer does Harvey’s body need to lay on the floor with these flies?”
“Johnson & Son ought to be here shortly,” answered the detective. “They’ll take him to their funeral home where Coroner Stewart will examine the body.” Detective Salmon, 38, continued, “When was the last time you talked with Harvey?”
“I haven’t seen him or talked with him since last Tuesday morning, that was the day after he hurt me,” said Mary as she unconsciously touched her nose. “Sheriff Brown and Cora have been kind enough to allow us to stay at their residence. Deputy Jolliffe told me that the last day Harvey worked at the salt mine was Monday.”
“Yes, we have his statement,” said Salmon.
“Did he kill himself?” asked Mary.
“Yes, it appears he took strychnine poison,” said Salmon.
“May I see the note he left?” asked Mary.
Salmon glanced at Chief Duckworth before answering, “I don’t see any reason why not. Please, have a seat.” Collecting the paperwork, Salmon handed it to Mary, and said, “These are the two notes we found on the table in the bedroom.”
“Good bye. I will not spend the rest of my life in the penitentiary. I am going home. Here is the deed, fire insurance policy and my money. The pass book, you have.
Bury me in my black clothes. The home is yours, goodbye.
Your loving husband,
Mary read the other note:
“My dear wife and children:
I hereby make my sincere confession that I have done wrong to you. God knows what I have suffered. I would not have it happen at any cost. Forgive me. Am enclosing you some cash to meet your obligations. I expect to meet you . . . It is not my wish that any of you shall want or suffer for necessities.
I am your loving husband.
“I need to collect Pearl and Jewel before they hear of their father’s death from someone else,” said Mary. “May I leave now?” she asked.
The Johnson & Son ambulance arrived at the Albrecht home to pick up the deceased. In the passenger seat was co-owner and undertaker, William H. Johnson. As they approached the house, Cora welcomed them and thanked them for coming.
When Johnson observed a metallic green fly, he knew he had the correct address. The insect was sensitive to odors associated with decomposition.
Like a good hostess, Cora opened the front door for them and announced their arrival.
Seconds later, a man from the next-door yard said to Cora, “Ma’am, has something happened to Harvey?”
“Yes,” she answered and waved him over to the porch. “Are you his neighbor?”
“Alto Stearman, pleased to meet you. Lived here since 1920. We’ve even exchanged house keys. Is Harvey sick?”
“I’m sorry to tell you that he’s passed, he’s dead,” said Cora.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” said Stearman, his mouth dropping open. “He was a great guy, nicest neighbor on the block. Mary and the girls are wonderful too. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“You say you have a key to the house?” asked Cora.”
“That’s right,” said Stearman, “we look after each other’s house when one or the other is out of town.”
“There might be something you can do,” said Cora, “but let me talk to Mr. Johnson before he leaves. I don’t know how soon before Mary and the girls will return here. The house should be welcoming for them.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.