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The Phantom Convict



I was a “latchkey kid” in 1942 and did not know it.  My sister, Evelyn, at around the age of fifteen, was involved in being one as well.  I was in the first grade school, which was located in the high school gymnasium, because the new elementary school was not quite completed.  My first grade teacher, Mrs. Saunders, liked to line the class students in a straight line for some activity, and then say “Kneel”.  The first time she did this I was confused.  My name was Neal, so I thought she was calling out to me for something I had done.


My father and mother both worked in town, so we were instructed to ride the school bus home after school.  We had to entertain ourselves for a couple of hours.  Usually Evelyn studied, and I played outside, entertaining myself in various ways.  We never knew that this situation was bad for us.


Evelyn was eight years older than me, and did not particularly like having a six-year-old brother hanging around.  Perhaps, that is the reason that she and two of her friends, twin girls, decided to play a trick on me.


On this particular day, a prisoner had escaped from jail in a neighboring county, and our town was buzzing with this news.  Everyone was a little nervous about this escaped convict.  He was being spotted in several locations around the county.  This was probably the impetus that the girls needed to play a trick on me that afternoon.


The four of us had arrived home after school.  The girls went inside the house, and I remained outside harassing a lizard.  Suddenly, the three girls ran out the back door, screaming, “He’s in the house!  He’s in the closet!  The convict is in our house!”  I joined them in their rush to the protection of the woods behind our house.  I was convinced by their actions that the escaped convict was indeed in my bedroom closet.


It seemed to me that something needed to be done about this situation, so I ran the short distance to my grandfather’s house.  “Big Daddy, guess what! That convict is in our house hiding in my closet!”  As I had figured, Big Daddy knew just what to do.  First, he rang the telephone operator and told her to summon the sheriff to our house. Then he grabbed his S&W .38 pistol, and headed through the pasture toward our house.  Big Daddy (Felix Murphy) had been a deputy sheriff at one time, so I figured he would know what to do about the convict.  The three girls were still hidden in the woods.


Big Daddy eased himself into our back door, pistol at the ready, and gingerly searched my bedroom and closet.  Then he checked the remainder of the house, but no convict was found.  “I guess that he must have already gone.  All that screaming probably scared him off.  The sheriff should be here soon”, he said in an attempt to settle down the girls.


That was not the kind of news that the girls wanted to hear.  Their trick was about to backfire on them. So, they retreated farther back into the woods, not wanting to confess their sins to the sheriff.  I soon realized that I was going to be the sacrificial lamb in this matter, so I decided to climb up a tree myself.  My knees were trembling at the thought of being interrogated by the lawman, but I had no choice since the girls had hidden themselves.


The sheriff arrived and questioned me and finally coaxed the girls out of the woods.  They reluctantly confessed to the sheriff that the whole thing had been made up just to scare me.  I knew for sure that he would haul them off to jail for such a horrendous act.  However, he just lectured them about “this kind of kid stuff” and left.


My father and grandfather were not amused at these events.  For several weeks later, we were instructed to walk to town and report in to either my father’s county office, or my mother’s beauty shop after school was out for the day.  Thinking back, I believe that this was the last joke that was played on me by my sister. But she and the Goodwin twins had the last laugh.



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