Who is the Real Devil in the Closet?

Although fictional, The Devil’s Closet was inspired by an actual case that I investigated during the course of my law enforcement career. It is said that all law enforcement officers have that one particular case that becomes permanently embedded in their memories-and souls. The case that I refer to here is my “one.” Throughout the CeeCee Gallagher books, The Devil’s Closet remains most special to me. The inspiration for the book is actually a man, or monster (take your pick), that I investigated for child pornography after it was passed along to me by the FBI.

Unfortunately, the case became much more than that. As a parent, and a human being, it’s frightening to realize that a man such as this, a man I’ll call the Doll Man, has been functioning in our society for the fifty-plus years of his life. Without so much as a speeding ticket, the possibility or probability of heinous acts by him is widespread in one’s own imagination. Take a minute and look out your window, across the street to your neighbor’s house: the quiet, private, neighbor with the well manicured lawn who has been in the neighborhood for over twenty-five years. Most consider him quiet and harmless, right? I’m sure the Doll Man’s neighbors were just as naïve until I found his personal chamber of horrors. Little did they know that on the days their small children were playing outside in the sprinkler, they were being photographed by a dark shadow that loomed in the upstairs attic of a house down the street. In reality, to comprehend another human being as sadistic and ill as the Doll Man is sometimes too much for the average citizen to bear. Only a few, significant, scenes and characteristics of The Devil’s Closet are actual accounts of situations I encountered during the investigation. The scene when CeeCee describes the contents of the closet, I can assure you, is true. The fictional killer’s modified doll, as disturbing as it seems, is also true.

 I couldn’t help but incorporate the Doll Man’s utter hatred for me into the fictional killer’s feelings of CeeCee. The numerous death threats made during the investigation led me to believe that the Doll Man knew that I saw him for what he was. Of course, like CeeCee does in the novel, I took his favorite doll which further infuriated him. He didn’t fixate on the FBI Agents, the other detectives, or anyone else-only me. Of course these threats ultimately added several months to his sentence. He was convicted of child pornography and aggravated menacing. Frightening is the fact that this man is now out among us again, with no supervision or sex offender label. He’s out to do what he pleases. If you wonder how this is possible, understand it is not a crime in the state of Ohio, (or any state I’m aware of), to pretend that a harem of dolls are little girls. To sexually molest life-size dolls while pretending they’re little girls is quite legal. Disturbing, isn’t it? But the question remains. Where does it end? There was no concrete evidence that this man had ever touched or harmed a child and the investigation was not authorized to go forward.

Like most writers, my imagination went into overdrive at that point. What is he doing? What has he done in the past? What will he do in the future? How long will he be satisfied with only dolls? My concerns fell on deaf ears. Some of you may remember the case of Amy Mihaljevic, the 10-year old girl who was abducted from a Cleveland suburb and brutally murdered. Her killer was never found and, although there has been much speculation from the experts, no arrest has been made. Chillingly, her body was found in a cornfield less than fifteen miles from the Doll Man’s house. Coincidence? Could be but, again, there’s always the possibility. This is a possibility I have considered since the day I opened his closet doors. It’s an unsettling story. One I felt could be told through CeeCee and her appealing co-workers.

Although CeeCee’s family and friends strongly resemble my own, there is nothing familiar with any of them. With such a disconcerting subject, I added more of CeeCee’s on-going romance with Michael and her doomed marriage to Eric; to lighten it a bit. The reality of it is that marriages in law enforcement make Hollywood marriages look like the Bible belt. Sad, but true. Every time we turn the news on it seems that another child has been abducted, or worse, murdered. The unfortunate reality of it is that there are many child predators, like the fictional killer in The Devil’s Closet, that exist in society without our knowledge. They could be your quiet neighbor next door, the retired fellow who bags your groceries, or even your child’s little league coach. Be diligent and aware, and enjoy The Devil’s Closet.

