- Night Chills
To Dawson’s way of thinking, two of the reports in the file were more important, told more about Ogden, than all of the others combined. He withdrew the first of them from the folder and read it yet again.
A week past his eleventh birthday, Ogden was taken from his mother and made a ward of the court. Katherine Salsbury (widowed) and her lover, Howard Parker, were later convicted of child abuse, child molestation, and corrupting the morals of a minor. Mrs. Salsbury was sentenced to seven to ten years in the New Jersey Correctional Institution for Women. Upon her conviction, Ogden was transferred to the home of a neighbor, Mrs. Carrie Barger (now Peterson), where he became one of several foster children. This interview was conducted with Mrs. Carrie Peterson (now sixty-nine years old) in her home in Teaneck, New Jersey, on the morning of Wednesday, January 22, 1975. The subject was obviously intoxicated even at that early hour and sipped at a glass of “just plain orange juice” throughout the interview. The subject was not aware that she was being recorded.
Dawson had marked the sections of the report that most interested him. He skipped ahead to the third page.
AGENT: Living next door to Mrs. Salsbury, you must have witnessed a great many of those beatings.
MRS. PETERSON: Oh, yes. Oh, I should say. From the time
that Ogden was old enough to walk, he was a target for her. That woman! The least little thing he did—whup! she beat him black and blue.
AGENT: Spanked him?
MRS. PETERSON: No, no. She hardly ever spanked. Had she only spanked! That wouldn’t have been so horrid. But that woman! She started out hitting him with her open hands. On the head and all about his sweet little face. As he got older she’d sometimes use her fists. She was a big woman, you know. She’d use her fists. And she’d pinch. Pinch his little arms . . . I cried many the time. He’d come over to play with my foster children, and he’d be a mess. His little arms would be spotted with bruises. Just spotted all over with bruises.
AGENT: \Vas she an alcoholic?
MRS. PETERSON: She drank. Some. But she wasn’t addicted to gin or anything. She was just mean. Naturally mean. And I don’t think she was too smart. Sometimes, very dim-witted people, when they get frustrated, they take it out on children. I’ve seen it before. Too often. Suffer the little children. Oh, they suffer so much, I tell you.
AGENT: She had a great many lovers?
MRS. PETERSON: Dozens. She was a vile woman. Very common-looking men. Always very common-looking. Dirty. Crude laborers. Her men drank a lot. Sometimes they’d stay with her as much as a year. More often it was a week or two, a month.
AGENT: This Howard Parker—
MRS. PETERSON: Him!
AGENT: How long was he with Mrs. Salsbury?
MRS. PETERSON: Nearly six months, I think, before the crime. What a horrible man. Horrible!
AGENT: Did you know what was happening in the Salsbury house when Parker was there?
MRS. PETERSON: Of course not! I’d have called the police at once! Of course the night of the crime—Ogden came to me. And then I did call the police.
AGENT: Do you mind talking about the crime?
MRS. PETERSON: It still upsets me. To think of it. What a horrible man! And that woman. To do that to a child.
AGENT: Parker was—bisexual?
MRS. PETERSON: He was what?
AGENT: He customarily had relations with both sexes. Is that right?
MRS. PETERSON: He raped a little boy! It’s . . . I don’t know. I just don’t know. Why did God make some people so wicked? I love children. Have all my life. Love them more than anything. I can’t understand a man like that Parker.
AGENT: Does it embarrass you to talk about the crime?
MRS. PETERSON: A little bit.
AGENT: If you can bear with me. . . It’s really important that you answer a few more questions.
MRS. PETERSON: If it’s for Ogden’s sake, like you said, I surely can. For Ogden’s sake. Although he never comes back to see me. You know that? After I took him in and raised him from the age of eleven. He just never comes back.
AGENT: The court records of that time were not properly explicit. Either that or the judge had some of the testimony altered to protect the boy’s reputation. I am not certain whether Mr. Parker subjected the boy to—you’ll excuse me, but it has to be said—to oral or anal intercourse.
MRS. PETERSON: That horrible man!
AGENT: Do you know which it was?
MRS. PETERSON: Both.
AGENT: I see.
MRS. PETERSON: With the mother watching. His mother watched! Can you imagine such a thing? Such a rotten thing? To do that to a defenseless child. . . What monsters they were!
AGENT: I didn’t mean to make you cry.
MRS. PETERSON: I’m not crying. Just a tear or two. It’s so sad. Don’t you think? So terribly sad. Suffer the little children.
