May God and may Father Drummond and may Alice Templar forgive me for this indiscretion, and though this confession may cost me my eternal soul, I must unburden my conscience, lest my remaining years be consumed by insanity, or worse, relentless remorse. Remorse that draws one inward into a catatonic state. Since joining the priesthood twenty years ago I have seen a number of priests and brothers enter a state of complete withdrawal. Withdrawal which would be treated in an asylum on the outside but is considered a sign of great piety at a monastery.
There are burdens which we in the priesthood are obligated to endure. The conflict between desire and vows has crippled many a pious man. Whether it be the vows of chastity or the confidentiality of the confessional, a priest lives a compromised life.
I have seen Monks spend every waking hour kneeling at the altar, reciting Holy Scriptures which only they and God can translate, fondling their rosary until the beads corrode from the salts and oils of their palms. I have seen them foul their garments and neglect sustenance.
I have not yet reached that condition, and I pray to God that what I am about to reveal to you will reverse my slide towards that end. My body still abounds with vigor, and it is my hope that He wishes me to use that vigor to serve His people. Yet to do so I must break a sacred vow and free my mind.
I have asked for His guidance, and I have heard voices and have had visions. The message is clear: Preserve thy sanity by revealing the secrets of Sister Alice Templar. She has murdered one man and destroyed the sanity of another. Free thyself from this affliction. Yet I cannot be sure whether the visions are from the Holy Spirit, the Father, his Son—or whether they are temptations from Satan—or whether they are mere echoes from the depths of my own weak conscience.
I did not ask for this burden. It was thrust upon me during a solemn confession at the last rites—an entrusted secret between the confessor and God and the priest.
My problem began on All Saints Day three years ago. It was that night that I was called to minister to Father Drummond. His breath was labored and putrid. The stench of decay escaped in each short gasp. He was one of those poor wretches that was lost in terminal piety. Every Sunday two priests pried the rosary from his fingers, then oiled and treated his festering palms. In the seven years that I have been at the monastery I had never heard Father Drummond speak to another soul. He prayed or muttered continuously, and the only word that I had ever heard him speak clearly was Templar. I had assumed he was praying to the ancient sect of the Knights Templar.
His confession to me was the first time in twenty years he had spoken, and God rest his soul, the last time. He knew the end was near and requested the last rites. I was senior priest that fateful night. It was my duty to perform the sacrament of Extreme Unction. At that time I considered it an honor, not a burden.
I made the preparations and asked if he had a confession to make. It was then, in a labored yet clear voice, that he unloaded onto me his burden of twenty years. Like me now, he betrayed the trust of confession, for he feared that if he did not leave the burden to this life, it would follow him to the eternity of the next life.
He revealed to me a confession given to him by Alice Templar. He had retained her secrets until his deathbed, and it was those secrets that had caused his withdrawal. Perhaps men stronger than Father Drummond or me could stoically bury these confidences deep within their soul and suffer no bodily degradation, and perhaps we have both failed that test which He selects for each of us. For we must make our choices and live eternity by the consequences.
The story which I tell you is true, I am sure. Men—even insane men—do not lie on their deathbed. And I have researched the public records about Alice and Harold Templar, and all the facts fit Father Drummond’s confession.
You may remember the news accounts of Alice Templar, or perhaps you have seen her name on lists of notorious killers, or you have seen her impression in the chamber of horrors at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London—her crazed eyes startle every man—the bloodied ax embedded in her husband’s skull frightens every child.
A witness gave this description in the court records:
“We was taking our boys on the train to Baltimore to see Fort McHenry. Me and my wife was sitting three seats behind them. The boys was in front of us. Mrs. Templar got up and went out the rear of the car. She come back right after we got across the Susquehanna River. She stopped behind her husband and reached into her handbag and pulled out a small ex. Before I could think a word to say, she hit Mr. Templar right on the back of the head. Then before I could get out of my seat she hit him twice more, the last time leaving the ax stuck right in his skull. The blood sprayed every which way. Shame my boys had to see such a awful thing; both still in grade school. Then she pulled out a real long, sharp knife. Course he was already dead. Must of stabbed him ten times. She was screaming, ‘Won’t blank that bitch no more. Won’t blank Nancy no more.’ The last thrust was right to the privates. Poor bastard, Mr. Templar. Then she calmed down, wiped her bloodied hands on her dress, crawled over Mr. Templar to get to her window seat, and begun humming and reading. Ain’t never seen nothing like it.”
