Wednesday, March 23
Tad Marc’s family lived in a two-story house on a dead-end street called Fauna Place. It was just past Flora Place. Rathskill left the Indian halfway down the street. Afterward, it occurred to him that a man dressed in full leathers walking down a residential street was no less suspicious.
It was an unpretentious brown house with split cedar shakes on the roof. There was a tetherball in the front yard in a patch of trampled grass and a sign near the door that read “Secured by ADT.” He suspected the family couldn’t afford more than the sign.
The newspaper reported that Tad Marc had a bedroom on the second floor. Probably in the back of the house. His parents would have the one guarding the street. The forest pressed against the backyard fence. The Marcs had guarded their front door but forgot the threat at their back.
Rathskill wondered what it was like for a mother to lose her child, a life that had grown within her body, shared her emotions, her blood. She didn’t know whether her son was alive or dead. Her guilt must be consuming. Was it something she did? Something she didn’t do? How could she know without knowing? Her son had simply vanished from his room. No clues, no suspects, no reason. The agony of waiting must be excruciating. Could a family survive such pain?
Damn the gag order, damn the secrecy. Eventually, the Marcs would learn what happened to their son, after the grave site above the Sail River was made public, but the waiting might destroy them. Rathskill wasn’t going to contribute further to their pain.
He walked up to the house and knocked on the front door. No one answered. He knocked again. There was no one home. He stepped back from the door and looked at the upper windows.
A woman appeared on a neighboring porch wearing an apron dusted white with baking flour. “Can I help you? The Marcs have gone away for a bit. They recently lost their son.”
Rathskill mumbled an excuse and left hurriedly. He had nowhere left to go, nowhere to pick up the trail of the dead boy. Hallelujah Bill had mentioned that the Green Man visited the graveyard.
Folktales of the Green Man had been told since the middle ages, stories about a mythic creature as much animal as human, a forest creature that walked upright and used crude tools. The stories resurfaced whenever there was a social crisis created by the tension between technology and tradition. Currently, the myth went by the name of Big Foot and Yeti.
There were historical analogies, even a local one, the Wild Man of the Olympics. Rathskill had lectured on the subject.
John Tornow had been born to a respectable, pioneering family from the Wynooche Valley near Grays Harbor. Frederick and Louise Tornow’s child was restless around others and comfortable only in the wilderness. They suspected something was seriously wrong at age 10 when he began to escape to the woods for weeks at a time. He was a deadly shot with a 30-06, having learned to shoot from the hip to keep his sight clear of the black powder cloud. His trademark was a single shot to the heart, precise and deadly.
At age 19 he was already a man, six foot two inches and 200 pounds, when his family committed him to a sanatorium in the Oregon woods. For 12 months Tornow was treated for insanity. He escaped into the forest. Nothing was officially known of him for another year but loggers around Grays Harbor began sighting a wraith among the trees, a big man who moved as silently as a cougar. He was mute, mostly, but he did once warn that no one should follow him. “I’ll kill anyone who comes after me. These are my woods.”
A year after that warning, on September 3, 1911, the bodies of Tornow’s nephews, Will and John Bauer, were found under a pile of brush. Will Bauer had been shot neatly between the eyes, his brother beneath the left eye. Both bodies had been stripped of their weapons; Will was missing his shoes.
The killing may have been justified. Tornow and his nephews had jointly inherited property which couldn’t be sold without the signature of all three. The Bauer brothers had earlier been unsuccessful in persuading Tornow to return to civilization for the sale. His death may have been their alternative.
Posses immediately scoured the woods without finding Tornow but the loggers were spooked. Logging operations around Montesano virtually stopped and hunters shied from the woods.
Then in February 1912 a trapper named Louis Blair and his partner found the carcass of an elk in the Ox Bow country north of Montesano, a carcass left by Tornow, they believed. Deputy Colin McKenzie, a friend of Blair’s, and Game Warden Al V. Elmer began tracking Tornow with a bloodhound. On March 9, the bloodhound wandered into Louis Blair’s Ox Bow camp alone.
