The Waite Inheritance by Peter F. Guenther

An inheritance doesn't have to be by means of a will.

Jack looked up from his reading as the door of his dorm room flew open. His girlfriend, Kate, tumbled in, obviously bubbling over with excitement. Jack wasn't surprised; one month into their junior year, he'd already heard many times about how much she loved her criminology class, which she would be coming from just now. In fact, she had indicated that the class -- one of several options the two of them had for rounding out their archaeology majors in other areas of anthropology and sociology -- was making her consider changing her major.

"Jack! Look at this!" she demanded eagerly, waving a piece of paper. "We all have to do a profile on a serial killer as a term paper. I got assigned a local one -- the Waynestown killer!"

Jack thought for a moment. He wasn't from the thumb region of Michigan, where Claver University was located, so he didn't know that much of the local lore. Going out with Kate for the better part of two years now, though, had acquainted him with a number of pieces of legend. While Kate, from Detroit, wasn't exactly a local, she came from a lot closer than Jack's Chicago. He hazarded, "Wasn't that the guy from a really rich family around here? He just started ritually killing kids a couple of decades back?"

"Not just a couple of decades back -- exactly twenty-five years ago this month! Yeah, Jeremiah Waite was his name -- he was the last of a well-to-do family that was among the first settlers in the area. His family's mansion in Waynestown, about ten miles south of here, is probably one of the largest homes in this part of Michigan. I guess it's sat empty for the last twenty-five years, since he was shot dead in a tussle with the cops."

"Sounds like you've already done some of the research," Jack guessed.

"Well, yeah, this story has interested me since I was a kid, so I was hoping to get assigned him for the class," Kate said. "But this will be great! I can round out my report with all sorts of local information, interviews with people who still remember -- my report will be way better than anyone else's!"

Over the next few days, Jack thought the report was becoming an obsession with Kate. With a sigh, he reflected that with the enthusiasm she was giving the report, at least it would be done soon. Or it never would be done, he reflected darkly. Kate had already told him more than he ever needed to know about the Waynestown killer -- how in the last half of October, twenty-five years before, he had begun killing children, without warning, without any previous indications of psychological deviance. He had killed a child a night, every night through Halloween, leaving thirteen children dead. The oldest had been only seven, the youngest never saw his first birthday. When the descriptions of someone seen luring a child away a few days prior seemed to point to him, police entered his house on November 1st with a search warrant. When presented with the warrant, the seemingly composed man who had answered the door suddenly became unhinged; in the ensuing struggle, he was shot dead. Police were initially surprised, then, when they found no evidence in the house; no bodies had yet been found. After the third thorough search, however, by a police department desperate to justify their actions, a secret panel was found in the library, leading up to a windowless and unsuspected attic.

The police officers who entered that attic emerged very different men. More than half of them quit the police force within a year afterwards. The small-town police officers were not prepared for the evidence of brutal murders they found.

All thirteen corpses were found in that attic. The fact that their rapidly advancing putrefaction could not be detected in the room below pointed to how carefully the room had been sealed. While the information released to the press was scant, it seemed that all thirteen children had been strung up along the walls of the chamber and disemboweled, apparently alive. That the corpses had been further desecrated after death was hinted at, but never detailed.

Jack was more than satisfied to go no further with the story than this. Kate, however, wanted to know more -- and in fairness to her, Jack reflected, she really did need a lot of information to build the kind of detailed profile that her teacher expected. Since the suspect had been killed before police could ask any questions, she would have to go on every slight detail she could find. Jack had agreed to drive with her down to Waynestown the next Saturday to visit the ancestral Waite home; he was not surprised that Thursday when their conversation in the dining hall again turned to the killer.

"Jack, I've found something interesting. It seems that Jeremiah Waite was not the first Waynestown killer." Kate paused for a few seconds to let that claim sink in.

"No?" Jack queried, patiently accepting the bait.