Mrs. Templar was charged with first degree murder. Her lawyer tried to get her to plead insanity, but she refused. The trial lasted four days. The jury deliberated two hours, and on the first ballot they found her guilty. She was sentenced to death. She refused all appeals and she was executed in the gas chamber.
Those are the public accounts. You can check them in a dozen newspapers or in the court records. Killed her husband over another woman. They never did find a Nancy, though. Most people thought she was a bit touched. That she flipped out and killed her husband, a decent man by all accounts.
But the truth is far different. She was guilty, of course. And the murder was carefully planned, carefully premeditated. But she had little quarrel with her husband. A good Catholic wife, she accepted the man for all his weaknesses and vices.
The following story is what she confessed to Father Drummond. He repeated it to me like an actor reciting Macbeth. I present his story to the best of my recollection. May this free my mind and may God have mercy on my eternal soul.
According to Alice, the trouble began at the wedding of her niece. Her husband, Harold, stayed home—didn’t much like her side of the family. Their fifteen-year-old daughter, Andrea, had injured herself, so Alice thought, and did not attend either.
But Alice was so happy when her son, Jonathan, came to the wedding. She seldom saw him now that he went to college in another state. She was amazed at the grace and charm he displayed at the wedding and reception, and the intellect and confidence that was so evident, not in a harsh or boastful way, but in a mature, self-assured manner. He had been a surly, disobedient, uncooperative youth, to the point that his father had to frequently discipline him. Once he and Harold had gotten into such a ruckus that Jonathan’s arm was broken, and he missed a week of school. They told the school he had done it playing ball—the family was close-knit and private about personal matters. Sometimes she thought that maybe Harold’s iron fist prevented Jonathan from progressing at his natural rate and that Jonathan’s God given talents had been restrained.
But at the wedding reception all Alice could see in her son was a future of success and prosperity. He was studying to become a teacher and had made the Dean’s list. And he had a sweetheart that he brought to the wedding. A darling girl who was studying to become a nurse. And of the same faith. He had dated a few times in high school, but he had never had a girlfriend. A couple of nice girls, Alice thought, but Harold never approved of them.
Jonathan laughed and played with the children and made them feel welcome and comfortable. He conversed with the old timers with understanding and compassion. His grasp of politics and current events made him a peer to those middle-aged men who discuss and analyze all the problems of the country and the world. And his charm and grace and subtle flirtations made him a favorite with the ladies from his thirteen-year-old cousin to his eighty-year-old grandmother. Yet he treated his girlfriend with such politeness and passion that she became an even greater admirer. Jonathan had blossomed into a flower that was attracting every butterfly within sight.
But later Alice saw bitterness and ugliness overcome Jonathan. His cousin Tony told Alice of this conversation as they waited for the medics to revive Jonathan from his fainting spell:
“Can’t blame you for wanting to go so far away to college,” Tony said, “to get away from you old man, the way he used to beat you.”
“Well, I was an asshole,” Jonathan said, “and Dad was just trying to teach me respect, at least the way he sees it.”
“You know we sit here and call it discipline,” Tony said, “the way our Dads beat us, but my teacher calls it child abuse and says it’s illegal.”
“You didn’t tell no one about our Dads, did you?”
“No man, I just said I knew some guy whose Dad hit him with fists and belts and boards.”
“Whose Dad doesn’t belt them once in awhile,” Jonathan said. “Especially when they do some of the shit we got into. Remember the time we caught that fox and then locked it in old man Wheeler’s chicken coop?”
Tony laughed. “Killed twelve chickens and then got away when the old fart opened the henhouse door.”
“I was grounded and lost my allowance for a month,” Jonathan said. “My ass was so sore I could hardly do sit-ups in gym.”
“I thought you might stay a little closer to home to keep an eye on your little sister. To protect her.”
“She’s squeaky clean. She’s no agitator like we were. Dad treats her real nice. Never even heard him holler at her, let alone touch her.”
“Not what I been hearing,” Tony said.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve heard your old man beats her.”
“Get outta here. He’s got no reason to strike her.”
“Reason or not, I’ve seen her in school with some pretty nasty bruises. Started right after you left for college. And the talk from the girl’s locker room is that what I’ve seen is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Go on,” Jonathan said.
“It’s like your old man needs someone to beat, and since you’re gone it’s your sister’s turn.”
“But Andrea is such a sweet girl. He was always so nice to her. So loving.”
“Well, he’s that too,” Tony said.
“What do you mean?” Jonathan said as if he were grilling a hostile witness at a trial.
