October 31, 2005.
Ottawa Daily Times, Illinois.
"Wake up!" "WAKE UP!" It was my college roommate and he was speaking in a loud whisper. He also was kicking my bed in order to get me to wake up at 7 a.m. on this Saturday.
Being a college kid, Friday nights often extended into very early Saturday mornings. This soon after daybreak on a Saturday, I was not really interested in what my roommate had to tell me unless the building was seriously on fire. Why doesn't he speak in a normal voice? I thought. Then I realized it was a frightened voice. In fact, I never heard him sound so afraid. I gave up hope of returning to sleep and opened my eyes to see unmistakable fear on my roommate's face.
"Normal Police Department? Send a car out to I-55, mile marker 170. They will find a dead man on the side of the road. He was shot in the head. Goodbye."
My college roommate said he had just overheard those words being spoken by our landlord on the phone a few minutes earlier. It was the third time of his repeating those words when my brain was awake enough to start feeling fear. It was 1970 and I was a college student at ISU at Normal, Ill. I had found an off-campus room in a house that had been converted from a single-family home into a student rental house with six other male students. The owner still lived in the home. He had private living room, bath, kitchen and bedroom. Renting students shared kitchen and bath in the basement. In order for most students to get to the basement, we had to pass through the landlord's kitchen area.
It was in passing through the landlord's area, that my roommate overheard the call to Normal P.D. What made this incident very mysterious and frightening was that the landlord was legally blind. The landlord was a divorced man in his mid-fifties. Some of the student renters had heard rumors that he had been abusive with his former wife and their children. He was a large, gruff-speaking man with a high level of intelligence. Earlier in the semester, he had told me about trouble he had been in with federal law enforcement and how he almost got jail time.
He was blind from early childhood, but he compensated for lack of vision remarkably well. In fact, he was so good at compensating some people unfairly thought he was not really blind but putting on an act. I am ashamed to admit, sometimes my roommate and I wondered if he was really blind.
Because of his gruffness and mysterious side, neighbors, family and student renters were all were a little afraid of him. Student renters treaded lightly when passing through his area, as contact would usually lead to him finding something to get angry about.
Now the question my roommate and I were struggling with. How would the landlord know of a dead body several miles away and the cause of death before the police even knew anything about it? He was blind and did not drive. He had few visitors and rarely ever left his house.
My roommate and I felt like we were in a Hitchcock movie plot. Was our landlord somehow involved with a murder? We knew he seemed awake 24/7 but did we really know for sure he was at home as much as we thought? He knew more about our schedules than we did about his.
We assumed he was always at the house, but perhaps (as impossible as it seemed) he was leading a second life involving sight and independent travel. Did we really want to stay there unless we knew the truth? Our imaginations went wild with fears of what he might be capable of, if he was involved with murder.
My heart was racing and the back of my neck felt like an army of ants were marching on it.
My roommate suddenly decided it was a good time to go visit his girlfriend and he had a look of relief on his face as he walked out the front door. However, I needed to get my day started and that involved going through the landlord's area. I went down the basement and had no contact. On the way back to my room, the landlord called my name. I answered in as normal a voice as I could. He asked me to come into his living room. I froze.
Due to his blindness, the room was always very poorly lighted. Swallowing hard and taking a deep breath, I went in. He told me there was a deadman on I-55 who was shot in the head. I knew this already, of course, but we continued to talk. Finally, I got the courage to ask him how he found out about the dead body.
He calmly told me he monitored the trucker's CB channel at night and a trucker had found the body and asked for someone to call the police. There were no cell phones or 911 then. I believe his reason for not giving his name to the police fit with his mysterious personality. There was no caller ID then, either. I went back up stairs to my room with a sense of great relief.
After all, the landlord was always good to me, the rent was low, the condition of the house was good. In someways, it was reassuring that he seemed to be awake 24/7. Thinking back on it now, being a landlord for a bunch of college guys in 1970 was probably very scary for him too.
Frank Whitney, 58, Ottawa, won second place with his story from his college days. He and his wife, Cinda, have a 22-year-old son, Andrew, and a 16-year-old daughter, Sarah. A lifelong resident of Ottawa, he is a counselor with the division of rehabilitation services based in La Salle. "I have read the stories since The Times started it several years ago. This year, I decided I was going to pick an event in my life and write it up."
Judge's comments: "Different from the rest," "interesting college story," "loved the clever ending! Truth is stranger and scarier than fiction," "unsettling -- new meaning given to 'bad student housing'."
Source URL: http://www.inottawa.com/ottnews/archives/ottawa/sections.cgi?prcss=display&id=212847.
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