As promised, here is the transcript verbatim from the conversation that occurred on May 14, 2012 between Father Kevin Meyers and Donnie Mickelson. The conversation occurred in a private interview room at the Chapeline County Jail at approximately 2:00 PM.
Donna listened to the tape three times to get all of this down, and she had to take the rest of the day off afterwards. There’s bad stuff here, but hopefully it will be enough to put this whole mess behind us.
Father Meyers: Do you mind if I record this?
Donnie Mickelson: Don’t matter to me much either way.
FM: Why’s that?
DM: (laughs) That’s why you’re here old man. To listen. I could care less if the rest of the world hears it too.
FM: Very well. Do you mind if I take notes?
DM: (agitated) Shit, I don’t care. You don’t get what I’m trying to tell you. I don’t care anymore. It’s fucking with my head…and…and…I just need to tell somebody.
FM: So, that’s why you asked for me?
DM: Let me ask you a question. You really believe in God? I mean, the bible, the talking snakes, lions eating people, all that shit?
FM: If you are asking about my faith, then yes. I take the book as the word of God, just as he intended. There were many wondrous things before our time, things that seem impossible in the world we live in…
DM: (interrupts) What about rising from the dead?
FM: Well…yes, our Lord and savior rose from his grave, just as he himself returned life to Lazarus.
DM: No. Not returning life. Not bringing someone back like they were before. I mean the dead. Coming back.
FM: (shuffling papers) I’m sorry, but I believe there was a mistake here. I don’t think I can help you…
DM: No, please stay. You don’t have to help me. You can’t help me, even I know that. I just want…I need someone to listen. Then you can go. You can forget about me forever if you want, but please…please just listen.
FM: (sitting down) Very well. I will listen, and despite your protests, I will help you if it is within my power to do so. I’ll ask again, do you mind if I take notes?
DM: No. It’s cool. Do what you need to.
FM: Thank you.
DM: Never seen a pen like that in person. Looks old.
FM: It is quite old. It belonged to my father. It is an old fashioned fountain pen. A little unwieldy and inconvenient, but I find it forces me to consider everything I write down.
DM: How’s that?
FM: Well, it runs out rather quickly, and it is a chore to refill. Therefore, every stroke of the pen is important, every word has meaning. It is quite a refreshing change from the world we live in. Nothing takes time or reflection. There’s no room for thoughtfulness or contemplation. The only thing that matters is what’s next.
DM: Yeah…I can see that. But I’m the opposite. In here, all you have is time. Even if it’s just a month, it’s the longest month you’ll ever spend.
FM: And I think I can see that as well. You know, I talk to a lot of prisoners as part of therapy sessions or due to the terms of their release, but it’s rare that they seek me out. I think that speaks volumes about you and your situation.
DM: What do you know about me?
FM: A little. I know that you’re serving a three month term on petty theft charges. That’s after a year on probation and a few other small stints for everything from public intoxication to assault. So, in other words, I know the music, just not the lyrics.
DM: (laughs) That’s nice. Probably sound like a thug, huh? I sure as hell act like one, at least for the past seven years.
FM: Are you looking for something? I find that many of the inmates I meet feel a deep emptiness inside. Whether part of their upbringing, or by their own choices, there’s something missing, like a well that never fills up. There is an answer of course, if you’re willing to…
DM: Cut that shit out. I didn’t call you to hear a sermon. My life…is fucked. I know that. Anyone with eyes can see that. But it didn’t used to be this way. Something changed me, and I know exactly what it is. I’ve never told anyone, because…
(pauses and sighs)
…oh God. Some things you can’t tell. I don’t know if everyone has moments in their life that they carry around with them every second. Jesus, it weighs you down like an anchor around your neck. You can try to forget it…drink it away, fuck it away, fight it away, but it’s always there. I feel like I’m drowning every day, and when the morning finally comes around, I can’t believe I’m still alive. So, you tell me. Is that everybody? Or is it just me?
FM: No, it’s not just you. We all have things we look back on with a heavy heart. And if these moments are dark or shameful, the regret may never leave until we’re willing to let it go.
DM: Regret. Yeah, that’s part of it. But only part. The worst part, the thing that keeps my eyes from closing isn’t regret, or guilt. It’s fear.
FM: Fear? I’m afraid I don’t understand…
DM: You’re about to. I’m about to tell you something I’ve never told another single soul. I’m going to tell you why my life is shit. I’m going to tell you about the night when I killed Bill Cartwright.