"No. I was going back through archived copies of the Waynestown paper, you know, gathering family background, and I came across this." She slid out several photocopies she had kept conveniently close to the top of her pack. Jack skimmed them; they were all dated 1944, and they detailed a rash of child disappearances. "They were never solved," Kate bubbled -- at one level, Jack was definitely disturbed by how intensely interested she was in the case. "While there's no evidence of murder, since no bodies were ever found, it fits the same mold as Jeremiah Waite's abductions. A number of children in the month of October."

"How many?" Jack asked.

"Well, four to six, depending. A couple were believed to be runaways until later on. But I have to check on figures for the surrounding community."

"And how old was Jeremiah Waite at the time?"

"Well, he would have been -- let's see -- eleven at the time. But since there's another article" -- she produced another photocopy as if playing a trump card -- "that he and his mother were vacationing on the West Coast at the time, I'd say it definitely was not him. The Waite family, being so rich, received a lot of attention in everything they did."

Jack sat for a minute, chewing and thinking. Then a thought which sent a chill racing up his spine struck him. "Kate? Jeremiah Waite was killed in 1969. Twenty-five years ago. And 1944 was exactly twenty-five years before that."

Kate was already there. She produced yet another sheaf of photocopies. "Guess what happened in 1919, as Waynestown enjoyed the return of her sons from the war? And in 1894, when Claver University was still young? Before that, Waynestown didn't have a newspaper."

"But this is unbelievable," Jack protested. "How come no one noticed this pattern before?"

"Well, really, in the early cases, it wasn't many children. It was remarked upon because it was a small community and missing kids weren't a common problem back then, but I guess within a few years it had faded from memory. Especially since no bodies were ever found in any of the cases until 1969. I wonder what would have happened if the police hadn't shot Waite?"

"I think we'd have to be a lot more worried this year, if that were the case -- this being the twenty-fifth anniversary. But these murders worry me -- I think we should talk to an old friend about these." And from the gleam in her eye, Jack was sure Kate knew whom he meant.

After dinner, the two of them stopped by the Jesuit Residence on campus. Claver University was run by the priests of the Jesuit order; Jack and Kate were going to visit one Jesuit in particular.

In the lobby of the residence, Jack picked up the phone and dialed a room. A couple of minutes later, an older Jesuit with a full beard and a grin on his face let them in. They shook hands warmly. "Jack, Kate, good to see you again," said the priest.

"Same here, Pat," replied Jack. They had gotten onto a first-name basis with the priest, Fr. Patrick Parks, S.J., the previous spring, when dealing with another occult matter; over the summer, the two students had assistantships with him. The three made their way upstairs into a communal lounge where they had gotten into the habit of chatting for hours on end.

As they sat down in the comfortable chairs, the priest observed, "I take it from the way that Kate is barely holding something in that this isn't one of your usual social visits."

As Jack opened his mouth to answer, Kate burst out, "Well, no. Not simply, anyhow. We wanted to talk to you about the Waynestown murders."

To their surprise, the priest blanched visibly. After a moment's hesitation, he offered, "I'm not sure it would be appropriate for me to talk about my involvement on the case."

Kate and Jack exchanged a surprised look. "You mean you were involved with the Waynestown murder case?" Jack asked, incredulous.

"Well, yes. I had been here a good few years already," the professor emeritus offered, "and as both a Catholic priest and a professor of comparative religions, they asked me to look at the ritual aspect of the murders. But . . . why else would you want to talk to me about the murders?" The priest raised his bushy eyebrows.

Quickly, tripping over words at times, Kate outlined what she had found out about the history of disappearances. Jack finished, "So, after all that business in the spring, you seemed like the natural choice for us to talk to, since it does look like the murders have some kind of cyclical, ceremonial role."

The priest rested his head on folded hands as he mulled over what the two students had told him. "Well, this does change things some. Hmmm. The police never mentioned those earlier disappearances. They tried to make comparisons to a couple of child murders in neighboring communities in the past few years, but the brutality of this crime made any of those comparisons weak.

