I live next door to the Harlan house where the Gonzales' were murdered last year. Even as I tell you this I have to correct myself. The Gonzales'
bought the house from the Harlans six years ago. I saw my new neighbors on the day they moved in. Once or twice I caught a glimpse of them on
a Sunday. No one knew much about the Gonzales' until the day after Christmas when they were found stabbed to death in their own bed.
Banyan Lakes is an established community half an hour from Palm Beach. Most of us have lived here all our lives, our parents before us. We know
one another from private school days, church functions and community gatherings. Chip and I bought our home right after we were married and
moved in upon returning from our honeymoon in Europe. We, who once kept our doors unlocked, are upgrading our alarm systems, and have
added an extra security patrol. Our gated community, security guards, and entrance codes didn't stop the murderer. My husband, certain the killer
was someone the Gonzales' knew well, minimized my fears. "It was drug money, Emma…drug money," he repeated.
"Who knows where else they got the money to buy that house? The Harlans said it was an all cash deal they couldn't refuse."
The newspapers reported an unforced entry. Sometime between midnight and three in the morning, someone stabbed the Gonzales' fifty or more
times. I know I shouldn't dwell on the details but I can't seem to stop myself. He was killed first. Had he awakened? Did he die immediately?
Did his wife turn toward his agonal sound or had she tried to escape, the killer overpowering her, throwing her back onto the bed? Or was she
paralyzed by fear? Did she recognize the killer in that brief instant before her own throat was slashed from ear to ear, leaving a small part of one ear
attached? Why did the killer slash both faces until the skin fell back from their unseeing eyes?
The Gonzales' came from Cuba to escape Castro. I read about their struggle to become citizens, to educate themselves. They met in law school,
burning the midnight oil, until they graduated with the highest honors. She, Sarita, had worked for the first two years of law school, as a maid in
South Beach, scrubbing hotel rooms at The Colony.
I'm always going to make sure my husband leaves money for the maid when we go away now. I never trusted maids before. I had been taught they
could steal and hide anything on their carts among all those empty bottles and cleaning rags. Or underneath the towels.
Wearing paste copies of jewelry when traveling and hiding my credit cards in a special pouch I bought at Berkley's has been drilled into me. But
now, when I see a maid, I'll see Sarita's face. They can't all be thieves.
He, Marco, worked as a night janitor in one of the elementary schools. People like those are supposed to be lazy. Living off welfare and food
stamps my husband says we pay for. The newspaper article also said the Gonzales' formed a partnership, driving to their office in West Palm Beach
every morning at eight and returning around seven.
But I knew they left earlier. When I warmed a bottle for our son William, the headlights of their car would beam into our kitchen. Come to think
of it that was six years ago, right after they moved in.
Nothing was stolen from the Gonzales' home. One of their two children, I forget her name, something like Pilar, flew in from New York today…a
brilliant girl… she's studying medicine at Yale. The police, according to Pilar, haven't done much at all. "I went to high school in this community,"
Pilar was later quoted as saying, “and you can bet if my parents were the Fairchilds or the Baxters, this crime would have been solved."
I felt upset when I read that because I think it's true, but my husband says people like the Gonzales' always think that way, and besides, what can the
police do when there isn't a clue to go on?
The Gonzales' also had a son. He was questioned. Maybe the police even suspected him for awhile because he'd left home when he was fourteen or
fifteen and never returned. It turned out that he was brilliant too, and left home on a scholarship to a prep school in Massachusetts.
I don't remember either of the children. When they rang our bell after the murders a year ago, I peered at them through the newly installed peephole
in our front door. I tried to help them but I really couldn't answer any of their questions. Besides, the police had already questioned me. I heard
nothing that night.
It was Christmas Eve. William didn't have school and we had thought about taking him to Disney World but decided to have the Marchands and
the Paynes for cocktails, as usual. Besides, there'd be too much traffic. People drinking and all that. Not our type of thing. I can understand why
Pilar has not returned until today, although the year has passed quickly for me. Being chairman of the Junior League’s Aid to Schools program,
book club meetings, and chauffeuring William and his friends for music and tennis lessons... an exhausting schedule, takes its toll. Pilar is here to
dispose of the furniture and put the house up for sale. I had to vouch for her at the gate.
I felt disappointed in her behavior toward me. What did I expect from her? To have her say polite things she didn't mean? I invited her in for a
cup of coffee and she refused. Coldly.
"I'm on a tight schedule," she said. As though I had nothing else to do with my time, either.
Dressed in a tailored suit, (I thought her skirt could have been a tad longer) stockings and heels, Pilar (that is her name, after all) turned her back on
me without so much as a thank you.
I never saw her again. Not even when they arrested the Harlan boy…a week ago Tuesday… Christopher Harlan…of all people… for the murder of
Everyone who’s anyone in Banyan Lakes is talking about the case. We’re certain the police have made a terrible mistake. After all, Christopher
Harlan’s grandfather is a state senator. His father is president of The Florida Home Savings Bank. His mother was a Strand.
The Harlans had eight children. Christopher, a middle child, always had learning and behavior problems in school. My father told me neither
tutors nor beatings worked. His parents did the best they could under the circumstances and it embarrassed them when Christopher openly defied
his teachers, couldn’t do his homework, or pull straight A’s. Like Chip and me, he went to Murdoch’s Academy, the finest of the finest private
schools. William goes there, now.
Christopher did go on to college and graduate… not one of the Ivies but a decent enough school in the northeast… somewhere in Boston, I think.
His father gave him a job in the bank… an executive position, of course… I forget his title.
