Nickity Pickity is beautiful. But be careful. She might scratch you. She’s purring. Listen. Don’t scream. Listen. How can you hear if you scream? You’re silly. But pretty. Of course, not as pretty as Nickity Pickity. Oh, she liked that, did you hear? Well, stop screaming and maybe you’ll hear. You’re not being a nice young lady. Don’t you like cats? Oh, look what you did. You're bleeding. That’s disgusting. All this blood. I’ll clean it later.
The following is the police report for the ‘Stoddard Case’ dated July 11th-August 24th, 1954:
Ms. Rachel Stoddard, age 72, was found dead in her home in Butler, Ohio on July 6, 1954. The autopsy found that Ms. Stoddard had been dead for almost seven days as a result of a heart attack. Her only living relative, her sister Mrs. Evangeline Stoddard Wilkinson, arrived to Ms. Stoddard’s house on July 7, 1954. After the cremation of her sister, Mrs. Wilkinson located a historian, Dr. Flemings, to make an appraisal of the heirlooms in Ms. Stoddard’s house. On July 11 at approximately 10:15 am, Dr. Flemings opened a padlocked door to a cellar. In it he discovered a malnourished cat and the decaying bodies of three young girls. Dr. Flemings phoned the police at 12:34pm.''
You’ve made a stain. I don’t hate you, it’s just my carpet was so pretty.
Are you looking at my hands? I know they’re wrinkled. They once were smooth like yours. And my hair was black and long. I was a pretty girl. They used to tell me I was the pretty one. Prettier than Evangeline.
Detective Rosman from the Butler Homicide division arrived at the Stoddard residence at 12:50pm along with the Crime Scene Investigation Unit. At that time, Detective Rosman questioned Mrs. Wilkinson about her sister.
Section 1.A Mrs. Wilkinson’s Recorded Report:
MRS. WILKINSON: “My sister Rachel had always been rambunctious. But she started having these wild screaming spells. When she was eight she had a strange fit...one that has stayed with me. Father had bought us these beautiful China dolls. Quite delicate—we rarely played with them, just sat them on a shelf in our room. But one day I came in the room and the tiny doll heads were shattered all over the floor. Their faces in pieces. And Rachel was sitting on the bed clutching one of the headless dolls, just staring up at the ceiling, as if she were waiting for something to drop from the sky. The next day she took a butcher knife to the curtains. Mother and Father sent her to our grandparents in Arizona. You see in those days no one knew what made a person go mad, but most often you blamed it on the devil…”'
I don’t want you to mess up my carpet anymore. The tarp will keep everything clean. Stop moving.
You’re sweating. Bad hygiene is not lady-like, my Grandmother used to say. She made me bathe in a giant, white bathtub. My sister Evangeline didn’t get to come to Arizona and bathe in the white tub like me. It’s because I was the pretty one.
You’ve never been to Arizona, have you? It’s dusty. But it’s a pretty dusty, with red and brown dirt that stretches. And there are rock monuments too. Great mounds of old beaten rock formed high into tabletops. I would like to have been a cowboy. But Grandfather told me that girls couldn’t be cowboys. I reminded him of Annie Oakley. But he said that was all an act. Grandmother took me to see her once. Annie was the fastest shooter in the West.
Stop moving. The knot isn’t even that tight. Don’t whine please, you make worse noise than the plastic tarp.
I see your eyes darting around. Do you like my antiques? Here, look at this. It’s a silver cup. This is a from a gambler’s bet. Don’t scream. Stop! I’ll have to gag you. It was my Grandfather’s. He won it when he visited Dodge City in 1890. He had a royal straight flush. He wasn’t that much of a gambler, but he did drink, and drinking leads to gambling… or that’s what Grandmother would say.
MRS. WILKINSON: “I must admit I was afraid for Rachel. Grandmother was quite stern, in a "teach with the back of your hand" kind of way. And Grandfather always had a darkness about him. He took to drink…”
I told you, I’d gag you. I didn’t want to but you just make so much noise. It’s a beautiful handkerchief. At least I didn’t use tape.