"As I said already, I was brought in when the police called the university to get an expert on comparative religions. I fear I couldn't help them much, though. I've been reluctant to talk about the murders ever since, for a few reasons. At first, it was out of respect for the families who had just lost children. Did you know one family lost all three of their sons?" Kate nodded. "And, of course, it was a shocking experience for me. I didn't go up into that attic until all the bodies had been removed, but it was still a gruesome sight, and the police showed me photographs of the room the way they found it. My hair got a lot grayer that day, and I spent a lot of time praying for the souls of those children. No one should have to endure what they did before they died.

"And then, even beyond the inhuman cruelty I saw there, there was something else which disturbed me, something which I have never been able to set behind me . . .

"I'll come out with this now, because you may have need of this information. But let me say first: don't dig any more deeply here. Compile your report from newspapers and other published sources, and then let things be.

"There were thirteen children killed. From the state of the corpses, the coroner's report stated that one had been killed each day up to Halloween. As the newspaper reported, there was a special chamber in the attic of the Waite home -- it must have been built as part of the original plan. It was airtight and windowless. I don't think I could have stepped in that room when the corpses still lined it and escaped with my sanity intact.

"The bodies had been strung along the walls -- it was a roughly square room -- with wire. The wire, of course, cut terribly into wrists and ankles, and the children were alive when they were strung up. That's what the coroner said. To think of some of those children, hanging for a few days in the darkness and stench . . . It breaks my heart to this day. And then -- again, apparently while they were still alive -- the children were cut open and their entrails spread. Their blood collected in a shallow depression in the center of the chamber. But their entrails were pinned over the floor and ceiling in a complex pattern.

"I can only compare it to some diagrams I've seen in the old books -- the Necronomicon, Cultes des Goules, and Bonenfant's Notes on the Mission . . . It was some kind of circle -- of summoning, of power, I don't know. As I delved into it for the police, I couldn't find anything that matched it. Certainly no ceremony that required the circle to be made of human intestine . . .

"So the disposition of the corpses, in my mind, was clearly ceremonial; but since I couldn't find anything in any human tradition to match it, I finally concluded it was the work of a sick man, not an established ritual.

"But there are two other impressions I must share with you. The first is that both what I saw in the photographs and what the coroner found on the bodies indicated that something had gnawed on some of the corpses after they were opened.

"The second is this. The police disputed it from the beginning and forbade me to talk about it. But from the way those children were hung, and the complex pattern formed, there is no doubt in my mind that it took more than one person to do."

Jack gave a start; Kate visibly shuddered for a few seconds. Jack then drew her close. She asked, "So you think this is the work of a cult?"

"Again, I can't find a correspondence in any human religion -- or even the inhuman ones I've studied. So I don't know that it's a cult. But I think Waite must have had an assistant, unless he somehow compelled one of his young victims to help.

"So I think that you're in definite danger if you delve too deeply into this. That's why I say stay out of it."

Jack could see Kate developing an acute sense of outrage. "But how can you just turn your back on this? If someone else was involved, we need to do something about it! And if the twenty-five year cycle repeats, then more children could die this year!"

The priest replied, "I felt the same way in 1969. But I was powerless to do anything about it; the police closed the case. I could only hope for the best. And when no more children disappeared, I eventually became confident that the threat died with Waite." Then he mused, "Of course, I didn't know then that it seemed to be a case of history repeating itself. I wonder . . ."

"There's another issue," Jack interrupted. "What was the purpose of the ritual, and was it accomplished on All Hallow's Eve, 1969, or not?"

"You're jumping to the conclusion," Pat argued, "that it was a genuine ritual which was effective."

"Well, yeah," Jack laughed nervously, "after a run-in we all had last spring with a nasty monster from Indian legend, I tend to take a more open-minded view to these things."

