Everyone who lived on the same street as Mr. and Mrs. Saunders frowned at their introverted lifestyle and odd daily routines. The Saunders rarely left the house, except every weekday morning when Mr. John Saunders would leave for work at promptly 5:45 AM, and not return home until 7:15 PM, depending on traffic. No one on the street was quite sure what Mr. Saunders did for a living, and they hardly cared to ask. Mrs. Joyce Saunders, on the other hand, appeared even less than her husband. On the occasional afternoon she could be seen watering the large hanging ivy bushes that were evenly spaced out along her porch – although they always seemed to be wilting – but otherwise she preferred to keep out of sight. The Saunders did not make any effort to speak to their neighbors, either. They avoided the annual barbecue that Tim and Rebecca Parker held every third Saturday of March, and they were never seen at any of Richard and Katherine Pierce’s elaborate Christmas parties. If all of that was not bad enough, they never picked up the daily newspaper off their lawn until Mr. Saunders got home from work. All and all, the other residents of Rose Bush Way were strongly opposed to having the middle-aged couple as neighbors, and it soon became tradition to scoff at their large Victorian style house as one passed it by.
It was June of last year when the Saunders suddenly became more than just odd neighbors; they became legends.
The first Saturday of that June, Mr. and Mrs. Saunders, seen together for the first time since they arrived on Rose Bush Way almost five years ago, left their house around noon and did not come back for several hours. Luckily, Rebecca Parker and her husband Tim from around the corner were at the local insurance agency trying to get car insurance coverage, so Rebecca heard the Saunders come in together and start talking to an insurance agent about taking out life insurance policies on each other. It seemed to be Mrs. Saunders’ idea more than Mr. Saunders’, because Rebecca Parker observed her asking dozens of questions about how long it would take to get the claim and how much it would be and other such questions, while Mr. Saunders simply sat there impatiently tapping his feet and looking around in what Rebecca deemed a highly rude manner. She supposed that was to be expected, though.
A few nights later, the Saunders’ tradition of staying in and going to bed early was broken when Ellen Mayer, who lived across the street and one house over, saw Mrs. Saunders leave the house at 6:52, according to her watch that she was always proud to point out was a Michael Kors. Ellen Mayer could not think of any reason why Mrs. Saunders would leave the house this late. Fortunately, Amelia Banks was in town that night eating dinner with a visiting relative, so she saw Mrs. Saunders arrive at the movies, apparently alone. Ellen Mayer went back into her house soon after Mrs. Saunders left, most likely to drink, or so Mary Beth Higgins from three doors down claims she always does. Whatever the reason, Ellen Mayer was inside for the rest of the night, and she did not see Mrs. Saunders return home at approximately 10:45.
Ellen Mayer did, however, hear the police sirens and see the flashing blue and red lights as they came flying down Rose Bush Way a few minutes later, as did Mary Beth Higgins and all the other residents of the street. Everyone gathered across the street in their bathrobes, each trying to see if any of the others had on scandalous lingerie or worse underneath. Christine Jones claimed that Sarah McGuire and her husband Rob from one street over both had on “costumes” that definitely fell under the category of “worse”, although she refused to elaborate. All the husbands lit their cigars and tried to edge their way over to the policemen, trying to see if perhaps they could lend a hand in the investigation. They were surprised and rather insulted when the police turned them down, even after Mike Brown explained that he was a former Eagle Scout and Josh Tune proudly announced he was still undefeated at “Clue”. The wives all stood on their tip toes to try and get a good look inside the house, which they could only assume based on the chipping paint and rotting out shingles on the outside was just filthy.
Mrs. Saunders stood outside her house, wiping her eyes constantly with a tissue and telling a police officer everything she knew about the situation, which is that she came home and found Mr. Saunders dead in the foyer. When the officer asked where she was all evening, she instantly stuck her hand into her small knock-off handbag and pulled out a perfectly preserved movie stub. The officer observed it and put it in his evidence bag when Mrs. Saunders managed to get out “You can keep it if you want.” in between sobs.
