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How Murder in the Suburbs Shocked a Normal Family

We can be uber vigilant and still find horror in our home

By Maryan PellandPublished 29 days ago 14 min read
Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

Have you ever encountered a murderer up close, in real life? Before you answer, let me present a widely accepted theory.

If the rate of murderers is 0.00005 per 100,000 people, and that's generally the statistic, then, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, any one of us may be in close proximity to 39 murderers over our lifetime.

Suppose we come within ten feet of 200 people per day, 365 days per year, over 60 years—a fairly conservative life expectancy. Think about people in stores, on sidewalks, at work, on a bus, in line, at a concert, or on a plane. The numbers are not outlandish.

But then suppose your best friend murders, and all the other random encounters no longer matter. The other 38 killers you brush by over time are irrelevent. The following is a true story.

It didn't happen long ago or in a galaxy far away. It happened one sunny summer to regular people going about their business with no warning of the dark cloud gathering over their lives.

It should be noted that this single evil act from ten years ago altered the lives of dozens of people who thought they knew everything they needed to know about their friends—one friend in particular. But we never know.

Backstory

In 1992, the Blackstones, a happy, well-balanced family of five, moved into a cozy, vintage home in an idyllic rural Mid-America town. They had searched for this dream house for two years, hoping to find the perfect place for their city-bred children to relax and grow up in health and wholesomeness. And they found it.

The parents, Dave and Marla, loved the place. It was much closer to Dave's new job, a step up in his career, and just a short block from the tiny downtown area where Marla could indulge in boutique stores, family activities, and all manner of pleasantries. The kids, ages eight to 14 complained about moving and changing schools.

"It's a crap-town with all these crap-trees all over the place," the oldest, Troy, said. He had enjoyed throwing a football around in his old neighborhood, where the few trees were immature and inconspicuous.

Claire, the second child, 12, quietly fretted that there would be no kids in this neighborhood and she'd miss her friends. What's middle school without friends?

The youngest, Max, 8, didn't really care, but he went along with his sibling's complaints to be cool. And Cujo, the family poodle, peed on every bush on the property, so it quickly became home for him.

It was August. School was to begin in a few weeks, and the family was busy moving, arranging, exploring, and settling in. On the Blackstones third day in the house, Marla glanced out the window and saw her eldest and three teenage boys throwing a football around in the quiet street.

She noticed Claire sitting on the swing set with another child—they were giggling at the boys and whispering to each other. Max sprawled in the sunroom playing video games and chatting by phone with his best friend.

In a few minutes, the backdoor banged open to admit Troy, Pete, Michael, and Noah shoving each other, laughing like donkeys and yelling something about some hot girl down the block…

Marla smiled to herself, enjoying the scene and thinking, My kids are safe and happy and all's right in my world.

School began, time passed, and for four or five years, this family had it all. Marla was a careful mom whose theory was that making her home attractive and pleasant for kids would naturally mean she'd have an eye on her own brood as needed. So her house became the Koolaid house, where kids gravitated. There were always a few extra faces at the dinner table. Marla's minivan was perpetually loaded with boys, girls, hockey sticks, tennis rackets, and raucous noise.

Life was just about perfect. Troy, Pete, Michael, and Noah were practically joined at the hip, almost never apart from each other, and enjoying the hell out of high school.

They got into scrapes, bluffed their way out, had an impressive line of girlfriends through the years, and everyone was sure they were destined to be BFFs. Michael was special, though. His early childhood had been dark and painful, so he quickly grew attached to the entire Blackstone family and their comfortable, pleasant lifestyle. He was Troy's shadow, and later even occasionally dated Claire in a casual platonic way.

A word about Michael

Michael had a few childhood issues, later they would be attributed to being raised with an angry, unsatisfiable father who abandoned Michael, his two siblings, and his mother, never to be heard from again. Marla was never quite sure how much of Michael's story was accurate, but she knew, being an observant and sensitive empath, that he was a little fragile.

