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Blood Echoes, Page 2

Thomas H. Cook

  It wasn’t very long before George had had enough of family life. Betty’s own behavior toward him was bad enough, as he saw it, but even worse was her tendency to set the children against him. Egged on by Betty, they tormented him mercilessly, finally forcing him to do the “dirty thing,” as he later described it, of abandoning them, the idea suddenly popping into his head as he sat in a diner after dropping Betty off at work. It was the kind of bizarre whimsy he’d already passed on to his eldest son, though in Carl it would take on a far grimmer character, horrendous acts committed with a shrug.

  Once his father had deserted the family, and with his mother either drunk at home or holed up with her latest romantic interest, Carl and the other children were left to fend for themselves. Roaming in what amounted to a family pack, they moved along the streets while their neighbors watched them apprehensively from behind tightly closed doors.

  What the neighbors saw was a collapsing family structure, its center gone, its sides caving in. Soon the Isaacs children were reduced to rags, though still wandering together, clinging to whatever loose strands of family life they might gather, particularly to such communal efforts as foraging for food in garbage cans.

  But as the weeks passed, their lack of supervision finally drew the attention of various Maryland authorities. At the Hartford Elementary School, teachers noticed that the Isaacs children were unkempt, their teeth rotten, that they stank from unwashed clothes and poor personal hygiene. Called in to explain this condition, Betty Isaacs declared that it was up to the public school teachers to take care of her children, an attitude educational officials greeted with helplessness and dismay.

  Over the next few weeks, the mischief and disorder of the Isaacs children grew steadily more severe, until, in April 1965, Maryland officials assumed full responsibility by declaring them wards of the state.

  By that time Carl Junior, now eleven, had been caught stealing in his elementary school, as well as in Korvette’s, a local department store. He was placed in a foster home, along with Bobby, his younger brother, and Hazel, his older sister.

  For a time, the placement appeared successful. Carl joined the Boy Scouts and began playing trumpet in school.

  By May of 1966, however, the darker angels of his experience had begun to reassert themselves. He was caught stealing again, first at his school, then at the construction site where his foster father worked. A psychologist declared the thievery, along with numerous other incidents of bad behavior and foul language, to be entirely consistent with Carl’s background and advised against any form of therapy.

  Predictably, the stealing continued. His schoolwork slumped as well, so that by December he was failing four subjects.

  By May of 1967, Carl’s behavior had darkened considerably. Now fourteen, he’d begun to resent the whole notion of school attendance. His bouts of truancy lengthened steadily, and even less taxing activities came to represent additional elements of the “straight life” for which he now harbored a growing contempt. Finally the Boy Scouts dismissed him, a circumstance that led to even more heated arguments with his foster parents.

  Increasingly beyond restraint, Carl grasped the solution most ready-to-hand: flight. On May 22, he ran away from his foster home, though he seems to have had little idea of where to run. He wandered the streets until, two days later, he was picked up by authorities and placed in the Maryland Training School for Boys on Old Hartford Road. Two subsequent psychological examinations found him suffering from depression, a poor self-image, and pronounced inability to handle his increasingly angry and tumultuous feelings.

  After a short stay at the Maryland Training School for Boys, Carl was placed in a second foster home in October 1967. Almost immediately after placement, he began to act out. His performance in school was poor, and his new foster parents found him a disruptive and uncontrollable presence in their home.

  By January the situation had become intolerable, and Carl was committed to the Lapinsky Shelter Home until April 1968, when a third foster home was found. After a recurrence of the same behavior that had made the two previous placements unworkable, Carl was transferred to the Woodbourne Boys Home. A few weeks later he ran away, only to be picked up by police and returned to the Maryland Training School for Boys.

  At fifteen, Carl was now in the full throes of adolescence. Yet another psychological examination revealed that ominous feelings had begun to emerge, particularly associated with hostility toward women. A report by a staff member of the Maryland Training School for Boys stated that Carl could not respond to female authority figures or accept discipline from women, an attitude that could only have been exacerbated when, during a prearranged visit with his mother, Betty Isaacs was unable to recognize him and had to be told by a staff member that the brooding young man who stood before her was her son.