The body was placed in a large black body bag and rolled out of the house on a gurney. Mr. George Higgins, Mary Beth’s husband, observed to the other men that this is exactly how they do it on Law and Order. The other men nodded in agreement. While the gurney was loaded into the ambulance, Mr. Eddie Jones from next door overheard one of the officers say the cause of death was unknown. There was no gun shot wounds or bleeding or anything. It seemed he just dropped dead.
The next day, the circumstances became even more suspicious. Old Grace Tucker was taking her obnoxious miniature poodle, the one that chased Pastor William’s cat for three blocks last month, for its daily walk when she saw a police car pull up to the Saunders’ house. She crept up behind the hedges that wrapped around the property, noting how desperately they needed to be trimmed. As she got closer, she saw the same officer who was seen interviewing Mrs. Saunders get out and walk up to the door. After two rings Mrs. Saunders answered, still in her bathrobe, despite it being almost noon. Old Grace Tucker scoffed in disgust.
“Mrs. Saunders,” the officer began, “I hate to bother you during this distressing time, but I have bad news.”
“What is it?” Mrs. Saunders asked, stepping outside the door. She seemed to have either forgotten about her inappropriate dress or simply didn’t care. Old Grace Tucker was inclined to assume the latter.
“We took your husband’s body to the morgue and he was supposed to have an autopsy to determine the cause of death,” the officer explained. “But this morning, they discovered his body was gone.”
Old Grace Tucker gasped and held herself up by a nearby tree in disbelief.
“I don’t understand.” Mrs. Saunders cried holding her chest. “What does this mean? Where is my husband?”
“We’re not sure, Mrs. Saunders, but we are looking for him,” the officer responded reassuringly. His face got serious and he went on. “But part of the reason I came here was to tell you that since your husband’s body has obviously been stolen, the only solution we can draw now is murder.”
Old Grace Tucker fainted.
By 1:30 that very same day all the residents of Rose Bush Way had heard about Mr. John Saunders’ apparent murder. Rebecca Parker went and pulled both of her daughters from school, fearing the killer might target the school playground next. Eddie and Christine Jones started looking at real estate ads for other areas. Ellen Mayer was seen leaving the liquor store with two very full brown bags. But despite all these extra precautions, no one had any idea who would bother murdering one of the Saunders.
“They really weren’t any trouble,” Ellen Mayer pointed out as she handed out cups of tea to the group of people in her kitchen, which she had thankfully just cleaned that morning. “They were just odd. Perhaps this is a misunderstanding.”
“I’m telling you I know what I heard!” Old Grace Tucker wailed from the couch in the living room before taking another whiff of her smelling salts. “That officer said mur… mur…” She inhaled salts. “Murder.”
“Why kill one but not the other?” Mr. Richard Pierce asked. “It seems silly to leave Mrs. Saunders around.”
“Unless Mrs. Saunders did it!” His wife Katherine observed. “She can’t murder herself.”
“But she was at the movies!” Ellen Mayer cried as she gulped her tea. “I saw her leave the house and Amelia Banks saw her there!”
“There are other ways,” Mike Brown’s wife Elizabeth – second wife, to be more specific – pointed out. “It’s all in here.” She turned back to her books. Elizabeth had consulted her entire Agatha Christie collection and skimmed through all of them, desperately searching for clues that could help solve the mystery.
By dinner time every resident of Rose Bush Way had his or her own explanation for how Mrs. Saunders managed to kill her husband. Some concluded she poisoned him, and the poison did not take effect until she left. Some argued she murdered him before she went to the movies. Other reasoned that she went out, bought a ticket, then snuck back home to kill him. But the most common solution to the Saunders murder was that Mrs. Saunders had an accomplice, most likely a lover.
