A different Tale of Survival (My Own Private Murderer. Part I)


"My Own Private Murderer"

      Stories of murder, murderers, and the the often questionable convictions of accused killers are all the rage.  I thought I would to take advantage of the trend to tell my story while the the interest still exists.  It will be told in several parts as it takes place over nearly a 7 year period.

All that I am about to tell you is completely true. A dramatic beginning, I know, but it pales when compared to the roller coaster of events that occurred during the years this story developed. I have told my tale to others but I think it is too long for an oral presentation in the 2 minute world we live. I’m not sure how many parts it will take to tell the whole piece, but I will do my best to keep in interesting. Please feel free to research the main participants, as I have not changed the names.

The story begins on a weekday September morning  in 1998 around 5:30 am, not unlike any other day at the store. I was the first to arrive at work as I have said in other stories, but not the first to arrive (or still be hanging around) on State Street. The sun was taking it’s time as it was a cool fall day and well past the summer solstice. 
 After we had expanded in the early years  o’Bagelo’s now occupied two storefronts. The original section had the main entrance but no accessible back door. Once we took over the new section we add dining space and a back door that led to the alley.  This was a needed addition for deliveries and for the occasional escape without customers noticing.
Once the ovens were running for a bit the back end of the store warmed up enough to be uncomfortable and I often cracked open the back door to get some fresh cool air in while the hot air escaped.  This was one of those mornings.  As I baked away and watched the news on the kitchen television, the mindless repetitive actions of baking and setting up the store were  going nicely. Nicely that is until I saw a light coming through the front door and what appeared to be some tapping on the window. 
I poked my head out of the kitchen to identify the action and saw a uniformed police officer peering into the place with work like mannerisms. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to appear at my door prior to opening. Often just a regular customer heading to work early who knew I would let them in, as long as they abided by the rules. I was working and on a tight schedule. No requests that required too much of my time, including conversation. This cop was checking the place out with a flashlight in one hand and his other hand placed on his his gun, still holstered. This was work, not a coffee run. 
As I approached the front door I realized I didn't know the cop at my door. This only increased my curiosity.  His car was parked on the street facing the wrong direction. There was another police car parked in the right direction. We quickly got acquainted and he asked me if everything was O.K. in the shop. I thought all was well and he began to tell me why he was asking. 
There was a man standing at the back door and he was peering into the small opening at the back door.  When the cops approached him they noticed he had a hammer in his hand. Although there was an elevated railroad track on the north side of the street, this was no John Henry impersonator. The strange mans’s response wouldn’t have satisfied anyone at any time of the day, let alone in a dark alley before the sun had risen. His appearance didn’t aid his argument and the police officer told me he was in the back of the police car. 
The cop told me his name and asked if we were acquainted. The name didn’t ring a bell and I said so, but he wanted me to take a look and see if I recognized him from the neighborhood. I don’t like things interrupting my morning rituals, but the reason has always been that I leave little time for distractions.  This seemed like more than a distraction. I walked with the cop to the police car that held the rude visitor at my back door and we made eye contact. If I may paraphrase a great movie “This was the beginning of a (not so) great friendship”. I make eye contact with a diverse group of people every day.  And not just casual eye contact, but discussion based contact. It’s short and informative, but there are often plenty of telling signs it each one of those interactions. This one was no different is many senses, and completely different in others. 
That September morning the face sitting in the back seat of that police car was not familiar to me. That was the last time I would ever be able to make that statement.  His eyes lacked softness and a definition of connectivity that comes with humanness. There was a direct hollow space extending from his eye sockets into the emptiness of his entire being. Somewhere between animalistic and soulless human. The rest of his tall frail body was long and stringy, covered in clothes that had been worn through more than a few long evenings in the city. Sunken cheeks highlighted facial hair that struggled to grow, and the short hair on his head appeared exhausted from the same efforts. 
It wasn’t until a later date that I learned I was looking at the effects of the powerful parasitic host called “crack”. But there was more in that face. It was a face of despair. A face of secrets, perhaps brought on by the parasite and possibly one that is evident in all of it’s hosts, but I knew I had seen this look before.