He came on like an Eddy Haskell-type, always excruciatingly polite when adults were nearby, definitely rough around the edges when he thought he was unobserved. He stuttered—it took him a long time to express a complicated thought, and she was aware that it angered or frustrated him. He'd often get angry when Troy had something to do that didn't involve Michael. He'd hang around the yard or ask to come in and wait.

Once, she had walked into Troy's room when Michael was in there alone, being pretty aggressive with Cujo. She took the dog with her when she left the room, but didn't say anything.

The whole family was always aware that Michael had to have a girlfriend of the moment, and when he didn't, he made one up. He talked about his "women" incessantly, but a lot of teenagers do, don't they?

Sometimes, Marla felt a little niggling twitch of concern about Michael's snappish phone conversations with his mother, or a comment overheard about someone that pissed him off, or a dark look when he seemed agitated about something. If he became aware of her discomfort, he'd launch into a long, charming, winsome monologue about how he was just having a bad day.

For Marla, there was never enough reason to do anything rash, like ban Michael from the house or limit his connection to the family. They treated him like an extra son, made allowances for his quirks, and allowed time to pass. Sometimes she wished he'd make himself scarce for a while, but he was Troy's friend, the other kids loved his humor, and Marla was absolutely not a helicopter parent.

As the years unfolded, the Blackstone kids were capable students, popular in the neighborhood, well-adjusted, and grateful for their bonded, contented family. Troy and Claire graduated high school and went on to college, preparatory to starting solid, respectable careers.

Later, everybody found jobs. Claire became an art teacher and Troy became an assistant to a well-respected state senator. Michael was an assistant manager at a hardware store, and told lots of stories about the young women he supervised and how they idolized him.

Marla and Dave took great satisfaction in the direction their kids' lives were taking. Their young adulthoods had taken them to various parts of the country and the world as they grew up and made life decisions, but ultimately, they returned to the idyllic community they had grown to love back in 1992.

The dawn of the 21st century found the Blackstone kids happily married—Marla and Dave had a couple of toddler grandkids by then.

And Michael had begun to come around again after the Blackstone kids settled back in town. They all quickly returned to old habits of Michael being included in holidays, family events, and outings. It seemed to be less comfortable and natural than in days gone by. And then that cloud began to form.

A gathering storm and a lot of damage

Michael's work schedule was a bit loosey-goosey. He had many weekday hours off since he worked retail, and managers always have to cover evenings and weekends, the busy times.

So Marla became aware in conversation with Claire that Michael often stopped by Claire's house for lunch or coffee when her husband was at work.

Non-urgently, Claire had said, "I wish he'd get a life. I'm busy with the baby and my tutoring job, and he shows up at the most inconvenient times. Drives me nuts, but I don't want to offend him."

Oddly, Troy's wife had said something similar not too long before. Marla felt that odd, niggling sensation again. Was this normal? Okay? Hadn't Michael said he had a new girlfriend he was completely head-over-heels about? An odd situation. The girl was about five months pregnant, too, but Michael was not the father.

"She works for me," he explained. "I feel bad about her situation."

He mentioned her once in a while, saying they were just friends. He never brought her around or introduced her to his friends, family, or the Blackstones. And that was odd. Then he said he was in love with her and was trying to convince her that he would change her life. Still, no one had met this girl—not even Troy.

Some weeks later, Michael swooped into the Blackstone dining room at dinner, uninvited, sat down, and announced, "Congratulate me; my woman is moving in with me."

He went on and on about their plans and dreams and ambitions. They would get married and raise the child together. And yet, no one—not his family, not his friends, not his acquaintances—had met her.

Marla began to feel ill at ease with the entire situation. She went pro-active and said to Michael one afternoon, "I'm so pleased you've found your soul mate; when do we meet her?"