(Lights cigarette. Long pause.)
Bill was gay. Everybody knew it, but I’m not exactly sure that he knew it, if you know what I mean. I mean, he knew he was different, but when do kids really start to understand themselves? I mean, it’s obvious now. Looking back with the eyes of an adult, anyone could see it.
Maybe he knew, maybe he didn’t. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that he was a target. An easy one, too. Thinking about the hell-hole that was middle-school, and he might as well have a bull’s-eye painted on his back.
FM: And you…killed him? I have to let you know that I’m legally obligated to share anything relating to a crime.
DM: Calm down. I didn’t shoot him or anything. But he’s dead, and it’s my fault. He lived in my neighborhood growing up. I’ve never been the type to really have close friends, but he was one. I mean, he was everybody’s friend, you know? Just a good guy, but…different. People don’t like that, especially in a small town. It puts them on edge when they can’t figure you out. It’s even worse when you’re a kid, too, because you really don’t know anything. You see the world, but it doesn’t really make sense yet.
We used to record stuff on the computer at his house. He had this cheap little mic, and we’d rip CDs with little routines we came up with. Skits, nasty songs we came up with, whatever. We called it the Billy and Donnie Show. We even wrote that on the CDs after we burned them.
I came across a few of them a year or so ago. I got so drunk I could hardly stand up and I started driving around town listening to them. I woke up in a ditch on some back road the next morning. Somehow I didn’t kill myself or anyone else. Would have been easier if I had. I did wreck the CDs though.
Anyway, there was a group of guys around the neighborhood, four or five of them. Some older, some younger, but mostly a good group. I think about the old crew a lot now. I mean, none of us had much coming up, but they all turned out okay. Only me and Bill…
But there was one guy. Louis Remington. He was the worst. Jesus Christ, he was seventeen years old still slumming around with a bunch of eighth-graders. I always wondered why he hung out with us, and my brother told me it was because he had been in juvie half a dozen times and couldn’t get a license. His old man used to beat the shit out of him for stealing booze, or porn, or whatever.
I can still see myself, all of us really, staring up at him in awe at the shit he would do, the stories he would tell. Cops he had punched out, girls he had been with. None of us had even touched a girl, and he was giving us details about eating pussy and fingering chicks till they were screaming…
FM: (coughs) I, um…I’m more than happy to listen, but I don’t need all of the details.
DM: Oh. Yeah, sorry about that, father.
The point is, we all looked up to him. All these years later, it makes me sick to my stomach to realize that, but it was the truth. My own dad was never around, and in some weird way, I was learning about the world from this guy. Never mind the fact that everyone else his age was getting ready for college or starting jobs while he was hanging out with twelve year olds. Didn’t matter to us.
Back then, we found fun wherever we could. Wasn’t much to do. Couldn’t afford many videogames, so we spent most of the time outside, exploring, getting into trouble. We’d roll houses, play capture the flag, football, whatever.
The best place to go was a couple dozen acres of woods on the edge of the neighborhood. There were a few old, burned out farmhouses to mess around in, and some grown up trails to get lost in. But the one place we always came back to was this big ass, abandoned grain silo. Damn thing must have been there for fifty of sixty years, and it always looked like it could topple over at any minute. It was empty inside, but you could tell we weren’t the only ones that knew about it. There was always something a little creepy when a bunch of kids came across a handful of beer cans or a used condom. Once, we even found a needle in there.
There wasn’t really anything to do there, but it was a cool place to hang out. It reminded me of the forts I used to build with sheets and couch cushions, except this was solid and real. And even better, it felt like it was ours. Granted, none of us ever dared to stay there after dark, but there was something that just drew us there.
FM: Was this silo part of what happened with Bill?
DM: Yeah. I was getting there.
(Lights another cigarette)
We were playing around the silo on the day when I first heard the story. There were five or six of us hanging out when Louis walked out of the woods. No warning at all, just like he was strolling along out there…following us maybe. He was smoking one of those stinking sweet cigars like he was some kind of gangster. None of us had the balls to do anything like that, but that was Louis. Larger than life, you know.
