To whom it may concern;
If you are reading this then I am dead, passed over, moved on, bought the farm, gone south, whatever. I wasn’t sure I could live with what I’ve done but, guess what, I found I could. I knew, however, that I couldn’t die without letting the world know what I did. So this here is my confession. However, let it be known that this is not your standard confession. It’s not because I feel guilty or because I fear god’s judgement. Contrary to popular belief, there is no god and no heaven or hell and if, after reading this, you still think I’m guilty, well, that’s your problem. This is simply a listing of the facts and I humbly lay them out in order to get the story straight.
You want to know hell, then let me tell you this: living with my husband was pure hell. Howard Estes McCabe was a monster straight out of a Steven King novel. ‘The Shining’ could have been his bible. Not that he was crazy or possessed. He was just mean, mean to the very bone. I didn’t know this when I married him. He was very handsome, in a rough sort of way, and when he was sober he could be very charming----in a snake-charmer sort of way.
Like most men, when they’re in the courting stage, he was sweet as sugar but, boy, once we were united in matrimony, the mask was dropped and the true Howie McCabe appeared. He was a lazy, skirt-chasing, narrow minded son-of-a-bitch who enjoyed beating up on women, primarily me. Being the sad little wimp that I was then ( I was seventeen and totally innocent) I thought that his cruel behavior was because I was not a good wife. I truly believed that I needed to be whipped into shape and whipped I was. He would slap me if his eggs were overdone. He would hit me if his favorite shirt was still in the laundry. He would beat me if, after a long day at my job clerking at Piggly Wiggly, I told him I was too tired for sex. But I stayed with him because he could be loving, in between the beatings.
Okay, I know what you all are thinking: why did I stick it out, why did I put up with the abuse, why didn’t I leave him? Well, first of all, I was uneducated. I dropped out of high school at sixteen. Secondly, I came from a household in which physical and verbal abuse was the norm, so, early on, it just seemed natural. And after a while I just became numb. What I had; a husband, a roof over my head, food and clothing, it seemed enough. That the husband drank too much, that the roof was attached to a run-down single-wide trailer, that the food was payed for with my salary from the supermarket and my clothes came from the Goodwill was unimportant. I felt safe. I know, crazy, but I didn’t think I could survive on my own.
I continued to live this way until my forty first birthday. Shocking, right? Like I said, I had lost all feelings for everything, for Howie, for the future, for life. However, I did like to read, that was my escape, that and TV, and I began seeing these articles and programs about Women’s Lib and about battered women and how they would end up murdered by their husbands. And I began to get really scared.
Now, as I was saying, it was my birthday and, as usual, Howie didn’t remember. We never had any kids, which I guess was a mercy, and the rest of my family couldn’t have cared less, so my birthday was just another day slipping into another month sliding into another year of the same old shit. On this particular day, however, I decided to bake myself a cake.
It was the first time, in all those years, that I would have birthday cake to celebrate my entrance into this world of misery and woe.
Howie came home from a day at the Alibi Bar and Grill, his favorite hangout,
and noticed the slightly lopsided cake with little green candles sitting on the small fold-down kitchen table.
“What the fuck is that?” he asked, collapsing on the built-in sofa.
“A birthday cake,” I replied, stirring the gravy for his chicken-fried steak.
“Whose birthday?” he slurred , “It ain’t mine.”
“Mine,” I answered, pouring the gravy over the meat and the mashed potatoes.
“Really? It’s today? I thought you was born in October.”
“Nope. I am a spring baby.” I put his plate on the little Formica table.
“Well, Happy Birthday. I’ll drink to that,” and he pulled out the pint of Jim Beam he always kept in his jeans jacket pocket.
There was too much liquor in my house when I was growing up so I developed a real dislike for the stuff. I guess I’m lucky that I never turned to booze or drugs, to try and escape the life I was stuck in, like so many of the folks that lived around us. I’ll puff on a cigarette, once in a while, but they are way too expensive to make a habit of. Howie offered me a slug from his bottle but, as usual, I refused.
