Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara stands on a gentle hill at Tara, as a breathtaking shot silhouettes her slim body cowering against a brilliant reddish sunset as the camera slowly pans into the distance of the Georgia countryside. “As God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Scarlett stands up and the giant red curtain comes down. It was intermission. It was Saturday, September 24, 2011, and we were sitting in the Murphy Theatre watching Gone With the Wind.
As we stood up to stretch our legs and get a drink, my wife mentioned that an elderly man a few seats away kept staring at me.
Books N More had just placed my book, The Danes Murders: Lost Innocence in Lee Creek, on their shelves a few weeks earlier. It wasn’t long before there was an outpouring of phone calls and texts from readers with back stories, telling me where they were, what they had been doing at the time of the crimes, and their personal connection with the Danes family.
As I stood over the water fountain sipping water, the man who had been staring at me approached.
I figured this gentleman was a man with a story. I was right.
“Are you the former sheriff who wrote the book about the Danes crimes?” he asked.
“Yes I am,” I replied.
“Do you mind if I sit with you for a few minutes?” he asked, as he sat down in the seat next to mine. “I have a story you might like to hear.”
“Have you ever heard of the Ward family who lived in Reesville, Ohio?” he asked.
“No, I haven’t” I replied.
The man proceeded to tell me that when he was a young boy, about six or seven years old, his family lived in Reesville, just a few hundred feet from the old 3C Highway.
He said in the spring of 1931, a family by the name of Ward had moved into the house across the street from his. He went on to say, there were four young children and their parents living there. “The mother spoke with an accent. I think she might have been Polish,” he said.
“One October afternoon Mrs. Ward had walked over to the Reesville School and withdrew her children from class. The youngest child, a boy, Leslie, was not yet in school,” the man continued.
“At approximately 5:30 p.m., I saw Mr. Ward arrive home and walk through the side door. Within a few minutes, maybe two or three, I saw him run out the same door, screaming and holding something in his arms,” the man said.
“I couldn’t see clearly, but I thought I saw a small leg dangling from his arm,” the man went on.
According to the man, townspeople started running over to the Ward house and much commotion ensued. Soon an ambulance pulled into the side yard.
The man said he found out the next day that with the exception of Mr. Ward, the entire family was dead, victims of an apparent murder-suicide by Mrs. Ward.
“What a sad, tragic story,” I said to the man.
“It is. But there is more,” he responded.
“It was the same house where Karen Burge Danes was raised,” he said.
Fifty-three years later, Karen Burge Danes, was a homicide victim herself at the hands of Terry Coffman and Danny Hooks, during a home invasion in Lees Creek in 1984.
I was taken aback. I was speechless. With that, the man departed.
Some months later, still struck by the man’s story, I conducted research on the Wards’ murders and suicide. I discovered they had died on October 16, 1931.
A few years ago, I went to the Sabina Cemetery and found a light colored monument with the names of Mrs. Lucille Ward and her four children inscribed. There were two other small monuments beside the main tombstone with the names Ariline, Leslie, Edith and Audrey.
Mr. Russell Ward had inscribed on top of the monument, “In loving memory of my wife and children.” Mr. Ward’s name and date of birth were there, as well. However, Russell’s date of death wasn’t listed on the tombstone.
We held our breath last week as we learned of a shooting at a Madison school. The alleged shooter was 14 years old. We live in a more dangerous world now, and far too often we have to grapple with tragedy. In a small community we are just a friend, a relative, or this case, a house, a little dwelling in Reesville, away from being tied to a connection to these senseless acts. Whether the year was 1931, 1984, or 2016, we simply can’t understand something that doesn’t make sense.
We mourn and vow to go on. But sometimes the hardest goodbyes are the ones we never get to say.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.