Friday, July 28, 2017

Chapter 11 - Trixie

Trixie Shepherd is a psychic. 

Well, she was three decades ago, before she had the stroke. I don’t even know if she’d call herself a psychic. It’s just a gift she had, along with her sister. They could see things. Things the rest of us can’t see, apparently. 

There are notations about Trixie Shepherd in the MSP report, including two property receipts signed by her. The first was when she received personal items of Janette’s, the second when she turned the items back over to police.

Trixie’s stroke happened seven years ago, she told me when I first spoke with her on October 15, 2014 in the afternoon. At the end of the conversation, we set up another meeting for October 21st at noon. After having chatted for about thirty minutes about Janette’s murder, then about her memory and stroke, Trixie said, “I’m glad you’re coming because I have some other things to talk about.”

My lower forty clenched, ominously. 

“Well that makes me nervous!”

I don’t want to know those kinds of things about myself or loved ones. Not that I believe in psychics, but I don’t not believe in them, either. I don’t presume to know everything about The Universe. There are far too few things I can say with absolute certainty, and whether there is or isn’t such a thing as psychic ability is decidedly not one of them.

Trixie chuckled lightly and told me that she wasn’t psychic anymore, not since the stroke. I asked if that disappointed her and she said no because it often made her sick, knowing all those things.
So I asked her to tell me how she came to be involved with the Janette Roberson investigation. 

Because she had a speech issue, I let her talk and didn’t interrupt until she was finished. I knew I’d be able to follow up when we met in person. In halting breaths, she told me her sister had called to tell her about the murder in the Gambles store. She lived out of town, so the next time she was in Reed City she went to the police station and told them she needed something Janette wore, something personal so she could do a reading. 

At some point, she received a necklace she was told was Janette’s, but she didn’t get much off it, so she told them she needed other items.

The Michigan State Police property report receipt shows five items were turned over to Chief Rathbun from Marion Fisher, Janette’s mother, and forwarded to Trixie. To the best of her recollection, all of her readings happened about one month after the murder. Trixie said she met with police a total of three different times. During the next two visits, they went to the Gambles basement pet department, and drove to where Janette lived.

The first trip was to the Gambles store. Her sister accompanied her, along with Detective Pratt, according to Trixie. She said that as soon as they walked down the stairs into the basement, her sister’s stomach started to hurt and she said she thought something had happened to Janette’s stomach. Trixie told me she believes Janette was choked unconscious before most of the other injuries occurred, and the killer carried her to where her body was eventually found.

“There was a man in the back room, he moved a board and then he was lying in sand. I saw him put a cigarette out in that sand.” 

This is one of the visions she described on the phone.

She said that when they first went downstairs to the pet department, there was a tarp hanging in the doorway between the pet department and what she thought might be another room. She asked to go through it and when she did, saw the second set of stairs. 

She told them she “saw” the killer going up those stairs, but there were boxes stacked upstairs in front of the stair entrance on the day Janette was murdered.

“That’s why nobody saw him,” she told me.

She said once they left Gambles that day, they went to the police station and she was shown some pictures. She looked at the first picture and said: “That man will be lucky if he lives a month.” She said they told her he was lucky. The pictures had been taken about a month before, she explained. She said he was an older man, thin faced, and his eyes were set back in his head a bit. He looked sick and drawn.

“I didn’t see the heart attack, but I thought it might be his heart.” 

She told me she believed he died not long afterward.

When shown the next picture, she said, “He’s worried about his wife.”

The next picture, this time a woman: “She’s pregnant and the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. They need to watch out for her when she delivers.”

Another picture. “That man is a cop killer. He’s going to kill a cop one of these days.” Trixie says the police told her he tried, but was now locked up.

She said the police showed her two other pictures, but she couldn’t remember who they were or what they looked like.

Trixie said that on her next trip, police took her to Janette’s house. She couldn’t remember now if it was a house or an apartment because since the stroke, some things were fuzzy. She said they never went in and she didn’t even know which one was Janette’s, but she told the detective, “There’s a horse by the window.”

She said one of the police went up to the window and when he came back to the car, told her there was a horse statue there that he could see through the window.

