Cold Case of the Dirty Snow

* Please note I have changed the names of those written of here. The story otherwise is fact and truth.

45 years later and I remember the boy being encased in a wall. It was February 1972, and I was 15. The foster father was renovating the hotel’s kitchen. He planned to remodel the old kitchen into a games room equipped with pool tables and pinball machines.

He knew the camping children would be happy to pay to play. He was business-savvy and knew the children’s parents would finance the absence of their kids to enable them to enjoy their own adult activities. Camping kids would eventually rename the hotel with the games room “The Big House.”

I would silently chuckle years later when dealing with cops and Children’s Aid caseworkers, all expounding their beliefs Paolo, the foster father, was a “simple man, unable to hatch or carry out schemes or crimes.”

Paolo was an amazingly brilliant man who co-owned, with two of his brothers, a carpentry and house building business. He had in short order, soon after locating the hotel and cottages, sold his shares in a large hotel on Ouellette Avenue, sold his home and sold an apartment building with commercial shops on the first floor.

Paolo enjoyed his dinner conversations where he would play himself up as a “Made Man” with the Mafia. Was he? I never fully believed him, but it was very disconcerting when the local cops would drop in for a beer with their “best buddy.” How he earned their camaraderie was another question that remains unanswered.

Paolo was able to convince his newlywed brother Elias and his wife Jennie to help finance the operation. The plan was for them to move into a room in the hotel. He also convinced his wife’s brother Bill to invest his savings and move in.

It wasn’t too long before Bill, Elias, Jennie and the baby Terry gave up the dream and moved out and back to their own lives. Elias and a third brother had bought out Paolo’s shares in the family-owned carpentry business.

I would be remiss not to mention how the Children’s Aid Society latched on to the scheme presented to them by Paolo. The Children’s Aid, as he told them, could use funds meant to be spent on activities for the foster children, to ease the financial burdens on other foster families, thus enabling them to purchase campers and pay rental fees for summer camping.

I met my second youngest birth sister when her foster family camped there. Typically, the Children’s Aid had kept us isolated from one another. I am told the measure was taken to control children by taking away their personal support system.

Paolo was brilliant, and indeed, he was a man who could both conceive and bring to fruition his evil schemes and crimes.

Paolo also had at his disposal the thousands of dollars per month earnings from the dozen or more foster children in his care. The children, a free workforce as groundskeepers, housekeepers and maids for the rental cottages assured his financial success.

It continues to amaze me how the professionals were adept at protecting one of their own. That’s what it was though, protection of their perceived “normal citizen” from the horrible, and already damaged foster children.

As foster children, we had been schooled on our societal place by the Children’s Aid caseworkers. I was amazed later in life to learn most of them did not have social worker degrees!

We were advised of our failings to the community. Foster children were, as I was repeatedly told, “damaged goods,” “children who emerged from hellish conditions thoroughly affected,” “blemished and mostly nonredeemable souls,” and, “children who should be at all times grateful ANYONE would want them.”

A much smaller kitchen and laundry room had been installed in the original front offices of the hotel. For a short time before that one of those rooms had served as a bedroom for Bill.

As work on the old kitchen had gotten underway, I’d been dismayed to learn the beautiful copper top counter was being ripped out. Yvette, Paolo’s wife, despised it saying they would be too hard to keep clean.

I still recall looking at her with amazement and my words of response, “I don’t know what difference that would make to you. You don’t do any of the housework anyway.” Yvette had glared her usual face at me while Paolo had chuckled.

Yvette’s youngest sister was the paid hired help. Yvette had explained to me that Jasmin had been herself a wayward soul, accumulating children and no decent man would now look at her. I liked Jasmin and thought she was a classy, beautiful and, like me, an utterly overworked servant to the dame Yvette.

I had my faith in God renewed one day when Jasmin announced her parents had financed a house for her and her children! Yvette was livid when she learned, money she had perceived to be part of her inheritance had been spent on her youngest sister. I was elated and did nothing to hide my great pleasure in Yvette’s wailing and misery!

It was late, past my bedtime, and I’d crept downstairs and tiptoed into the old kitchen, for a last look at the copper counter. I will be sincere here and also tell of my own financial crimes in that household, a secondary reason for sneaking down to the first floor!

During the first month after taking possession of the house, the foster children were corralled and brought down to the basement. The rooms had been used as storage and housed mounds of aged commercial kitchen dishes, cups, bowls, serving platters, cutlery, cooking pots, utensils and other miscellaneous items.

