Jan 24, 2007

He was a quiet man

Christopher Hitchens on the neighbors of accused kidnapper Michael J. Devlin, who, as is the custom, told reporters that he "kept to himself" after the missing Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck were found living in his apartment.

That he was a quiet man who kept to himself is unsurprising, just as the honor student/cheerleader/mother of three/beloved grandmother is almost always the victim of a heinous crime, but Hitchens seems to feel that the neighbors should have noticed "their neighbor's uncanny ability to produce full-grown male children without having a woman on hand."

What exactly should they have done? Hitchens uses the infamous Kitty Genovese case, in which neighbors did nothing while listening to a woman being raped and killed, as an example of how neighbors shouldn't behave, but as he admits from his own personal experience, neighbors will generally respond when they hear someone screaming. If only to get them to shut up.

Before the Ben Ownby alert went out, how do you think police would have responded to calls about a weird guy living with a teenage boy? Shawn Hornbeck referred to Devlin as his father. And seeing a second teenager hanging around for a couple of days with the first guy isn't too unusual. Teenagers often have friends over. Plus, unless you're home all day looking out the window, who can keep track of the comings and goings of their neighbors? One day you might see two kids and the next day no one.

Case in point: Our "fishy" neighbors. The first guy came in a tomato red pickup truck with his computer and TV in the back and entered the first floor apartment. A couple days later, he came by with a woman and some furniture. They also had a dog, a Yorkie, which I had seen pickup truck guy--who's about 6'4" and weighs about 225--walking one morning while wearing a short purple bathrobe.

A few days after that, a whole passel of late-model BMWs with out-of-state plates were parked in the lot. I was sitting on the balcony with my son and his friend when yet another couple pulled up in yet another BMW and entered the apartment. My son's friend whispered: "There's something fishy about them." And we all speculated about how many people lived there and why would anyone live in an apartment if they owned all these BMWs, and various other matters. Eventually, we decided that two couples lived in the apartment--pickup truck guy and his woman friend and another, younger couple. The younger woman was pregnant.

About a week after that conversation, a huge moving van pulled up and the two couples began loading furniture into the van from the apartment. The van was there for hours--into the night. But they didn't move out. Again, we all speculated but came to no conclusion. It was just idle gossip.

All this coming and going occurred during the summer months when I frequently sit outside and note the comings and goings of my neighbors. As I was leaving the house today, though, pickup truck guy was pulling in to the parking lot and it dawned on me that the BMWs were no longer there and that he's the only occupant of the apartment that I've seen for months. I haven't seen the Yorkie lately, either.

I suppose it's possible that he chopped up everyone else and buried them in the BMWs somewhere, but until the police come looking for them, I'm not talking. And, if and when it's discovered that there was something fishy going on in that apartment, I'm gonna tell reporters that pickup truck guy was a quiet man who kept to himself.

It's the truth.

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