Chasing the Boogeyman
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The New York Times bestselling coauthor of Gwendy's Button Box brings his signature thrilling prose to this story of small-town evil that combines the storytelling of Stephen King with the true-crime suspense of Michelle McNamara.
In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman-and he's playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.
Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer's reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.
A clever, terrifying, and heartrending work of metafiction, 'Chasing the Boogeyman does what true crime so often cannot: it offers both chills and a satisfying conclusion' (Stephen King). Chizmar's 'brilliant . . . absolutely fascinating, totally compelling, and immediately poignant' (C.J. Tudor, New York Times bestselling author) writing is on full display in this truly unique novel that will haunt you long the words.
(P) 2021 Simon & Schuster
Release date: August 17, 2021
Publisher: Gallery Books
Print pages: 336
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Chasing the Boogeyman
one The Town
"It was during those long, slow, breathless walks up that gravel driveway that I first began telling scary stories to my friends…"
Before I get to the Boogeyman and his reign of terror during the summer and fall of 1988, I want to tell you about the town where I grew up. It's important that you carry with you a clear picture of the place—and the people who live there—as you read the story that follows, so you can understand exactly what it is we all lost. There is a John Milton quote that I think of often while driving the streets of my hometown: "Innocence, once lost, can never be regained. Darkness, once gazed upon, can never be lost."
For the citizens of Edgewood, this was our time of darkness.
I believe that most small towns wear two faces: a public one comprised of verifiable facts involving historical timelines, demographics, matters of economy and geography; and a hidden, considerably more private face formed by a fragile spiderweb of stories, memories, rumors, and secrets passed down from generation to generation, whispered by those who know the town best.
Edgewood, Maryland, located twenty-five miles northeast of Baltimore in southern Harford County, was no exception. Situated in the top center of an inverted triangular peninsula created by the Chesapeake Bay to the south, the Gunpowder River to the west, and the Bush River to the east, Edgewood was originally home to a number of Native Americans, most notably the Powhatan and Susquehannock tribes. Captain John Smith was among the first to navigate the Bush River, naming it "Willowbyes Flu" after his beloved hometown in England. In 1732, the Presbury Meetinghouse was established on the river's shoreline as one of the first Methodist churches in America.
A railroad system constructed through the area in 1835 provided distribution for local agricultural markets, and the railroad's extension in the mid-1850s provided a foundation for the town of Edgewood's development. The wooden railroad bridge crossing the nearby Gunpowder River was burned in April 1861 during the Baltimore riots, and Confederate soldiers burned it a second time in July 1864.
Although the population of Edgewood was a mere three-dozen full-time residents in 1878, the railroad and neighboring countryside's lush farmland contributed to eventual growth. Before long, there was an abundance of new homes in the area, including a number of extravagant residences, many erected by businessmen commuting daily to Baltimore via train. A schoolhouse, post office, hotel, general store, and blacksmith were soon established within the town's borders.
The Edgewood train station also experienced increased popularity because of its proximity to valuable hunting grounds for numerous species of waterfowl. Soon, gentlemen sportsmen from northeastern cities as far-ranging as New York and Boston traveled to Edgewood to take part in the hunt. General George Cadwalader, a colorful war hero and respected Philadelphia lawyer, gradually acquired large plots of property in the area, consisting of almost eight thousand acres, and invited affluent and influential friends to visit. He leased waterfront land to various hunting clubs and established more than a dozen farms on the property. Hardworking tenant farmers paid Cadwalader a healthy percentage of their seasonal crops.
Another prominent figure in Edgewood's early days was Herman W. "Boss" Hanson. A prosperous gentleman farmer and longtime member of the Maryland House of Delegates, Hanson was also a shrewd businessman. Tomatoes were his company's most profitable crop and at one point, he operated four canneries in the area and purchased all the other local farmers' tomatoes to fill orders. The canned fruit was marketed under the Queen Brand and sold all over the country, eventually even shipping overseas.
