Recently, a neighbor, in the course of everyday pleasantries, told us about the murder. It was almost like, "Hey, nice weather we're having, and by the way, did you know there was a gruesome, bloody, traumatizing death in your house?" We had lived in the house for two years, but this part of the house's history was completely new to us. According to our newsy neighbor, the resident couple was arguing bitterly when the husband suddenly grabbed a knife and stabbed the wife, then stuffed her body in a closet. Afterwards, I couldn't help but wonder which closet was the Death Closet. For months, I tread lightly, afraid of what horrifying secret might lie underneath the old kitchen linoleum. And, true to human nature, whenever I opened the doors to the closets, I thought to myself that there might have been a bleeding corpse in there once among the brooms or coats, and I got a little chill.
So, that's all I knew for a long time, or thought I knew, anyway. Domestic dispute, body in the closet, the end. People I told about the event fell into two categories: the inquisitive and the aghast. The folks in the latter category always wondered aloud how I could live in such a tainted, haunted place. I have never, even to this day, experienced anything the least little bit negative. When I think of my house, I thought about cooking dinner, or fixing the driveway. I think of building a family and being a good neighbor. A friend of mine says, if you can bring love and joy to a place, wouldn't that counteract whatever horrible things went on there before? So, I do my best to make the house into a home, and once in a while, I remember of the former occupants with sympathy.
Of course, this same "love and joy" friend later drove me to the Jefferson County Courthouse to pull the case file. What had started as a normal, chatty visit turned into a impulsive, greedy investigation; we couldn't stop ourselves until we knew the whole sordid story. We cruised the Internet, flipped through countless microfiched issues of the Arvada Sentinel and armed with names and dates, pulled the file from the courthouse. It was as easy as walking to the counter and asking. I still can't believe that the county would just hand over all this private information, everything from the financial status to psychological profiles of these strangers. After all this, I gained a pretty vivid sense of what must've happened on that Saturday in March, thirteen years ago.
From now on, my front yard will be the place where the police found Dave Conroy (all names have been changed) staggering and weeping in the front yard, barefoot and drenched in his wife's blood. He was reported as saying, "My wife. My wife. I hope she's all right." He also said, "Help my wife. I just stabbed her. She wouldn't stop slapping me."
And the kitchen is now the kitchen where the argument between husband and wife occurred. The Conroys evidently did fight in the kitchen, just as my neighbor said, but it wasn't serious enough for the wife Kelly to be afraid. She went to the master bedroom to phone a friend about another matter. Less than a minute passed before Dave grabbed a knife and followed her down the hall. What happened in that minute? Did it pass in a blur, or second by excruciating second, as Dave decided to kill his wife? That brief moment represents a fatal break: in Dave's spirit, in the Conroy family, in the neighborhood.
There's no indication that Kelly knew what was going to happen. Dave stabbed Kelly in the back once, then twice more in the chest, deep, as she turned around to face him. He slashed at her hands as she tried to fend off the blows. The case file lists exsanguination as the cause of death; it was only a matter of minutes before her life leaked completely away.
Dave, who by many accounts was an unfaithful husband, had suspected Kelly of cheating on him, and had been recording Kelly's phone conversations for several months. Everyone who knew Kelly, however, claims that Dave's suspicion was unfounded, even paranoid. In the end, the recorder turned out to incriminate Dave instead of Kelly; Kelly's screams were immortalized and played over and over again during the trial. Also captured on tape was the shock and dismay of the youngest child, two year old Jacob, who was sitting on the bed watching while the murder occurred.
It was now almost ten in the morning. The neighborhood would still be quiet that early on a Saturday, the residents enjoying a lazy weekend morning, eating brunch or catching up on chores. The recorder captures Dave telling the distraught Jacob to leave the room. The other three children were also in the house, barely stirring from their beds. The younger daughter Andrea had invited her friend Stacy to spend the night, and it was Stacy who went to get the older sister, sixteen year old Jenny, after she heard the commotion and suspected something wrong. Jenny, a child from Kelly's first marriage, followed the trail of blood through the hall, living room and kitchen and finally found her stepfather in the garage, where he was trying to hide something in the attic - the tape recorder, as it turns out. Dave brusquely told his stepdaughter to call the police. The kids ran across the street to the safety of the neighbors' house and waited.
The couple had been officially separated for several weeks, and Dave could see that Kelly was drifting irreversibly away. Kelly was a natural caretaker; she worked as an at-home nurse and was admired as a good mother. Even though she and Dave were separated, she still showed concern about his well-being. But Kelly was not interested in reuniting with him. Dave's warning, "One of these days, I'm going to knock you down and you're never going to get back up," would certainly have been difficult to forget. Dave had a record of domestic disturbances and had been attending group therapy. Just nine days before the murder, he had dropped out.
Dave Conroy eventually pleaded guilty to second degree murder. His defense counsel could only cite his lack of criminal record and the fact that he had always been a productive worker. Psychologists diagnosed Dave as having "Intermittent Explosive Disorder" with features of a "Histrionic Personality Disorder." Dave was sentenced to 48 years, the maximum for second degree murder, in Fremont Prison, a medium security penitentiary. He is eligible for parole in 2012, but he was denied physical contact with the kids. Kelly's family pleaded with the court to ensure that.
The sudden dissolution of the family, the sudden loss of both parents, had crippling effects on the kids. Jacob's aunt relates an incident that happened two years after the murder. It was Thanksgiving, and some red gelatin had stained the tablecloth. Jacob scrubbed and scrubbed with a napkin. When the aunt spoke to him, Jacob put the napkin down and pointed to the ceiling. Then he said, "Fall," and closed his eyes and went limp. The aunt said to Jacob, "Dead?" He opened his eyes and said "Yeah." Then he went quickly back to working on the stain.
The girls suffered flashbacks, depression and guilt. Jenny was always the one who tried to protect her mom, the one who made the 911 domestic disturbance calls during the previous incidents. She felt like she had failed her mom after the murder. Soon after her mom's death, Jenny became pregnant with her own child, a child that was due on the 1st anniversary of her mom's death. Ten year old Andrea's reaction was characterized as massive denial. Mark, who was five at the time, was preoccupied with death and dying and alternated between vulnerability and aggression.
At this point, more than a decade later, the two girls are young adults, out in the world, maybe with families of their own. The two boys are still teenagers, though. They could be anywhere. They might have left the state, changed their names. When my husband and I first moved into the house, we were told that the original family sometimes came by to look at the changes, to see how the house was doing. I don't know how I feel about that. On one hand, I hope they never have to look at this place again, the setting of their most horrible memory. But, if they ever do come by, I want this place to be only a brick ranch house with a garden, a plot that was once planted in celery before it was an unremarkable residence with complete strangers living unremarkable lives. I hope the stains from the violent history have been eradicated. I don't think that's possible, though. I have never seen anybody come by.
Who are we? ©1998 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. Questions or Comments?