The priest stood up with some finality. "As I said, I couldn't equate what I saw in that chamber with any recorded rite. That doesn't mean it wasn't the enactment of some hideous ritual, of course, but it raises doubts in my mind. And there was evidence of drug use on Waite's part; who knows where these impulses came from?"

Kate began to protest, "The evidence for Waite's drug use was extremely sketchy and the coroner found no evidence of drugs in his system . . ."

The priest cut her off. "That may be. But there are a few things I want to look at tonight, and I should attend to those now. I don't mean to be rude, but you've put me on a new line of inquiry I wish to examine right away." With that, he congenially ushered them out.

The next two days saw no further communication from the old priest, so on Saturday, the first day of October, Jack and Kate set out on their planned visit to the Waite homestead. As Jack drove the two of them the short distance to Waynestown, he continued to argue against the trip.

"But, Kate, is it really wise for us to go poking around in Waynestown? What if someone else was involved in the murders, and is still around? And what are we going to accomplish, anyhow?"

Kate had heard it all already. "I need some photographs for my report . . . more importantly, I really need to get inside this guy's head to do a good profile. I need to see where he grew up, understand the circumstances that shaped him."

"And seeing his house twenty-five years later is going to do that?" Jack protested. "What are the current occupants going to think of us traipsing through their backyard?"

"No one has lived in the Waite mansion for twenty-five years now . . . when Jeremiah died unmarried and childless, the house went to family in New England. They pay to keep it up, but seem to have no interest in living there or in selling it. Not that anyone would be likely to buy it, I guess . . . and I wouldn't want to live there." Kate shuddered. Jack nodded assent. "So we're just going to get a look at the house and then the neighborhood, and then visit the family plot in the cemetery."

"Wait -- the family plot in the cemetery? You didn't mention this before," Jack interrupted.

"Oh yeah -- the Waite family has a mausoleum and large plot with all the family members from the first settlers. Small family, really, but they've been here a while."

"Hmmm . . . Hey, how'd they get so rich, anyhow?" Jack asked.

"A couple of things, really," Kate answered. "They began as farmers, and were very successful at it, back in the 1840's. One of the grandchildren moved to Detroit around the turn of the century and made a fortune in the auto business -- then sold off the business, moved back here, and built a mansion for the whole family on the same land as the original home. After that, a few generations just lived here on the wealth he had amassed. But Jeremiah was the last one left in the 1960's."

At this point, they were entering the outskirts of Waynestown. The few farms they had passed turned into rows of sturdy but simple housing from around the turn of the century. About a half mile into the town, Kate indicated where Jack should turn right. They headed out of the community again, to the west, and on the outskirts of town pulled onto a dirt drive. As they made their way up the long driveway, sheltered by the trees' remaining gold and red leaves, Jack pondered, "Why didn't he build along the lake shore? This kind of money, that's where I would build -- like a lot of the auto barons in Detroit."

"Well," Kate answered, "Since he was committed enough to the family and the old homestead to move back here in the first place, I guess he wanted to live on the original land."

"Yeah, I guess so," Jack answered, as the drive wound around in front of the house. The trees cleared and they got their first view of it. Neither was prepared for the shock.

"He built . . . a chateau . . . in the middle of the Michigan woods," Jack breathed.

"Wow," Kate added.

The three-story house stood in the middle of a clearing; to the back, a tangle of undergrowth attested to the existence of cleared land that had once been farmed. Formal gardens gone to seed embraced the house on all sides. It was apparent that some attempt had been made to keep up the grounds, but not in several months.

The house itself was marked in front by two cylindrical towers. After three stories, the towers terminated in conical tops. These two towers framed a porch, recessed behind three large arches, on the first floor, and two more floors above. At the towers, the symmetry ended; to the right of the entrance, a short extension of the house ended in a square tower; to the left, the house extended a good hundred feet. A steep slate roof, fringed with a balustrade, surmounted the whole.