After hearing all that, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I met Trixie in person the following week. I pulled into the Assisted Living Facility and she was the first thing I saw when I entered the foyer. It was mail time and she was sitting in her wheelchair at the double doors watching the mail lady put envelopes into all the silver boxes.

“I thought you might be waiting for me,” I told her as I walked up. “Trixie, right?

She smiled. “I’m waiting for my mail.”

Touché, psychic lady. Touché.

I waited with her, noting the table full of elder folk watching us, probably wondering who I was and what I was doing there. It was a small facility, and now that I’ve been there on a few more occasions to see other people, I can tell you that the tenants are all up in eachother’s shiz.  Picture the Golden Girls, but there’s a dozen of them and they have their own apartments plus a common area from which they fritter away the hours. 

They are, in a word, delightful.

Once the mail lady was finished and locked all of the boxes, Trixie slowly rolled into the vestibule and opened her box with the key, removing her mail. She did the same with another key, and then rolled back into the foyer and across the room, handing another older woman her key and mail. She waved to me over her shoulder and then slowly made her way down a long corridor, using her feet to move the wheelchair, rather than rolling it by the wheels with her hands. 

Her apartment was at the very end of a long hallway lined with doors on both sides, most of which had signs that read NO SMOKING: OXYGEN IN USE.

It was a tiny living space—kitchen to the right as soon as you walk in, overlooking the living area, and a small hallway off to the right where I assume the bedroom and bath were. We never left the living room. She took her time getting into her chair, which was one of those orthopedic jobs that could, at the touch of a button, rise up and a bit forward, making it easier for a person to back into before they used that same button to lower it to a fully seated position.

I sat down in the chair next to her and pulled out my pencil. I didn’t even have my notebook out before she’d foraged in the pile of paperwork beside her and pulled out a piece of notebook paper.

“I drew this for you.”

I’m sure my eyes widened to the size of saucers as I looked at it, mainly because her drawing—over three decades after the murder—was probably more accurate than the one I came up with the day after visiting the basement for the first time.

I’ve since been down to the basement of what is now Reed City Hardware a few times. Once, the owner—Gary Smith—chastised me for leaving the lights on the time before. He’s okay. A bit gruff, but he’s been very accommodating. Last time we spoke, he suggested I bring him some Dr. Pepper for his troubles. I think that’s the time I asked if I could bring a psychic in with me, at some point. That never happened, but I probably still owe him a case or two of soda.

Nothing in Trixie’s story changed the second time we spoke, but she did elaborate a bit, and with the help of the diagram, said she’d remembered a little more. She said she had talked to her sister since we spoke, who had requested I not use her name. (I've since spoken to her, as well.)

“Just call her The Sister,” Trixie said, looking sheepish. 

I laughed and told her it wasn’t a problem. I spoke to a number of people who didn’t want their names mentioned in connection with this case.

The first thing Trixie wanted to tell me is the other thing she’d “seen” in relation to Janette. She didn’t believe she’d shared it with police. It was regarding a man in Janette’s life. She saw him in a gray suit. She said Janette was thinking about him while it was happening, and wanted him to know what was happening to her. Trixie described her own near death experience to me, and then told me that while she was unconscious, Janette was still aware and “floating” above herself, watching. This is when she said Janette thought about the man in the suit, and it occurred during the time she was “passing over.”

Trixie went over her recollections regarding the pictures again. She said the man with the heart problem who died was a “kind person.” Nothing about him bothered her. The other man, the one who was worried about his wife, he was thin—not as thin as the man with the heart problem and sunken eyes, but of thin build. He had dark hair. She believed the female she was shown in the picture was his wife, and she was pregnant. She repeated that the cord had been wrapped around the baby’s neck, but the baby had been born okay. The man she’d told police was a cop killer had light hair, Trixie said, and he gave her a “terrible feeling.” She was scared of him.

Trixie again discussed being taken to Janette’s residence and not getting out of the car, but telling the officer there was a horse. She said the officer went to check and came back to the car, telling her there was a horse statue just inside the window. 

She said she spoke to Detective Pratt for quite a while, and told him the two people that concerned her. Again, because this is an ongoing investigation, I feel it would be irresponsible to name potential suspects, but mostly because this is a psychic we’re talking about, for God’s sake, not an eyewitness.