AGENT: There’s no need to continue with—
MRS. PETERSON: Oh, but you said this was for Ogden’s sake, that you needed to ask all of this for Ogden’s sake. He was one of my children. Foster children. But I felt like they were my own. I loved them dearly. Loved all of them. Little dears, every one. So if it’s for Ogden’s sake . . . Well . . . For months, without anyone at all knowing, with poor little Ogden too afraid to tell any-one, that terrible Howard Parker . . . was using the boy. . . using. . . his mouth. And the mother watching! She was a vicious woman. And sick. Very sick.
AGENT: And the night of the crime— MRS. PETERSON: Parker used the boy.. . he used . . . the
boy’s rectum. Hurt him terribly. You can’t know the pain that boy suffered.
AGENT: Ogden came to you that night.
MRS. PETERSON: I lived right next door to them. He came to me. Shaking like a leaf. Scared out of his wits. The poor, poor baby. . . Crying his heart out, he was. That awful Parker had beat him up. His lips were cracked. One eye was puffed and black. At first I thought that was all that was wrong with him. But I soon discovered. . . the other. We rushed him to the hospital. He needed eleven stitches. Eleven! AGENT: Eleven—rectal stitches?
MRS. PETERSON: That’s right. He was in such pain. And he was bleeding. He had to stay in the hospital for nearly a week.
AGENT: And eventually you became his foster mother.
MRS. PETERSON: Yes. And never sorry for it. He was a fine boy. A dear boy. Very bright too. At school they said he was a genius. He won all of those scholarships and went up to Harvard. You’d think he’d come to see me, wouldn’t you? After all I did for him? But no. He never comes. He never comes around. And now the social
workers won’t let me have any more children. Not since my second husband died. They say there have to be two parents in a foster home. And besides they say that I’m too old. Well, that’s craziness. I love children, and that’s all that should count. I love each and every one of them. Haven’t I dedicated my life to foster children? I’m not too old for them. And when I think of all the suffering children, I could just cry.
The last half of that report was a transcription of a long and rambling conversation with the man to whom Mrs. Peterson had been married at the time that she took the eleven-year-old Ogden Salsbury into her home.
This interview was conducted with Mr. Allen J. Barger (now eighty-three years old) in the Evins-Maebry Nursing Home in Huntington, Long Island, on the afternoon of Friday, January 24, 1975. The subject is supported at the home by the three children from his second marriage. The subject, who suffers from senility, was alternately lucid and incoherent. The subject was not aware that he was being recorded.
Dawson leafed ahead to the passage he bad marked.
AGENT: Do you remember any of the foster children that you took in while you were married to Carrie?
MR. BARGER: She took them in. Not me.
AGENT: Do you remember any of them?
MR. BARGER: Oh, Christ.
AGENT: What’s the matter?
MR. BARGER: I try not to remember them.
AGENT: You didn’t enjoy them like she did?
MR. BARGER: All those dirty little faces when I came home from work. She tried to say we needed the extra money, the few dollars the government gave us for keeping the kids. It was the Depression. But she drank up the money.
AGENT: She was an alcoholic?
MR. BARGER: Not when I married her. But she was sure on her way to being one.
AGENT: Do you remember a child named—
Mr. BARGER: My trouble was I didn’t many her for her mind.
AGENT: Excuse me?
MR. BARGER: I married my second wife for her mind, and that worked out swell. But when I got hitched to Carrie . . . Well, I was forty years old and still single and sick to death of going to whores. Carrie came along, twenty-six and fresh as a peach, so much younger than me but interested in me, and I let my balls do my thinking for me. Married her for her body with no thought as to what was in her head. That was a big mistake.
AGENT: I’m sure it was. ‘Well . . . Now, could you tell me if you can remember a child named— MR. BARGER: She had magnificent jugs.
AGENT: I beg your pardon?
MR. BARGER: Jugs. Boobs. Carrie had a magnificent set.
AGENT: Oh. Yes. Uh...
MR. BARGER: She was pretty good in bed too. When you could get her away from those goddamned kids. Those kids! I don’t know why I ever agreed to take the first one in. After that we never had less than four and usually six or seven. She had always wanted a big family. But she wasn’t able to have children of her own. I guess maybe that made her want them even more. But she didn’t really want to be a mother. It was just a dream, a sort of sentimental thing with her.
AGENT: What do you mean?
MR. BARGER: Oh, she liked the idea, of having children more than she liked really having them.
AGENT: I see.
