Chapter Three: The Coburn Mystery, Original Draft (1988)

“…The first sight that greeted my eyes was the body of Mrs. Coburn lying partially robed on her bed; her head was crushed and bleeding,” Andy Stirling later told a reporter from the “San Francisco News.”

Contemporary newspaper reports graphically described the scene. Dried blood oozed from her mouth and nose; the bed sheets were stained. There was blood on the wall. Her hands were crossed over her chest and she looked as if she had been sleeping peacefully.

Andy Stirling looked around the room and said he saw no signs of struggle. Then Wally Coburn wandered into the room. Wearing a white nightshirt, he appeared disoriented and began to pace nervously. He did not acknowledge Andy or Joe Quilla.

[Wally was not a child or a teenager; he was an older man, often the brunt of jokes in town. He often wore a bowler style hat, with a fresh carnation in the lapel of his jacket. A few days after the murder of his stepmother, he was examined by an alienist –today we’d call him a psychiatrist–and he said Wally Coburn suffered from dementia, adding that “he has a mental age of three to four years. A paranoiac, afflicted with delusions of persecution might have committed murder in a fit of rage. But Wallace Coburn, with the mind of a child, could not have done so.”]

Suddenly Wally dropped to his knees close to his stepmother’s bed–looking as if he were going to pray. But instead he shook Sarah’s lifeless body roughly as if he were trying to wake her, then he hugged her, mumbling something that Andy Stirling claimed sounded like “Poor George Washington is dead.”


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