Friday, November 26, 2010

Lucy, Yard Sale, Satan, and Roofless

In Tuesday's Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bill McKelway reported the sad story of a murder among America's outcasts. The killing took place in a homeless camp known to its inhabitants as Valhalla, near the Acca Yards, an old rail yard maybe a mile from the house where I am writing these words. A man's body was found near Valhalla last week. He had been dead, the police estimated, for about a week, and his body bore the signs of a severe beating. As you can imagine, this crime was not exactly a top priority for the police, and the neighbors were not especially cooperative, so it was a few days before the body was identified as that of a homeless man known to his acquaintances as Yard Sale. He was called Yard Sale "because he would leave his belongings scattered around his sleeping area when he drank," giving his home the appearance of a yard sale in progress. Back in 2006 the body of another homeless homicide victim was found in the same area and the case was never solved, so the police probably did not have high hopes of finding Yard Sale's killers -- detective work is hard enough when the potential witnesses are not all schizophrenic drunks, well nigh impossible when they are.

In this case, though, the police found one person who knew Yard Sale very well. This was a 28-year-old woman named Lucille Obarzanek, who graduated from the University of Vermont in 2007 with a degree in psychology. She is the child of Polish immigrants who ran a Bed and Breakfast near Stowe; her father, she said, had once been an opera singer back in Poland. Obarzanek's mother died a few years ago and her father died in June, starting her on a downward spiral that has ended in the Richmond jail, where she sits, unable to make bail on a trespassing charge. She took up with Yard Sale over the summer and rode the rails with him down to Pennsylvania, and then from Pennsylvania to Richmond. They were headed, they thought, for New Orleans:
We were going to try to make a go of it. To get to Louisiana and find work and raise a family.
That part of the trip was not so bad, Obarzanek said:
There are times [riding boxcars] is invigorating and sort of exciting seeing new places, but you get very tired and I miss being able to stay clean and take a shower.
But then they washed up in Valhalla, stuck for reasons Obarzanek could not explain. There they begged for change and spent the money on alcohol. When Yard Sale drank, he turned mean, and two of the other residents of Valhalla took offense. These were two long-time bums known as Satan and Roofless, who shared their shack with a stray pit bull. According to Obarzanek, these two men told her they didn't like they way Yard Sale was treating her, so they "beat him up and ran him off." The police have arrested them both on charges of voluntary manslaughter, apparently accepting their claim that they only intended to scare Yard Sale and left him alive.

Now Lucille Obarzanek, surrounded by death, nears despair:

"I sort of feel like I am losing touch with myself," she said. "It is getting harder to think about who I am. Sometimes I just want to die."

At the shack where these events took place, reporter McKelway found a sad memento of the people who lived there:

On the floor of the lean-to where Satan and his pit bull lived with Roofless, Yard Sale and Lucy, a hand-printed sign they used to beg for money was turned facedown in the dirt yesterday.

It shows a train track and a distant setting sun and reads: "Passin Thru. Hungry & Broke."

I wonder what the future holds for Lucille Obarzanek. Driven by the furies of loss, loneliness, and mental illness -- surely she was led to study psychology by a need to understand her own troubled mind, or perhaps her troubled family -- she went from wealthy Stowe to a homeless camp in a pine grove by a rail yard, and from there to a Thanksgiving spent in jail, where no one has visited her but a reporter drawn by the lowlife baroque, Threepenny Opera details of her lover's murder. Perhaps she will one day "make a go of it," as she tried to do with Yard Sale, and escape from her sad prison; but when your prison is in your own mind, escape is hard, and most doors lead only to sad, lonely, tormented places like Valhalla.


tinyarmada said...

Through strange happenstance I happened to read this story too in the Richmond paper and was very struck by the details, esp about Lucille. I wondered if the details of her story were true, was she from Stowe, did she have a psychology degree, was there a B&B or opera an singer parent? Or was it all a figment of her imagination - probably a bit of truth with helping of fanciful fiction. I kept the paper and ran across it today and looked it up online hoping to find some more info or an update. I'm at least glad to see the story also attracted someone else interest and attention. Since you are in the area have you heard anything further about this case or Lucille? Had I been close by I would have been half tempted to visit her in jail just to offer some company and for some insight into the whole affair, with which some help might be possible. Have you heard anything else at all about this case or her?

John said...

Alas, I am back in Catonsville now and have heard no more. The original article said that the reporter had verified Lucille's degree, but of course it is hard to know what elements of fantasy are mixed into her story.

Carl Dean said...

Yardsale was a mean guy who liked to beat the holy hell out of his girlfriend. That is what you should know.

friendoflucy said...

I actually know Lucielle and her know departed parents from Stowe Vermont, where I worked for them for years! All she said about her Vermont life is in fact true!

Anonymous said...

Lucille and I were friends when she lived in Stowe. I've been trying to find her for years online, and came across this article. Every word she spoke was true. Lucille is an amazingly talented artist and very intelligent person. I'm saddened and surprised to hear about all that she has gone through. Lucille might have been stricken with grief about all the losses she has endured, but I can attest to the fact that even if she were in the deepest of depressions, her testimony and connection with reality are very much reliable. Just because a person has fallen on hard times and is living a life that isn't exactly living up to mainstream society does not mean that their story or sanity should be questioned. Lucy, if you ever read this, know that I miss you, love you, and am very willing to provide you a place to stay if you need help getting your life together. <3