The only real drama in the town's history up until that point arrived in the summer of 1903, when a group of armed outlaws attempted to rob a payroll train docked at the Edgewood Station. A fierce gunfight erupted with the local constable and his men, resulting in the death of two lawmen, a civilian employee of the payroll company, and all six of the outlaws. A local newspaper reporter counted over two hundred and fifty bullet holes in the station's walls. Fortunately, such violence was rare in the still-rural town.
A short distance down the tracks was the Magnolia Station, named for the lovely magnolia trees that flourished there. Across from the station was Magnolia Meadows, a popular resort for picnics, outdoor events, and excursion parties from Baltimore. A spacious pavilion centered in the grove was used for dances and weddings, and by the early 1900s, Magnolia boasted a post office, church, schoolhouse, canning house, general store, shoe shop, and barbershop.
The pastoral life of those living in and around Edgewood changed dramatically in October 1917, when the U.S. government took possession of all the land south of the railroad tracks to create Edgewood Arsenal military complex. Thousands of people flocked to the area to construct a number of facilities designed to handle the various aspects of chemical weaponry. The government built massive plants to produce such toxic chemicals as mustard gas, chlorine, chloropicrin, and phosgene. They even produced gas masks for horses, donkeys, and dogs. Peak employment during July 1918 totaled 8,342 civilians and 7,175 military personnel.
While wealthy residents such as General Cadwalader were reimbursed for their lost property, local tenant farmers and sharecroppers received no such payments. A number of Black farmers relocated to establish a small community of modest homes in the Magnolia area known as Dembytown. A general store, a two-room schoolhouse, and a ramshackle jazz club called the Black Hole were erected in a trio of narrow clapboard buildings along the northeastern border of Dembytown. The club burned down in 1920 under suspicious circumstances.
The burgeoning military presence soon transformed Edgewood. Schools, housing, and a multitude of businesses spread across the area. World War II brought yet another wave of military personnel and civilians to town. A modernized train station was hurriedly built to handle the great influx of people. Additional civilian barracks and off-post housing units were constructed in numerous Edgewood locations, including a twenty-six-acre development named Cedar Drive. The overflow of new residents, coupled with the completion of Route 40, a four-lane highway cutting through Edgewood, spurred further economic development. Edgewood Meadows, a sprawling community of single-family homes, was established in the early 1950s. Old Edgewood Road and Hanson Road bisected the sprawling development, and both roadways were soon dotted with commercial establishments. Farther south on Hanson Road, a sprawling community of affordable town houses, the Courts of Harford Square, was constructed, replacing over a hundred acres of fertile farmland. Sitting upon a grassy hill overlooking the new development stood the original "Hanson House" built by Thomas Hanson in the early 1800s. The grand Victorian home featured fifty-one windows and seven gables, and was the first house in Edgewood to enjoy indoor plumbing. In 1963, the Edgewood Public Library opened on Hanson Road across from the bustling Acme supermarket. Later that same year, the Edgewood exit on Interstate 95 opened, spawning even greater numbers of residential neighborhoods. To support the influx of young students in the area, three spacious schools—a high school, middle school, and elementary school—were built on 102 acres along Willoughby Beach Road.
But with every boom there comes the inevitable bust—and in the years following the United States military's involvement in Vietnam, a number of weapons testing programs at Edgewood Arsenal were either downsized or canceled altogether. Troops and civilian personnel were transferred to other bases along the East Coast and, soon after, numerous remote sections of the Arsenal took on the appearance of a ghost town. For several years, there were well-publicized rumors that the U.S. government planned to open a paratrooper school in the abandoned areas, but those plans never materialized.
By the late 1980s, the unincorporated community of Edgewood covered almost seventeen square miles. Population hovered at nearly 18,000 people—68% White, 27% African American, and 3.5% Hispanic. The median household income was a slightly below national average, $40,500. The average household was 2.81 occupants, and the average family size was 3.21.
