Summer of '71 Chapter 01

I had dropped out of my first semester at Rutgers Camden. I didn't like college at all, and I had no idea what to do in life. I had a vague ambition about being an actor, but not the foggiest idea how to go about it. I took a job with the company I had worked for during the past two summers, unskilled labor unloading trucks, and then I ended up emptying trailer loads of magazines at the post office building near 30th Street Station in Philly. It was a dirty, thankless job, but it was easy and I was on my own and unsupervised. I worked the first three months of the year outside in all kinds of weather, freezing my butt off and pulling muscles in my arms and chest. After a while I decided to look for another job.

What I was going to do and how were a mystery to me, and all I could think of was the warmth of summer. Little did I know that my life would become mixed up in a bizarre tale of suicide and Satan Worship, just because I wanted to go swimming and maybe have sex for the very first time.

Summer of '71 Chapter 02

I didn't like college. I decided early on that I wasn't going to complete my first semester. The only class I enjoyed was my acting class, and I even cut that one a lot. I auditioned for the college theatre production, a serious work by Henrik Ibsen, called An Enemy of the People. I managed to get a strong supporting role, and that's all I lived for. My classes meant nothing for me, all I cared about was my performance in the play. I completely stopped going to gym class, which was mandatory at Rutgers Camden, and I was called into the Dean's office to explain my behavior. I told the Dean that I simply did not enjoy college and was planning to leave at the end of the semester, so I didn't see the point of attending Phys.Ed. at all.

Remember how demeaning gym was at Gateway sometimes? Well magnify that times 100 and you'll understand what I mean. The gym "instructor" was old, overweight and overbearing, and since I was paying to go there I felt justified in not attending.

I didn't even go back to classes after the Christmas vacation. I was a success in the play, and that was all that mattered to me.

I decided that I would go to work somewhere, and then maybe study acting in New York or Philadelphia. How or where I did not know.

At the same time down in Millville, another young man was trying to decide his future. It would be a grim one, and I and my small circle of friends would come face to face with his decision.

Summer of '71 Chapter 03

So there I was unloading tractor trailer loads of magazines at the Philadelphia Post Office. Heavy, heavy mailbags full of magazines. You opened the trailer and there before you was a mountain that you pulled down by hand. If I was lucky, I mean really lucky, the Post Office guys didn't have much on their plate, and I could use more than one of the portable conveyor belts. Some days I couldn't even use one of them, so I had to drag the sacks of magazines from the truck to the hole in the dock that the bags were dropped down into.
A bus ride into the city, and then the subway to 30th Street Station. Then the mountain staring at me. In the cold and in the rain, and the Post Office guys were not allowed to help me out. Union rules you know.
After three months of this I was ready for a change. The final straw came on a bitter cold day in March. I had just finished unloading two trailers and I was beat. I mean I had busted my hump all day and it was time to go home. My left arm was going numb from all of the dragging, and my chest felt as though someone had pounded on it with a hammer. I was tired.
As I was preparing to go home, one of our trucks was pulling in with another load. I was told to get this one done as well. There was no way I was going to unload another trailer that day. I exploded on the driver, and then called the warehouse manager and let him have it. In the heat of the moment I resigned on the spot. My days of pulling mailbags full of magazines were over.
It didn't take me very long in finding another job. Underwood-Memorial Hospital needed help in the kitchen, so I got a job there as a dishwasher. It was a pretty good-paying job at the time, and you got free food and uniforms. You worked eight days in a row and then you were off for four days. Then you worked seven days in a row and got two days off. There was a lot of overtime, and I got along well with everybody there.
The warm spring weather was here, and I was re-connecting with some of my friends from the Heights who were getting ready to graduate from Gateway. John Marcone and Chuck Zeller were telling me about this new college being built in the woods in Atlantic County, not too far from Atlantic City. As a matter of fact, they told me, the building wouldn't be finished in time for the fall semester, so classes were going to be held in an old hotel right on the boardwalk. Better yet, it was going to be an experimental state college, with a pass-fail system, and the students will be able to help determine the way the school was to be run. Stockton State College, and it would be an environmental and performing arts institution. This sounded good to me, so I decided to apply.
Things were looking up. I had a better job close to home, rejoined the company of old friends, and the future looked promising.
Down in Millville, another dissatisfied young man was planning his future, and how his two friends would help him reach it.

Summer of '71 Chapter 04

It was April and I was warm and working inside. A shift in the dish washing room in the kitchen of Underwood-Memorial hospital went like this:
The dinner dishes from the previous evening were patiently awaiting your arrival. They were sitting in the food carts used to deliver the meals to the patients. First thing I did was start up the big Hobart dish washing machine. While that was warming up we had the wonderful chore of scraping all of the uneaten food into a big stainless steel trough, and we would push all of it down the various garbage disposals. Then we'd feed the hundreds of grimy plates and cups and silverware onto the conveyor belt of the dishwasher. The guys on the other end had to inspect everything to make sure it was clean. If plates still had stuff sticking to them, they went through a second time. Stubborn bits left on silverware meant that the offending cutlery was put into a hot water bath with sanitizing solution in it, and then put back through the steaming Hobart.
When all the stuff was clean and stacked to be sent back into the kitchen so they could be made dirty again, we had to spray down the dish room, squeegee everything down so we'd be ready to do the morning's breakfast dishes.
Repeat the process.
Eat lunch.
Repeat the process with the lunch dishes.
Go home.
I had money and I had re-connected with old friends. I went back to Gateway and our "guidance" counselors, and began the process of applying to that new college in the woods of Atlantic County.
Down in the woods of the Vineland/ Millville area, a young man was preparing for his future as well, and how his friends were to assist him.

