By R.A. Evans
June 10, 1972
The courtroom buzzed with a nervous energy. After six days squirreled away inside the little
room behind the clerk’s office the jury had finally reached its verdict. Truth be told, only two of those days were
spent deciding the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The remainder of the time was used to decide how to tell their friends
and family, people they worked and worshiped with, that Lionel Collins, the same boy who had shoveled their driveways and
sidewalks, mowed their lawns, and with whom they had shared Sunday sermons and meals was responsible for such brutal crimes.
Crimes committed not only against their neighbors, but against humanity itself.
The notice on the wall indicated that the maximum capacity was fifty
people, but nearly twice that many squeezed into the tiny courtroom. The media scrambled into their positions like vultures
circling their dying prey. They would be the official record for these events, or so they wanted their viewers and readers
to believe. For weeks they had roosted in Fryeport, asking questions and digging for answers. But answers were elusive, and
each detail that emerged from the trial only posed more questions.
Joe Masten, court bailiff for nearly thirty years, scanned the crowd
of unfamiliar faces with contempt as he entered from behind the judge’s bench. “All rise,” he croaked through
a dry and nervous throat. Trying unsuccessfully to clear it, he continued. “Fryeport County Court is now in session,
the honorable Orin J. Huntley presiding.”
Huntley also entered from behind the bench and, without looking up,
climbed onto his perch over the courtroom. Deep wrinkles lined his face. For nearly half a century he had presided over this
court, and in that time he had never experienced anything near the circus that now played out before him. I’m finished with this nonsense, he thought as he reached for his gavel. Times are changing, and not for the better.
Three quick raps of his gavel brought the courtroom to near silence.
Huntley’s steely glare finished the job.
“I will have order in this court,” he began. “Those
cameras,” he motioned to the television crews and countless other media set up throughout the courtroom. “Off,
no arguments, off. No recording devices or cameras of any kind. You people will just have to put pen to paper to sensationalize
The members of the media looked to each other for support but, in an
unspoken pact, decided pen and paper inside the courtroom were far better than recording B-roll from the front steps. Freedom
of the press went only so far in Huntley’s courtroom, and the last person to enter into a debate on the subject was
currently enjoying her view of the proceedings from the aforementioned front steps. In seconds the buzzing of cameras and
recorders hushed. The silence that followed was deafening.
“Now, Joe, if you’ll show our jury in we can get this business
done with,” Huntley whispered with a slight nod to his bailiff.
Masten exited the courtroom through a door behind the jury box and shambled
up the back steps of the courthouse. Out of breath, he tried to calm his racing heart as he stood before the jury room door.
After two soft knocks he opened the door and stuck his head in.
“Judge is ready for you now,” he said through a smile he
had practiced all morning.
The jury entered the courtroom with heads bent low, their chins nearly touching their breasts.
As they shuffled to their seats, several muffled whispers spread across the gallery.
One sharp gavel strike quickly brought silence again to the proceedings.
Huntley leaned forward in his chair, placing his elbows upon the bench. “Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?”
Sonny Diedrich, jury foreman and Fryeport’s only insurance salesman,
slowly rose to his feet. Raising his head as a look of exhaustion and fear crept over his face, he answered: “Yes, your
honor, we have.”
Huntley’s gaze moved from Diedrich and for the first time fell
upon the defendant. “Will the defendant please rise.”
The defendant, dressed in a crisp white shirt and gray trousers, slowly
rose to his feet alongside his attorney. His eyes were brown and lifeless, as cold as two pennies left out in the cold November
rain, yet they burned right through Huntley’s stare. His father, the Reverend James Collins, stood behind him in silent
Shaken, Huntley tore his eyes from the defendant and returned his gaze
to the jury box. “Mr. Foreman, as of count one of the indictment, the murder of Kenneth Reed, how does the jury find?”
“G-g-uilty, your honor,” Diedrich stammered.
The announcement brought a chorus a shouts and cries from the gallery.
Huntley sprang to his feet and rapped the gavel on his bench. “Order, I will have order,” he yelled, “or
I will clear this court!”
The commotion subsided, to a degree. The sound of quiet sobs and soft
whispers still hung in the air. Huntley paused before he continued.
In a matter of moments, young Lionel Collins was found guilty on all
five counts of murder.
August 18, 2009
There was Fryeport before the trial of Lionel Collins and Fryeport after the trial of Lionel
Collins. On the surface it appeared as though little had changed in the small Northern Michigan
town. Del’s grocery had been replaced by a Kroger
and a McDonald’s now greeted tourists just off US-31 about thirteen miles outside of town. Under the surface, however,
buried deep in the marrow of Fryeport, the darkness that had taken root the summer of 1972 began to fester.