My, your eyes are big. Did you know that horses have the largest eyeballs? For land animals that is. I love horses. There were horses on the ranch. I’d brush them. I would spend days just brushing Olivander. He was grey with white splotches. You think he sounds ugly. Well, he was mine so I loved him. Me and Olivander would talk about real serious things. I’d tell him about Grandmother and Grandfather, and back home with Mother and Father. And also about Evangeline.
I’m such a fool! Wait, don’t move. A man came by one day and said he wanted to take a photograph of the ranch. Look that’s Olivander. He's a fine looking horse, isn’t he? That’s me with him. I was a skinny little thing. Knock-kneed and easily bruised. I fell down a lot. Really I did. I promise.
There’s Grandfather. He was a tall man. Long limbs. His hands reached to his knees. And his legs were thin. He’d sit down at a table and look like a spider. He smelled like whiskey and parsley. Parsley to hide the whiskey, I guess. And he had a funny grin. The left side of his mouth was dead. Fell off a barn roof at twelve. The ribs and the arm healed, but never that face. Gave him a crooked smile. That’s Grandmother there. She had flowing black hair, down to her rear. But of course you can’t tell here. Its pinned up in a tight bun. She had a real thin lip. Like stitches. And that's her hummingbird brooch. She only took it off to bathe. It was a real pretty thing.
Detective Rosman contacted a former employee of the Stoddard ranch in Arizona. The following is a recorded telephone report from a Mr. Henry Buckle. Section 1.B Mr. Buckle’s Recorded Telephone Report:
DET. ROSMAN: “Can you tell me anything of interest about Rachel’s time on the ranch?”
HENRY BUCKLE: “I was only about fourteen when I worked on the Stoddard ranch. We didn’t see Rachel much. Grandmother Stoddard kept her in the house mostly. Sometimes she’d come out and see the horses but we didn’t talk to her.”
DET. R: “Was Rachel violent?”
H.B.: “I remember her being loud. But she never bothered us none… There was this time when we discovered some of the chicks were dead. Someone had gone in the coop and just squeezed ‘em to death, then hid the little things in the haystacks. Grandfather Stoddard probably slapped her around for it.”
DET. R: “So the grandparents, they were violent?”
H.B.: “Yep, sure were. Well, after the chick incident I come back the next morning and Sam, he worked the cattle with me, well, he tells me they locked the little girl up in the chicken coop. Kept her there overnight. It was damn awful. I know we should’ve said something, maybe even pulled her out but…well, we weren’t going to stick our noses in the Stoddard’s affairs.”
End of Mr. Buckle’s Recorded Telephone Report.'
Nickity Pickity what are you doing? Stop pawing at her. Can’t you see she doesn’t like it? I’m sorry. What is that smell? Ugh, have you had an accident? Have you soiled yourself? Well that’s disgusting. You have very disgusting manners for such a pretty thing. Stop crying! I don’t hate you, I promise. I’ll clean you off. Here, get up. Don’t drag your feet, that’s not nice. The bathroom’s not far. It has a beautiful—stop dragging – a beautiful vanity mirror. Here, we’re almost there. All right. Poor thing. You will be clean and not so disgusting anymore. Nickity get out. Shoo. Pull those down. Don’t hit! That’s very unkind, very unkind. Now hold still.
Well, you shouldn’t have hit first. You haven’t been raised right. That’s what Grandmother would say. She would straighten you out. You better be glad I’m nothing like her.
But look now you have me saying awful things about her. She wasn’t all bad. When I was eleven she took me to the World’s Fair. Grandmother let me wear a beautiful white dress. And she had on her hummingbird brooch. We left Grandfather and we took the railroad train; great, steaming, chugging thing, coughing and loud. It rattled a person’s insides. We went all the way to Chicago. The Fair was amazing. They lit the streetlights at night and people strolled around gazing, arm in arm. The air smelled of fresh baking pretzels and hotdogs with relish, and sweet peach pies.
