It is November, and 5 a. Today they are going to pick up a man named Timothy Kern, age 47, who will be waiting for them in a strip-mall parking lot with all his earthly possessions. Like the three men who preceded him on this grim adventure, Tim answered an ad on Craigslist that said: We need someone to watch our farm down in southern Ohio.
Live for free in a double-wide trailer, nothing in the way of duties except to take in the peacefulness of the countryside and remark on the changing of the seasons and make sure no one steals any farm equipment or perpetrates any mischief. Rich comes lumbering across the front lawn, expelling steamy breath into the dark Akron morning, and deposits himself into the front seat. Brogan says nothing, as is his habit. Brogan is a junior of middling academic record at Stow-Munroe Falls High School, remarkable to his peers and teachers mostly for being such a giant of a human being.
Six feet five inches, close to pounds, and not finished growing yet.
After all, he was the one who dug the hole yesterday out at a plot of neglected suburban scrubland near the old Rolling Acres Mall—about yay wide and yay deep and big enough for an adult male body. Rich, not being partial to manual labor, had watched. As they pull out onto the road, Brogan wills himself not to think about what he and Rich will be doing this morning. Richard Beasley: age 52, former convict, motorcycle enthusiast, professed man of God, known on the Akron street as Chaplain Rich.
Brogan calls him his counselor. The enterprise that will bring them to Tim Kern began in August, in the dead of summer.
Rich had discovered that there was a warrant out for his arrest, the product of a twenty-month investigation into the goings-on at a halfway house he operated. If he were arrested, he could very well spend the rest of his life in prison. And so Rich began to target men like Tim. At first because he needed a new identity, and later to provide a kind of income to support a life on the run.
It is sort of a retirement plan for the obsolete white man. In the industrial northeast of Ohio at the far side of the Great Recession, there is no shortage of these people. Rich has actually been interviewing subjects he carefully selects from the hundreds of men who reply to the.
Rich ascertains certain things from these gentlemen: Do you have a wife or kids or people you need to keep in close touch with?
Bring it all with you, and my nephew and I will drive you on down to Caldwell. Rich tells Brogan to get off the highway at an exit in the town of Canton.
He says that Tim Kern is waiting in his car not too far from there. Brogan is quiet, as always.
People tend to make assumptions about you when you are huge and so quiet you could be mistaken for mute. But Brogan is also observant. Rich smells this morning of bar soap and, beneath that, something fetid.
His message: I live among you by choice; I can leave if I want. Rich has been dyeing his hair as part of his new identity, but now the filmy silver roots have grown out. Brogan will later say that he senses about Rich this morning a new kind of desperation. In less than a month, Brogan will deliver a series of lengthy confessions to the FBI about the elaborately planned but almost logic-defying crimes he and Rich committed together.
There is a surveillance camera in the parking lot where Tim Kern is waiting in his Buick LeSabre. Footage from that New Mexico prostitutes craigslist will indicate it is five minutes after 6 A. It is hard not to like Rich Beasley right away. His hand is an old overboiled ham hock that envelops mine in a shake.
He is large, with a fulsome white goatee and an untrimmed mustache that covers the absence of front teeth and works as a kind of flap behind which bites of microwave cheeseburger disappear as a dog disappears into a flap in a back door. They might be said to have a mischievous twinkle. The hairs of the eyebrows are unruly and backward-reaching. He looks like the Grinch, or at least a little like he was drawn by a cartoonist. I also read The Week cover to cover every week. The man has the gift of gab.
His talent in the sermonizing arena was never soaring oratory, more of a folksy sociability.
He releases another commiserating grin, this one called guilty as charged. First as a good-works type of deal and then because they were homeys. And his mother, well… But Brogan loved church. The two of them were also regulars at the Bible study held in the orchestra room afterward, where some socializing and fellowship were had. Everyone thought they were a funny pair, Brogan and Rich. The little-boy giant and the aging former biker. They tried to get Brogan in with the kids his age, but he just preferred to be with the older folks.
He was following Richard around.
And Rich, on the other hand: "Well, he maintained what you call the rough look. You know, the down-and-outer look," Nancy says. Nancy, and the whole Bible-study group, got to know Rich from the letters he sent his mom when he was doing some time in prison in the early s. A series of robberies.
She lived a real Christian life. And after he got out, Rich really seemed to have found his way back to God. There were some weird people who used to stay there, certainly.
That one guy ended up being a sex offender. He lived among them. Akron belongs to the official demographic denomination of Midsize American City—your Springfield, MOs, your Greensboro, NCs—the type of place most people have heard of but almost no one has been to on purpose. In a city of this size, with a downtown of no more than a handful of city blocks, without even a proper ghetto, the street is small enough that it is mostly on a first-name basis with itself.
He conducted weekly Bible studies at his halfway house for the unwanted and forgotten and lived with them and tolerated their vices and their personality defects, their vomit and blood and urine, and endured what no other man could endure, and still had charity in his heart. That is the story he tells. We overlooked als.
They were there. There really is a plot of land down in Caldwell, just like Rich promised in the Craigslist ad.
It technically belongs to a coal-mining company. It feels like being back in what even people who have known no such simpler time refer to as a simpler time. If on this November morning you were to head out of Caldwell, up onto Rado ridge, past a couple of desolate houses, and turn onto Don Warner Road, you would find "the farm. The body has been here since summer, when the leaves were green; now it sits beneath four feet of damp earth coursed by hunters out savoring the final days of bow-hunting season.
But with Scott something had apparently gone wrong with the gun. Rich had only been able to shoot Scott in the arm, and then Scott had taken off into the woods. Brogan says he hangs back while Rich does the interfacing with Tim. Rich gets jocular and street-preachery, and Tim yields.
He has a history of being a burner and a loafer and a dude who loves classic rock. He is the divorced father of three boys. It was like having another .
Brogan thinks he seems sweet. The first fucked-up thing Brogan notices about the Tim Kern situation is the car. This is the big payday Rich has been hoping for? Tim is living in his car, at this point.
All he has are garbage bags filled with clothes and keepsakes, a few pictures of his family, and a soiled ream of personal documents of the type you see the itinerant clutching outside government offices everywhere. Take this, leave that. Brogan, as the muscle, grapples the TV into his trunk.
Why does Rich want this TV? What kind of vetting process could Rich have done on this guy?
Rich asks Tim how much cash he has on him to get by with down on the farm, and Tim gets all sheepish and says: Five bucks. Rich and Brogan up front, with Tim in the back, like a. Rich keeps the patter up. He was always good like that.
Brogan often remarked inwardly about how weird some of the stuff Rich talked to these men about was. Rich would always take them out for breakfast on the way to the farm, the big magnanimous boss guy.
What the Craigslist job offered Tim was an unforeseen opportunity: an actual grown-up life. Instant adulthood, including a place to live where his sons—they were grown, but he called them his "babies"—could come visit, a setup that lately seemed beyond him to puzzle out.
Still, Tim did not exactly go gladly into this adventure. He was trying to seem laid-back about it, but he felt pretty adrift, heading out that morning to go live by himself on a farm in southern Ohio.