Hopefully, you’ll walk away with, not only an enjoyable read, but a clear message. The message isn’t that you should spend your life looking over your shoulder. But, the next time you’re walking with your child at the park on a warm summer day, you may want to hold their hand just a little tighter. …I know I will.

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The Real Mary Jane’s Grave

I actually had almost half of the third, untitled, CeeCee Gallagher novel completed when I decided to pitch it. I was driving to work one day, down Pleasant Valley Road, when I began to think about the fun my friends and I had at the real Mary Jane’s Grave in high school. Needless to say, I was literally 5 minutes passed Tucker Road (the location of the real grave) when the ending, of what was to become Mary Jane’s Grave, popped into my head. Work was excruciating that day, I couldn’t wait to get home and start my new novel. I tossed aside the current manuscript I was working on and got down to business. What I thought would be easy, turned into approximately 5 weeks of research. I couldn’t believe the websites and the “experiences” people claimed to have had down at the grave. Whether you believe it or not, it made for great storytelling and fabulous material for the book.  

The basic legend of the grave (started by a nearby campground) is that a witch, Mary Jane, was hung from the large, old, pinetree that is situated in the center of Mount Olive Cemetery (pictured above left). Right after her death, a cross mysteriously formed, burned into the bark (pictured right). Anyone that goes there is cursed, and if you urinate on the grave bad things will happen, blah, blah, blah.

During my research, I remembered years ago a robbery that took place there. I wanted to get my hands on the case file and I was lucky enough that my own sheriff’s department investigated it. You see, the road leading back to Mary Jane’s Grave is a narrow, uneven, dirt road that leads to a very isolated graveyard. To block someone in back there to rob, assault, or rape them wouldn’t, and hasn’t, proved very difficult. It’s actually pretty risky to go down there at night–and illegal. As I reviewed the case file on the robbery I was astonished to see that one of the suspects was a kid I used to babysit. Of course, when he was 5-years old, I guess I couldn’t have predicted I had a future thug on my hands.

As much as the citizens loved to go to the real Mary Jane’s Grave for a scare, so did the cops. Whenever a new rookie started it was commonplace for their training officer to take them there and scare the hell out of them. Of course, those stories always opened up the following days’ rollcall. Honestly, the place creeps me out. Haunted or not, it seems like it’s always dark there since it’s in the middle of a thick forest. I don’t care if I’m a cop or not, a gun on my hip won’t help me shoot something that’s already dead. No, I’ve never “experienced” anything there, but obviously, I have a very vivid imagination. The mere notion of a “ghostly presence” brings out the true wimp in me. Hey! I watch Ghost Adventures!

The real Mary Jane’s Grave is located in Monroe Township and the trustees are quite sick of all the vandalism to the graves (pictured left), littering, etc. that takes place. I don’t know why they just don’t open the place up during the Halloween season for ghost walks. I think it would cut down on the curiosity seekers and they could even make a few bucks.  But, that’s just me.

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Behind Murder Mountain

 It’s funny how life changes directions. There was never a future for me that didn’t include law enforcement, or so I thought. Little did I know that would all change.

Working road patrol at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in Mansfield, Ohio, in July, 2004, our shift was running all over the county responding to robberies, domestic assaults, sexual assaults, etc. It was incredibly hot, which seems to bring out the worst in society. Halfway through the shift, an ATL (Attempt to Locate) was put out over the radio. The dispatcher gave a vehicle description and said a man driving the vehicle had numerous weapons with him and was holding his wife and baby hostage. Of course, it was one of those lovely occurrences where I pulled into a nearby gas station for my daily cup of joe and literally almost ran into the suspect. Just my luck. Promptly arresting the man, I determined the wife and baby were unharmed and were not being held against their will. However, there were numerous weapons in the car along with an empty propane tank. After transporting the suspect to jail, I began to interview him, and what he told me was so utterly ridiculous, I laughed out loud. Unfortunately, I learned shortly after that most of what he said was true.
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