Yvette told us our task was to clean out the rooms. Everything was to go out to the temporary dumpster Paolo had rented. Our reward, Yvette said we could keep any “treasures” we found.

I was elated to find a small dark green metal box. A key was in the lock, and I opened it to find another key taped inside. Fearing dropping it, I slipped the loose key into my jeans pocket and rushed over to the small pile of goodies I had found. Yvette stopped me, demanding to see the box.

After examining it, she said, “I’m keeping that.” I was upset and reminded her of her promise we could keep any treasures we found. Yvette sneered at me and said, “I didn’t mean anything of quality.” I watched her walk away, her nose high in the air as I gently fingered the second key in my pocket.

Yvette’s greed would be her own undoing. She had taken her prize into the back office where they checked in and out the campers. Yvette proudly lied to Paolo saying she had found a moneybox, complete with key.

For more than a year it had been my great pleasure to be blackmailed over any truth or lie the other children could come up with. Their payment, always the same, I was to rob the moneybox and turn the proceeds over to them. I loved it, every moment of it.

My plan for Paola to lose faith in his wife was conceived! I never kept any of the money. The only money I used came from the parents whose children I babysat. Yvette knew my earnings exactly and pained over every penny I spent trying to prove my guilt. In her obsession to catch me, and to my utter amusement, she failed to notice the items purchased by the other children!

Yes, it was ritualistic for me to rob the moneybox, however, on that one night, I honestly had wanted a sad and long last look at the mesmerizing copper counter. I don’t recall seeing the copper counter, though. I was too shocked at another sight that unfolded before me.

A boy was inside a partially covered wall, his eyes pleading with me to help. His mouth was gagged shut, and his hands were trussed tight to his sides, bound with some sort of fabric strips.

Horrified, I asked Paolo what the hell he thought he was doing. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the massive hotel lobby/dining room then through the chandeliered smaller dining room. He pushed me to go up while hissing he was just scaring the boy as punishment and warned me to mind my business.

There was no telephone on the second floor to call the police, and I was too frightened to go back down the stairs.

I didn’t sleep that night, and I never did see that boy again. At breakfast the next morning Yvette announced the boy had run away as Paolo crunched away at his breakfast never looking up from his plate.

After washing up the dishes, I’d gone to look at the wall and saw it was covered entirely over. The wallboard was puttied, sanded and painted. Paolo would have had to stay up all night to complete the task.

Peering out the windows at the driveway, in hopes of seeing the boys footprints in the dirty snow, I saw nothing.

Twenty years later, in 1992, I was in a Police interview room with a Constable of the Colchester Township Police. Paolo had been arrested on numerous charges of child molestation, and the constable wanted to hear my story if I had one.

During my interview, I’d told him of the numerous times I’d been sexually abused. I told him about the anal rape and how Paolo’s wife had helped pin me down. She was fully aware of the actions of her husband. She was a willing participant.

I also told the constable about the boy inside the wall. I was disappointed but not surprised when he suggested it had merely been a dream or nightmare.

I’d demanded the Roman Catholic Children’s Aid let me read my file. Initially, they denied me access telling the constable my case file was protected under adoption laws. I clarified I had not been adopted and the police said they could not refuse. They did ultimately turn over my case file, minus all medical records, for me to read.

In the case file, I read a report by a worker that I thought should substantiate my story. At the least, I hoped, the constable would acknowledge the information gave my account sufficient credibility to warrant his investigation.

The Children’s Aid worker had written five adolescent children had run away from the foster home. The first had been a boy in February 1972!

I’d told the constable of the entry. He replied he wasn’t about to rip open walls based solely on an alleged memory of a foster child with mental health issues, and a Children’s Aid note of a child who had run away.

I asked the constable, “Does it ever end? Does the day ever arrive that our words as foster children can be perceived as a possible truth? Will foster children ever be regarded as worthy people?” Not surprisingly, the constable had nothing to say.

What kind of legal system do we have when a cop has the authority to decide whether or not to investigate a reported crime? Sadly, that is precisely how it is, it truly is up to the cop to determine whether a crime may or may not have been committed.

I was the second of the five runaways. I’d snuck out a second-story window in the middle of the night five months later during July 1972.

Witnessing the terrified boy shaking with fear, I’d known he was confident of being buried alive in the wall. I will never forget his eyes pleading with me for help.

Feeling threatened and unable to do anything I’d crept away to my bedroom. I was convinced from that moment on Paolo was going to make me his next murder victim.

Regardless of how many times I have told this story, the wall remains intact. 45 years later and I remember the boy inside the wall.

 

© Zora Zebic 2017

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