Summer of '71 Chapter 05

John Marcone had a plan. He knew of an abandoned sand quarry down near Vineland and Millville, and he wanted to get those of us who hung out together and go down there for a cookout and a day of swimming and volleyball. He also alluded to the privacy the area afforded for the possibility of "romantic interludes" for those among us who had female company.
"It's the perfect place for us," he said. "The perfect place for us, if you know what I mean."
So that would be the plan. We would gather up our cohorts and head down to this sand quarry for fun in the sun and the hope that some kind of sexual encounters would take place.
John was the organizer of the group, and he got busy with the logistics.
It was up to the rest of us to find a girl.
At the same time, a young man was looking out on the dunes and woods and cedar-stained ponds of an abandoned sand quarry on the Vineland and Millville border.
"This is it," he said to himself. "This is the perfect place."

Summer of '71 Chapter 06

Sex, drugs and rock n' roll. The mantra of our generation. Truth was, for me anyway, no sex, some drugs-mainly alcohol, and plenty of rock n' roll. This party John Marcone was putting together might mean I'd experience some of the sex I'd been missing. Wishful thinking, but one must always have a positive attitude, musn't one?
John Marcone, Chuck Zeller and I were going to live together in an apartment while attending this new Stockton State College somewhere down in the Pine Barrens in Atlantic County. We would be working all summer in order to save money for school. The war in Vietnam was still a possibility for all of us, and no one wanted to end up face down in some rice paddy. A big bash before the long haul of summer seemed like the right thing to do, just in case one of us had their draft number come up.
John and I went to check the place out. It was just as he had said. An abandoned sand quarry dotted with deep ponds and surrounded by woods. Bushes and other vegetation provided secluded areas for "private interludes".
"We'll pick a day in June and get down here for a real blast!" John exclaimed.
"Yeah, you're right," I said, " It's the perfect place for it."
"All we've got to do is get everybody together, and we'll have ourselves a time."
So we went about finishing our plans for our party in the woods and the sands of Millville in June.
Another young man had finished his plans, and in a few weeks his actions would have a profound effect on all of us.

Summer of '71 Chapter 07

It was hot, too hot for June, and humid too. Down in the woods and sands of Millville three young boys were talking in the glow of a full moon.
The oldest of the three was doing most of the talking. He was telling his two friends what his future was to be and how they could help him achieve it.
Who knows what they were thinking as their friend explained what it was he wanted them to do.
How convincing he must have been to get them to go along so willingly.
Who knows how long it took to put his plan in motion.
Three young men walked into the abandoned sand quarry that moon-lit evening in June.
Only two of them walked out.

Summer of '71 Chapter 08

Two young boys walked out of a sand quarry on a moon-lit night in June. What did they talk about? How did they feel about what had taken place? What was on their minds as they headed for home? Only they knew what happened and what they had done, and what they had left behind.

Three carloads of teenagers entered the sand quarry on a beautiful day in June.
"Man, you were right, John," one of them said. " It's the perfect place. Yeah, it's the perfect place."
"Now let's get goin'!"

Three carloads of teenagers began to party in a sand quarry on a beautiful day in June.

Summer of '71 Chapter 09

We found a lake that had a relatively flat beach area, and a level enough spot to park our cars. The lake was pretty big, and the opposite shore from us rose up in a steep incline. The volley ball net was set up, the grill was ready to be fired up, and some of us were thinking about testing the waters of the lake.
The water was clear, with that tint of cedar so common here in South Jersey.

As we were playing volleyball, I kept noticing something bobbing up and down in the water way out past the middle of the lake, somewhat closer to the farther bank.

"I wonder what that is?" I said to myself.

I asked Sherri Ehlers if she could make it out.

She wasn't too sure what it was either.

"It looks like the end of a log with moss on it, doesn't it, Jim?" she asked.

"Yeah", I replied, " It does look like something with moss on it."

We went back to volleyball and cooking dogs on the grill, and sunning ourselves on the beach.

But we couldn't stop wondering what it was; that thing floating out on the water.

Finally my curiosity got the better of me.

"I'm gonna swim out there and see what it is," I announced, and I slowly made my way out to the middle of the lake, on a warm summer's day in June.