This was the public face of Edgewood, Maryland.
This is the Edgewood I know and love:
I grew up in a modest two-story house with green shutters and a sloping driveway at the corner of Hanson and Tupelo Roads. That house and the sidewalks, streets, and yards that surrounded it were my entire world from the time I was five years old until I left for college at the age of seventeen. My parents still live there today.
I was the youngest of five children—following in the footsteps of three sisters (Rita, Mary, and Nancy) and the eldest of the bunch, my brother (John)—by a margin of nearly eight years. In other words, I was probably a mistake. I've never actually asked my parents if that was the case, but I've heard it enough times from my siblings to mostly believe it to be true. Regardless, it never really mattered.
My father (retired U.S. Air Force, a quiet, hardworking man of decency and integrity) and my mother (a diminutive-in-stature caregiver of the first order, and still very much the Ecuadorian beauty my father married) treated their children with equal measures of love and understanding and patience. Well, almost. I must admit that as the youngest—and some say the cutest—not to mention the last of the Chizmar clan to live under their roof, I very well may be my parents' favorite.
But I digress.
The white-painted front door and large bay window of our house peered out upon Hanson Road, one of the busiest-traveled roadways in all of Edgewood. The speed limit sign posted directly across the street read 25 mph, but few drivers obeyed that particular law. The right side of our house bordered Tupelo Road, a much quieter, tree-lined avenue that stretched all the way from Tupelo Court across the street to Presbury United Methodist Church on Edgewood Road.
A small, enclosed breezeway connected our dining room to a single-car garage. The garage was my father's private place, his sanctuary. Growing up, I was alternately intimidated and fascinated by it. For whatever reason, it always reminded me of the magical and chaotic sorcerer's workshop in the Disney movie Fantasia. A narrow homemade workbench lined much of the far wall. Hanging above it, covering every available inch of mounted pegboard, were dozens of tools and gadgets, mysteriously labeled and organized in ways I still don't understand to this day. At opposite ends of the bench, tucked against the wall and stacked atop each other, were four cube-shaped organizers featuring rows of small plastic drawers, each neatly labeled and filled with various-sized nuts, bolts, nails, and washers. Attached to either end at the front of the bench was a pair of large steel vises. Underneath were tidy stacks of pre-cut lumber, a number of plastic buckets, and a couple of old stepstools. The garage's remaining wall space was taken up by sheets of leaning plywood, old furniture awaiting repair, and large, dangerous-looking machinery: a table saw with gleaming metal teeth, a twin-belt sander, a router, and drill press. To my friends and me, the machines all resembled sophisticated instruments of torture. Higher up on the walls hung shelf upon shelf, also homemade, stacked with small cardboard boxes, glass jars, and old coffee cans labeled with strips of masking tape bearing my father's all-caps handwriting: ROPE. TAPE. WIRE. BRACKETS. CLAMPS. BALL BEARINGS. In other words, the stuff of magic when you're eight years old.
Unfortunately, the rest of the house wasn't nearly as interesting. A small kitchen, dining room, living room, and foyer occupied the first floor. An antique stereo cabinet, housing my father's impressive collection of jazz records, was centered beneath the bay window, and several mahogany bookcases lined the walls. The sofa and accompanying armchair were inexplicably green. Upstairs, there were three modest-sized bedrooms and a bathroom. My bedroom was situated in the far corner with windows facing both the side and back yards. On the lowest level was a prone-to-flooding basement with dark paneled walls, sectional sofa, his and her recliners, a black-and-white marble coffee table on which my father played solitaire most every evening, an RCA television, and a spectacular hand-carved cuckoo clock centered on the back wall.
One of my favorite places in the house was the large screened-in back porch accessible through a sliding glass door off the rear of the dining room. I spent countless summer evenings on that porch—reading comics and paperback books, sorting baseball and football cards, or playing board games with friends. My mother would bring out a pitcher of homemade lemonade and chocolate chip cookies still warm and gooey from the oven, and my friends and I would feel like kings of the world. We also had sleepovers out there when the weather was warm enough.
