John J. Hohn and dog Jessie
I ran into Detective James Raker on the streets in Charles City yesterday. Readers will recall that Raker was the detective who lead the investigation into the rash of murders on Pelican Bay of Lake Heron last summer. Local papers dubbed the murder spree as Deadly Portfolio, a title John J. Hohn picked up for his novel based on the crimes.
Raker seemed much more relaxed than the last time I saw him. He said that his resignation from the Melville County Sheriff’s office hardly created a ripple in the local press. He is now employed by Southern World Textiles as head of corporate security, a position that prominent businessman Alan McAllister helped him secure.
“I had to get up to speed on some of the security issues,” Raker reported. “I had several years of experience with burglary crimes and highjacking while I was on the Minneapolis police force, but it did not prepare me for the international issues that are a big part of the picture with a firm like Southern World Textiles. Fortunately, the staff I inherited has specialists in the field, people stationed in different parts of the world. I coordinate activities. It is an administrate post, but it is very challenging and I am glad to be getting into something new.”
Raker went on to say that he enjoys the occasional travel in connection with his new position. “I have never traveled very much, and I have only been out of the country a couple of times. Already, I have made trips to Asia and Europe.” Readers may recall that Raker’s wife of 34 years died of cancer last year, and Raker reports that the travel has been a relief from the tedium of life as a widower. He confesses that he is tired of life alone. “I’m not equipped to deal with it,” he observed. “I always had Susan to come home to. She was the center of my world. I miss her every day, but I realize that I need to move on with my life. That’s what she would want me to do.”
Raker did not volunteer much about his social life, and it seemed inappropriate of me to inquire. He does indeed seem to have put the worst of his grief behind him. He mentioned that he had become friends with Matt and Shirley Wirth and has enjoyed his time with the couple at their lake home as their guest. I asked if it seemed a bit strange to be enjoying the quiet at the scene of such horrific crimes from the summer.
Pelican Bay on Lake Heron in Winter.
“It was strange, at first,” Raker admitted. “Wirth even said that he thought about selling his place and buying at some other point on the lake, but he decided against it when all the fond memories that he and his wife had over the years gradually overtook their grief and horrible images of the carnage from the summer faded away.” He went on to note the Morrie Clay had sold his home two doors down from the Wirths and a family with young children moved in. “Wirth really enjoys have younger people around,” Raker commented.
The residences around Pelican Bay are shuttered up for the winter as most owners move back into town for the holiday season and remain in the city until Spring. I drove out to Pelican Bay just to get a feel for the place. It was very quiet, even more so as it always is after a snowfall. Snow, of course, is a rare winter occurrence in southwestern North Carolina. I captured a few shots on my digital camera.
Running into the detective prompted me to call Melville County Sheriff Johnston. “Raker was a damn good man,” Johnston said immediately. “He stuck to his guns, and I like that in an officer. When he first came down here from up North, I didn’t think that he would work out. Yankees are overrunning the place these days anyway. But right off the bat, he insisted that he was a Midwesterner and not a Yankee. I think he got disgusted that most of us natives to the state aren’t interested in splitting hairs that way.”
When I observed that there was next to nothing in the local press about Raker’s resignation, Johnston commented, “He’s that way. That’s his style. At first, I thought his quiet manner was a weakness. But it isn’t. He just doesn’t like fanfare. Did a hell of a job on his investigation out there a Heron Lake last summer. SBI, State Bureau of Investigation, butted heads with him, but when it was all said and done, they wanted to interview him to see if he would get on board with them. But he turned them down. There were all kind of theories flying around with that investigation. Most of us didn’t think that the death of the Sherman kid and the McAllister woman’s drowning had anything to do with one another. We thought Sherman died of an overdose. It goes to show you how wrong headed a person can be. That’s why we need men like Raker on our staff. I was sorry to see him go.”
Thinking back on the summer, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to follow up with Matt and Shirley Wirth again as well as Dr. and Mrs. Sherman and Mr. J. Alan McAllister to see how these families are handling all that took place a few months back. Most of us live out our lives without ever knowing anyone who dies the victim of a murder. Even fewer of us have ever had the experience of living in a congenial neighborhood in which one member is guilty of not one but three deaths. At Heron Lake last summer, all of these families knew the victims as well as the murderer. It is still a chilling though.