Maniacal Max

by Solomon Tate

 

Maximilian J. Botswager, who had been called Max since he was a 3 year old running around the family farm near Shanty Bay, Ontario, sat cuffed and shackled, as the case against him began to unfold. Witness after witness testified, and with each account, a collective gasp rose from the observers eager to see justice served. After 2 days of his trial, Max stopped listening to the testimony. It was all bullshit to him. He had proclaimed his innocence since his arrest, and offered alibis, however erroneous, in an attempt to prove that he was falsely accused, but Max was out of his fucking mind.

In the summer of 1982,  when I was working as a freelance writer for an upstart, left wing socio-political magazine, men and women began disappearing from communities near the sleepy, little town. The Police investigation had few clues, no bodies, and no leads.  Curfews were put in place but even this seemed to have no effect, and by the end of summer 1984, 9 people had gone missing, leaving towns from Barrie to Orillia in disheartening fear. The usually sparsely attended churches were filled to capacity on Sunday mornings, as people reignited their hope that a superior being would keep them safe. And every Sunday, following church, many of the parishioners would attend Baskin Robbins, for a scoop or two of Raspberry Ripple or Tiger Tail ice cream.

Shanty Bay was an innocuous little town, nestled on the shore of Lake Simcoe, where everybody knew everybody else. It had been a haven during the Underground Railroad, and many  fleeing slavery south of the border, settled there. It was quaint, and quiet and peaceful. In August of 1985, all of that changed. A young couple on their way to Gravenhurst to attend a friend’s wedding, passed through the town and after stopping at the Baskin Robbins, disappeared. The couple never arrived at the wedding, and when friends were unable to reach them for several days, the Police were notified. Investigators moved fast, back tracking the couple’s movements using credit card receipts, and witness accounts of their metallic dark blue Ford Thunderbird. Pictures of the couple appeared in newspapers and on local newscasts across South-Central Ontario. The town was overrun by reporters, investigators and curiosity seekers as the hunt for the missing couple continued. The police, who had questioned everyone living or working in Shanty Bay, had brought in the canine unit to search the wooded areas near the town, while the marine unit divers searched the lake.

With all of the people roaming around the area, business was booming for the shop owners. There was  a constant and steady stream of patrons intent on shoving frozen dairy products in their faces in an ultimately futile attempt to obtain some relief from the oppressive summer heat visiting Baskin Robbins. Business was so good, that Max had called in several of his employees to help out. I was in the Baskin Robbins when one of the young girls went to the back of the store to retrieve some Burgundy Cherry ice cream for one of the police officers. Shortly after she disappeared, a blood curdling scream resonated from the back of the store. The officer raced to her side, and shortly after brought the trembling and crying girl back into the store front, with his arms around her. He called for back up, and evacuated the customers from the store, leaving me without my 2 scoop, sugar cone of Rocky Road, and Max at the cash.

Upon opening the storage freezer in the back of the Baskin Robbins, the young girl had inadvertently uncovered body parts. Human body parts. The Police statement to the press indicated that there were numerous bodies that had been cut into pieces and stored in the store’s freezers. The Police suspected that all of the people who had been missing from the area, eleven in total, were more than likely within the freezers that housed my Rocky Road. Max was taken into custody for questioning, and subsequently charged with 11 counts of 1st degree murder, 11 counts of indignity to a human body, and several charges under the health code for storing body parts next to the ice cream.

A psychiatric evaluation was ordered, although it was obvious as fuck that Max was deranged, and while he was found to be a sociopath, displaying Antisocial Personality Disorder, he was quite capable of knowing right from wrong, and by virtue that he had hidden the body parts, he was in fact fully cognizant of what he had done. Max denied any involvement in this, and at his bail hearing, the case was held over pending the arrival of the big city lawyer he had retained. The entire region was shocked. They had known Max for most of their lives, and he had always been polite, kind, and seemingly happy. At the same time, they were relieved at the prospect that the guilty party was incarcerated. The grizzly details of the story filled newspapers and newscasts across the country. People from all over the region would attempt to drive up to the town and catch a glimpse of the store at the centre of it all, only to find the area around the Baskin Robbins was blocked off by police. Just before the trial was set to begin, lab results arrived, indicating that almost all of the ice cream in the store had human elements in them. According to the Crown Attorney, after killing and mutilating the bodies, Max would grind the body parts up in a wood chipper, and mix them in with the ice cream for sale to the general public. His plan, it seems, was to have his customers eat the evidence. Again, Max refuted the theory, and continued to profess his innocence.