He hemmed and hawed, changed the subject, stammered, grew mildly hostile, and finally spit out, "Fine. Come to my house Saturday and meet her. She really does exist," he defended, though Marla hadn't said anything to the contrary. "You can pick up those tools Dave wanted."

Darker still

Marla and Dave talked about the situation and concluded that though Michael could be a little odd sometimes, he had been part of their family—or at least adjacent to it—for more than a decade. They felt for him, knowing his history and his difficulties at school and in the community.

On thinking back, they realized there had always been people who thought Michael a little creepy. There were short-lived rumors about less-than-social behaviors, and whispered stories of girls who once dated him and then abruptly dropped him.

But he seemed so bonded to the Blackstones and always offered to run errands or help with a chore. Troy defended him, saying, "He kind of marches to a different beat, but he's harmless. Just annoying sometimes."

Dave and Marla drove the 20 miles to Michael's and rang the bell. A pretty young girl, maybe in her late teens, answered the door. She was obviously pregnant. She asked the couple to come in and showed them to a dimly lit, sparsely furnished living room where a huge TV played an old black and white movie with the sound muted.

"Michael will be right back," the girl said, offered no further explanation, and looked at the TV.

After ten or fifteen minutes, Marla decided to fill the silence with, "How long have you and Michael been dating?"

"Dating? No. We work together. I'm staying here till my boyfriend finds us a place where we can live with the baby. My mom's all pissed off at me, so here I am." She smiled unselfconsciously and went on about how nice it was of Michael, but she thought he was a little weird and a tiny bit annoying.

At that moment, Michael came into the room, looking upset and angry. He made a stilted formal introduction and put his arm around the girl as he talked. She stepped away and rolled her eyes. Michael abruptly suggested Dave follow him out to the garage to get the promised tools. Marla trailed after them. They loaded up the tools without speaking, and Dave and Marla left.

"Okay," Dave said in the car. "That was more than strange. I think it might be time for us to all take a step back from old Mike and let this play out. Something's off."

It was too late to take this step. The family would learn within hours that Michael, a sightly troublesome, likeable family fixture for many years, was not at all the person the Blackstones had known.

Two deaths in the dark of night

This part of the story is difficult to read and comprehend. It exemplifies pure evil. I'll try to keep it tolerable.

On a Friday evening, the Blackstones were gathered in their den, watching Dumb and Dumber for the umpteenth time and flicking pieces of popcorn at each other. Someone, maybe Claire, observed, "Weird that Michael isn't here, right?" She reached down and patted Michael's dog. The family had agreed to doggie sit.

One of the boys answered, "He went out of town for some kind of party with his 'girlfriend' or whatever. Back on Monday, I guess."

Troy's phone shrilled, "Answered the f*cking phone," a ringtone his mother detested. All four of them flinched from the volume, and Troy hit the answer button.

After listening to the caller for about a minute, his eyes got incredibly wide, he made a strange sound, and began to shake his head. He looked at his dad—the looking begging for help. Then at his mom, as he dropped the phone to the floor and choked out, "They're saying M…Michael murdered some girl."

And you can imagine, over the next five minutes, in random slow motion, their world shifted into something not much different from a Salvador Dali painting.

The TV sounded excruciatingly loud and incomprehensible. Claire was screeching while Marla sat dazed, and Dave shut off the movie. Max grabbed the phone and shouted into the mouthpiece, desperate to reassure himself that this was bullshit. The caller was gone.

No one slept that night or for several nights. They made phone calls, searched the internet, read newspapers, and reached out to anyone they knew who might be able to make sense of something that never would make sense.

Over some number of days, and none of them ever knew how many days or in what order the facts came out, they grew to see a dark, terrible picture that would sit in the pits of their stomachs for years to rise up and hurt them every time they heard the name Michael.

***

The basic facts went like this, according to the police detectives in the jurisdiction where the murders were committed.