I have no way of knowing if the pictures I showed Trixie were any of the same ones police did, though I think it is likely a few of them were. I also believe a couple were new to her, and a few that I think may have been shown to her by police, I did not ask about, simply because by the time I met with Trixie, I believed they had been ruled out.

Of the six pictures I brought, two made her uncomfortable. 

She pointed to one said, “I think he’s hiding something.” And that was it. 

A bit later, mid-conversation, she motioned for the pictures again, went through them, pulled out the same two and stared at them, shaking her head. 

“These two. Something with these two.”

Watching her, looking at her eyes, it was like watching someone try to grasp an object that was just out of their reach.

She again went over what she’d experienced when she went to Gambles pet department with the police. She told me she had descended the stairs into the pet department and pointed to where the tarp hung, after her sister complained about her stomach.

“Can I get through here?” Trixie said they pulled the tarp back and let her into the storage area where the back stairs were. That is where she “saw” the killer go up the stairs that had been obstructed by boxes at the first floor level. 

“I can see it…” she said, quietly, then told me about the killer having a cigarette in what she described as the corner of that back room which makes a backwards “L” shape that runs along the side and back of the pet department. Back in the crook of that “L” is the area where she said he’d “moved a board aside” and smoked a cigarette, then put it out in the sandy area and waited for Janette to come down.

According to Trixie, he grabbed her somewhere in that narrow area of the back room, put a hand over Janette’s mouth, and grabbed her by the neck, choking her. When she was passed out, he carried her down the narrow walkway, laid her down, and proceeded to do the “…things he did.”

Trixie paused and shuddered. 

“It was terrible.”

There seemed to be gaps in the action she was telling me, meaning she couldn’t see everything as it had happened in real time. It was at this point that something occurred to me.

“Trixie, you don’t see the killer, do you? I mean, you can’t describe him.”


“What do you see, then?” I asked.

“I see what he’s doing.”

I stifled a gasp as my stomach flopped. 

“You mean you see it from a first-person perspective? You see what he’s seeing?”

“Yes,” she nodded, her eyes still closed.

I swallowed hard as Trixie described how when he was finished with the “terrible things,” he went back up that narrow hallway, out through the pet department to the adjoining storage space, and up the back set of cement stairs. She said he waited until it was all clear and then went out, not far, to the left and up another stairway to what Trixie thought looked like an office.

“How does he feel, Trixie? Can you tell?” 

She’d been concentrating so hard with her eyes closed, moving and pointing with her hands in different directions as she spoke.

“Really mad. Upset.”

“What else do you see?” I asked, wondering just how much of her “gift” she’d lost to the stroke. It looked to me like it wasn’t all gone.

“Clothes. Gloves. He’s putting them in a bag.”

“Paper or plastic?” I asked. 

I had to choke down the urge to laugh. Not really a laugh. It was more like a choked gasp. How many times have I heard that at the grocery store? Paper or plastic?

“Paper, I think. I’m not sure.”

“Where did the gloves come from?” I asked. “When did he put them on?”

“After he had the cigarette. In the sandy place. They’re dark-colored. Gray, I think. Like work gloves.”
And for the second time, something occurred to me. 

“So he was wearing them during the attack?”

Trixie nodded. “Yes, I think so.”

“Can you see any weapons, Trixie?” 

I knew none of this was of any evidentiary value, but it was riveting, nonetheless. I just asked questions like I would if she was describing something she was really seeing, because to her it seemed like she was.

Trixie closed her eyes and paused. 

“A knife, I think. A jackknife.” There was a pause and then she opened her eyes. “No gun or anything like that.” 

Then she said it again. 

“He did horrible things.”

I nodded. There wasn’t anything I could say to that. Whoever it was did do horrible things to Janette Roberson. Things for which he had yet to pay. 

Justice was still waiting, and if it was anything like me, Justice was becoming pretty damn impatient.

“I don’t think she ever regained consciousness.” 

She said it like she was trying to console herself, and it’s the only thing Trixie told me that I choose to believe, without question. Janette’s injuries—numerous and brutal—were not quickly sustained. The only way I can see this through is to believe, unfailingly, that Janette Roberson never regained consciousness at any point during her attack.

The alternative is unfathomable. be continued...

Author Update: I got to know Trixie a bit, and because I had a relative who lived in the same apartments that she did, I was lucky enough to chat with her from time to time. One of the great privileges in researching this case was that I was able to meet some truly remarkable people. 