Despite my early love of reading, not to mention obsessively watching scary movies and westerns on TV, I was an outdoors boy. From the day we moved in, I spent countless hours beneath the ageless weeping willow tree that stood watch in our side yard, pretending I was Cy Young Award–winning pitcher Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles. I'd use the heels of my old tennis shoes to carve out a pitcher's rubber in the grass, and then I'd go into my best trademark high-leg-kick wind-up and hurl fastball after fastball at a square patch of bare concrete wall, located dangerously close to the basement window. I still consider it a small miracle that I never once broke that window, but the green shutter bordering the window's left edge paid dearly for my youthful arrogance. Dented and battered beyond recognition from hundreds of errant throws—high and inside to my imaginary right-handed batters—it barely managed to cling to the wall with a pair of bent and rusty nails. That beat-up shutter remains a sore subject to this day between my father and me.
The sidewalk that ran in front of my house, parallel to Hanson Road, had thirty-three cracks of various sizes and shapes. The sidewalk that ran alongside Tupelo had nineteen. I knew those walkways like the back of my hand. I'd walked, skateboarded, or biked them every day for twelve years. When we were young boys, my friends and I built ramps with concrete blocks and wooden boards salvaged from construction sites or "borrowed" from my father's workshop, and jumped them on our bikes. More often than not, we were bare-chested with nary a helmet in sight. Once, we even convinced a little kid who lived a few blocks away to do it blindfolded. That didn't end well, and we never tried it again. Sometimes we upped the ante, soaring over trash cans or plastic bags filled with grass and leaves. Other times, we lay down side by side on the sidewalk and jumped over each other. Believe me when I say that lying on your back on a sun-blasted slab of concrete with your arms at your sides and your eyes closed, letting your idiot friend who truly believes he's Evel Knievel hurtle over you on a bicycle, is the apex of blind adolescent loyalty.
One summer afternoon, my buddy Norman's older sister, Melody—a local force to be reckoned with as she already had her driver's license and smoked unfiltered cigarettes—swung her Trans Am into the driveway next door, got out, and implored us to let her take a turn. After initially refusing, Norm finally relented and handed over his bright-green, chopper-style Huffy bicycle. I remember it like it was yesterday. David Bowie was blaring from the midnight-black Trans Am's speakers as Melody rode all the way up the hill on Tupelo and didn't turn around until she'd reached the fire hydrant at the corner of Cherry Court. Then, she'd started pedaling. Fast. Too fast. My friends and I stood on the curb, slack-jawed with awe, as she hit the base of the ramp at a good twenty-five miles per hour and hurtled through space at least fifteen or twenty feet up in the air, her long, dirty-blond hair streaming out behind her like a superhero cape. When the Huffy's tires met the earth again with a loud twack, we all cheered and then quickly went quiet again as the tires immediately began to shimmy and wobble out of control. Before any of us could shout a warning to watch out for the traffic on Hanson Road, the bike—with Melody now hanging on for dear life—crashed into the stop sign at the corner, flinging her onto the sidewalk like a rag doll. En masse, we sprinted to her side, certain that we were about to see our first dead body. Instead, she propped herself up on one skinned elbow, her splayed legs and right forearm a pulpy mess of bloody road rash, and started laughing. We couldn't believe it. Not only was she still alive, she thought the whole damn thing was hilarious. Talk about a freaking legend.
Norm was the only one unimpressed. Furious because the frame of his bike—a recent birthday present from his parents—was twisted into an ugly and clearly unrepairable pretzel shape, he let loose with a barrage of colorful language. Most of which I heard about later because, I have to admit, I was barely paying attention. Instead, I stood there in my side yard, eyes wide, staring down at the deliciously tan flesh of Melody's bare torso, which had been generously exposed when the orange tank top she was wearing had been pushed up and torn away after contacting the sidewalk. Above that flat, smooth, tanned tummy of hers, I could just make out a deep-red sliver of lacey bra cupping a pale mound of bare breast—the first brassiere and boob this nine-year-old had ever laid eyes on in real life. My eyes were glued to all of this like a dirty old man at a crowded beach until she finally made it to her feet, brushed herself off, climbed back into her Trans Am, and drove away. It was one of the greatest days of my young life.
