I’ve been debating whether to take “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher” and turn it into a narrative nonfiction (or creative nonfiction) book, and perhaps beyond that a screenplay.
This genre of book basically is rooted in fact, but reads like fiction. My book right now reads like a documentary. To achieve this new book, I’ll need to add dialogue, and make it read more like a work of fiction.
Literary critic Barbara Lounsberry — in her book The Art of Fact — says, “Verifiable subject matter and exhaustive research guarantee the nonfiction side of literary nonfiction; the narrative form and structure disclose the writer’s artistry; and finally, its polished language reveals that the goal all along has been literature.”
With that in mind, I’ve written a rough draft of Chapter One of this new book. It could be a precursor to a screenplay (and movie!) or it could just stand on its own as a second book on the case.
Let me know what you think of this, and if you think this might be a good avenue to pursue.
Chapter 1 ~ April 1969
Art Schumacher was preparing to leave his home for the last time. After living the past 42 years in the two-story, arts-and-crafts house he had built for him and his family in 1927, it was time to let someone else cut the grass, cook the meals and do the laundry.
At 83 years old with a nagging throat problem that would eventually prove to be cancerous and require a tracheotomy, and with his precious wife, Florence, having passed away eight years earlier, Art knew the time was right to move into a nursing home.
The sky was virtually cloudless and the air was especially warm for an early April day in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a suburb just to the west of Milwaukee. A ray of sun shone in through a window overlooking the driveway, illuminating an old, brown suitcase lying open on Art’s bed.
He stood in the second-floor bedroom, pulling clothes from his dresser and placing them into the suitcase. After each white T-shirt or pair of black socks he fit into the suitcase, he took a glance out the window that overlooked Hillcrest Drive to see if the couple that had bought his house had arrived yet to show the house to their three young sons.
As Art packed, memories of his time in this house wafted through his mind. He thought about the day he, Florence, and their daughter, Jeanette, moved into the house with its front porch, basement, single-car detached garage and a small apple tree and vegetable garden in the backyard. Several of the lots on what was then called Center Street were still undeveloped as the Schumacher house was one of the first wave built on this particular chunk of former farmland during a period of great growth in Wauwatosa.
The Schumachers lived in three other locations around town before coming to 176 Center Street from “The Village,” the city’s main business area. A few years later, the town changed many of its street names and its house numbering system, and the address became 8118 Hillcrest Drive. No matter the address, the house always sat on a peaceful, tree-lined street that crossed the city from east to west.
Art was happy to live in such a quiet area; The Village area didn’t hold very good memories for him and he tried to avoid thinking about his family’s time there as much as possible.
He took a break from packing and sat on an old brown chair next to his bed and thought about his darling Florence. He and “Sis,” as he often affectionately called his wife because of her affinity for playing games with her brothers when she was younger, had been neighborhood favorites for their compassion, honesty, good nature and love of children.
Florence was an exceptionally warm and caring person who never had a bad word to say about anyone. She often did her ironing in the kitchen with the radio tuned into baseball games featuring Milwaukee’s professional teams. And did she get excited when her team won!
A smile came to Art’s face as he remembered Florence jumping around the house when the Milwaukee Braves beat those evil New York Yankees in the 1957 World Series. The smile slowly vanished as he thought about Florence passing away from the effects of a stroke in this very bedroom just four years later.
The Schumachers were even closer to their church family than their neighborhood friends. They worshipped at Mount Olive Lutheran Church on the far west side of Milwaukee. Mount Olive families often gathered together on weekends at each other’s homes to eat, play cards and socialize, sometimes sipping a single glass of wine, sometimes not.
Art reached over to the top of his dresser and picked up a wooden playing card holder carved into in the shape of a book with a secret compartment for the deck of cards. A caricature of a farmer in bib overalls smoking a pipe had been burned into the “cover” of the book, while the initials “A.S.” were burned into the back of it. Art made great use of this card holder through the years, with the game of choice being sheepshead, a trick-taking game that Art and his friends called “schafkopf,” the German name for the game.
He returned the card holder to its place and picked up a cane that was also sitting on top of the dresser. He held onto hooked end and gently poked the cane into a straw hat at the far end of the dresser. A fake mustache sat on top of the hat, his props when singing with his barbershop quartet, the Mellow Fellows, which was happy to share its talents around the Milwaukee area back in the day and even won a few awards along the way.
Years of smoking had finally caught up to Art in recent years and cost him his singing voice, something that really upset him. He shook his head gently, sighed and put the cane back on the dresser. He got up and peered out the front window again. No, the Hoffmans had yet to arrive.
Art turned around slowly and left the bedroom and headed across the hall and into the attic. He opened the door to plenty of dust, a few cobwebs and a whole slew of boxes stacked up on the floor and a couple old garment bags hung up on a makeshift clothes rack. The hallway light and a window at the back of the attic provided enough light to see.