“You too good to drink with me, missy?” he taunted. I chose to ignore him.
“ I’m going to get me a birthday present”, I announced. “ I’m getting me a puppy dog.”
You would have thought I’d said I was going to buy a jet airplane and fly to Paris. He reached across the table and grabbed my wrist, twisting it ‘till it hurt.
“What the hell you thinking? You know I am allergic to dogs! We’ve talked about this a hunnert times! No way are you bringing no mangy animal into this here trailer!”
What he was yelling about was the truth. He was allergic. He had an allergy to animal dander, the tiny flakes found in the fur of animals, particularly dogs and cats. He would start coughing, his eyes would water, then his face would swell up, his throat would close and it would be ER time. I had seen it happen a couple of times and it wasn’t a pretty sight.
“There are breeds that are hypoallergenic. Or you can take those antihistamine pills. You’ll be fine,” I offered.
“I ain’t taking no mother-fucking pills for the rest of my life!” and with that he hit me in the face, hard enough to break my nose. Suddenly there was blood everywhere, on my blouse, the table, the salad. There were red dots on Howie’s hands. For a brief moment even Howie looked shocked.
“Sorry, babe, but no dog, no way!”
You know how sometimes in your life you have one of those ‘light bulb’ moments. There I sat, in a ramshackle trailer, facing an alcoholic husband, with blood dripping down the front of my blouse. I should have been in great pain but I felt nothing, nothing but rage, burning---hot---rage. That’s when I made the decision that would change my life.
I apologize for spending all this time writing about my life with Howard but I felt it was important for me to explain how I got to the moment when I decided to kill him. You can’t keep twenty odd years of unrelieved anger bottled up inside. It’s only natural that something has gotta give. The bloody broken nose was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So, from then on, I spent many hours every day making plans on how I would remove Howie from my life, remove him from this world, forever.
There are many abused women in prison who are there because they murdered their husbands. I was determined to never become one of them. I may have been uneducated but I was not stupid. There had to be way to kill Howie that didn’t involve a gun, a knife or some poison. An accident or a death by natural causes would be the best. It is said that poison is the number one choice by women for committing a murder but I know that scientists can find evidence of poison in the blood of the victim. Guns leave soot on the clothes of the shooter and how can a person be knifed by accident? ‘Oh, yes, your honor. The victim fell on his knife by accident. He fell on it ten times.’ And so I took my time figuring out the perfect way to eliminate Howard without incriminating myself. After two months I came up with what I believed was the perfect murder. It was so simple.
I began by buying an old cage used for trapping small animals, like racoons, or squirrels and woodchucks. I came across it in the Goodwill when I was looking for some Levi’s to replace my old threadbare jeans. It was the kind of trap that didn’t kill the animal, just caged it. It was priced dirt cheap and I felt it was a sign that I was on the right track. I had been thinking of purchasing a similar one at Andy’s Hardware Emporium but I knew that that transaction could then be traced back to me. Not a good idea.
On my day off, a Wednesday in June, while Howie was down at the Alibi, I pulled the cage out from where I had stored it under the trailer. It was folded flat and fit neatly in the back of my Ford Pinto. Most of my near neighbors in the trailer park were at work so I was pretty sure no one saw me load up the cage and drive away. Old Mr. Stevens was sitting in his lawn chair in front of his faded pink double-wide and waved to me as I passed by. He was used to seeing me drive off to work so I was sure it would be just like any other day to him.
There is a stretch of woods that runs along the Tar River which is about five miles outside of town. It is also close to the town garbage dump. I got off the highway and rumbled down a graveled road to the public boat landing on the edge of the river. Checking to make sure no one was around, I unloaded the cage and carried it deep into the woods. I kept walking until I found a small clearing within sight of the town dump and there I unfolded the cage and set it up. I rigged the door to close when something went inside to eat the bait. To entice the prey to enter the trap I emptied a small Tupper Ware container full of tuna fish in the far corner. And the prey?