The trial lasted just under 3 weeks, with a barrage of evidence, witnesses, and the metallic, dark blue Ford Thunderbird found at the bottom of the lake near Beaverton. The defense contended that all of the evidence was circumstantial, and the witness accounts had been tainted by the incessant media coverage of the investigation, and Max’s arrest. Objections were overruled and sustained, and following instructions from the Judge, the jury was sequestered to deliberate and reach a verdict. The entire community was disgusted, not just by what Max had done, but the odds were pretty high that if you ate ice cream from the Baskin Robbins in Shanty Bay, you had also eaten someone. Unless you ordered Vanilla. It seems, based on lab results, that only the Vanilla Ice Cream was free of human elements.

The jury deliberated for less than 1 hour, and returned a verdict of guilty of all charges. Max was sentenced to life, and was transfered to the Prison for the Criminally Insane in Penetanguishene. He served 12 years of his sentenced, and died while asleep in his cell in 1998 of a brain aneurysm. The Baskin Robbins store he managed for years is no longer in Shanty Bay, having been replaced by a Starbucks. All of the victims, once identified, were buried by their respective families, and immortalized in a small plaque near the site of their demise. Weeks after the trial, Shanty Bay was once again an innocuous little town, nestled on the shore of Lake Simcoe where everybody knew everybody else. To this day, there is no ice cream parlor in town.

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A Willowdale Christmas Story

Growing up in a suburb of Willowdale, in the north end of the city in the 1960s was remarkably ever changing. As developments sprung up, and roads were being built, Passer’s Farm stood as a reminder of what used to be. My brothers and I spent a lot of time outside, scouting out the building sites, carrying home bits of lumber, so that we could build a fort in the back yard.

I particularly enjoyed the winters. Crawling around in the snow, tunneling through the moats we made that led to our snow fortress. And while we did not celebrate, my favorite time of all was Christmas, with all of the family traditions that accompanied it. Christmas Eve was filled with the joy of watching  ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, and ‘Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol’. It seemed like I had to wait forever for the annual airing of these shows. We stayed up late and watched ‘Its A Wonderful Life’ with my mother, and then retired to our beds. It was strangely quiet on Christmas Eve, so quiet that you could actually hear the snow fall, as it piled up on our lawn, glistening in the pale yellow street lights that dotted the landscape of my life.

In the morning my brothers and I raced outside and shoveled the driveway, so that we could play ball hockey, while my father took the garden hose and flooded the backyard in an attempt to make us an ice hockey rink. It was always uneven, and there were patches that didn’t freeze due to inadequate water placement, but it was wonderful fun, skating up and down the rink, body checking each other into the waist high snow drifts that lined either side. Our laughter seemed to echo across galaxies, as we pulled our heads out of the drifts,  our faces covered in the untainted snow, making us all look like Santa himself.

In the afternoon, we all piled into the Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, to begin the first leg of what had become our family Christmas tradition. ” You guys better get yourselves outside.”, the old man chanted as he stood at the front door  of our house. “I”m leaving in 2 minutes.” The old man hated to be late for the movies. If he wasn’t in his seat at the theatre before the cartoon or the coming soon features started, it was a Christmas catastrophe. We headed off to the Willow Theatre, located on Yonge Street, just south of Finch Avenue, at break neck speed.

“Slow down.”, my mother would say. “Let’s get there in one piece.”

“I been through worse than this.”, my father would answer.

“Go faster, faster.”, we shouted from the back.

