April at the Antique Alley (8 page)

We skipped the next building which was Jana’s business and went to the last one which was Texas Treasuretrove owned by the Crowley couple. We found Wanda Crowley working the store but her husband Steven had not arrived yet. She was forthcoming in her conversation unlike a person trying to guard a secret. For instance, when she told us her husband had not yet arrived she told us why he was not there, and that was that he had made an appointment to get the car tuned up. It was easy to maneuver her. I simply mentioned that my car also needed a tune up and she quickly recommended a specific mechanic at the dealership that they used.

 

Additionally when I mentioned that my car was old and small she quickly gave up that her husband drove an SUV less than two years old. Another thing that she was able to help with was when I spoke of the security camera on the loading dock of their store. She, without her husbands permission and also without us being cops, gave us a dozen video tapes to look through. We dashed out of there hoping to get off the property and out of sight with the tapes before Steven Crowley arrived. I sent Jill with the tapes next door to Jana’s business while I photographed Wanda Crowley’s tires for my records.

Just to make the records complete I went through the motion of photographing Jana’s license plate and tires. It is not like I considered her a suspect but if I had to turn the evidence over to Detective Samuels he would want an explanation for why her info was not there.

All in all we had gotten the preliminary tire photographs without any trouble and I have to report that none of the tires I looked at had the diamond tread. Of course my notes would reflect that we still needed to get a look at the cars usually driven by Steven Crowley and Donald Smith.

 

We had a decision to make. The next thing on my list was to go by Lola’s house and start the inventory. Our primary goal was to identify next of kin. In an investigation like this finding some magic list of names that would identify a next of kin could be very easy, for instance we could walk in and find an up to date address book right next to the phone with brothers and sisters names numbers and addresses, or, it might take a lot longer where we would have to get lucky in the seventh or eighth hour of our search when we found a bundle of love letters written twenty years ago and tied up in a silk ribbon stashed away in the back of a little used closet. So we knew that we could be at her house just a few minutes or we might be there for a few days. The other thing that had just presented itself was that we had missed Steven Crowley’s car but we knew where it was supposed to be so we could quite quickly drop by the dealership and get photo’s of his tires for elimination purposes but that would surely alert him that he was a suspect and we were investigating him. At this point in the investigation it was probably better to let him think he was above suspicion so we proceeded to Lola’s house just a couple of blocks from the Antique Alley. It would later prove to be a big mistake.

 

Two blocks north and one block west we pulled into the driveway of 1406

Bexar avenue. Bexar is pronounced “BEAR” just like the animal. The “X” is silent, and as far as I know it is the only word there is with a silent X. Remember that this is in Texas, so naturally there is a legend that goes with the word Bexar. A hundred and twenty years ago Texas was pretty much a ranching state with cattle being the biggest money maker. Well, it seems that way back then they had open-range ranching which meant that during the winter the cattle would all be driven into a huge but fenceless and common area shared by several ranchers where the cattle would live in the wild for the winter. In the spring each of the ranchers would gather up his own cattle which he could identify by the brand on the animal.

At that time not all ranchers were exactly scholars, so the brands tended to be pretty simple, and honesty was not necessarily their best virtue. Well, anyway, one of the biggest but dumbest of the ranchers used a simple “X” to brand his cattle.

There was, at the time, a rancher whose last name was “Bear”. Well rancher Bear got his name legally changed to Bexar, and then, when they rounded up the cattle that spring he simply branded any cattle he found with an “X” with his new brand which was, of course, “BEXAR”, and he would place the new brand right on top of the old “X”.

According to the legend Rancher X mysteriously lost a bunch of cattle each spring and eventually went out of business and at the same time Rancher Bexar had tremendous luck gathering up his cattle each spring. He did so well that they eventually named the county after him, and the county still has the name to this day, and it is still pronounced like the X is silent. The street Lola lived on just happened to be named after the county. Such is life in Texas.

 

This neighborhood of Dallas had started out as a ranch, and still standing was a huge old mansion built at some point when leather and steaks were still the main products created and sold by Texans. The mansion itself still stood but the ranch land had been sold off piece by piece until it was all neighborhood. As each chunk of land was sold a contractor would build houses and sell them to newly arrived Texans. The freshly built houses were like a time line. For instance, if you went farthest from the mansion the houses were a bit older but built when craftsmanship still mattered in America. As you get closer to the mansion you wander into a time period where the rancher was forced to sell land closer and closer to his original mansion so the land sold for a bit more per acre but that simply meant that the builder could still make some money but he would have to build less expensive houses to turn a good profit.

The actual block had the mansion in the middle with a generous lawn on each side and then seven small houses had been crowded onto each side. All of the newer houses would have been built at the same time and my guess that it would have been in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. I had not pulled any paper on the house but my gut told me that the house was just a few years older than Lola herself, so it was likely the house her parents had owned and she had likely lived there her entire life. If I were correct about that we should find a ton of family history inside the abode. Of course, I could be way off on that guess. Lola might have bought the place a year ago.

 

The house, just like most of the others on the block, was a single story two bedroom one bath room built from wood and covered in field stone. It had no basement. It had a fire place in the living room with a huge stone chimney which dominated one end of the building. On the other end was an attached one car garage which would also have enough space for the laundry machines. What little wood trim could be seen from outside was painted a dark brown but it was way past the time to re-paint. The roof looked to be fairly new having been replaced maybe five years ago. What little lawn there was seemed to be an afterthought with Lola’s being ignored most of the time and mowed about every third week. I did notice that several of Lola’s neighbors had some really nice landscaping done with lots of flowers or clever uses of paving stones, but Lola hadn’t wasted any money at all on the outside of the house.