Several years ago our town was overrun with cats, feral cats. They were everywhere. The mayor was being bombarded with complaints so he sought the services of Animal Control. At first, they laid out poisoned cat food but that was soon stopped because of the threat to people’s pets and little children. Then they used chemicals that would render the tomcats sterile. That began to help cut back on the number of kittens being born but it was a slow process. So someone had the brilliant idea to transport as many cats as they could catch to the area around the town garbage dump. There they would have a source of food, some shelter and it was more humane than killing them. Hopefully, they would be too far from town to wander back.
So traps were set, nets went flying and the cats were rounded up and sent north to the dump. It did cut back on the feline population and everyone began to breathe a sigh of relief. Which brings me back to Howard and his breathing.
My plan, as you have probably already guessed, was to force Howie into an allergic attack by exposing him to cat dander. His reaction to the presence of a cat was even worse than that of a dog. If he sat in a soft chair that a cat had slept in he would begin to cough, a signal to get up and get out of that room. He used to frequent Sally’s Saloon until the proprietor brought in a mouser to keep the rodent population under control. Fifteen minutes after he walked in he had an attack. This was what I was banking on happening when I set up my trap.
Speaking of that trap, as with all plans, Murphy’s Law took effect on my return visit to the cage. I could smell the problem a mile away. Sure enough, there was a very angry pole cat thrashing around behind the closed door of the trap. Covering my nose and mouth with a scarf I slid open the exit door and stood back. The skunk hesitated for a moment and then took off like a rocket (without spraying me, thank heavens) and disappeared into the undergrowth.
Now I had to drag the cage down to the river and give it a wash in the hopes that the smell wouldn’t turn my real prey away. After returning to the clearing I reset the trap and, having brought more tuna, placed the fresh bait in the cage. I crossed my fingers that next time I would be more successful.
I was underneath our trailer implementing the next phase of the plan when I saw two legs standing near where I was working. I recognized the dirty blue sneakers as those of Mr. Stevens.
“Whatcha doin under there, Mrs. McCabe? You got yourself a problem?
“Ah---well---just making some minor repairs. Our poor ole trailer is falling apart” I replied.
“ Kinda like me,” he responded, with a soft chuckle. “I’d get down there and help ya if my knees would cooperate but---”
“I know, Mr. Stevens, and I thank you for the thought. But I’ve got it under control.”
“Well, okay then. Just holler if you get stuck,” and with that he toddled away.
I began breathing again and, after a minute or two, I resumed my task. I was scraping away at the wooden under-structure of the trailer with one of my kitchen knives. The wood was already soft with rot so my goal was to break through the bedroom floor with some very narrow grooves that would appear to be just wear and tear on our poor ole trailer. I had considered drilling holes but that would be an obvious giveaway. I just hoped that Mr. Stevens was the forgetful type and that he wouldn’t remember me lying under our mobile home making scraping noises.
When I checked on the cage the next time, bingo! Not just one cat but two, a scrawny calico and a black beauty that seemed to indicate to me that bad luck was heading either my way or Howie’s. Hopefully, just Howie’s. I had brought more tuna (I should have bought stock in Chicken of The Sea) and a dish of water which I slipped into the cage. It was important that I moved this project along as I couldn’t leave my two conspirators there much longer in case some hiker came along and discovered the cage. I decided that the next night was to be the evening of Howard’s demise.
As I’m writing this, I’m beginning to see how cold blooded all this must seem but then I remind myself of what I’d been through with Howie and his women and his booze and his beatings. I know now It probably would have been better to just leave him. After all, that’s what ended up happening; I made him go away and I was alone. But I realize I wanted revenge. I wanted pay-back, big time.
Bringing Sally and Alibi (I had named the cats after Howie’s favorite watering holes) back to the trailer camp was a bit tricky but luck was with me. The lights were out in Mr. Steven’s faded pink double-wide and there was a very noisy party going on down by the Lombardi’s place so I got the cage out of the car and squeezed it under our trailer without a problem. With my heart jumping around in my chest I climbed up the steps into, what was to become, the exterminating chamber.