Another posse was sent to find the missing deputy. McKenzie and Elmer were found in a shallow ditch beneath a fresh mound of earth. Both bodies had been stripped of their clothing and weapons.
Blair began tracking Tornow in earnest, driven by revenge for his friend’s death and the $3,000 reward on Tornow’s head. He partnered with Charles Lathrop, a childhood friend of Tornow.
The final scene came in April 1913, when Blair, Lathrop, Deputy Sheriff Giles Quimby, and a pair of bloodhounds tracked Tornow to a rough cabin built in a swamp beside a lake west of Matlock. The cabin was approachable only across a small foot log.
Tornow was waiting in ambush. He had been warned of their arrival by the sudden silence of the frogs he had tethered around his cabin. an old Indian trick. Blair was the first to die. Lathrop fell next. Deputy Sheriff Quimby, the furthest from Tornow’s position, rapidly fired seven times, emptying the magazine of his 30-30, and then dove for cover.
In the silence that followed Quimby couldn’t know if he had hit his mark or whether Tornow was playing possum. The frogs resumed their chorus. The night was approaching. Quimby knew he wouldn’t survive the night if Tornow was still alive. He made a precipitous dash through the woods to the nearest logging camp. The only sound he heard behind him was the baying of the dead trapper’s bloodhounds.
It was another day before the posse and pack horses could return to the cabin. They found Tornow’s body propped against a hemlock tree. He was wearing a black hat that had once belonged to Deputy Colin McKenzie. A search of his shack revealed that he had been surviving on a diet of elk meat and bullfrogs.
What Rathskill found especially interesting about the story occurred after Tornow’s death.
When they brought John Tornow’s body to the undertaker’s on April 20, 1913, he had already been dead three days. The streets of the small Washington town of Montesano were filled with jostling crowds. They had come to see the dead man’s face, to touch his burlap clothing, to breathe the scent of decay. They had come to reassure themselves that John Tornow was truly dead and, through some inexplicable communion, to share in the dead man’s power.
The restive crowd surged forward when the Tornow family tried to keep the body from public display. R.F. Hunter, the Chehalis County Coroner, surrendered decorum to good sense. “Fully 650 people passed through the room where the gaunt figure lay within a space of 30 minutes,” reported Portland’s Morning Oregonian. “Thirty Deputy Sheriffs forced the crowd to move in single file and prevented, by force, [their] tearing off bits of the ragged clothing from the corpse, cutting off locks of hair or whiskers or cutting off pieces from the table where the cadaver lay.” There were hundreds more who couldn’t get into the morgue.
The crowd filed past, some like mourners at the funeral of a saint, others like bumpkins at a county fair. The Wild Man lay stretched upon a wooden table, his hair and beard matted, his clothes patched with burlap sacks, insulated with pine nettles, and stained with blood, his hobnailed boots stolen and too small for his feet.
Sometimes myths become real, Rathskill thought.
The Forks Cemetery was a barren plot of land that grew headstones. There was an unpaved road, a few trees, but not even a fence to separate the living from the dead. The forest began just across the road and continued unbroken to the Calawah River.
The graveyard was empty and neglected. Weeds grew among the headstones. A thicket of Himalayan blackberries had overtaken part of the grounds. Rathskill wandered among the graves, reading the epitaphs. It was a professional habit. The few words left on gravestones said more about the culture than the dead. Most of them were recent and uninteresting but in the older section of the cemetery, near the edge of the forest, he stopped abruptly at the grave of Axel Berglund. Axel had died in 1937 at the age of six, about the same age as Tad Marc. On top of the weathered headstone, someone had left the figure of a horse or pony artfully fashioned from bent twigs. The similarity to the figure he had found on a tree stump near the Sail River site was remarkable.
The hair raised on the back of his neck. Rathskill had the uncanny feeling he was being watched.
In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.
@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.