He started fucking with us the way he always did, like this loser is the smartest guy in the room. Giving us little smart ass nicknames. Daring us to do dumb shit. He pulls this knife out and started carving the side of the silo, writing ‘fuck you’ and shit like that. It was just some cheap, made in Taiwan piece, but it made him seem like such a badass. Pretty soon, we were falling right in line with him like he was one of us, only he wasn’t. But the only person that seemed to know that was Bill. It was like we were all rats in front of a cobra, just hypnotized, and out of all of us, I had it the worst. Louis seemed to sense that Bill wasn’t buying his shit, which wasn’t really much of a surprise. I guess all predators are like that. A kind of sixth sense that points out the weak and the vulnerable.
Bill wasn’t weak. I can see that now. But he was vulnerable. I was the only one that really had his back. Everyone knew he was different, but they accepted him because I did. But on that day…I didn’t.
FM: So what happened?
DM: Louis started telling this story about the silo. Telling about how the farmer that owned the house over the hill locked his retarded son in there. Said the old man was so embarrassed about the kid, that he emptied out the silo and started making the kid sleep in there. Before long, he wouldn’t let him leave for anything. Not to go to school or church. Not for meals, or holidays, or anything. According to Louis, that kid spent his whole life in there, until he couldn’t stand it anymore. The father came to check on him one day and found him laying on the ground with his head split open and a spray of blood on the concrete wall. Said the kid just started smacking his head on the wall until he died.
And there we were, a bunch of kids listening to a dead beat spin a yarn that we were swallowing without question. All of us, except one. That was when he started in with the dares. It started small. Go in the silo with the metal grate closed for a minute, or two, or ten. All of it was so damn harmless. Before long, almost everybody had taken their turn.
FM: What happened?
DM: He tried to goad Bill into it, but he wasn’t having any of it. Louis called him a pussy, called him scared, and finally, the thing we were all waiting for, he called him a faggot. Half the guys started laughing, a few said they were going home, but Bill never blinked. You know, he wasn’t good at sports, he was always picked last, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t the toughest out of all of us. He just stood there staring at Louis with this look that said, “Come on motherfucker.”
When Bill finally did say something, he decided it was time to raise the stakes. He said he would stay in there all night if Louis went in there with him. And boom, just like that, you could see the fear in Louis’s eyes as clear as day. Oh, he tried to laugh, and he kept muttering to himself about how Bill just wanted to get him in there alone so he could try to suck his dick, but Bill wouldn’t let it drop. He said “I’ll be back here at nine o’clock, and if you aren’t waiting, then we’ll know who the faggot is.”
I don’t think I can really tell you what that moment was like. I mean, you just didn’t say shit like that to Louis Remington, at least not without expecting to get your ass kicked. But Louis just stood there, smiling a weird half-smile and nodding his head.
FM: So, did Bill go back?
DM: I tried to talk him out of it. The later the day got, the harder I tried to convince him, but his mind was set. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone so determined to prove himself. I was scared for him, I really was, but I admired the hell out of him just the same. I finally told him that if he was going, I would go with him. I don’t think he wanted me to, but he didn’t try to stop me. Truth be told, he looked a little relieved.
We both lied to our parents, telling them we were spending the night at each other’s house, and off we went. The trails in the woods were so different under the moon, so unfamiliar. If it hadn’t been for Bill, I would have turned back and never thought twice.
We saw the silo rise up and blot out the moon in front of us, and the sight of it…Jesus, I can’t even put it into words. If there’s another place in this world as eerie, I don’t want to see it.
We waited for nearly a half hour before we saw the flashlight bobbing along the dark trails. Louis came into the clearing with a beer in his hand and one in each pocket of his baggy, torn-up jeans. He went straight at Bill, calling him queer and accusing the two of us of being fuck-buddies. Bill ignored him and laid out the rules.
The two of them would go in, and I would shut the metal hatch from the outside. It was old and rusted, but the latch still worked, and once you were in, there was no getting out unless somebody let you out. Then, I’d sit down and wait for the sun to come up, and no matter what happened, I wouldn’t let them out.
That was when Louis looked at me and said, “I never thought you’d take orders from a fag. Thought you were cool, man.”
I can’t really explain how that statement made me feel. I was suddenly torn between two worlds. Was it going to be friendship or ugly, stupid peer pressure? I don’t know why, to this day, I still can’t explain it, but I wanted Louis to respect me. I wanted his approval. God, why the hell did I care? (unintelligible laughing or crying)
FM: You said your father wasn’t around?