Four years after the murders, one of the Big Three decided Fryeport
would be as good a place as any to build a stamping plant. As industry and a flood of new jobs found their way in, the town’s
backwoods charm and personality was slowly replaced by the same crime and general malaise that people once came to Fryeport
Brady nearly missed the exit. His mind had gone numb about four hours
into the six-hour drive from Chicago. Pulling out of the McDonald’s,
a nearly over-filled cup of too hot coffee cradled between his thighs, his stomach began to tighten into nervous knots.
Six months ago he was the young ace at the Chicago Tribune. A series
of articles on police corruption had his name and Pulitzer being mentioned in the same sentence. Although the award never
materialized, word on the streets had him being groomed for the city desk ― all
this at before age thirty. His work had garnered some attention from the publishing front and before long he was offered a
book deal with a nice little signing bonus, enough to finally get him and Karen out of that one bedroom apartment above the
bakery on Lexington.
Brady raised the coffee to his lips and took a sip with a grimace. “Damn,”
he yelped. At the sound of Brady’s voice, his passenger sat up. “I guess I won’t be using my taste buds
for awhile, eh, Gruff?” He reached a hand over and began to stroke the yellow lab that rode beside him. Gruff, short
for McGruff the crime dog, smiled the way only a dog owner can recognize and curled back into a ball.
Gruff was Karen’s security system. A series of break-ins near
their apartment had spooked her to the point of demanding they either move to a better part of Chicago or live with her parents. Simple arithmetic proved Brady’s four-hundred-forty-dollar-a-week
salary from the Tribune wasn’t enough to get them out, and moving in with the Greene’s, even for a short while,
wasn’t an option either. The Greene’s were already paying Karen’s way through law school, a fact that was
often the topic of conversation when the in-laws visited, and the thought of having them put a roof over their heads was unbearable.
So he slipped thirty dollars out of the cookie jar where Karen kept the grocery money and went to the animal shelter. Two
hours later he returned with a puppy under one arm and a bag of dog food and adoption papers in the other. The new addition
to the Tanner family was dubbed McGruff for his supposed crime fighting abilities. Security was never again an issue.
Now, nearly a year later, Brady steered his Jetta through the winding
roads that led to Fryeport. Gruff lay in a ball on the passenger seat, his oversized paws tucked under his chin. With a wide
yawn he raised his head and looked at Brady. It was the “pet me” look, and Brady quickly obliged, running his
fingers down Gruff’s neck, scratching and stroking the dog’s fur.
In a flurry, his thoughts returned again to the night of the accident.
His meeting in New York City with a small publishing house
about a book deal had gone well ― too well, in fact. A celebratory drink with his new
editor, coupled with cross-town traffic, caused him to miss his 5:30 p.m. flight back to Chicago.
His plans to treat Karen to a night at Rupert’s, a trendy new restaurant on Chicago’s
west side were blown. Of course, the 6:45 flight was delayed, and it wasn’t until nearly 10:30 that he stepped from
the plane into the Northwest Airlines terminal in Chicago.
“Brady. Brady,” called a familiar voice from the merging
crowds to his left. Quickly scanning the faces, he recognized Will, Karen’s brother. The smile that tugged at the corners
of his mouth as he approached his brother-in-law vanished as he noticed the red, puffy eyes that stared back at him.
“Damn you, Brady. Where the hell have you been,” Will asked,
grabbing Brady’s shoulder with one trembling hand and steering him away from the crowds. Before Brady could respond,
Will continued. “There’s been an accident, Brady.” More tears streamed down his face. “It’s
Karen, oh my god! Where the fuck have you been?”
“What do you mean an accident?” Brady asked, a nervous catch
in his throat. “What’s happened to Karen?”
Will’s hand moved from Brady’s shoulder as he wiped the
tears from his eyes. “She’s gone, Brady. Karen is dead.”
The sound of a blaring horn shook Brady from his reverie. A sharp turn
of the steering wheel brought his car out of the lane of oncoming traffic. Heart pounding, he peered into the rearview mirror
and was surprised to see how pale his face had become. “Get a hold of yourself,” he muttered under his breath.
With trembling hands, Brady wiped the tears collecting in the corners
of his eyes. Vision restored, he caught sight of the road sign ― Fryeport: A Great Place to Grow. “Hokey,” he muttered aloud.
above is an excerpt from the novel Asylum Lake, a story of memories and
the stain they can leave behind. Brady Tanner is trying to outrun a memory. After the sudden death of his wife, Brady retreats
to the small town where he spent the summers of his youth. But small towns can be stained by memories… and secrets,
too. As Brady is drawn into unearthing these secrets, as he discovers a new love in an old friend, he is also drawn into the
mystery of Asylum Lake
and the evil that lies submerged beneath its shimmering surface. What is the source of this evil ― and what does it want with Brady Tanner?
R.A. Evans is a husband and father of three small children who, between diaper changes, late-night feedings
and t-ball games, finds time to catch his breath by golfing horribly, reading anything he can lay his hands on, and, of course,
writing. A graduate of Grand Valley
State University, Evans started
his career at a small town newspaper, and has spent the past fifteen years working in health communications.