  In February of 1969, Carl was readmitted to the Woodbourne Boys Home, where he remained until the following June. During that brief period, he ran away many times. On June 2, after yet another escape, Woodbourne notified Maryland officials that they would not readmit Carl to the home.

  Though missing for a month, Carl was finally picked up when police found him and another boy during the course of an assault upon a third boy. Both assailants were returned to the Maryland Training Center for Boys for reconsideration of their cases.

  A subsequent investigation of Carl’s whereabouts during his month on the streets revealed that he’d moved in with Charlie Bowman, an employee of the Burns Detective Agency, a homosexual whose taste ran to children. Carl had been one of several boys who’d lived with Bowman, providing sex in exchange for room and board. Unlike the other boys, however, Carl, when interviewed by a social worker, had asked to be placed officially and permanently in Bowman’s foster care.

  Such a placement was absurd, but state officials were unable to find much of an alternative. A social worker declared Carl to be ungovernable, and recommended that he be returned to the Maryland Training School for Boys.

  On August 11, 1969, Carl once again took up residence at the school, and once again began a series of escapes. As a result, the state of Maryland formally declared that it had exhausted its resources in regard to him and promptly removed him from the juvenile system. From that time forward, there would be no more training schools or foster homes.

  Carl Junior Isaacs had been set loose upon the world.

  He reverted instantly to crime, stealing cars and burglarizing houses, while living a seminomadic existence, bunking with friends or the families of friends, sometimes for no more than a few days, at most a few weeks, then moving on to the next temporary shelter.

  In 1970, he was arrested for breaking and entering and for car theft. Legally an adult, he was now ready for an adult institution, and after yet another arrest for car theft and breaking and entering in Maryland, he was sentenced to the Maryland State Penitentiary, arriving there on March 27, 1973.

  Two days later, a riot broke out, and Carl, small, young, and to some eyes nubile, was raped by fellow inmates from 6:00 P.M. to 2:30 A.M., eight and one-half excruciating hours, while the riot swirled around him, engulfing the prison in a smoking whirlwind of rage and violence.

  When it was over, Carl was removed from the penitentiary and on April 2 given yet another psychological evaluation. For the nervousness, depression, and insomnia it revealed, the doctor prescribed three hundred milligrams of Noludar, one tablet a night for ten days.

  Two days later Carl was transferred to the Maryland Correction Camp, a far less grim institution than the Maryland State Penitentiary. On April 25, he was again transferred, this time to the minimum-security institution at Poplar Hill, outside Baltimore, a place at which he did not intend to remain for very long.

  Chapter Four

  The nineteen-year-old boy who arrived at Poplar Hill Correctional Institute on April 25, 1973, had lived most of his life under some form of official, rather than family, supervision. He was a dark flower grown in the hothouse of institutionalized care. But t
o the resentment and suspiciousness common in institutionalized personalities, Carl had added a critical element of his own, a dangerously romantic notion of the outlaw archetype.

  During his years of petty crime, Carl had developed a vision of the criminal ideal which, by the time he was nineteen, had entirely captured him. His heroes had become the Wild West bad guys of comic book renown: Jesse James, Cole Younger, Billy the Kid, and other such repositories of outlaw legend. Short, and often ineffectual, fighting the fears of inadequacy that tormented him, Carl had created a similarly exalted outlaw persona for himself, then grafted it onto the drifting cloud of his personality. In a sense, the outlaw persona served as the only identity he had, and he used it like a mask to confront the world, a way either to frighten others or to gain their admiration.

  But in Carl’s case, admiration could be gained only from people who were susceptible to his own bloated vision of himself. His own half-brother, Wayne Carl Coleman, was just such a person.

  Some months before, Wayne had been transferred to Poplar Hill, and once Carl had established contact with him, he began to enlist him in his escape plans, a systematic manipulation that Wayne had few resources to resist.