Trixie is one of those people. When she passed away, one of her family members asked if I would say a few words at her funeral. I'm going to paste them below, along with my favorite picture of her. 

I wrote it but I asked a family member to read it at the funeral, mostly because I didn't think I'd be able to get thru it without crying.

I met Trixie much in the same way I met her son, Ivan Youngs. I was working on a project and wondered if she would help me. 

With Trixie, it was an unsolved cold case I was researching for a book, and with Ivan it was a short film I was making with my mother. 

Later, I’d stop in the bar and pepper Ivan with historical questions about the town. He always humored me, as did Trixie. I’m grateful to them both for their kindness.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first met Trixie. 

She was the first thing I saw when I entered the foyer of her building.

“I thought you might be waiting for me,” I told her as I walked up. “Trixie, right?”

She smiled for a few seconds before she said, “I’m waiting for my mail.”

I liked her instantly

Over the course of our friendship, I learned that she had a bit of sass and stubbornness wrapped around a sweet soul. So, when Kay asked if I would mind jotting down a few memories to share, I agreed. She wanted the perspective of someone Trixie interacted with that wasn’t family, who wasn’t, as she said, “biased. We all love her.” 

Well, I am very fond of her, too. Trixie graciously sat with me multiple times, sharing her memories of a story that I found myself wishing she’d never been a part of. 

The first time I visited her, I noticed all the skeins of yarn at her feet and she explained that she made blankets that were donated to charity. But she wasn’t into small talk at that point. She was busy fishing for something in a pile of papers next to her.

“I drew this for you last night.” She handed me a piece of notepaper and my stomach instantly lurched. She’d drawn a diagram of a room that she wouldn’t have entered for three decades. It was probably more accurate than I could’ve drawn myself, and I’d been there recently. 

At that moment, I knew I should just sit back and listen to this woman, because she had something she wanted to say.

So that’s what I did. 

My first visit with Trixie was remarkable because, as I left, I could sense that she was glad to have shared the experience, and a little relieved to have handed some of the burden over to someone else for safekeeping.

When she sent word to me a few months ago that she wanted me to come see her again, I assumed it was because she wanted to visit. My aunt lived in her apartment building for a time, so I’d occasionally encounter Trixie and stop to say hello. I always enjoyed chatting and listening to her stories about when she was a girl. On one occasion, she let me read a short story she’d written. 

Another time, she told me about a near death experience she once had. 

But she had a specific reason for summoning me on that particular day, and after a brief bit of catching up, she got right to it. What we’d discussed at our previous visit had continued to weigh on her and she had something more she needed to share. It was clear that it had remained on her mind. One thing is for sure. I always had more to think over when I left her apartment. Trixie knew what she knew. She felt no need to embellish or add to her memory to make it more interesting. Her psychic ability felt, to me, as if she was tuned in to a frequency that most of us cannot see or hear.

This, more than anything, is what I admire about Trixie. I’ve since thought a lot about what it must’ve been like, her entire life seeing and knowing these things that, perhaps, weren’t meant to be seen. I believe people have a great capacity to absorb information, but I also think we were created with certain protective defaults. Things that keep us from absorbing more than we’re able to, while still keeping sane.

Trixie's gift meant that she saw more than she ever said. The first time we met, she insisted that she no longer had “the gift” after the stroke. This was something I later learned was not the case. Once she started recalling, the floodgate seemed to open, and she was able to tune back in to that frequency. I think it even surprised her.

But back at our first meeting, I had asked if she missed it, if suddenly not having that ability was disappointing.

“No,” she said, “because sometimes it made me sick, knowing all those things.”

I came to see “those things” as tiny burdens that she shouldered over a lifetime, on top of the regular ones we all carry as we move through our lives. In addition to sharing so much with me, personally, what I want to thank and honor Trixie for today are those tiny burdens; a lifetime of looking a little deeper at people than some of us care to look, for fear of what we’ll see.

Trixie shouldered these tiny burdens with grace and a matter-of-fact attitude that I found refreshing, and decent, and true. I won’t soon forget my time with her, or the impact her words and memories had on me.

Thank you, Trixie. 

Thank you for allowing me in. Your presence here will be missed.

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