DM: Yeah, yeah. I know why the textbooks say I did it, but that doesn’t explain it. Nothing can explain what happened next.
FM: Tell me. Go ahead and get it out.
(Long pause with deep breathing)
DM: Bill climbed in. Louis acted like he was going to. Then, he slammed the hatch and started laughing. At first, it was kind of quiet. Then Bill started knocking on the door and trying to get out. He…he asked me to open the hatch. Then, Louis looked at me, and there it was. There was the line, right there in the sand. I could be a man and stand up for my friend, or I could choose to be something else.
FM: You…left your friend there?
DM: No. Worse. I could maybe live with that.
Louis looked at me and told me to watch the door for him. Said he wanted to teach that faggot a lesson. He told me he’d be back in a few hours after he decided that Bill had enough. All the while, Bill’s knocking away, asking me to get him out of there. I never said a word. I just nodded along, agreeing with everything he said, and as he turned to leave, he said something that sealed the deal.
That was all it took. Something so small, so damn insignificant. Louis was an idiot in most ways, but he knew how to get things out of people weaker than him. He had me, and by God, he knew it. If he hadn’t said that, I probably would have let Bill out as soon as he was out of sight. But I didn’t.
In the years since then, I’ve gone through every rationalization I can come up with. The easiest was that I was scared of Louis. I told myself, you were just a kid. He was practically grown. Who knows what he would have done if he came back and you were gone. You couldn’t hide from him forever.
FM: But you were a boy, you have to understand that. And you were dealing with very grown up things. In a situation like that, it’s understandable…
DM: That’s bullshit, and you know it. Good people, strong people, make the right decisions when it matters the most. I was a coward then, and I am now.
After Louis was finally gone, Bill started talking to me. Started telling me how much I meant to him, how important my friendship was to him. I even thought he was going to come out to me. He never did, but I understood. Our friendship was worth more than anything Louis could ever give me, but the truth of that wasn’t enough to make me man up. I just sat there, leaning up against that gray stone, trying not to cry.
He started sounding more desperate, more nervous, but he was never really scared at first. I would have pissed my pants the moment the hatch shut, but he was so much braver than I ever was. I didn’t have a watch on, but I sat there listening, watching the moon glide across the sky. I can still remember the way it looked when the change started.
DM: Something…something happened in there. At the time, I couldn’t even begin to guess what it was, but now…now I know so much more.
Bill’s voice seemed to shift, and all at once, I could hear the fear in his voice. He said there was something in there with him, some…body. There’s no way he could have seen much in there, but he said there was someone breathing.
God, I can still hear his voice in my head, every time I close my eyes and try to sleep. Pretty soon, he was clawing at the hatch and kicking and punching it. His scream, it was so loud, so full of terror, like an animal being eaten alive. The fear in that scream was bad, but the worst was the desperation. He wasn’t asking anymore, he was begging, pleading. Do you understand? My friend, my only true friend was praying for me to let him out, to set him free…and I was such a fucking coward, that I didn’t do it. I didn’t raise a finger to help him. I just leaned over and clapped both hands over my ears and closed my eyes.
(sniffing and moaning sounds)
FM: How did he get out?
DM: It was me. I’m not sure if I dozed or if I passed out, but the next thing I remembered, it was light out. And the silo…everything was so quiet. When I finally mustered up the courage to open it up, I found him lying near the back wall. He wasn’t moving. For all I knew, he was dead. So, I just stood there waiting and hoping that something would fix all this, make it the way things were before.
After a while, I just turned and walked home. I didn’t even have the nerve to check on him.
Oh, and the kicker…Louis didn’t even show back up. As far as he knew, I let Bill out as soon as he was out of sight. Isn’t that fucking hysterical?
FM: So, was…was he dead?
DM: No. I’m not sure how he got out of there. Maybe someone found him, or maybe he just dragged himself out. All I know is, he wasn’t at school on Monday. I expected to hear some news from my mom, but I never did. And I didn’t dare go outside. I can honestly say that was the longest few days of my life, and even with all the dumb shit I’ve done since, I’ve never felt more like a criminal.
Then, on Tuesday morning, there he was. He looked the same at first, and most people would probably never notice anything off. But I wasn’t most people, and I knew as soon as I saw him. Sure, his fingers were bandaged up from clawing at the hatch, but it was more than that. Mostly, it was his eyes. I had never seen eyes like that before, but in the years since, I’ve seen them a time or two.