  Twenty-six years old, the eldest son of Betty Isaacs and Carl Coleman, Wayne had been in and out of institutions for most of his life, usually for such relatively innocuous crimes as car theft and burglary, the same type to which Carl had become addicted.

  Compared to Carl, he was timid, sluggish, and without direction. Consequently, he looked to others for leadership, since he was more or less unable to formulate even the most rudimentary schemes of his own. At five feet five inches, he was only slightly shorter than Carl, but he was considerably less intelligent, and frequently appeared disoriented, his mind prone to wander from one point to another, unable to focus for very long on anything but his most primitive needs. Shy and awkward, he had lived his life in a shadowy crouch, a figure on the periphery, waiting for someone to lead him to the promised land.

  Within Wayne’s limited scope, Carl was just that sort of person, and he could think of no one he’d rather follow through the vicissitudes of life than the wild and cunning half-brother who’d drifted back into his life. In Wayne’s eyes, Carl was bold and resourceful, a fast talker with the perfect combination of guts and brains. Better yet, Carl didn’t shamble through life as Wayne did. He took things by the horns, his head full of plans.

  This was precisely the grandiose view of himself that Carl so actively promoted, and so, with very little effort, he quickly drew Wayne under his own fledgling wings.

  While his older brother listened as attentively as he was able, Carl explained that he’d come up with a few ideas for the immediate future. Poplar Hill was for losers. It was also a minimum-security institution that only a jerk would hang around in. And Carl Junior Isaacs was no jerk. He was going to break out of Poplar Hill, he said, and he wanted Wayne to come with him.

  Wayne easily fell in with the scheme, although he added a critical precondition. He would not go with Carl, he said, unless he could bring a fellow inmate along with him.

  The inmate was George Elder Dungee. Thirty-six years old, innocuous and dim-witted, with thick black-rimmed glasses and a mind given to hilarious non sequiturs, Dungee had been incarcerated at Poplar Hill on a contempt of court citation for not paying child support, and while there, he had developed a homosexual relationship with Wayne. Gullible and trusting, Dungee had little ability to filter the varied data that came into his mind. Despite the fact that he was soon to be released from Poplar Hill, he was willing to go along with the escape for no reason other than that Wayne wanted him to.

  Beyond its sexual component, the nature of Wayne’s relationship with George Dungee would remain obscure, though it seems to have been composed of an odd combination of ignorance and amusement. Although of low-average intelligence, Wayne was clearly superior to Dungee, and their interactions often suggested a low-watt version of George and Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Unable to conceive of Dungee’s witlessness as the simple and regrettable product of an innately inferior intelligence, Wayne found his friend’s bumbling manner, limited vocabulary, and disordered conversation funny and ingratiating. For Wayne, George was not only a source of occasional sexual release but a comic entertainment, a squat, bug-eyed clown whom he often treated like a small child, and for whom he seems to have felt less a deeply human than an oddly canine affection.

  All of these vagaries were acceptable to Carl. He had not, after all, lived his life in a community of rational spirits. But there was one thing about Wayne’s new companion he found intolerable. George Dungee was black, a circumstance Carl found highly distressing, since only a few days before, he’d spent eight and a half hours being raped by black prisoners during the riot at the Maryland State Penitentiary. That, as he would say later, had “turned him racist,” and he was in no mood to have a black face staring, perhaps a bit lustfully, at his behind.

  At first Carl had refused to include George in his plans for escape, firmly insisting that it be an affair of brothers, like the James boys and the Youngers, the first exploit of the Isaacs-Coleman Gang. But Wayne remained adamant, his own needs for once triumphing over his general lack of will in the face of such a commanding presence as his daring younger brother. He would not go without George, he told Carl bluntly; it would be the three of them, or it would be Carl alone.

  In the end, the prospect of a solitary escape did not appeal to Carl, and so, after some thought, he grudgingly accepted Dungee, though he continued to hold him in the utmost contempt.

