PARADOX FORGED IN BLOOD - Excerpt
June 7, 1986
Ellen O’Malley Szabo thought to herself, for perhaps the hundredth time today, why couldn’t the past stay where it belonged? It held such power over the present and impacted the lives of many, including her own. Ellen knew her well-kept secret of more than 40 years would be revealed, and with it, her complicit actions leading to murder. Yes, the past would wreak havoc on so many people including her family, who believed her to be a saint. Just the thought of their disappointment would be heartbreaking. But Ellen had to put her feelings aside and act normally as she sat upstairs in her bedroom waiting for the “surprise” birthday party being prepared downstairs.
Despite her advancing years, Ellen had an energy that belied her age and an irrepressible laugh and charm, which made others long to be around her. Today her children and grandchildren prepared for her long-awaited seventieth birthday party. As the giggles and suppressed laughter wafted upstairs, she imagined the decorations, food preparations, and last-minute gift wrapping.
Recently widowed when her beloved Frank died in his sleep, Ellen’s adjustment was difficult following forty-two years of marriage. At the beginning of each day, she awoke with a smile on her face, ready for the day’s adventures. But her happiness quickly disappeared when she reached over to Frank’s side of the bed—a cruel reminder he was gone. Their children used to call them “the dynamic duo,” always on the go and eager to explore a new town or event. Many days, she found it difficult to get out of bed as tears rolled down her face at the prospect of facing another day alone. She knew her four children were concerned, but they had their own lives to lead. Their festive attempts to cheer their mother with a birthday feast following her devastating loss did bring a smile to her face.
How she could go on when a piece of her soul died as Frank took his last breath? They had so many plans and a love that grew stronger with each passing day, firmly believing they had all the time in the world. But time, a fleeting, heartless commodity, steals away your dreams and leaves you in a waking nightmare until your body succumbs to sleep. In her dreams, she was free to be in Frank’s arms once again as they danced the night away and laughed with abandon.
As Ellen got up to retrieve the newspaper from her dresser, the reflection staring back at the mirror was a complete stranger. Furrows creased her forehead and deep lines appeared on her cheeks. When did I look so old? Surely the lines weren’t there yesterday. With a heavy sigh, Ellen sat in her favorite rocking chair and picked up the newspaper.
With trepidation, she glanced at the headline story in The Cleveland NorthShore Post. She felt the past dragging her back into its cold and unforgiving clutches. One moment in a lifetime of moments changed her life forever, and she harbored a secret for more than forty-five years, even from her beloved Frank.
Despite her plan to catch a quick nap before partaking in today’s festivities, the anxiety generated by recent events refused to dull the pain or provide any release. Hoping in vain to find answers she instinctively knew weren’t there, Ellen reread the editorial that changed her life.
The Cleveland NorthShore Post
Saturday June 7, 1986 60¢
Cold Case Unit Reopens 1939 Murder of Cleveland Socialite
with Receipt of Missing Evidence
CLEVELAND, OHIO. Forty-seven years ago on December 23, 1939, socialites Louis and Marianne Sheridan attended a party leaving three people at home: Alice Webber, the housekeeper; Bridget, the Sheridan’s seven-month-old daughter; and Ellen O’Malley, the nanny.
A neighbor heard a loud scream about 9:00 p.m. and called the police. Cleveland detectives Frank Szabo and Kevin Collins found the Sheridans’ front door open and two bodies lying in a heap inside the foyer. Although Marianne was alive, her husband had sustained a fatal gunshot wound.
Mrs. Sheridan remembered a sense of great alarm at the sight of a burglar, dressed in black from head to toe, lunging toward her husband. Prior to losing consciousness, and after her husband pulled off the murderer’s dark, transparent mask, she heard a loud explosion. Her last recollection of the intruder was a vague impression of red hair.
The housekeeper, feverish all day, had retired to her bedroom around 7:00 p.m. Ms. Webber did not awaken until she heard the commotion and saw the Sheridans lying on the floor. She was unable to provide any useful facts about the case.
When Detective Szabo questioned the nanny, Ms. O’Malley stated she had heard a noise downstairs at approximately 8:30 p.m. Following a cursory check of the first floor, she assumed the racket was caused by the howling wind and the trees banging against the house. Ms. O’Malley returned upstairs where she remained until Bridget fell into a deep sleep. As she exited the nursery, she heard Mrs. Sheridan’s scream.
Ms. O’Malley stifled a cry as she looked over the balcony. The Sheridans were slumped together on the floor with an ever-growing red pool of blood spreading around Mr. Sheridan. His eyes remained open in a death stare. As she ran downstairs, Ms. O’Malley briefly saw a red-haired man dressed in black running out the front door.
When she reached the foot of the stairs, Ms. O’Malley heard Mrs. Sheridan moan softly. Ms. O’Malley ran into the downstairs bathroom in search of smelling salts to revive Mrs. Sheridan. Without realizing it, Ms. O’Malley knelt in the sticky red pool on the floor as she administered aid to Mrs. Sheridan.
A thorough search of the home and grounds did not reveal the mask or murder weapon. Despite a canvas of the neighborhood and mounting fear from nearby residents along Millionaire’s Row, the only available clue was a description of the getaway car. Despite heavy political pressure for a speedy resolution, the case closed in late 1941 without an arrest. The police file attributed the robbery to a series of similar heists in the area, although this was the first time violence had occurred.
Two days ago, Cleveland police received a package wrapped in the 1939 newspaper account of the murder. The anonymous submission contained a small handgun covered with a dried substance (believed to be blood), a mask, and a sheet of paper with the cryptic handwritten message Forgive Me.
Through the use of enhanced imaging techniques, forensic pathologists conducted RFLP testing—the latest tool used by forensic pathologists in identifying the genetic coding of an individual. Future installments, including police and witness interviews, will be posted when available as this strange tale with a mysterious twist unfolds.
Byline: Chris Hooker
The murder of Louis Sheridan forever fractured time for Ellen into events characterized as “before” or “after” the homicide. Even to this day, the painful memories engulfed a surreal quality with gory details that failed to diminish or bow to the passage of time.
She realized introspection of her motives on the unfortunate December night (when Ellen was twenty-three years old) would be fundamental in understanding her actions. She knew placing them in their proper context may dispel the uneasy sensation continuing to resonate in her life. However, to fully understand her behavior, Ellen had to examine events leading up to the Sheridan murder—including the painful memories of her brother’s abduction, the Great Depression, and frightening encounters with Nazis in America.
In times of extreme stress, sleep (or relaxation when sleep was illusive) had been her link to sanity. Anesthetizing her guilt-ridden conscience, Ellen sat back and allowed her mind to journey back in time to the very beginning—as her memories unfolded like a sepia-toned movie on a projector running of its own accord.
Excerpt from Paradox Forged in Blood ©Mary Frances Fisher