“Hey man, I hate to lay all this on you like this, but your old man is fooling around with your sister.”
“What! Got his hands up her panties?”
“A lot more than just hands.”
Jonathan grabbed Tony. “What are you saying, dude?!”
“Hey man,” Tony said defensively, “I’m just the messenger. I didn’t do nothing. Just thought you ought to know about this shit, cousin. Being her big brother.”
“But she’s only fifteen years old.”
“She’s old enough. I hear guys at school talk about the nice set she’s got. And your old man—“
“That sadist. That perverted bastard! I’m gonna kill the bastard before he knocks her up.”
“I think you’re too late,” Tony said. “Word is she missed her period this spring—“
“Oh shit!” Jonathan moaned.
“—and that she got an abortion. The girls said her panties were bloody and that she had terrible cramps.”
Jonathan pulled his hands to his forehead and breathed deeply and quickly. “Oh, my God! And right now the poor girl is home with that monster.”
“Sorry, man. I thought you knew this shit.”
“I’M GOING TO KILL THE BASTARD!” Jonathan shouted.
Cousin Stella turned towards Jonathan,
Uncle Richard adjusted his hearing aid.
Aunt Doris asked Alice who Jonathan was going to kill.
“I’m going to kill that scum! That scum that calls himself my father! Harold Templar does not deserve to live.”
Then Jonathan fainted.
Then medics revived Jonathan then medicated him when he became hysterical again.
Alice took Jonathan home and put him in his old bed.
She knew Harold would be bowling late and that he’d get drunk and would stagger into bed and pass out. That is if he survived the drive home or wasn’t picked up by the police again. Besides, she thought, Jonathan’s rage was a figure of speech made by another drunken, half sane male. When he recovered from his hangover, he would be more rational.
Alice buried her face in her pillow and sobbed. She knew that Harold had been too harsh on the children—but she never spoke up. She had suspected, but didn’t want to believe, that Harold had molested Andrea. She didn’t want to believe because she didn’t want to admit that she had neglected both Harold and Andrea. That she could have done something earlier.
Jonathan was up at eight and had coffee with Alice and Andrea. He barely said a word to his sister, but from the bruises on her arms and the emptiness in her eyes he knew. He knew the stories Tony told him were true.
He left the kitchen and went to the basement.
Alice cleaned up the dishes and wiped off the table. She picked up the phone to call her sister, but someone was on the line:
“You call my old man,” Jonathan said, “and tell him you’ve got a 66 Mustang, real cheap. That you’ve got to unload it today. This morning.”
“And where should I tell him to come?” a voice asked.
“Tell him you’ll be on the lot at East and Fourth. Should be deserted this morning.”
“You sure this is a good idea, man? You know, wiping out your own old man. We could get in a heap of trouble.”
“Look man, you just make the phone call. You owe me. I’ll throw his wallet by the projects. Just another inner-city robbery.”
“I hope it works, man, for your sake.”
“For Andrea’s sake. That’s what it’s all about.”
“Yeah, for you sister too.”
“Give me ten minutes, then call my Dad.”
Alice hung up.
The house rattled as Jonathan ran up the stairs. “Hey Mom, I’m going to the mall.” He ran out to his car, flung a brown gym bag into the back seat, and backed out of the driveway.
Alice froze. She didn’t know what to do. Was Jonathan letting off steam with his macho talk?
The brown bag! What was in the brown bag?
She rushed to the basement. Where did they keep that gun? Some kind of handgun. The top shelf. Somewhere in the back. She found the box. It was empty.
Did he really think he could get away with this? With the public threats he made last night. Even if he could fool the lie detector, she doubted she would be able to.
The phone only rang once.
Alice shoved the gun box back on the top shelf, then hurried up the steps to the kitchen. She waited. She prayed.
“Hey Alice,” Harold hollered down the steps. “Fix me some bacon and eggs. Got to go out soon.”
When Harold came into the kitchen, his bacon and eggs were on the table. “Just got a call from some guy with a 66 Mustang.”
“Harold, you been chasing Mustangs for years and ain’t never bought one yet.”
“I know, but this one sounds like a good deal.”
“Just wasting your time chasing a dream. The boyish dream of a middle-aged man.”
“Well, it’s my time, woman. If a man don’t have dreams then life’s like taking a trip to nowhere.”
“You promised Jack you’d help him build his deck.”
“Jack can wait!” Harold snapped. “Sometimes you got to get off the roller coaster to follow your dreams. Where you keep that checkbook?”
“It’s in the top bureau drawer, or maybe in the desk in the bedroom.”