She was beautiful. Her real name was Phoebe. I like that name. Much more than I do Annie. But then Annie Oakley does sound so much more exciting. She had on a big Stetson cowboy hat and her brown curls bounced on her shoulders as she walked. A little man wearing a bowler hat came out and Annie grabbed her shotgun and started blasting the dishes he tossed in the air. She didn’t miss one. She had a steady shoulder. And her face - she had a real strong jaw like a man’s. And every time her finger pulled back on the trigger I’d see her jaw clinch down. She was brilliant.
You’ve been in the tub much too long. Lazy thing. You’ll get wrinkles. Climb out.
We went to Ohio after that to see Mother, and Father, and Evangeline. They were happy to see me. They missed me they said. I told them about Annie and about Arizona and Olivander. I could tell Evangeline was jealous. My family wanted me to stay. They begged Grandmother to let me stay at home. But Grandmother was hard as tooth and nail. She said I had been doing so well on the ranch and she needed me. My parents begged her to take Evangeline instead. But Grandmother wouldn’t budge. I was the pretty one. So I got to go back to Arizona.
MRS. WILKINSON: “It was 1893. I remember because it was the World’s Fair. Grandmother and Rachel were going to Chicago to visit a special doctor for her. He was said to be an expert. I was happy for Rachel because she went to the World’s Fair too. But afterwards they came to Ohio to visit and that’s when I noticed the bruises. I don’t know if Mother and Father saw them. If they did they didn’t say a word. She twirled around to show me her dress and I saw them running down her legs. Grandmother wanted us to keep her for a while. She said the child was too much work. But Mother and Father wouldn't. And so Rachel went back to Arizona. Although she didn’t stay for long...”
Grandfather was watching me sleep. I could smell the whiskey and parsley. I felt something hit the bottom of the bed and when I sprang up I saw my brown boots on my white sheets. He told me to put them on, so I did. And then he told me to follow him outside, so I did.
It gets very cold out in the dust at night. I couldn’t see the stars at all and the moon was just a light haze, like a sheet in front of a candle. Do you get terrible feelings? Awful sick feelings? Like you were a piece of fruit and someone just scooped out your juicy, seedy insides? Well, it felt something like that when Grandfather held up the shotgun. He pointed over to the side of the fence and I saw a crumpled shadow on the ground. Olivander was breathing slow and his muscles were twitching and trembling and his big eyes were even wider and they were looking at me. I must have fallen to the ground because Grandfather pulled me up and slapped my head hard. He pushed the gun in my hands and put the butt on my shoulder. Then he put my finger on the trigger. And he stood behind me real close. I could smell the whiskey. But even worse I caught a whiff of Olivander’s sickness. It was deep in his bones and made me think of waste and yellow bile. I wish I could have bathed him.
Grandfather told me to pull and I did. I didn’t see much. But the sound was something loud and vibrating. Like that train. It’s really awful to see something die. I hope you never have to.
Wait. This is what you need. Close your eyes. Close them!
There. That’s rather pretty. Do you like the brooch? The hummingbird is real ivory. You look so much like my Grandmother, sitting there wearing her brooch. Mother and Father and Evangeline were awful mean to me. They sent me away. But you taught me to be a good girl in Arizona. Right Grandmother? Of course you did. And you let me take care of Olivander. And you took me to the World’s Fair. Please Grandmother, don’t cry. You said some awful, terrible things to me. I took the brooch just to look at it. I wanted to see the hummingbird. I wasn’t trying to steal it. But you got so angry. You left a mark on my face. It burned.
Grandfather had taught me real well. But the shotgun felt heavy on my shoulder without any help. It made my arm feel dead. And it felt strange carrying it inside the house.
I thought you’d crash apart, like those dishes in the Annie Oakley show. Or maybe you'd get real still like Olivander. Do you want to know what you looked like? Your hair was falling out of the bun. When you turned around your eyes got smaller, not bigger like you would expect. And then I fired that gun. Your body fell back onto the stove. And you hit some pans. And you all clanked to the floor.