  The escape was carried out at three o’clock on the morning of May 5. It had not been a very complicated matter, the three of them merely crawling out an open bathroom window, then disappearing into the sparsely populated area surrounding Poplar Hill.

  For the next few hours, they skulked among the trees and shrubs, virtually in sight of the prison lights, and reveled in their freedom while the custodians of Poplar Hill maintained their loose vigilance through the night, unaware that an escape had taken place at all.

  After a period of somewhat compulsive and erratic movement, however, the three escapees finally settled on a destination, drifted down into the neighboring community, and from there made their way toward Baltimore.

  Not far from the Bay Bridge, they spotted a blue Ford Thunderbird in a motel parking lot, stole it with the same ease with which they’d walked out of Poplar Hill only a few hours before, and headed, as if following the mesmerizing drone of a homing device, into their native city of Baltimore.

  By then the morning shape-up had been called at Poplar Hill, and the authorities had at last become aware of the escape. A review of the escapees’ yellow-sheets, however, could hardly have been expected to cause them any serious alarm. Though embarrassed by the escape, there was nothing in the criminal histories of the three men that could have alerted Maryland authorities to the grave public danger now at large in nearby Baltimore. If anything, they appeared relatively mild-mannered, their prison breakout as uncharacteristic of their general behavior as a sudden act of violence would later prove to be. With few or no violent offenses in their backgrounds, their escape emerged as the most surprising thing any of them had ever done, an impulsive act which could be dismissed as little more than one of those sudden bursts of the unfathomable which periodically rocked the otherwise routine workings of the Maryland Department of Corrections.

  The first taste of freedom was exhilarating, and for a time Carl, Wayne, and even George, in his own hazy fashion, rode it like a high, white wave. For nearly two days following the escape, they aimlessly bummed around Baltimore, roaming its dilapidated neighborhoods until Carl decided that the city was probably getting a bit hot for them to remain any longer.

  Even so, they did not leave the city in a rush of sudden flight. Despite the steadily increasing official heat, the call of blood was just too strong. Thus, instead of leaving Baltimore immediately, Carl and Wayne, with Dungee min
dlessly in tow, headed out into Baltimore County. Carl had decided that he wanted to drop in on Billy, his younger brother.

  They found him in the Towson area of Baltimore County, where he’d been living with a female friend.

  In Billy, Carl had once again located a near perfect boost for his continually flagging ego. Even more than Wayne, Billy idolized Carl as a creature of heroic dimensions, one who occupied the revered role not only of older, but of outlaw, brother. He saw him as bold and resourceful, a pint-sized Jesse James, a criminal so agile and elusive that he could slip through the tightest net, outsmart the wiliest lawmen. Carl, like no one else, injected excitement into the air around him, a seductive, tingling aura. It was a feeling Billy, a bit of a self-styled outlaw himself, openly relished and did not want to live without. Besides, when compared to the flat plain upon which he now lived, its dreary landscape of rusty cars and dilapidated houses, its suffocating sense of hopelessness and entrapment, Carl’s vision of life on the run presented itself as the ultimate escape hatch, a point of light beneath the concrete wall.

  Chapter Five

  At around three o’clock on the afternoon of May 6, sixteen-year-old Lori Levine and twelve-year-old Jennifer Lyons were lounging on a rundown street outside Baltimore when a car suddenly pulled up to them and stopped.

  Inside, Jennifer glimpsed her boyfriend, Billy Isaacs.

  Billy nodded to the dark-haired boy behind the wheel. “This is my brother, Carl,” he said proudly. “He’s just broke out of prison.”

  Jennifer’s eyes drifted over to Carl, then on to the two other men, one lanky and unkempt, the other a black man with thick glasses. “Hi,” she said.

  Carl took the spotlight at once, his eyes fixed on Lori while he told the two girls about the escape, a real blood-curdling tale, with himself as the criminal mastermind of the whole brilliant scheme.