Across the street from where I live in Phoenix are three houses in a row. A is on the west, B in the middle and C on the east. They look ordinary. Spanish-style, small with terra-cotta tile roofs. All rest in a quiet neighborhood in the central city. You would drive past those houses and never think twice.
All three owners were different. S., the owner of house A was female and an attorney, K., the owner of B is male and creates websites and O’Malley, in C, is also male and did odd jobs for construction projects. O’Malley and K. still live in the houses.
But with a murder Saturday night, the three houses became attached in a web of tragic incidents going back not quite two years.
It began with S., a woman of middle age with bad eyesight. She was an avid reader of good books and stayed in shape by running and swimming. I believe she ran marathons and several years ago heard she was training to swim the English Channel. I rarely spoke to her at all but remember her walking very fast to the bus stop on weekday mornings.
On Labor Day of 2008, S. was doing an early morning run several miles to the north when she was struck by a passing motorist and killed.
Next was O’Malley, a man in his 60s I wrote about in January. Last summer, I received a call from him, saying he needed a lift to the county hospital emergency room. His feet were horribly swollen. As a consequence I discovered O’Malley’s dark secret. He was a cat-hoarder.
The Humane Society carted off 72 cats from the filthy house. O’Malley has returned home but is crippled by neuropathy. He is reduced to wheelchair-living and has little money.
By far the most stunning incident was the murder of K.’s girlfriend, who I’ll call Althea.
As I understand it, the two first met around Christmas and by February or March she had moved into house B. I knew K. only slightly after we became involved in trying to help O’Malley with his problems. I knew Althea even less. Our paths seldom crossed. She was an attractive redhead, tall and slender, almost skinny, about 30 years old.
Things changed on May 21. Althea moved out in a huff, loading some of her belongings in the back of a rented vehicle driven by a burly man in his 40s. I later learned the man, I’ll call E., was a former boyfriend, and Althea had decided to go back to him.
That too changed quickly. Althea stayed only a day or two with E. before moving back with K.
Last Saturday night, the 28th, K. and Althea made arrangements to pick up her things from a garage in the nearby city of Tempe.
This is what K. told me on Sunday: He and Althea arrived at the garage at the appointed time, 9 o’clock, and were confronted by E. who pulled a gun and shot Althea in the head, killing her instantly. K. had fallen trying to get away, and E. stood over him with the gun but didn’t pull the trigger. The shooter fled on foot. And K., after talking to police, returned home, visibly shaken.
The shooter was captured yesterday or today.
It’s as K. said. His life is so within the realm of normal that he would be one of the last person’s on earth you would believe could end up in a situation like this.
Guns, violence, anger, hatred. The character of America revealed itself again. Only this time, for K., in a visceral way.
Now I can only hope the murder marks the end of any hex that may have befallen our quiet street. But I am not overly confident. These are dangerous times.