On Friday morning, around 6:30 a.m., the police received a phone call, which was not typical for this small department. The dispatch tapes contain a calm, clear, male voice saying this:

"I am…um hi, I think I better tell you I killed a person." The tape recording goes on for maybe six minutes, with the dispatcher trying to accomplish two things—make sense of Michael's stuttering and disjointed words and determine his location. She had already alerted the officers on duty to be ready to move.

Between the dispatch tapes, extended interrogation, and other interviews, Michael's story seldom wavers.

Michael Moran, age 25, travelled to a small, recreational community two hours or so from his home to attend a social gathering. He checked into a hotel along with a 20-year-old woman who was seven months pregnant. The detectives said interviews with family members and acquaintances made it clear that the two were not a couple and that the killer was not the father of the child.

They had gone to a party, and he got very drunk (not unusual for him) and asked the young women to marry him. She laughed, he reported. Right in his face. (At this point, Michael starts crying every time he tells his story).

The pair returned to the hotel and agreed to watch a movie, stay the night, and head home in the morning. They could not agree on a movie to watch, and Michael said that pissed him off.

They sat on the hotel bed, and at some point, Michael tried to kiss the woman, but she rebuffed him. This part of his story changes from time to time, but the gist is that he became incredibly angry and shoved her off the bed. She cried out, and he rolled down on top of her.

And strangled her.

In tapes and recordings, he is coldly clear in affirming that for a moment or two she begged for her own and her unborn child's life, but she had been so cruel to him that he had no choice but to end her. When he realized she was lying dead under him, he "decided" to have sex with her.

Then he stood up, packed up his stuff but not hers, and drove around the area for the rest of the night, "trying to figure out what to do next." By dawn, he wasn't angry any more, felt calmer, and drove out to the lake nearby. For several hours, Michael "walked around the beach, took a swim once or twice, and thought about how to handle this."

On the dispatch tape, he says, "I figured you'd find out sooner or later, so I better call it in. I killed her. That was a bad thing."

Yes, Michael. You got that part right. It was a bad thing. But, by the way, you killed two people, not one.

The story then spans more than two years filled with lawyers, judges, legislators (a new law came into existence that would declare "I was drunk" to no longer be a murder defense), and shockingly impacts dozens of people—Michael's victims, their families and his, the jurors, friends, co-workers, three close-knit communities, and many others.

The horror ripples in concentric circles, touching an unimaginable number of people and resonating with them for decades. Early on, Michael's dysfunctional mother had called and emailed every member of the Blackstone family and many other people almost daily, begging them and then berating them in an attempt to compel people to testify on Michael's behalf. There were no takers.

After angry judges denied all appeals, Michael was finally sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with no parole. He will serve them both—one on earth and one in hell.

As for the Blackstones, they are doing well, but it's been a long, painful road. Over the years, when they least expected it, Michael's actions echoed across their days. It took a long time for Claire to stop berating herself for having such warm feelings toward a killer.

Troy had to explain his connection to Michael each time Troy was up for advancement at his job, which required security clearances. Marla and Dave blamed themselves for being too eager to befriend a teenager and allowing him such access to their home just so they could keep watch on their own brood.

Max had nightmares for a long time and seemed to be less comfortable seeking out new friends.

Ultimately, the love, honesty, and understanding they demonstrated toward each other fueled resilience, as it will in people. None of the four ever visited Michael or had any desire to.

They don't talk about those events any more and have stopped looking for updates on his case. Sometimes, in quiet moments, each of them has a fleeting thought about what they might have done differently. But the bottom line is—only Michael could have made a difference.

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About the Creator

Maryan Pelland

A successful, professional writer/editor/publisher/mentor for half a century. Read me now before I throw in the towel. I love to empower other writers. My stories are helpful, funny, unique, and never boring. I write for avid readers.

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Comments (1)

  • kp21 days ago

    wow. what a heartbreaking journey. thank you so much for sharing.

Maryan PellandWritten by Maryan Pelland

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