MR. BARGER: She couldn’t discipline them worth a damn. They walked right over her. And I wasn’t about to take over that chore. No, sir! I worked hard, long hours in those days. When I came home I didn’t want to do
anything but relax. I didn’t spend my time chasing after a pack of brats. So long as they left me alone, they could do what they wanted. They knew that, and they never bothered me. Hell, they weren’t my kids.
AGENT: Do you remember one of them named Ogden Salsbury?
MR. BARGER: No.
AGENT: His mother lived next door to you. She had a lot of
lovers. One of them, a man named Parker, raped the boy.
MR. BARGER: Come to think of it, I do remember him. Ogden. Yeah. He came to the house at a bad time.
AGENT: A bad time? How’s that?
MR. BARGER: It was all girls then.
AGENT: All girls?
MR. BARGER: Carrie was on a kick. She wouldn’t take in any but little girls. Maybe she thought she could control them better than she could a bunch of boys. So this Ogden and I were the only men in the house for about two or three years.
AGENT: And that was bad for him?
MR. BARGER: The older girls knew what had happened to him. They used to tease him something fierce. He couldn’t take it. He’d blow up every time. Start yelling and screaming at them. Of course that was what they wanted, so they just teased him some more. When this Ogden used to let the girls get his goat, I’d take him aside and talk to him—almost father to son. I used to tell him not to pay them any mind. I used to tell him that they were just women and that women were good for only two things. Fucking and cooking. That was my attitude before I met my second wife. Anyway, I think I must have been a great help to that boy. A great help . . . Do you know they won’t let you f*ck in this nursing home?
The other report that Dawson found especially interesting was an interview with Laud Richardson, a first-level clerk in
the Pentagon’s Bureau of Security Clearance Investigations. A Harrison-Bodrei agent had offered Richardson five hundred dollars to pull Salsbury’s army security file, study it, and report its contents.
Again, Dawson had bracketed the most relevant passages with a red pen.
RICHARDSON: Whatever research he’s doing must be damned important. They’ve spent a lot of money covering for the sonofabitch over the past ten years. And the Pentagon just doesn’t do that unless it expects to be repaid in spades some day.
AGENT: Covering for him? How?
RICHARDSON: He likes to mark up prostitutes.
AGENT: Mark them up?
RICHARDSON: Mostly with his fists.
AGENT: How often does this happen?
RICHARDSON: Once or twice a year.
AGENT: How often does he see prostitutes?
RICHARDSON: He goes whoring the first weekend of every other month. Regular as you please. Like he’s a robot or something. You could set your watch by his need. Usually, he goes into Manhattan, makes the rounds of the leisure and health spas, phones a couple of call girls and has them up to his hotel room. Now and then one of them comes along with the kind of look that sets him off, and he beats the shit out of her.
AGENT: What look is that?
RICHARDSON: Usually blond, but not always. Usually pale, but not always. But she is always small. Five one or five two. A hundred pounds. And delicate. Very delicate features.
AGENT: Why would a girl like that set him off?
RICHARDSON: The Pentagon tried to force him into psychoanalysis. He went to one session and refused to go the second time. He did tell the psychiatrist that these frenzies of his were generated by more than the girls’ appearance. They have to be delicate.—but not just in a
physical sense. They have to seem emotionally vulnerable to him before be gets the urge to pound them senseless.
AGENT: In other words if he thinks the woman is his equal or his superior, she’s safe. But if be feels that he can dominate her—
RICHARDSON: Then she’d better have her Blue Cross paid in full.
AGENT: He hasn’t killed any of these women, has he?
RICHARDSON: Not yet. But he’s come close a couple of times.
AGENT: You said someone in the Pentagon covers up for him.
RICHARDSON: Usually someone from our bureau.
RICHARDSON: By paying the girl’s hospital bills and giving her a lump sum. The size of the pay-off depends on the extent of her injuries.
AGENT: Is he considered a high security risk?
RICHARDSON: Oh, no. If be was a closet queen and we found out about it, he’d be classified as a fairly bad risk. But his hang-ups and vices aren’t secret. They’re out in the open. No one can blackmail him, threaten him with the loss of his job because we already know all of his dirty little secrets. In fact, whenever he marks up a girl, he has a special number to call, a relay point right in my department. Someone is at his hotel room within an hour to clean up after him.
AGENT: Nice people you work for.
RICHARDSON: Aren’t they? But I’m surprised that even they put up with this sonofabitch Salsbury. He’s a sick man. He’s a real can of worms all by himself. They should stick him away in a cell somewhere and just forget all about him.