It was now about noon on Wednesday and Lola would have been at the house last when she had left it Saturday morning, so there was several days of mail in the mail box which hung precariously by one rusty nail. I took all the mail and we would look through it to see if it would yield any clues.

The key fit nicely and twisted the lock open with little effort. As soon as we were inside we heard the persistent meow noises cats make. Two tabbies appeared from the threshold that led into the kitchen. They were curious but cautious with us and we were with them. Jill sprung to action by going into the kitchen and finding their food. She poured food into their food dishes and refilled their water bowl.

While they were gobbling down their breakfast I dialed 311 on my cell phone and worked my way through the menu to the cities animal control department. They promised to have a crew out to collect the kitties in a couple of hours.

I was sure it would take us at least that long to go through Lola’s things.

The house was a plain rectangle with the living room in the center of the front. Towards the back of the house the living room yielded to the kitchen. To the left of the living room there was a hall that had one bed room on each side and the only bath room shoved in at the end of the hall. If you turned right instead at the living room you found a dining room that Lola had used just for storage. The dining room had a door in the far wall that took you into the small garage.

That was the house in total. Including the garage and bath there were seven rooms totaling up to about a thousand square feet.

I started in the garage because the first thing I wanted to do was find Lola’s car. It was there. It was about ten years old and still had a meager thirty-thousand miles on it. The tires were perhaps originals because they were nearly bald with a tread pattern nothing at all like I was looking for but I photographed them anyway.

There were towels in the drier and nothing in the washer. I found a couple of mostly empty paint cans and a few garden tools but nothing like a lawn mower.

 

That meant that Lola probably paid a neighborhood kid to take care of the lawn maintenance. I would hate to have to fire a ten year old.

I joined back up with Jill who was still playing with the kitties in the kitchen. Since she was still new to the business I decided to have her work along with me rather than assigning her a room to look through by herself.

We decided to start there in the kitchen and found nothing remarkable. Lola had little food, a few dishes, old pots and pans, old appliances. The most plentiful stash of anything we found was cat food. Apparently Lola took better care of her little pets then she did of herself.

We tackled Lola’s bath room next. Just the usual array of cleaning and feminine products one would expect to find.

The two bed rooms were quite unique. First of all keep in mind that it was a two bed room house and we expected Lola lived alone. The first was decorated like a little girl’s bed room but a girl who loved dolphins. The color scheme was sea blue with the covers and drapes being different shades of blue. Posters of dolphins crowded the walls. Dolphin statues were along the bookshelves and window sills.

Stuffed dolphins swam all over the bed which was a single. It first appeared that we had found a young girls bed room, but then we opened the closet and found clothes the type and size Lola herself would wear. In the clothes hamper more old lady clothing. On the bedside table a pair of reading glasses and a romance novel.

In the drawer of the bedside table a couple of prescription bottles with Lola’s name on them. These I pocketed. Perhaps we could get a line on her next of kin from her doctor.

The other bed room was, well how can I describe this? I know Raggedy Ann was an orphan, but here in this room she had become a princess. The entire room was painted red and pink. The single bed had a Raggedy Ann coverlet. There was an old TV that still worked on rabbit ear antenna and a VCR had been hooked to it.

There were perhaps fifteen VCR tapes all either Raggedy Ann or something having to do with Dolphins. There were eleven actual Raggedy Ann dolls in the room and every single one had been dressed like a princess with the exception of one that was dressed like a bride. There was a single Raggedy Andy doll in a tuxedo standing right next to the bride. On the bedside table another pair of reading glasses and another romance novel. There was a phone on the little table but I couldn’t find any address book near it, nor pad of paper for taking messages. There was an empty wine glass and a half-empty bottle of cheap white wine. The dresser and closet in this room also yielded more of Lola’s clothing and no indication that a little girl had ever been in the room.

Jill and I were both making notes as we went along and we were also both using digital cameras. The two bed rooms set up for little girls but obviously both

 

used by Lola sort of spooked us both. Neither of us felt it normal or had any quick explanation. We pressed on.

In the living room we found another television that worked on antenna only.

Apparently Lola either did not watch much TV or she did not wish to pay for the TV she watched. The furniture was old but not yet ready to be called antique.

There was a nice roll top desk that was quite different than the one I had bought from her. We went through this desk and found two things that we gathered up to take with us. The first was an address book but it looked like it had not been used in years. The other was a thick file that showed her tax forms over the past decade.

I did take a quick look at the 1040s but found no dependents listed. I worked about half an hour on the desk, but could find no secrete hidey holes.

There was a book case in the living room that held about two hundred books.

One book was a bible, the rest were paperback romances. I thumbed through the bible because people will often use the bible to hold important family documents like birth or death certificates, but none were in Lola’s bible. The romance novels were all well worn as if each had been read a dozen times.

On the couch Jill spotted a real find. It was one of those expandable file folders. You know the thing that looks like an accordion that will expand depending on how full it is and it comes with string to tie it closed. When I opened it up I found a dozen files. The first contained the last two years or so of phone bill statements, the second was for the electric bill, the third for the gas bill. I would go through this folder piece by piece over the next couple of days but I did not wish to do it all right here in Lola’s house. I thought it would be better to do at my house at my desk with my computer there for assembling notes.

There was an old trunk covered with a blanket used as a coffee table but it was empty. The pictures on the wall were all animal prints the same size that looked like she had cut up an animal calendar and framed them all, but the frames did not match. There was a coat closet in the living room near the front door but it contained nothing but coats and an old vacuum cleaner and a couple of umbrellas.

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