EXCERPT: “The Blood-Soaked Woman at the Top of the Stairs”

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Now that we know the whole story, we have to wonder what was going through the veterinarian’s mind the day his girlfriend kept calling him.

Dr. David Roberts, former Wisconsin State Veterinarian and wealthy breeder of exotic cattle in Waukesha, had been at his wit’s end all day, trying to keep his wife and his mistress from having the meeting that they both wanted to have, a meeting that would put a sure and sudden end to his shenanigans.

Roberts had been watching his two-year relationship with Grace Lusk spin out of control for several weeks. Mary, his wife, was onto them, and he tried to explain that away by telling her the crazy spinster school teacher became insanely obsessed with him while they worked together on his cow book, and that if they ignored her, she would lose interest. Still, Mary said that she wanted to talk to the woman and warn her off. Roberts forbade it. That was an era where a man might be able to forbid his wife to do something, but it clearly didn’t work this time.

Early on the morning of Thursday, June 21, 1917, Grace first called Roberts at home. He put her off, saying he had to go to his office, which was next door. She soon called him there, and he tried to calm her, knowing that his wife was also on the warpath and still did not know the true nature of their relationship. For now, she wanted Grace’s head on a platter, but if she talked to Grace, she’d want his, too. His wife came into the office shortly after that, saying that she was going to the YMCA, where Grace had an office, to meet with her rival and invited him to come along if he so desired. He walked with her the entire three blocks, and managed to talk her out of the meeting on the sidewalk just before they got to the front door of the Y. They went home and had dinner, inviting L.D. Blott, a young man whom the doctor had raised and was now a partner in his veterinary pharmaceutical business. He surreptitiously instructed Blott, a reluctant participant in the doctor’s domestic drama, to keep an eye on his wife and make sure she did not go to see Grace Lusk.

Shortly after lunch, Mrs. Roberts started walking in the direction of the Bianca Mills home, near the library, on West Park Avenue, where Grace Lusk boarded. Blott followed her, but in trying to stay out of sight, he lost her in the park. He had noticed she was heading toward the library. So he went back to the office, got in the doctor’s motor car and drove around trying to find her, but could not. He drove down Maple Street west of the library but did not go down West Park Avenue. When Blott got back to the office, the doctor ran out and met him at the curb. Mrs. Roberts had just called, he told Blott, summoning him to the Mills home.

By this time, the veterinarian surely knew something bad was going down, that his web of lies was getting irrevocably tangled, and within moments they were at the red-brown stucco Mills house. As their machine pulled up in front, they heard a gunshot from within. Then another. The veterinarian ran up to the porch, frantically rang the bell and started to bang on the front door when he realized it was ajar. He opened it. The house was silent. He tentatively shouted out his wife’s name. No reply. He went first to the dining room, finding it empty, then doubled back to the parlor. In a corner of the front room lay the veterinarian’s wife, fatally wounded, breathing slightly.

“I’m afraid I’m going,” she said to her husband before she slipped into her final unconsciousness.

Roberts ran across the street to the home of Sam Mills, Bianca’s brother, the house where he first met Grace Lusk, to call for a doctor and police. Blott stood in the front yard, and a moment later, he heard another shot and ran back into the house. He checked the downstairs room, then put a foot on the first step of the curved staircase just in time to see Grace emerge from her room at the top, ghostly pale with one hand pressed to the front of her bloody dress, flourishing a pistol with the other.

“Stop!” she commanded and pointed the pistol down the stairs. “Don’t come up here!”

Blott stepped back, and almost bumped into Dr. R.E. Davies, who had already checked on the wife and found her dead. So he turned his attention to the bleeding woman at the top of the stairs.

Davies greeted her calmly, then slowly moved past Blott and started up the stairs, but Grace waved the pistol at him and he stopped.

“If you come up I’ll shoot,” she screamed at him. The doctor quickly stepped back onto the landing.

Grace looked glumly at the hand placed over the gunshot wound in her chest.

“Will I die?” she asked.

“It is too low,” the doctor said, trying to calm and reassure her. “You missed your heart. I think you will recover.”

“That’s too bad,” she said. “I want to die. There can be no mental nor spiritual recovery, so why the physical?”

About that time, Chief of Police Don McKay arrived.

“This is Mr. McKay,” said the doctor. The chief of police bowed gravely.

“I know Don McKay,” Grace said in a hysterical burst of laughter. “I know something about him, too. I am very pleased to meet you, Chief. Are you really going to marry the pretty widow?”

“Yes,” the chief said in surprise, staying at the bottom of the stairs with Davies and Blott.

“Will you permit the chief of police to come up?” Davis asked.

“No!” she cried and kept the gun pointed at the three men.

She called for Roberts several times during the hour-long standoff. They told her he wasn’t here, even though he was in the parlor with the dead body of his wife. The other men advised him to stay put.

“Where is Mrs. Roberts?” Grace asked.

“Mrs. Roberts is dead,” Davies said.

“Oh, I am so sorry,” she said.

She asked Dr. Davies to take some messages and directed him to some paper in the library. He took a fountain pen from his coat and wrote down what she said, a note to her father before she died. She wept as she dictated:

“Dr. Roberts told me again and that he loved me, and cared for no one but me. He said he cared more for me than for anyone in the world. He said that he and his wife never loved each other, that he cared for no one else. He said he would tell her by June 15th. He swore it on a Bible. When he came back with me across the park, I told him that he must tell her that he doing a dishonorable thing by deceiving her. I went to see her last night and he brought me back through the park. I asked him again if he loved me, and he said he did. I asked him if he would tell her, and he said he would. I called him on the phone, and he said that he had told her. But when she came to see me she said he had told her merely that I was infatuated with him, that I had been chasing him, and that I was the damnedest fool he had ever met. She called me every name, every name. I loved him so dearly. Mrs. Roberts called me such awful things. Mrs. Mills must be paid for the damage to the place. Pay her for everything very well. Father, you will see to this.”

She said more, but Davies was out of paper. He pretended to continue to write, however, and summarized the rest of her dictation in court.

“She said the reason she shot Mrs. Roberts was because of the names the doctor’s wife called her,” Davies would testify. “She kept calling for the doctor, and when I said he wouldn’t come she said, ‘The dirty coward! Is he afraid I’ll hurt him?’”

For nearly an hour, either standing at the landing or seated on the top step, Grace kept the three men at bay, brandishing her pistol.

“I wouldn’t have done it but she called me such awful names,” she said time and again.

Finally, Chief McKay asked her if he could take her to jail.

“Never!” she said.

She began to poke her fingers around her ribs and raise the gun to the spot, as if she had found the angle she wanted, then her shaking hand would drop. She did this a second, a third time, then told the men to go around the corner, out of her sight. They complied, and as soon as they were gone, they heard the explosion of a gunshot ring out and Grace’s weary voice coming from her room: “You may come up now.” Then they heard the sound of a body and a revolver hitting the floor.

Davies and Chief McKay ran up the stairs to her room. She had shot herself again, but had apparently tried to find a more fatal spot with her hand, and ended up shooting off the end of her finger. The mistake probably saved her life, as the bullet once again missed her heart, grazed her left lung and passed through her slender body.

“That was the most unfortunate miss I ever made,” she said.

While they waited for help, Grace remained conscious, moaning over and over: “I love him and he is a coward. He left me to suffer.”

“It is so strange,” she said to Davies as the ambulance crew removed her on a stretcher, “but I love him still.”

Find out how the illicit and illegal affair deteriorated to this point ,,,




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A Two-Dollar Terror #2
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