According to the local newspaper, Christopher Harlan remembered this much of the night he murdered the Gonzales. His parents were having a
holiday party and he had a few drinks before he met his old buddies at Grody’s. He drank heavily and made inappropriate comments to a former
girlfriend. Refusing to pour another drink for him, the bartender asked him to leave.
He remembered driving around in his father’s nine year-old white Porsche; the car he learned to drive on when he lived next door. The Harlans
wisely kept that car around because one of their children always needed to be driven somewhere for lessons and sports. When one was old enough
to drive, he or she drove the other children to school. Father said it was a ridiculous car for a bank president to have bought at any time.
Christopher Harlan said he murdered the Gonzales’ in a drunken stupor and only became conscious of what he had done the next morning
…when he read about it in our local newspaper.
Of course, the newspaper didn’t say more than that. People I know…like the Marchands and the Paynes…made up all kinds of stories. Many
believed Christopher, always at odds with his parents… thought the Gonzales were his parents.
Jessica Marchand said Christopher drove from Grody’s down Villa Street and turned into Paladium, passing the gate to Banyan Lakes. “Really,
Emma,” she told me, “he used to live there, you know. I heard Christopher simply opened the glove compartment where the Harlan’s kept the
gate opener and there it was…in the palm of his hand. Must have been around one or two in the morning because the attendant was sleeping.”
Chip often complains about security guards who fall asleep on the job; but, if someone has a gate opener, there’s nothing the guard can do,
anyway. Chip suggested that all guests of residents should register the color, make, and year of their automobile.
“It’s Christmas,” I said. “ Don’t you ever believe in the goodness of people?”
I didn’t tell anyone what I thought… that Christopher drove automatically to his old house on Banyan circle. The neighborhood was dark…people
keep their displays on timers and turn them off at a reasonable hour. All the lights in the Harlan house… I mean the Gonzales house…were out.
He went around the back of the house to the screened patio. The door was open. The sliding glass door to the kitchen had never locked properly.
The Gonzales’ hadn’t redone the kitchen as they should have. A knife block stood on the black and brown granite counter and Christopher pulled
out one like his mother used for slicing bread from L’Patisserie. It was real quiet in the house. His parents…I mean the Gonzales’ were sleeping.
I do have an overactive imagination and my questions remain unanswered. I don’t know why I want to know who died first, but I do, and I still
want to know all the gory details. I have other questions, too.
If Christopher woke up the next morning in his own home, what did he do with his clothing? It had to be soaked in blood. He was living with
his parents in the estate section of Twin Isles. I remember their housewarming. What did his parents know?
I remember hearing something about Christopher wrecking the car that night. He was always drinking and driving. The Porsche had to be
repaired. Perhaps his parents believed, if they did see blood anywhere, that it came from the car accident. What parent could conceive of their child as
Christopher Harlan never went to the police. He started to go to A.A. meetings. Alcoholic Anonymous. I understand he went every night and
after six months or so told his story. It was supposed to be privileged and confidential. Maybe if he hadn’t had all those learning problems, he
would have known better. Most people I know would never trust strangers, but he was different. I guess he needed to confess or ask forgiveness.
Several months after Christopher told his story, a man who had heard it, decided to go to the police. He told them he couldn’t live with himself
another minute. He said he knew he was violating one code of honor for another.
I would be proud of my son, William, if he were that man. Someone who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. On the other hand,
how would I feel if it were William who was in trouble?
Christopher Harlan is now in jail for the rest of his life. The local newspapers kept the trial hush-hush, in deference to the Harlans, I guess. Not
really hush-hush, but no more than necessary. None of the lurid details.
Yesterday, I bumped into Margaret Harlan, Christopher’s mother, at a fund-raising affair at the Saint Claire. I didn’t know what to say to her.
Everyone I know is surprised the Harlans haven’t moved away.
Margaret Harlan was a beautiful socialite. Before she married John, she had such promise. Number one in her class at Yale. But then, she said,
when the children came along, that they were enough. Eight children. One right after the other.
I didn’t know what to say to her. “I’m sorry,” I finally blurted. Just what I’ve been taught to say when someone dies. Nothing more. She started
to cry and I handed my handkerchief to her. Her nose was red and swollen. There were bags underneath her eyes. I wondered if she was drinking
It’s getting dark now and a bit windy. The Vanda orchids, hanging in baskets from the banyan trees behind our patio, are swaying. The maids have
thoroughly cleaned our home. The silver sparkles, and the caterer has planned a special menu for the Rochesters. They are moving into the Harlan
house next week and we will be the first to entertain them.
Bulldozers have come and gone. The Rochesters have had four dumpsters in their driveway. They gutted the Harlan house and razed the bedroom
wing, where the murders took place. The house is more than a bit overdone.
It’s almost time for Chip to come home. William is outside playing with the Rochester boy, now. I don’t know why I feel so worried and
anxious. Yes, I do. It’s because the boys are playing with guns. “Boys will be boys,’ Chip says.
Chip keeps one gun in the house now and another one in the glove compartment of his car. He practices at Hearn’s Shooting Range on Monday
nights. I had a panic button installed on my side of the bed and another near the front door.
I know I’ll feel better when the Rochesters move in, but it’s when I look at William, when I see him sleeping at night, that I worry. He still sleeps
with his Pooh bear, the plush all worn away. In the morning, he hides Pooh under his bed.
“William,” I call. “Time for you and Harrison to have dinner. Your father will be home soon. Remember, as soon as you finish eating, you have
to work on your math and reading. You’re falling behind.”
Death Comes Home
by: Lucille Gang Shulklapper