"For a house that's been abandoned for twenty-five years," Jack commented, "it's in great shape. I don't think a single window's been broken."

Kate had begun to snap photos, and began to move around the house. "I doubt many people come by here," she suggested. "It's not like it's in the center of town. And I doubt it has a good reputation. I wouldn't've wanted to come here as a kid. Look at it -- it's scary as hell! Can you imagine what this looks like by moonlight? Hey, let's check out the back," she ended, incongruously.

Jack sighed and followed her around. Indeed, as they rounded the corners of the house, he still did not see any sign of damage. He sidled up to the house to glance in a window; inside, he saw exotic furniture shapes covered in sheets and a coating of dust. He stepped back again and surveyed the house; although he squinted, he could not make out the pattern on the balustrade.

Kate was in back by this point; when he caught up with her, he was alarmed to see her trying to open a door into the house. To his further dismay, the knob turned easily and she opened the door a crack. Jack firmly pushed it closed again. "Come on, Kate, we're trespassing as it is. Let's not take this any further."

"You mean that you wouldn't go in there, no matter what," she teased.

"Hey, I didn't say that," he protested, but she was laughing and moving further along the back of the house again. Before moving to catch up, he peered through the glass in the door; stairs led up into what looked like the kitchen. He squinted; it seemed like there wasn't much dust on the stairs. But then Kate's yell summoned him. He ran over to her.

"Oh, look at the poor thing," she moaned. "A dog must have gotten it." Jack looked at the grass where she pointed. A still, furry form rested there; he looked closer and made out the lines of a well-chewed rabbit.

He held her arm and started to walk her along. "Come on, let's get moving," he said.

"You mean you've felt it too?" Kate asked.

"Felt what . . ." Jack started to reply, and then he felt it for the first time. Letting go of Kate's arm, he wheeled around to look back at the house. He had an incredibly strong sense of someone watching him. He scrutinized the windows, but saw nothing. He turned again to look at the surrounding growth, but Kate stopped him. "No, it's the house," she stated firmly. "It's watching us."

Weakly, Jack protested, "Come on, a house can't . . ." but trailed off. The feeling had come on him so strongly and so suddenly it had left him feeling a little nauseated. With unspoken assent, they completed their circuit of the house, passing the square tower and heading back to their car.

As they started to climb in the car again, Jack paused. "Where's the attic?" he asked.

"Huh?" Kate asked distractedly. "The attic?"

"I mean, I know it's at the top of the house," Jack said, a little sheepishly. "But what part of the house was the secret attic?"

"Oh," Kate replied, still sounding a little out of it. "I think it must have been that section right over the entrance -- between the towers," she pointed.

Jack studied the roof. There were no windows in any of it, so he could see why it had not been immediately obvious to investigators, but the roof was high enough that he thought its existence, or at least the possibility of it, would be evident. Then he shrugged and got into the car. As he started up the old, complaining engine, he asked, "So you still want to see the cemetery?" Kate nodded assent, something he couldn't quite figure out gleaming in her eyes. Determination? he guessed.

After a short drive back to the main road through Waynestown and several mistaken turnings onto side roads, as Kate tried to navigate without a map, they located the cemetery on the southern edge of the town. Jack parked on the street in front of it and got out; when he glanced around nervously, Kate chided him, "It's open to the pubic. We're not doing anything wrong here."

He drew a deep breath and wondered why he was so on-edge. Surely the priest hadn't done anything to reassure him, he reflected; and he was still shaken from the weird feeling he had gotten outside the Waite home as well. As he and Kate walked through the cemetery's wrought-iron gate, he knew instantly where the Waite family rested. The cemetery was obviously an old one; large markers and statues of angels reared above the gently rolling green. Clusters of trees shaded a number of the graves. But in the back, a collection of several ostentatious markers and a large, Greek Revival mausoleum stood out. He and Kate began to pick their way towards it.