It is very hard to kill someone. I’m sure you’ve heard all those stories about how the victim resisted and struggled to survive and what it took to bring him down. Like that Russian guy who was a favorite of the Tsar’s wife and they wanted to kill him so they poisoned him but it didn’t work so they shot him but he still didn’t die. They choked him and hit him on the head but he just wouldn’t lie down and die. I think they finally drowned him and that did the trick.
With Howard it was a series of unplanned interruptions that almost ruined my perfect crime. First of all, getting him to bed was becoming impossible. For some reason, on this particular evening he was almost sober and wide awake. He was watching a sporting event on the TV, pro wrestling as I remember, and he was really into it. I kept refilling his glass with whiskey in the hopes that it would make him sleepy. It took two full hours and an untold number of shots of his favorite whiskey to finally bring on a yawn or two. The man sure could hold his booze.
Then there were the cats. From under the floor came the unhappy wails of Alibi and Sally. They were not happy about being incarcerated in a metal cage with no way out and they were letting the world know their feelings.
“What the hell is that there noise?” Howie yelled, getting ready to stand up and investigate. “It sounds like it’s comin from right inside the toilet!”
“No, no, honey,” I replied, in a panic, “I think the Lombardi’s are having one of their wild parties. You know how loud they get.” I watched as Howie headed for the door to the toilet. While he was busy looking for the source of the noise I turned up the volume on the television. When I looked back at him he was on his knees with his head in the toilet bowl. However, he was not listening for mysterious sounds. Instead, he was vomiting.
After cleaning him up, I steered him into the bedroom, helped him undress and tucked him in. Within minutes he was off in dreamland, either fast asleep or passed out. It didn’t matter to me as to which one it was, as long as he kept breathing. It was important that he inhaled the dander rich air that was wafting up through the cracks in the floor. I pulled the folding door shut, that separated the bedroom from the rest of the trailer and sat down. I was rigid with an adrenaline rush and very, very frightened. Five long minutes passed. This was it, the moment when my plan would either work---
I heard a murmuring sound but with the TV and the cats I wasn’t sure if it was coming from the bedroom. I turned off the television and listened carefully and I could tell it was Howard. He was mumbling my name. Then the sound increased and it turned into a non-verbal gasp and a gurgle. I stood up and faced the door, torn between looking into room or running for the hills and never coming back. The sounds became louder and louder and then suddenly the folding door slid open and Howie was there, only inches from my face. His eyes were beginning to swell shut and there were red patches on his neck and face. His mouth was opening and closing like a fish caught on a hook and he was making these awful choking sounds. At that moment, if I had had an EpiPen, I would have injected him and saved his miserable life but then he reached out and put his hands around my throat. I felt him begin to squeeze and it took all my strength to push him backwards until we fell onto the bed. I was on top of him and trying to pull his hands away from my neck when he began to weaken and his arms dropped away. His breathing became a series of hiccups and then it quit. I sat up on the bed and tried to stop shaking. The deed was done.
After making sure Howie was no longer with us I moved quickly to the next step, the disposal of the cage and the cats which was a bit tricky. Actually, setting the cats free was easy. I simply opened the cage door and they vanished into the night. However, the cage itself was more of a challenge. There was the time element involved. I had to drive the five miles to the dump and five miles back without being seen and I needed to be back home to call the EMS or the police before Howie’s body got too cold. It was about two thirty in the morning when I got to the dump so no one was there. I tossed the cage onto a pile of rusty pipes and broken shelves and hurried back to my car.
The trip back was uneventful until I drove into the trailer park. Just as I rounded the curve leading to our place a light went on in Mr. Steven’s double-wide. I almost slammed on the brakes, which would have been a big mistake, but I kept on going until I reached our trailer. I leapt out of my Pinto and started to head for the public phone located in front of the manager’s cottage in the middle of the camp. This was because we didn’t have our own phone due to monetary difficulties. It was then I had another ‘light bulb’ moment. I stopped, turned around and headed back towards Mr. Steven’s trailer.