Art maneuvered his way through the small room to a wind overlooking his backyard. The raspberry bushes in his garden at the far end hadn’t bore fruit yet, but they were getting green with leaves. He’d planted all sorts of vegetables over the years in his garden, taking particular pride in the beautiful, tasty tomatoes he grew. While tending to his garden was one of his loves, the food it produced also helped get his family through the Great Depression and World War II.
His daughter came back to live with him and Florence temporarily during World War II, while Jeanette’s husband was serving as a military chaplain in the Panama Canal Zone. When Jeanette returned to the house, she brought along her two young sons, Brian and Gerald. The boys’ grandparents treated them with as much love as any grandparents ever could.
It’s too bad his own son couldn’t have been part of this house, Art thought briefly. But, no sense dwelling on that; it wouldn’t do anyone any good now. His mind quickly shifted as he considered another activity he wouldn’t be undertaking anymore — waxing his car in the driveway. He had loved to make his cars shine and take his family on drives into the Wisconsin countryside.
He didn’t think the folks at the Home for Aged Lutherans, known as an “altenheim” to many local German-Americans of the time, would allow him to wax a car in their parking lot. And at his age, he wasn’t going to be driving anymore anyway.
He wouldn’t be able to take much at all to the altenheim and had offered Mr. Hoffman pretty much anything in the house that he thought his family would find useful.
Just then, Art heard the familiar loud raspy buzz of his front doorbell. He shuffled through the attic and into the hallway, closing the door behind him. He turned and slowly descended the stairs, holding onto the railing as he made his way through the living room to the front door. He looked through the small, diamond-shaped window in dark brown mahogany door and saw Ray Hoffman’s familiar face.
Art opened the door, and the rest of the family was revealed.
“Hi, Ray. Hello, Sharon,” Art said in a quiet, raspy voice as he opened the screen door. “I see you brought some good looking young men with you this time.”
“That’s right, Art,” Ray responded as the men shook hands. “They’re good boys.”
Ray looked toward his three boys and continued. “The oldest one is Paul; he’s almost 6 years old. This little shaver over here is Mark; he’s 4. And Sharon’s got Doug,” he added pointing toward the infant in his wife’s arms. Thank you for letting me show them the house before we move in; the boys were really excited to see it.”
Paul and Mark studied the old man. He had warm eyes that sparkled when he looked at them, wrinkled hands and his head was virtually bald except for some gray strands combed across the top. The sleeves of his collared shirt were rolled up and the shirt was tucked neatly into his brown pants, which were held up by a thin, brown belt. The smile that came across his face when he opened the door seemed genuine. The boys felt comfortable in his presence, like he could have been their own grandfather.
Art extended his arm toward the older boys and shook their hands gently before patting each on the head. He rubbed his hand along the infant’s cheek.
“Oh, it’s no problem at all,” Art said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, boys. It’s always nice to have children around the house. I hope you like living here as much as I did.”
With that, Art excused himself to his bedroom to continue packing his clothes.
Ray gave his Paul and Mark a tour of the house, while his wife sat down on a couch in the living rook with the baby. The older boys imaged what it would be like to actually live there.
They saw sun stream through stained-glass portions of windows in the living room and dining room that cast rainbow-like images on the carpeting.
They ran around in a backyard that, after having such a small yard in Milwaukee, seemed as big as a football field to them. And the apple tree, perfect for climbing, and the garden complete with raspberry bushes, rhubarb plants and whatever else they could thinking of planting.
They also saw the attic, a room that can be fairly creepy to young boys. Too much dust, too many cobwebs and too many old things. Too many of somebody else’s memories.
The boys’ final stop was the bedroom that they were to share, the one in which Art had slept and was still packing his suitcase.
“We’re heading out, Art,” Ray said as he leaned into the bedroom.
Art turned around and walked toward the man who would own the house for the next 35 years. The two men shook hands and smiled.
“It’s a good house in a good neighborhood. Like I told you before, you’ll like it here,” Art said.
Then, the old man turned his gaze to the boys, his eyes moistening ever so slightly.
“You take good care of those boys,” he said, sounding as if his mouth had gone a little dry.
“I will,” Ray promised. “And you take care of yourself, Art.”
Art turned back to his suitcase as Ray and his boys left the room. He picked up a pair of bronzed boys baby shoes as he looked out the window that faced Hillcrest Drive, watched the Hoffman boys scramble into the back seat of their dad’s forest green Volkswagen hatchback and followed the car out of sight. A single tear rolled off his cheek and fell to the floor.
A few days later, Art Schumacher waved good bye to his house one last time and never came back.
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