Meth-heads without a dime to their name have those eyes. The type of people that would blow half a dozen aids patients to get a hit. People that have just buried someone close have those eyes, too. I suppose my eyes probably look like that just about now, and I’m sure I deserve it. Those eyes mean one thing. Desperation. A hole that you can’t ever dig out of. Dread that you can’t shake off. You shouldn’t see a look like that on the face of a boy that doesn’t even own a razor yet. But that’s what I saw. Fair or not, that’s what I saw.
FM: What did he say to you?
(laughs or cries)
DM: Nothing. Never said another word. Never even looked at me in the face.
FM: And that was the end?
A week later, he shot himself in the mouth with his dad’s shotgun.
FM: I’m very sorry for your loss, and his. I can’t answer all of your questions, but I can tell you this. You, like all of us, are seeking forgiveness. I’ve met people much, much worse than you. Believe me, I’ve stared eye to eye with men whose crimes make yours look like nothing. But those men found peace. They found forgiveness in the Lord. If you’d like, I would be happy to spend some time with you…to help you let go of this guilt.
DM: Guilt? Is that what you think this is? I told you earlier, it’s not regret and guilt that’s eating me from the inside out. It’s fear!
FM: I…I don’t under…
DM: Louis was right. He didn’t know everything, but he heard enough. You see, I couldn’t stop thinking of Bill. The rest of the world moved on, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. It didn’t matter how much I drank, or snorted, or smoked, I couldn’t leave him behind. And then, about a year ago, I started doing some research at the library, and I’ll be damned if Louis wasn’t telling the truth.
FM: What truth?
DM: The farmer! His name was John Caswell, and he killed his son, his own boy. He locked him in the silo until the kid died of exposure. It was back in 1942, and the locals got so worked up, they burned down his farm and left him with nothing. Nothing left but a burnt out frame and that damn silo.
FM: I don’t see what that has to do with…
DM: You don’t see because you weren’t there. You didn’t hear him scream and beg and pray for death. That boy, John Caswell’s son, he was in there! I don’t know how, but he was. Can you imagine how that must have felt? What that would do to a twelve-year old boy? I couldn’t imagine it before now, but now I see…ohhh yes, I see it now.
About nine months ago, I started seeing Bill in the middle of the night. I’d wake up and there he was, just standing in the corner with his back to me, never showing me his face, just the hole, that fucking, open hole in the back of his head where his brain used to be.
That was in the beginning, but now, he’s getting bolder. He wants me to see more, you understand? He wants me to see what he saw…to live what he lived. It took him a long, long time to find me, but he finally did, and I have to get out of here! There’s nowhere to hide in a cell, and it doesn’t matter how much you scream, they won’t let you out…they never let you out.
FM: Please, you must calm down…it will all be okay, just calm down…
DM: Ohhhhhhhh, I’ve seen the dead rise. They want us to see. They want to share that pain, so much pain. I’ve seen him staring at me with those glassy, accusing eyes, creeping closer and closer each night. All last night, he stared through the window of my cell, my cell on the second floor! HA! He smiles at me as he scrapes the glass with his fingernails, always smiling! So eager to share! I’ve seen it, and so much more, and enough is enough. It’s time…
FM: No! Please put that down…
DM: …it’s time for me to stop seeing…
FM: …oh Jesus please…
DM: …for good.
FM: …NO! NO! PLEASE SOMEONE HELP!
In case you didn’t know the rest of the details, here is the short version. In the last few seconds of the tape, Donnie picked up Father Meyers fountain pen and jabbed it into his eye as deep as he could. Then, he took a run at the wall and slammed the back end of the pen in the rest of the way. He died about three hours later from brain trauma and blood loss.
So, that’s it. Honestly, this whole thing is just a damn mess if you ask me. It should have been an open and shut case of severe mental delusion, and I’d recommend that it go into books as just that.
The only problem is the Father. He passed out before the guards made it into the room, which is understandable under the circumstances. But once he finally came to and gave his statement, he swore there was someone else in the room. He never saw his face because his back was to the wall, but he still swears he saw someone there. Some boy. And just like that, an unfortunate event can turn into a full-blown investigation.
Mark, we’ve known each other for years. Between you and me, I’d just like to see this one put to bed quickly. But, as always, the choice is yours.
Sherriff Pete Wallace