Section 2.A Victims’ Autopsy Report: The bodies of the three girls were found to be between the ages of 8 and 11 at the time of their death. Each victim had been reported as missing and are believed to have been killed by Ms. Stoddard between 1949 and 1953. Although the bodies had been decomposing for some time, it appears they suffered from multiple abrasions along the wrists and ankles along with several contusions on the legs. There was a single and fatal shotgun wound in each of the deceased’s abdomens.
Grandfather did the burning. I suppose he didn’t want anyone to know. He said I was the devil. God was punishing us he said. He picked you up like a stuffed doll and took you to the bedroom. I followed him. I watched him place you down and brush the hair out of your face and cover up your bloody belly. Then he grabbed my arm and pulled me. He lit the match fast and I barely saw it drop to the floor.
MRS. WILKINSON: “Rachel was saved from the fire, of course. A few cowhands saw the blaze and pulled her out. They called to Grandfather to jump but he wouldn’t leave. They said they never saw Grandmother. I think my parents and I always knew Rachel had something to do with it. But we never knew how much. And we never spoke of it. It was much easier believing that Grandfather was drunk and had burned the house down.”
They kept me from the house while it burned. But I could see Grandfather. He was like a great, black spider in the window. He couldn’t get at me. He just blinked and the good side of his face rose up into a smile. Dead smile. And you were up there lying on that quilted bed with a hole in your belly. All because you thought I stole the brooch. It was safe in my skirt pocket. The house burnt quick. I liked it when it was burning. The beams cracking. The walls shuddering. Those twisting, leaping flames. It was like the red and brown dirt stretching. Except the fire was orange and it was stretching up to the sky.
MRS. WILKINSON: “She came to live with us after that. But things were very different. She talked incessantly about Arizona. If we didn’t listen she’d lash out at us. There were moments in the night where I would wake up and she would be staring at me. Her head propped up on the pillow. It left me cold. I felt ashamed for supporting my parent’s decision to send her to one of those mental places. They were disgusting back then. I only visited her once. She got out right around the 1st World War, although I rarely saw her. It wasn’t until about five years ago that we reconnected. She had gotten better and decided to come live closer to me out here in Butler. I must say I liked the company. My husband had just died and so I'd come visit with her every now and then. But I had no idea she was doing such awful things. Sometimes I wished she had never left Arizona. If she had stayed she might have been able to escape her sickness. I can see her now. Sweeping up her white porch, a long skirt, and a braid down her back. Maybe she’d have a husband and children. I can see her standing there at dusk, her hand up to her brow looking at the horses, watching the sun sinking into the earth… I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that’s all I can say.”
DET. ROSMAN: “That’s fine. You’ve done a good job. Thank you…[DETECTIVE ROSMAN STUDIES THE ROOM]… Is this a picture of the two of you?” [ROSMAN SHOWS MRS. WILKINSON A PHOTOGRAPH FROM THE MANTLE].
MRS. WILKINSON: “Yes. That was in 1893. The year she visited Ohio with Grandmother.”
DET. ROSMAN: “I didn’t realize you were twins.”
MRS. WILKINSON: “Oh, yes… [INAUDIBLE DIALOGUE].
DET. ROSMAN: “Excuse me, Mrs. Wilkinson, I couldn’t hear you.”
MRS. WILKINSON: “They always said I was the pretty one.”
End of Mrs. Wilkinson’s Recorded Report.
Soon it will be time for bed. Don’t worry we won’t have to share the bed. You’ll get it all to yourself like Grandmother. Evangeline and I used to share the bed. Did you know we could fool our parents? They couldn’t tell who was who. Some days I would scream and shout and be a terror. And then the next night it would Evangeline’s turn. It was twin games. Our secret.
I wanted to keep playing games with Evangeline but she said we were too old for that kind of nonsense. Stop screaming, please. Evangeline was old. Her heart died out. Right there, on that couch. I made sure to cremate her. But I’m not too old. I'm still playing twin games for the both of us.
Nickity Pickity. Where have you been? Catching and eating the mice again? Strange cat. They said I was strange.
There’s no need to cry. It makes you look ugly. And you are a pretty thing.
Such a pretty thing.