When we arrived at the theatre, we ran up the stairs to the balcony, with my mother following behind us, and my father at the concession stand buying us popcorn. There was always a western showing in those days. My father adored westerns. Over the years we watched ‘The Sons Of Katie Elder’, ‘Nevada Smith, ‘The Way West’, and countless others. One Christmas Day, my mother, who was a huge fan of musicals, managed to coerce the old man into attending a revival of “Calamity Jane’.  It was the last time she was ever permitted to select the movie. We sat in the balcony, 1st row, with our parents in the row behind us, popcorn in our hand, and our eyes glued to the screen as six guns were drawn, and rifles were cocked. It seemed necessary to advise the ‘good guy’ that trouble was behind them, or waiting for them around the next corner. We shouted it out with delight, certain that he could hear us, and followed up with the disappointing “if only he had listened”. If there was a coming attraction feature, and it was a western, my father would lean forward, pat us on the shoulders and guarantee that we would be seeing that one. Particularly if the cast included Jimmie Stewart, Randolph Scott, or Audie Murphy.

With the movie over, we piled back into the wagon, and headed out for what was the highlight of  the day. We did this only once a year. We did this every year, but only on Christmas day. As we pulled into the parking lot, the huge neon sign, seemed to scream out at us, beckoning us inside. “Let’s try to behave in there, shall we?”, my mother remarked.

“Oh, they’ll behave.”, my father stated. “Won’t you?”

“Yes. We’ll behave.”, proclaimed the unanimous children’s chorus.

“Okay then.”, he said. “Let’s go.” We jumped out of the car, and ran up to the door. And there scrawled in Chinese Style writing of English letters, were those words we waited all year to see: ‘Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food”.

If you had never been to Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food as a kid in the 1960s or 1970s, your childhood was incomplete. Nestled in the Bathurst St, and Wilson Avenue area, it was a cultural phenomenon. Every Christmas Day, for as long as I can remember, everyone who did not celebrate Christmas, for whatever reason, living in the North end of this city, wound up at Sea-Hi for dinner. It became a tradition for hundreds of families, perhaps thousands. It was, without a doubt, the crowning achievement of a Christmas well spent.

As we poured over menus, we would laugh at the names given to the dishes. Things like moo goo guy pan, and egg foo yung brought us great joy just to read them aloud. And, in those childish, politically incorrect times, we found great amusement in ordering in what we considered, Chinese. “I want flied lice.”, someone would inevitably request.

“Stop that.”, my mother scolded.

“Can I have clispy chicken?”, someone would shout from the table.

“We’re just going to go home.”, my mother offered her final warning. Regardless of what we wanted, my father always ordered the same thing, year after year after year. Vegetable fried rice, egg rolls, chop suey, mushroom egg foo yung, and hot and sour soup. We ate, and laughed, and attempted to use our chopsticks, and when that failed, we inserted them in our mouths and became walruses. There was one occasion when one of my brothers inserted them up his nose. This caused quite a commotion, as one became stuck, and had to be forcibly removed by my father’s tugging, which caused his nose to bleed right there at the table, all over the starched, white tablecloth, and my mother to begin the almost daily ritual of dying of embarrassment. The highlight of the meal, for me anyway, was the fortune cookie, which always seemed to carry some profoundly meaningful Eastern words of wisdom, written on the small, white paper hidden inside of the crunchy, tasteless morsel.  I was certain that those ancient words would somehow transform my future.

The car ride home was eerily quiet. We were tired, and we were full, satiated with enough rice and noodles to carry us over until next year. This tradition carried on throughout my childhood, and one by one, each of my siblings and myself dropped out of the ritual when we entered adolescence. It seems we were more interested in hanging with our friends, than we were in tradition. When I began to have kids of my own, I jump started the whole family Christmas, Willowdale style. It was never quite the same. We would watch Rudolph, but my daughters were frightened of the abominable snowman, and they found Its A Wonderful Life boring, as it was in black & white. Sadly, Mr. Magoo was no longer aired on Christmas Eve, but it did become available years later you tube. We moved north of the city, and Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food was too far of a drive, so we settled on East Moon. The tradition continues to this day, however we now watch a movie on Netflix, and order in from South China Chinese Food. Sadly, it is difficult to maintain a family tradition in the face of ever changing technology, and free delivery. But those days, all those years of a Willowdale Christmas in my parents’ house, well, I miss them, and I carry those memories around with me like a badge of honor.