“She’s in that big house all alone all day.” Mary Beth Higgins said. “She needed something to do, since she never bothered to come to any of our charity events or bridge nights. I’m sure she found some young fellow looking for some easy money. So, she took him as her mistress and then found an opportunity to escape a loveless marriage, so she had her lover kill him and then leave town.”
“She wouldn’t take a mistress, Mary Beth,” Rebecca Parker corrected. “She would take a male caller. At least I think that’s what they’re called.”
Obviously, the police had reached a similar, yet slightly less scandalous conclusion. The next Tuesday, one week after the murder, Eddie Jones was outside the Saunders house playing catch with his son when he saw Mrs. Saunders being escorted out of her house by the police. She was not in handcuffs, but she did appear very angry as she was led to the police car. At least she was properly dressed this time.
“Where are we going?” Mrs. Saunders demanded impatiently. “I have things to do.”
“We just have a couple of questions for you, Mrs. Saunders.” the officer answered nicely as he held open the car door. “You’ll be back home in a little while.”
The officer shut the car door and walked around to the driver’s side.
Four hours later, Ellen Mayer, who just happened to be sitting outside her house, was shocked to see a police car pull up in front of the Saunders’ house, drop Mrs. Saunders off, and drive away. Her neighbors were equally shocked.
“Those policemen don’t know what they’re talking about!” Mary Beth Higgins told Ellen Mayer over the phone. “In every murder mystery movie I’ve ever seen, the police are foolish and someone else has to fix it. It’s up to us Ellen! Put down your drink and call everyone we know. We’re going to take care of this ourselves!”
That night all of Rose Bush Way gathered in Ellen Mayer’s kitchen to determine what they were going to do to stop Mrs. Saunders. Mary Beth decided that talk was foolish and now was the time for action, so she crept out of the house and cautiously made her way across the street. She inched her way around the looming hedges and kept pressed up against them until she was entirely in the Saunders’ lawn. Based on the terrible condition of the lawn, Mary Beth easily concluded that Mrs. Saunders’ lover was not a gardener or groundskeeper. She looked up at the tall house that seemed to lean over her, but she refused to be intimidated and started making her way towards it. She nervously tip toed across the lawn, fearing she might step on a patch of soft earth where Mrs. Saunders buried her husband’s missing body.
Just as she was approaching the rear of the house, she heard a loud Snap! She froze, fearing she had been shot, but as she slowly looked around, she realized she had stepped on a dead branch. She shook her head in disbelief.
“That wouldn’t have happened if these people took care of their property.” Mary Beth said to herself as she continued around the perimeter of the house. There was a light coming from one of the rear windows and it was open just enough that Mary Beth could hear voices coming from inside. She slowly edged her way against the wall of the house and sank to the ground just below the window. Several shingles fell down around her. She heard two voices coming from inside.
“I don’t know what you’re so concerned about!” A man’s voice said coolly. “They obviously don’t suspect anything because they let you go.”
“You don’t know that!” Came Mrs. Saunders’ voice in harsh tone. “You should’ve heard the way they were talking to me! They know something is fishy and I just know they suspect me.”
“But you didn’t do anything wrong,” the man’s voice replied. “Sweetheart there is nothing to worry about. We only need one more week and it is over.”
“But what if they discover what’s going on by then?” Mrs. Saunders cried. “What if we’re caught by then?”
“We won’t be,” the man said assumingly. “They have no proof and they won’t have any proof.”
Mary Beth Higgins’ heart was beating so fast she felt like she needed to put her hand on it to calm it down. She wasn’t sure how this would help, but they always do it in the movies. As she lifted her hand up off the soft earth, she felt something moving across it. She looked down to see the silhouette of a snake slithering across her fingers. Mary Beth Higgins, forgetting where she was and what she was doing, screamed, jumped up, and sprinted back to the Mayers’ kitchen, where her neighbors waited anxiously for an update.
As Mary Beth Higgins began telling her story between gulps of gin that Ellen was too quickly able to produce and sniffing Old Grace Tucker’s trusty smelling salts, Tim Parker dialed 911 and put the phone up to Mary Beth’s mouth, so the police could also hear what was going on.