“Mr. Stevens! Mr. Stevens!” I shouted, as I beat on his screen door. “It’s Joanne! Please, I need help!” After a few seconds the front door opened and through the battered screen door I could see Mr. Stevens standing in his boxers and wearing a sleeveless tee shirt.
“Mrs. McCabe, darlin, what’s wrong?” he asked, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“It’s Howard! He’s in a bad way. I can’t wake him!”
“I don’t know, I don’t know! He looks awful!”
“Well, just wait a minute while I pull on some pants,” and he turned back into his living room.
We hurried across the street towards our trailer, although hurrying for Mr. Stevens was more of a tilted shuffle.
“I had to git up to pee and I thought I heard a car. Was that you?” he asked.
“Yeah. Howie was in one of his moods, you know how he gets when he goes on a bender, so I just had to get away for a while,” which was kind of the truth.
“Yep, I know, I seen him be kinda crazy. It was smart of you to leave him alone. Let him sleep it off.”
I stopped at the steps up to our door and let Mr. Stevens climb in ahead of me. He looked around at our shabby furnishings and asked where Howie was.
“He’s in there,” I replied, pointing to the bedroom door, “ on the bed. I don’t think he’s breathing.”
Mr. Stevens reaction to the condition of Howard’s body was immediate and intense. “Holy shit! He’s a mess! He looks like he’s bin drinkin turpentine!” He reluctantly touched Howie’s neck. “You’re right, darlin. He’s not breathing. I’m so sorry.”
Since Mr. Stevens had a telephone I asked him to call the police, which he very kindly did. They came; I cried, they investigated. I wept, they took the body away. I sobbed, and then I was alone. I waited for them to return and haul me off to the sheriff’s office as the murderous widow but it never happened.
Anaphylaxis is the technical term for what killed Howard Estes McCabe. His heart gave out from the stress. That’s what the coroner and the doctor determined was the cause of death. They figured he must have come across something that set him off, animal dander that transferred to his skin or clothes from something or someone he rubbed up against. I mentioned that he had spent most of the day at the Alibi Bar and that they might have a cat. The police asked a lot of questions but they didn’t seem too concerned about the demise of a trailer park alcoholic or about the fate of his grieving widow. I cried very effectively but it was from relief not despair.
I buried Howie without a tombstone as I couldn’t afford one and, even if I could, I felt a little metal tag was sufficient. He didn’t deserve anything better. Yeah, you’re right, I was a bitter, vengeful woman. So live with it. I have.
It’s been five years since I got rid of Howard and there have been a lot of changes in my life, all of them good. I got my GED and enrolled in night school at Foxboro Community College. I’m majoring in economics. Piggly Wiggly promoted me to produce manager, for being such a faithful and hard-working employee, at a much better salary. And I got a dog, a Golden Retriever, who I named Alibi.
So there it is. I’m putting this envelope in my safe deposit box at the bank with instructions for it to be opened only upon my death. I apologize again for the length of this document but I wanted it to be as complete as possible. As the saying goes, ‘God is in the details.” I do not apologize, however, for having murdered my husband.
Signed: Josephine Anne McCabe nee: Barden
Woman Arrested for Murder
Crime Committed 25 Years Ago
Signed Confession Discovered
Due to a mix up at a local bank, Foxboro native, Josephine Anne McCabe, was put under arrest yesterday, accused in the murder of her husband Howard Estes McCabe.
The crime, which occurred more than two decades ago, was revealed in a confession, signed by Mrs. McCabe, that was mistakenly obtained by a lawyer for the family of Joan Ann McCabe, 95, recently deceased.
The alleged confession was in an envelope found in the safety deposit box of the accused. The box had been opened by officials of the Wells Fargo Bank in Foxboro under the misapprehension that the box belonged to the deceased. In an ironic twist, it turns out that the deceased, Joan Ann McCabe, was the paternal grandmother of the murder victim, Howard McCabe.
In a press conference today, the court appointed lawyer for the accused, Chauncy Brown, said that the document containing the confession was illegally obtained and was therefore invalid. “It should not and cannot be used as evidence against my client,” Mr. Brown emphasized.
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