My father was a big believer that people should take good care of the things they owned. It was a matter of pride with him. Our cars were always washed and waxed, and the interior and exterior of the house was uniformly tidy. But I think he reserved his most special attention for the lawn. He'd fertilize in the spring and fall, trim the bushes and trees on a regular basis, pick up fallen limbs after summer thunderstorms, edge the grass along the sidewalks (he was particularly conscientious about this task, oftentimes carving deep trenches on each side of the walkways that inevitably snagged our bike tires, causing more than a handful of spectacular, high-speed accidents; I'm still not convinced this wasn't intentional on his part), and mow the grass once a week like clockwork with an almost religious fervor.
As luck would have it, we had one of the largest yards in the neighborhood and, much to my father's chagrin, it served as a frequent playground for my friends. We played everything from Wiffle ball and kickball to miniature golf and war. Permanent base paths, in the shape of a diamond, were worn into my father's precious lawn. Old dog-chewed Frisbees and trash can lids served as bases. The sagging telephone wire that stretched across Tupelo Road served as automatic home run territory. The ground often shook under our feet as we played, and the muffled thump of faraway explosions could be heard as weapon testing operations commenced at Edgewood Arsenal. It wasn't unusual for squadrons of fighter planes or helicopters to fly above our heads on their way to or from Aberdeen Proving Ground—where my father worked the early shift as an aircraft mechanic. When that happened, we inevitably stopped whatever we were doing and pretended to shoot them down with invisible machine guns and bazookas.
I often set up magic shows in the breezeway, charging attendees ten cents a head, and makeshift carnivals in the side yard, using old, discarded toys and comic books as game prizes—all in an attempt to pry loose change from the younger kids' pockets. I also set up a card table on the sidewalk at the corner of Hanson and Tupelo and hawked waxed paper cups of ice-cold lemonade to passing drivers.
A mature plum tree and a tangled cluster of crab apple trees grew in the front corner of the yard, supplying us with plenty of ammunition for our frequent neighborhood battles. The trees also provided perfect cover for bombing cars. If there was one weakness I had as a young man, one bad habit I was unable to break no matter how many times I'd been caught and lectured and punished, it was throwing crab apples or dirt clods or snowballs at passing traffic. I have no explanation for this failing of character other than to say if you've ever lain on your stomach in the cool summer grass waiting for an approaching vehicle, sprung to your feet, hurled a small round object at said vehicle, and then listened to the beautiful boom of impact, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. It was even more fun when the drivers pulled over and chased us. For us Hanson Road boys, those were treasured moments of sheer, unbridled joy and adrenaline, and we longed to relive them over and over again. There was a lengthy period of time when I think my flabbergasted father fully believed I was heading for reform school or maybe even prison due to my addiction. After a while, he gave up talking to me about the subject. My sweet mother tried to steer me back with "Why don't you boys chase fireflies or play marbles?" but by that time those were kiddie games and held little interest. No one was more relieved than my folks when I finally gave up the habit for good only a short time before I left for college.
If the house with green shutters and the ancient weeping willow tree represented the center of my world growing up—the hub of my "wheel of life," as I later began to think of it—then each road, big or small, leading away from that house resembled a spoke in that ever-turning wheel, every one of them fanning out in a different direction, eventually running out of space to roam, and serving to collectively define the outer boundaries of my beloved hometown.
