It was the summer of 1972 when Spring Hill, a Washington, D. C. , suburb, got its first taste of an increasingly violent, insecure modern world. The quiet residential area, whose inhabitants traditionally left their doors unlocked and spent the summers attending one another’s cookout, was rocked by the news that 12-year-old Boyd Ellison had been raped and murdered, his body dumped behind the local mall.
While shaken residents organized a neighborhood watch program and clued etectives in on anyone’s suspicious behavior, the inhabitants of at least one house were distracted by a tragedy of their own: 10-year-old Marsha Eberhardt’s father, Larry, had run off with his sister-in-law, leaving his wife and three children to manage on their own. Marsha, stunned by her father’s abandonment and having broken her ankle, spends the summer witnessing her mother’s desperate attempts to cope, the neighborhood’s paranoid response to the murder and even the country’s disorientation over the unfolding Watergate scandal.
The tension proves too great when the Eberhardts’ shy bachelor neighbor, Mr. Green, takes interest in Marsha’s mother. Though murder is the most visible crime in Marsha’s neighborhood, it is by no means the only one, Marsha’s father and aunt run off together and Marsha wrongly accusses Mr. Green for the death of Boyd Ellison. Marsha’s father had left before the summer Boyd Ellison was killed. The divorce had a tremendous impact on the whole family. Marsha’s twin brother and sister spent the summer away on vacation and since Marsha had her ankle in a cast, she wasn’t able to do things most kids did during the summer vacation like swimming.
Marsha remembered “it was only after my father left and Boyd Ellison was killed that I started to wonder to myself what might happen next. “(35) Since Marsha had so much time on her hands during the summer of ’72, she seemed to fill the time with investigating who could have killed Boyd Ellison. She kept a journal of her thoughts and even goes so far as to keeping track of Mr. Green’s daily routines. It could be that Marsha needed to get her mind off of her parents divorce, and the murder of Boyd Ellison did exactly that.
Marsha was extremely curious of her neighbor, Mr. Green, because he was a bachelor living in a neighborhood full of nuclear families. Mr. Green didn’t fit in with everyone else because he was generally withdrawn and socially awkward. Shortly after Boyd Ellison’s death he threw a barbecue for the whole neighborhood but no one showed except Marsha’s mother, Lois. Lois felt sorry for Mr. Green because no one had shown up for his barbecue, so she decided to go over and join him. Marsha didn’t like the idea of her mother flirting with another man besides her father.
Marsha’s mother would make a point of waving to Mr. Green if she happened to be in the yard just to be neighborly. They would also exchange gardening advice since Mr. Green kept his yard immaculate. Marsha, like most kids whose parents get divorced, didn’t like the idea of another man replacing her father. Lois and Mr. Green are two extremely lonely people who seem to get along well but Marsha fears Mr. Greens presense. Marsha is also curious of Mr. Green because on the day that Boyd Ellison was murdered, Mr. Green had returned home from work early and then left again.
According to Marsha’s evidence notebook, “around the middle of July-July 20th to be exact, three and a half weeks after my father and Aunt Ada disappeared, [ I ] saw Mr. Green’s car drive past the house, two hours before he normally got home from work. Later Mr. Green pulled up ten minutes before his usual time … he looked sallow as he got out of his car, a little bruised around the mouth, and he had a Band-Aid stuck below his lower lip. “(86) This particular event made Marsha very curious of Mr. Green especially since it had been the same day that Boyd was murdered.
From this point on she had wondered if the killer lived right next door to her and her family. Another possible reason that Marsha gets caught up in her “detective” work is that she’s lonely. She doesn’t have many friends to play with and since her brother and sister are gone, she’s all alone with her mother. Lois has enough problems of her own so she doesn’t give Marsha much attention. At the same time Marsha seems to be seeking attention by confronting her mother about what she knows about Mr. Green. Marsha tells Lois that she thinks he is Boyd’s killer.
At this point in the Boyd Ellison investigation, the police had no suspects and would only say they believed it was someone who lived in the area. The police had also gotten information that a brown Dodge had been at the scene shortly before Boyd Ellison was murdered and coincidentally, Mr. Green drove a brown Dodge. After Marsha had shared with her mother what she had known, Lois called the police and told them that they might have some information about who the suspect could be. Once the detective arrived much was accomplished by questioning Marsha.
She had told the detective about how everyone thinks he’s weird and that she saw him hiding in the bushes near the Ellisons’ house. Marsha twisted the truth a bit and didn’t tell the detective all she knew. Lois had warned her that it was not a good idea to go around accusing people of things. When the detective left Lois said “I hope your proud of yourself, I hope you realize what you’ve done … because a person should realize when she’s made a mistake and done something that she’ll regret later. “(210) Lois could of prevented this from happening if she had stepped in and not allow the police to get involved, but she didn’t.
She definitely taught Marsha a lesson thought. Mr. Green was brought down to the station for questioning the following day but the police released after he spent three night in jail. He had an alibi that he had been at the dentist office the day that Boyd Ellison was found murdered. Shortly after Mr. Green was released from jail, he moved out of the neighborhood for too much had happened to him to go on like it was nothing. To this day the case is still open and the police still try to link any other murders to the Boyd Ellison case.
It is unfortunate that Marsha was the cause of Mr. Green’s pain. As the adult Marsha, narrating the story 25 years later, recounts the series of events she says “Watch yourself”-it’s the best advise anyone ever gave me. Pain is always about to happen somewhere to someone I know and at times that the best I can hope for is not to be the cause of it. In this way I guess I am a product of my generation, most of us anxious pragmatists and skeptics, who are less interested in the mysteries of human pain and cruelty than in how to avoid them. “(283)
She is admitting to have fabricated a story and having made false accusations about Mr. Green in the past. As a young child, Marsha was curious, seeking attention and lonely, and these are possible reasons why she got so caught up in her “detection” work. This book holds such a sadness to it- the story is enveloped with hurt. I think the biggest hurt of all is that it hits close to home-for everyone. This is our life, this is our world. We created it and we must live with it . Once I read this story I began to look at society a little bit differently, perhaps more clearly and maybe with a touch more compassion than before.