The next day, the residents of Rose Bush Way stood triumphantly in the street as they watched the police show Mrs. Saunders a search warrant and enter her house. Mrs. Saunders sat on a bench on her front porch and stared at the floor, avoiding eye contact with officers that past by her and her neighbors. After two or three hours, the residents of Rose Bush Way, who had gone from standing proudly in the middle of the street to sitting impatiently on the lawn, saw the police officers leave the house empty handed and, with sunken faces, drive away.
Aside from the testimony of her neighbors, the police had come up with no evidence that Mrs. Saunders had anything to do with her husband’s murder, or proof that her husband was even murdered at all. The investigation had run cold.
“This never happens on CSI,” Rebecca Parker observed coldly.
The funeral for Mr. Saunders was the following week. It was an odd funeral since Mr. Saunders himself was not in attendance, but his former neighbors figured Mrs. Saunders just wanted to be polite and give him a proper funeral.
“After all,” Christine Jones complained to her husband during the car ride over. “She had her lover murder the poor man, and then she cut him up into tiny pieces and buried him in her lawn. The least she could do is have a proper funeral service for him.”
All of Rose Bush Way was there, but very few of them even thought about paying their last respects to the dearly departed – assuming he was, in fact, departed. Everyone wanted to see if Mrs. Saunders would arrive with her lover, or if she would possibly break down and confess to murder before throwing herself at the empty casket begging for forgiveness.
The actual funeral was slightly less dramatic.
Mrs. Saunders sat by herself in the front row. She wore a black suit and held a handkerchief in her hand as she stared forward. She smiled and received the few guests who wanted to greet her and pass along half-hearted condolences, but otherwise she did not speak to anyone. She only cried a few times during Pastor William’s beautiful service, and she seemed relieved when the service was over.
She left without a word. She did not thank Pastor William for the lovely things that he felt obligated to say. She did not thank all her neighbors for coming. She didn’t have the courtesy to have a decent spread laid out for a reception. She simply dabbed her eyes a couple more times to eliminate any stray tears, and then she left.
The following Monday, Rebecca Parker was taking her daughter for a much-needed hair cut in town when she saw Mrs. Saunders leaving the very same insurance agency where only weeks earlier Mrs. Saunders and her husband took out life insurance policies. Rebecca saw Mrs. Saunders take a check out of her purse, read it, and put it back in her purse. Then, smiling, she got into her car and drove away.
That was the last time anyone saw Mrs. Joyce Saunders.
The residents of Rose Bush Way were surprised to see her car gone the next morning, and, after some careful snooping around the property, they determined the house was deserted. It appeared as though she simply vanished in the middle of the night. Of course, they all still had their theories about where she was.
“She probably met up with her lover and traveled with him to his hometown of, like, Costa Rica or something.” Ellen Mayer concluded as she shot a disapproving look at the house.
“Maybe her husband wasn’t dead!” Mary Beth Higgins argued. “Maybe he faked his death and then he murdered her and took off with his own life insurance money!”
“Nonsense!” Elizabeth Banks replied. “Of course he’s dead! If he wasn’t dead, he surely would have gone to his own funeral service.”
“That’s true,” Mary Beth Higgins agreed.
The police soon forgot about the Saunders and the mysterious events that occurred in their house. They labeled the case “cold” and figured no one cared to know what happened anyways. The residents of Rose Bush Way, on the other hand, were not as easily satisfied. The house was soon labeled as haunted and everyone was cautioned to keep away, for fear that at least one of the Saunders’ ghosts still roamed the moldy halls.
Of course, no one stayed away. Everyone who lived on Rose Bush Way investigated the Saunders’ house at least once in the months that followed, but nothing was discovered. It seemed that no matter how long they searched and what they could manage to find out, no one would ever know what happened to John and Joyce Saunders. Even in their absence, the Saunders continued to be a burden on the residents of Rose Bush Way.