     Many years earlier I had met a man who was rumored to have been a contract killer for one of those underground organizations. I knew the rumor prior to meeting him and was skeptical about his history.  I kept an open mind about the possibility, after all, I don’t doubt their existence so they must be somewhere. 
The day I met the man of rumors I immediately ceased talking about the acts that followed him and changed his status to: “Believable in my mind”. He had the same look in his eyes, however they were surrounded with an appropriate exterior and presentation. If you could possible miss those searing soulless lasers emanating from his clean cut face, you may never have noticed. I hold onto the possibility that my judgment was clouded by the placement of derelict thoughts concerning his craft, but the cold crushing wave that pierced my body when our eyes met and we shook hands is still shoots through me when I think of him. 
Twice. I had now seen that look twice and it added to the data points making up my scientifically-lacking model. But the data was about to change. The officer told me they were going to take this “John Henry” wannabe into custody for processing and see what comes up, and I thought that was the end of it. 
At this point I still lived in a world of relative peace and ease. A world where business stress and customer behavior was an occupying force. That was all about to change. I asked the officers how they had come to be at my back door so early in morning, and out of their section, to boot. The officer at the door told me he was responding to a silent alarm that had come over the radio at this location. An office upstairs had a system in place and they were sent to investigate. This was fairly odd as there were only two offices on the upper floors, and one was my landlord. Most of the four floors were vacant and had been for many years. Recently a computer guy had put an office on the 2nd floor and since he was out of the office most of the time, he must have put installed an alarm system. Who knew?
It was about 8:15 the same morning when two plain clothes detectives came wandering into the store on the their way to the cigar shop next door. I knew the guys from their lunch appearances over the years and from a few other common local haunts. It was unusual for these two to stop by in the morning, especially asking for me when they arrived.
Detective 1: “What did you do to piss off Spahalski?” 
Detective 2: “You need to be careful. He’s a bad guy. We have been trying to get him for years.”   

This all confused me. “Who? What are you talking about?” was my response. Not because I didn’t have the penchant for pissing people off, but I couldn’t remember a recent incident that would have been brought to their attention. 
“We saw the overnight report this morning about the guy at your backdoor. His name is Robert Spahalski. He’s been on our radar for years.” This statement prompted a long historical description and threat assessment of the tall, thin, drug addicted individual at my back door at 5:30 am, wielding a hammer.
The two detectives were not unfamiliar, as I stated earlier. They were the definition of cool and calm. Dressed in classy overcoats and nice suits with a NYC cop show look about them. I wouldn’t classify either as jovial, but they both had a sly and soft humor about them. Never too serious, never too animated. I mention all this because none of those characteristics were showing during our discussion. They were serious and stern. Eyes wide open and showing concern - hopefully over my safety and not about the chance of being called into work at this location. 
Not only did the information set me back but their tone enhanced my fear. This is the story the two detectives relayed to me that morning over coffee. 

     Robert Spahalaski was a drug addicted street hustler who worked as a male prostitute some nights, and on other nights he robbed the men working in the same field.  In September of 1991, he was suspected of killing Charles Grande, a Webster man he often met in a bar, and occasionally exchanged cash for sexual favors. Spahalski was pulled over in Grande’s car a day after he was killed and told the police he was Grande, using his ID.  Charles was found dead in his home a few days later in Webster, NY, beaten to death with a hammer. 
Robert Spahalaski was a suspect but never tried for the crime. He was later convicted of impersonation and drug possession. The detectives told me they were sure he had killed Grande, and that Spahalski was a suspect in a few other murders over the years but they could never pin anything on him. 
Someone cleaning the upper floors of my building was running a vacuum cleaner in the hallway and bumped the office door of the new computer guy with the machine. As he was new to the building this was never an issue. Today was different, and I think I may owe a great deal to my new building mate. The bump of that machine, that never caused an issue in the past, now set off a silent alarm and contacted the police. Two cars came by to investigate and that started and stopped a number of incidents in my life.  With hindsight i can say that Chaos theory is much less of a “theorem” to me now.  

This is how my story starts out. An accused killer is at my back back door at 5:30 in the morning on a cool September day.  A very small mistake by an unsuspecting cleaning person with a vacuum cleaner stopped a potential ugly encounter with a drug addled male prostitute with a suspected history of violence and murder. Yielding a weapon he had used before to kill a man over $60.00, he certainly wasn’t interested in a bagel and coffee.  This would be enough to unnerve me for a longer period of time than I care to admit. Unfortunately this was not even close to the end to my encounter with my own personal serial killer. 

1 comment:

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