Harold lumbered up the steps.
Alice hurried to the garage and searched through the tools. She found an ice pick. The first stab bounced back from the thick rubber of the tire. The second stab was in the thin part of the tire. The air escaped with a hiss. She opened the trunk and punctured the spare tire.
She hurried into the house and washed the grime off her hands and finished washing the dishes.
Harold came down the steps and grumbled, “Woman, I hope your mind isn’t in the disorder that desk is in. I couldn’t find nothing. See if you can get that checkbook. Supposed to meet this guy downtown in ten minutes. Ain’t got all day.”
Alice got her purse. “Here it is, Harold. The check book. Sorry. Thought I had left it in the desk.”
Harold took the checkbook and went out to the garage. The car backed out, but when it went into the street the wheel rim scraped the pavement.
Harold kicked the flat and cursed.
He slammed the kitchen door. “Damned bad luck today. Front left’s flat. So’s the spare.”
Alice waited to see what his next step was.
“Maybe this dream just ain’t meant to be,” he said.
“As long as you don’t have a Mustang, you can still have the dream, a good dream.”
“Guess you’re right, Alice. I’ll call Jack and tell him he’ll have to pick me up to work on his deck.”
The crisis was over. But Alice knew that Jonathan would not give up. Sure as fathers beat their kids, he would devise another plan to kill his father. It was inevitable. And so was the electric chair, or worse yet, life in prison.
Yes, all Alice had to look forward to was the death of her husband and the destruction of her son. The first, she told Father Drummond, was bearable, but the second would be devastating. This fine young man, her son, who had such a promising life ahead of him, would bring pleasure and joy to all he touched.
He must be saved! But how? He was trapped in a vortex of self destruction. There was no way to stop him…unless!
“Harold, why don’t we go see the Orioles play tomorrow. There’s a double-header.”
“Alice, you ain’t wanted to go to a game with me in years.”
“That was then, this is now. Going to be a fine day tomorrow. A fine day for baseball. Playing the Yankees.”
“The Yankees? Boy, I’d really like to see them birds whip them striped bastards.”
“Good. I’ll make the arrangements. We’ll take the early train to Baltimore. You go help Jack with his deck.”
You know the rest of the story. On the train to Baltimore, Alice murdered Harold. She didn’t hate him. He was doomed anyway. She wasn’t insane. It was the only way she could save her son from self destruction. If she killed Harold in his sleep, or hired an assassin, Jonathan would still be a prime suspect. He had publicly vowed to kill Harold. Her confession would be seen as a mother trying to protect her only son.
So often I have been to the funeral or wake of a child and have been pained as the grieving parents call out—Why her Lord? Why this innocent child? Why not me instead?
So often I have heard parents say that they would gladly sacrifice their lives for the life of the dying or dead child. That they would take the cancer from the child. That they would step in from of the bullet if they could.
And here is a woman who did. It was the ultimate sacrifice a mother could make for her son. She was a noble woman.
And the sacrifice was fulfilled. Jonathan taught inner-city children for twenty years. Then he won a seat in the state legislature. Andrea served overseas in the Peace Corps and now works with AIDS patients at Children’s Hospital.
It is the terrible burden imposed by our vows of confidentiality about this self-sacrificing mother, portrayed by the press as a heinous, fiendish murderer that drove Father Drummond, and now me, to violate that sacred trust. But I could not continue with the burden of this secret. My mind and body cannot function as the sole reservoir of Alice Templar’s sacrifice for her son. I no longer have the strength or the purity to contain this solemn confession. I have asked the Holy Spirit for understanding, for forgiveness, for absolution.
You may wonder why Alice murdered her husband on the Amtrak train in Maryland. She wanted the killing to be in a public location, far away from her son. He must never be a suspect; never be tainted by the scandal.
And ever since her cat climbed onto a power line and was electrocuted Alice has had a deep fear of electricity.
She was executed in the gas chamber in Maryland.
Her home state fries murderers in the electric chair.
With degrees from Oakland University and Johns Hopkins University, David Thorndill has written the novel First Contact at Cabo Rojo and Tales from the Confessional, a collection of short stories narrated by Catholic priests. Stories from Tales won a $3000 prize from the Maryland State Arts Council. His stories “G.O.D.” and “Murder in the Convent” have been published in Coffin Bell. He has recently written feature length screenplays for Rise of the Dolphins, The Last Vikings, and The Voyage of Genesis 2. His screenplay The Last Viking was acclaimed best action/adventure script at the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival.