Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Plus C'est la Meme Chose, Plus ca Change

By Beth Terrell

In John Knowles's A Separate Peace, the narrator, Gene, says, "Plus c'est la meme chose, plus ca change." It means, "The more things remain the same, the more they change." I interpret this to mean that our own changing perceptions make even the most familiar things unfamiliar. I love that saying, but I always get it backwards. I mean to get it right, but instead I say, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." These days I think both versions are true.

Our world has gone through a lot of changes in the past century or so. Messages that once took months to deliver can now be "instant messaged" in the blink of an eye. When I think about the fact that my Honda Accord can take me across the Kentucky line in less than an hour, it boggles my mind to realize that my grandmother personally knew a woman who had gone west in a covered wagon and survived being scalped by Indians. The more things change...

We've been talking about our personal brushes with crime lately, and sometimes it seems that the world is getting more and more brutal. Sometimes it seems there's a Ted Bundy or a BTK killer under every rock. It's easy to think of serial and spree killers as thoroughly modern inventions. But a few days ago as I was tooling around on the internet (I like to call this "research"), I came across an unsolved homicide in a Nashville community called Paradise Ridge. This coldest of cold cases dates from 1897, more than a century ago. ...The more they stay the same.

The article reminded me of the Clutter family murders Truman Capote wrote about in In Cold Blood, but in this case, the killer or killers torched the house after committing their crimes. It was ten o'clock at night on March 23 when a neighbor, Justice Simpson, came outside to get a drink of water and noticed that the nearby Ade house was ablaze. He rode the half mile to the house, which was already collapsing. The fire had been burning for about an hour and a half, and had spread to the smokehouse and several other small outbuildings. Simpson called out for the family to help him douse the flames. When there was no answer, he apparently went into the burning house and found five bodies.

The victims were 60-year-old Jacob Ade, his 50-year-old wife, Pauline, their two children (Lizze, 20, and Henry, 13), and a 10-year-old girl, Rosa Moirer. Rosa was the daughter of a neighbor, and I was unable to find out why she was at the Ade house that night. It was the wounds found on Rosa's body, which was less badly burned than the rest, that convinced investigators that the family had been murdered. Although there was no way to be certain, investigators pieced together the crime. It looked like the entire family had been in the parlor when the murderer entered the house and killed Mr. Ade. The others attempted to escape through the windows but were either struck down before they could escape or forced back by an accomplice. Because of the condition and position of little Rosa's body, investigators surmised that she had escaped the initial attack, then been caught and killed and her body thrown into the already burning house.

The motive? Surely a murder so brutal must have been prompted by personal animosity. But no. The Ades were well-liked and well-respected in their community. John had once accused a neighbor of stealing hogs, but that issue had been resolved, and besides, the neighbor had an alibi. Robbery, perhaps? Maybe. John Ade had recently withdrawn $300 from a bank in Nashville. He'd planned to lend the money to a friend. If the killer(s) had known about the withdrawal, might they have gone to the Ade home to take it by force? If so, they were frustrated in the attempt, because the money was later found in an oyster can in what remained of the bedroom closet.

But the killers did not go away empty-handed. John was said to have been storing a large quantity of meat, which was never found. I don't know what a large quantity of meat would have been, but surely there is no amount of meat that would have been worth the lives of five human beings. Surely nothing would have been worth that.

The killers were never apprehended. The fire and a rainstorm destroyed any evidence investigators may have found. The murderers will never be brought to justice--not in this life anyway, not in the courts of men. They, like their victims, are long dead. I wonder if they were haunted by the memory of what they'd done, or if they simply moved from Paradise Ridge to some other small town, some other easy mark. With no FBI databases, no national media, and no internet, how would anyone ever have known?

The more things change, the more they remain the same. There have always been monsters among us. I hold out the hope that one day this will no longer be true.

In the meantime...I'd like to thank those real-life heroes--the police officers, detectives, and special agents--who stand between us and the monsters. We don't say it enough, but we're glad you're out there, doing what you do.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Very good article, Beth. Fred Grove wrote his first book about a similar type of killing in Fairfax, Oklahoma, where a wealthy Osage woman and her family were killed and the house burned by her own son-in-law. Facts will always be stranger than fiction, and they certainly provide the basis for some good novels.

Ben Small said...

Good one, Beth. Reminds me of the little old lady in Indy, where I grew up, who had $8 stashed in trash bags in her house. Name of Jackson, I believe, the wife of a supermarket magnate. She was a bit dotty, you might say. Anyway, a bunch of murdering thieves burst in, murdered her, stole the moola and burned the house down, a house, just a mile south of mine at the time. There was panic in the city for several days until the bad guys were caught. The idiots tried to buy two Lincoln Continentals, and believe it or not, pulled money out of trash bags, sort of a dead give-away in a city where the newspapers and media were going on and on about her stolen millions in trash bags. At the time, this was the largest robbery in U.S. history.

Ben Small said...

Oh, I meant $8 MILLION.