This arti­cle is part 10 of 10 in the series The Chicago/Watseka Payback

I dragged Wenger’s body out of the liv­ing room to the foot of the stairs and then up to the top.  Once there, I top­pled him so that he tum­bled back to the bot­tom of the steps and lay there in a heap.

I fol­lowed him down, went back into the liv­ing room and retrieved one of the cof­fee cups, tak­ing it to the kitchen where I rinsed it clean and dried it, mak­ing sure to wipe it clean of fin­ger­prints, and placed it in the cab­i­net with his oth­er cups and turned off the cof­fee mak­er with the dish towel.

I then went back into the liv­ing room, exam­in­ing every­thing that might give a clue of some­one else hav­ing been there, but I had been care­ful not to touch things so there was lit­tle cleanup required — and our scuf­fle had not dis­arranged anything.

As I reached the front door, I took my cap from the hall­way hook and care­ful­ly opened the door with a hand­ker­chief so that my fin­ger­prints would not be min­gled with his.  I did­n’t attempt to wipe the door knob clean since some fin­ger­prints on it would be nor­mal.  I made sure the lock was turned so that the door would auto­mat­i­cal­ly lock when I pulled it shut behind me with the hand­ker­chief in my hand.

I wiped the door­bell clean and heard the inside chime as the but­ton was depressed under the pres­sure of being cleaned.

Scanning the street before head­ing down the side­walk and, find­ing it clear, I walked back to my car with­out encoun­ter­ing any­one.  Obviously, the nasty day was keep­ing peo­ple off the street.

It was not quite noon as I drove back to the motel.  Stopping in the lob­by, I informed the desk clerk that I would be check­ing out short­ly, as soon as I could get my gear togeth­er.  She said that she would get my bill ready and have it for me when I came back.

It did­n’t take long to get my few things packed and I was back in the lob­by and check­ing out with­in about forty-five min­utes.  Since I had to check in with my license plate num­ber, I had no hes­i­ta­tion about pay­ing the bill with a cred­it card.  I was pret­ty con­fi­dent that the death of Wenger was not going to be viewed as a delib­er­ate act, which might start inves­ti­ga­tions by a com­pe­tent police department.

Leaving the motel park­ing lot, I head­ed east on U.S. 24 to con­nect with I‑65 head­ed south.  It was going to take about five hours to get home if I decid­ed to dri­ve straight through.  Once I‑65 had tak­en me to Louisville, I made the con­nec­tion to I‑64 and head­ed east again for the final leg home.  Except for one stop for gas, the trip was unin­ter­rupt­ed and I arrived back at the farm about six-thir­ty in the evening.  It was already begin­ning to get dark when I pulled into the dri­ve­way, but the day in Kentucky was most­ly clear and decid­ed­ly warmer than what I had been expe­ri­enc­ing in Illinois.  As usu­al, it was com­fort­ing to be home again.

Turning on the lights as I entered the house seemed to cre­ate a warmth far beyond the glow of the lamps, though the house was some­what cool as I had turned down the ther­mo­stat before leav­ing.  I cranked it back up to a com­fort­able lev­el, threw my bag on the bed, dropped the case con­tain­ing my guns in the stor­age room, and put some water on to boil for a cup of tea.  Coffee is good for prepar­ing one for the day, but hot tea is a pleas­ant way to com­plete that day.

With the tea ful­ly steeped, I took a mug full and eased myself into the easy chair by the win­dow, my regrets and thoughts catch­ing up to me.  I tru­ly wished that the trip had end­ed dif­fer­ent­ly.  I had no desire to kill Wenger and would have been sat­is­fied with a recusal on his part.  My great­est con­cern was for Wenger’s wife and kid.  Creating a wid­ow and orphan is not some­thing for which any sane per­son wants to be delib­er­ate­ly responsible.

For the next few days, I went online to review the news in the Daily Journal, hop­ing to find some men­tion of the death of Wenger.  It would have been set­tling to see some­thing that would con­firm a nat­ur­al death or an acci­dent and erase any thoughts of homi­cide.  Nothing.

About six days lat­er I received a let­ter with no return address on the enve­lope.  Inside was the fol­low­ing, neat­ly typed:

Mitchell Wenger was found dead yesterday at his home on Hays Street.  Mrs. Wenger, who had been estranged from her husband had returned home to collect some personal items and found Mr. Wenger lying at the bottom of the stairs.  Apparently, he had been dead for some days.  Early reports from the Watseka coroner indicate that Mr. Wenger apparently suffered a stroke at the top of the stairs and had then fallen down those stairs.  He had sustained some post-death bruises from the fall.  Mrs. Wenger told police that she has been staying with her mother and a protective order was in place against Mr. Wenger preventing him from contacting Mrs. Wenger or their son.  Both Mrs. Wenger and her son had, over the years, received medical attention as a result of physical abuse from her husband.  On one occasion, the son had been hospitalized with a broken arm and numerous bruises which had been attributed to a fall.  Mrs. Wenger admitted that the injuries were the result of her husband's abuse of the boy.  More recently, Mrs. Wenger had suffered a broken cheek bone and facial bruises and she was recovering from these injuries while living with her mother.  Mr. Wenger had been briefly jailed twice in the past year for spousal abuse, and a divorce was pending.  Mrs. Wenger's whereabouts have been thoroughly verified and no further action is anticipated.  Funeral arrangements are pending.

I had been feel­ing pret­ty bad about leav­ing a wid­ow and orphan despite the cer­tain­ty that I had lit­tle choice if I want­ed to keep Wenger off my back and, poten­tial­ly, away from peo­ple that I care about.

Now I felt some­what vin­di­cat­ed.   It seemed obvi­ous that Mitchell Wenger was not only a venge­ful man (he had refused to acqui­esce to my propo­si­tion even when being restrained) and now there was evi­dence that he was a wife-beat­er and a child-beat­er, a char­ac­ter with no redeem­ing values.

While I still har­bored regrets, I felt that Mrs. Wenger and her son were prob­a­bly bet­ter off.

It’s some­thing I’ll have to learn to live with.

Image of the mysterious letter Michael received.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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