As they approached, he began to pick out Waite names. The earliest graves stood right next to the town's other early settlers. Then the markers got larger and the space became exclusively Waite. The mausoleum at the far side dominated the plots; the walls were of a light-colored marble, but dark stone columns rose up to support a triangular roof, framing stained-glass windows and an imposing bronze double door. Large lion-like cats sculpted in a dark, basaltic stone stood sentry on either side of the entrance; Jack ran his hand absently over their strangely patterned backs "This guy made a lot of money," Jack breathed. Kate nodded.

Not only was the mausoleum unlocked, one of the doors actually stood ajar. Without hesitation, Kate pushed it open further and entered; Jack followed behind. Both stopped inside to adjust to the dim sunlight filtering through the windows.

Seven stained-glass windows punctuated the walls; three on either side and one large window directly opposite the door. After a few minutes they spent staring mutely at the windows, Jack broke the silence by saying, "Well, you can put in your profile that he grew up in a rather morbid
family. . . ." The largest window offered a vivid, traditional depiction of hellfire and, in a thin band across the top, heaven. There were a great many more souls in hell than the few strumming blissfully in heaven. The flanking windows were more difficult to identify; one showed a man being ripped apart by winged creatures outside a building that looked suspiciously like the mausoleum. The others involved another type of unrecognizable creature -- something green and fishlike, with large, round eyes, that walked like a man hunched over; somehow, the windows managed to convey an impression of hopping as well. Throughout the windows, a host of the fishlike creatures chased an individual, eventually catching him and dragging him away -- Jack assumed to an extremely messy end.

"What do you expect from a family with so many Old Testament names?" Kate countered. "Zedekiah Waite, 1815-1892. Zebulon Waite, 1847-1892. Ezekiel Waite, 1879-1925. Ephraim Waite, 1909-1947. Geez, they died pretty young, even for the time, didn't they? And our friend Jeremiah, 1933-1969, whose untimely demise we are so well acquainted with." Two more stone sarcophagi were blank, presumably unused. "Looks like the mausoleum was just for the big men of the family," she continued, a hint of displeasure in her voice.

"Yeah, some of the graves outside must be their wives -- and from what I saw, several children who died in childhood or even infancy," Jack offered.

"That would be common at the time," Kate said. "So this is the Waite family . . . I'm going to have to look into this Biblical angle," she finished, nodding at the main window. Quickly she took photos of the windows, and then turned to go. At the door, she stopped and gasped; Jack bumped into her from behind. "Jack, it's there again," she whimpered. "Someone is watching us."

He felt it too. He craned his head over her. "Over there, under those trees?" he wondered, pointing at the fringes of the cemetery, where the shadows of the late afternoon sun could hide something. He started to move around Kate to investigate.

"No, don't," she said, grabbing his shirt. He could tell her hand was trembling as she restrained him. "Let's just get out of here."

No longer feeling the strange sensation, he agreed. Still his eyes scanned the darkness underneath the trees.

The next night, when Kate entered Jack's room she fell into his arms, sobbing. As he held her, he could feel her breathing very hard. After she had calmed a little, he asked, "What's wrong?"

She sobbed, "Someone . . . followed me here!"

"What?" Jack asked. "Are you sure it wasn't just another student coming into the dorm?"

"No," she answered, "he didn't come into the dorm. He kept pace with me the whole way here -- staying three streetlights behind, and mostly staying in the shadows. His footfalls were almost silent, just a soft padding; I noticed him when I happened to look over my shoulder. This odd man, walking with a stoop, in a bulky coat. And when it was quiet, I heard this gurgling, wheezing breath
. . ."

As she said this, Jack moved cautiously over to the window. As he peered through the blinds, the hairs on the back of his neck rose as he felt someone's eyes upon him again. He could see no one outside, though.


© 2000 Edward P. Berglund
"The Waite Inheritance": © 2000 Peter F. Guenther. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999-2000 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: May 16, 2000; Current Update: August 9, 2004