Regardless of what any map might show, for me, the town of Edgewood stretched from the Courts of Harford Square (about a mile north of my house along Hanson Road) to the shoreline of Flying Point Park bordering the Bush River (a couple miles south of the high school, which was located exactly one mile from my driveway). Yes, the old cliché holds true: my friends and I walked a mile to and from school every day until we were old enough to drive. We'd barely missed, by a block and a half, the cutoff to ride the bus, but we didn't really mind. The long walk gave us more time to screw around before and after school, and delayed the inevitable drudgery of homework. It also gave us additional opportunities to throw small round objects at passing cars, or even better, at school buses.
I was blessed with an army of companions growing up, but my closest friends, my true partners in crime, were Jimmy and Jeffrey Cavanaugh, who lived two houses farther up the hill from me on Hanson Road. The Cavanaughs were crafty and mischievous and a hell of a lot of fun to be around. Brian and Craig Anderson lived right next door to them. Daredevils both, the Anderson brothers were too alike and hot-tempered to really get along on a consistent basis. Two memorable incidents best defined this dynamic. In one instance, a heated argument led to Craig storming upstairs into the kitchen, where he grabbed a dirty steak knife from the sink and returned downstairs to stab Brian in the upper thigh. To his credit, it was Craig who bandaged his older brother's leg that day and eventually phoned the ambulance. In the second, Craig, in a moment of pure rage one blisteringly hot summer afternoon, actually dropped his shorts to his ankles and squatted in the middle of Hanson Road, defecated into his cupped hand, and proceeded to chase down his fleeing brother, flinging a handful of fresh poo onto Brian's shirtless back like an ill-tempered monkey in the zoo. I know it sounds disgusting and far-fetched in equal measure, but I was there to witness it—and what an astounding sight it was to behold. I'll never forget it.
Jimmy and Brian were a year behind me in school (Jeff and Craig several years behind their older, but not much wiser, siblings), so the three of us were especially close. Based on advanced age and the ingrained bossiness that comes along with having three older sisters, I usually assumed the leadership role of our small neighborhood crew. Jimmy and Brian never seemed to mind, and I can't remember a single plan of theirs that we didn't enthusiastically embrace as well. Depending on whom you asked, we were either the Three Musketeers or the Three Stooges. People knew us and we knew them—every single kid in our section of Edgewood and most of the grown-ups existed on our daily radar. And we knew stuff, too. We knew where the pretty girls lived, where the shortcuts were, which cigarette machines in which gas stations always had extra packs of matches left over in the tray (an invaluable currency of which there was perhaps only one equal: firecrackers), which dumpsters held the most returnable soda bottles, and which tree houses held hidden caches of dirty magazines. We knew which parents spanked their kids and which ones drank too much; which neighbors with swimming pools attended church on Sunday mornings—meaning it was safe for us to pool-hop—and when we were older, which stores would sell us alcohol, where the cops hid with radar guns, and which parking lots were safe for making out with a girl.
A typical summer day for us ran the gamut of youthful adventure. We played every outdoor sport known to man, and some others that we invented out of sheer boredom. We popped tar bubbles on the road with our toes. Cheated at Marco Polo in the Cavanaughs' aboveground swimming pool. Fished in the nearby creeks, ponds, and rivers. Explored the endless woods, and built secret underground forts. Sometimes, our good friend Steve Sines would join us and bring along his father's .22 semiautomatic rifle. We'd spend long afternoons hunting for crows and vultures in the woods or shooting at empty cans and bottles. Other times, we'd practice responsible gun safety by pointing at each other's shoes and yelling, "Jump!" before pulling the trigger and blasting the dirt where our friend's feet had stood only seconds earlier. It's a miracle we still have all our toes.
Other days, we might shimmy up a drainage pipe onto the roof of Cedar Drive Elementary and pretend we were standing on a snow-covered mountaintop in a faraway land. Or we'd climb a similar drainage pipe to the top of the Texaco gas station at the junction of Hanson and Edgewood Roads and moon the passing drivers (that particular stunt screeched to a regretful halt one memorable afternoon when my father spotted the glare of our skinny, pale asses on his way home from work. I was grounded for a week).
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