Summer of '71 Chapter 10

So I'm swimming across this lake, and it's a lot farther to this thing floating in the water than I thought, so my arms are getting tired. I'm getting closer to it, but I still can't make out what it is.
It's round and dark, and it sure looks like moss of some kind in strands floating off of it.
My arms are tired, and I'm tired, but I'm determined to see what it is. Good thing the water isn't very cold or else I'd never have made it this far. They're calling out to me from the shore, asking if I can tell what it is yet.
I'm just feet away, and it occurs to me that the part that's sticking above the water line is looking more and more like a head - a human head, and what I thought was moss is looking more and more like hair.
I'm inches away now, and just under the surface I see what looks to be a body with its hands tied behind its back, and the hands are a ghostly shade of white. It has a blue and white striped T-shirt on, and for now that's all I can see. That's all I need to see.
My brain is trying to comprehend this. My heart is racing, and I think, "Man, this must be some sick practical joke, you know?"
"Like, this must be a dummy somebody put here to scare people."

I yell out to everybody that it's a body floating in the water. I'm not sure if it's real or not, but it's definitely a body.
I'm a little reluctant to touch the thing, so I swim back to tell everyone what I've seen.
"That's a body floating out there," I tell them. "It's hands are tied behind its back, and they're a chalky white, and I don't know if it's real or not, but man, I'm telling you there's a body out there!"

Of course, no one believed me.

Summer of '71 Chapter 11

No one believed me. Not John or Keith or Lynette or even Sherri.
"He's pulling our leg," one of them said.
"Yeah, you're just trying to prove what a good actor you are."
"You just want somebody to swim out there and make a fool of himself."
"It's just a log with some moss on it."
"Yeah, or just a turtle or something."

"I tell you it's a body," I said. "I don't know for sure if it's real or not, but that's a body out there."
"Didn't somebody say this would make a perfect place to murder someone when we first checked the place out?" "Well, either it actually happened, or else it's a sick joke set up to scare people who come here to swim."
"Think what you want, but I tell you that's a body out there, and its hands are tied behind its back."

There were these two local kids hanging around our party. One was about 12 and the other maybe 10 or 11. They were constantly asking us questions about who we all were and why we came down here, and could they play volleyball and such. They decided they would go out and investigate my claims about the object floating in the water.

The two boys ran along the banks of the lake until they reached the hill overlooking the part of the lake closest to the body. They picked up a small log and put it into the water and held on to it as they made their way towards the center of the lake.
As they got closer to the object, one of them cried out.
"I think he's right!"
"It sure looks like a body!"

Then they pushed the log into it.

"It's a head!" they cried.
"It's a real human head."
And then they hurried towards the shore.

"What do you think we should do about this?" somebody said.

I don't know what made me speak up, but I did.

"I guess I'll go out there and bring it to shore just to make certain it's real."

Well, I said it, so I guess I'll have to do it.

Summer of '71 Chapter 12

A beautiful summer day in June, and I'm getting ready to swim out to a dead body in a lake in an abandoned sand quarry somewhere near Millville or Vineland.
A dead body?
What am I doing here?
I'm pretty tired from swimming out there and back from before, so I decide to take a small inflatable raft, you know, the little ones you use in swimming pools.
Sherri Ehlers says she'll go with me for support.
Sherri and I are "platonic" friends. We kinda go out on dates, but only as friends. I try to be more than that, but Sherri is in a relationship, so I don't press her too hard. She's a pretty girl from Wenonah, and she's athletic, so I'm glad she's coming with me.
We head out towards where the body is floating, using the raft for breathing spells.
I can't remember much of our conversation, mostly a lot of "man, I can't believe this is happening", and "didn't somebody say this place would make a good spot to dump Mafia victims?"

Well, we come up to the body, and Sherri sees the hands tied behind its back, and how chalky white the hands are.

I reach out with my hand and touch the shoulder, and there's this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It's a real body all right. I can tell from touching it that it's flesh and bone.
I'm freaking out and Sherri's freaking out, and everyone else on shore is freaking out.

I grab the shirt and begin pulling this dead person behind me. Sherri swims out in front of me guiding me towards the nearest shore. I've got one hand pulling the body and the other paddling over the small raft under my arm. It's not all that far to shore, but it feels like forever.
Sherri is talking to me, but I really don't know what she's saying for sure.

Finally we make it to the sand and I can let go.

We can see now that it's a young male about my age. His hands and feet are bound up with tape, and he's wearing a blue and white striped T-shirt and jeans. A small amount of blood trickles out of his nose. His face is pale and his lips are a kind of purple and blue color.

Sherri and I look at each other, and we're both saying the same thing: "We'd better go to the police."

Summer of '71 Chapter 13

The day wasn't going as planned. What was supposed to be a day of fun in the sun had suddenly turned into a murder mystery.
It had to be a murder, right? You can't tie your hands behind your back.
We had to go to the police. Which police? Were we in Vineland or Millville? Who could tell? None of us even knew where the police stations were around here anyway.
Wait a minute. Those two boys hanging around, they're local kids, they must know where the police are.
So Sherri and I and the local kids are in my 63 Fairlane heading for the police.
The boys are jabbering away like monkeys in the back seat while Sherri and I are trying to make sense out of all of this.

I think the officer at the front desk is wondering what in the hell is this when he sees the four of us walk in, all wet, in bathing suits and looking kind of frazzled.

"What do you kids want?" he asks.

"I want to report a dead body," I say.
This gets his attention.

We explain the situation to the officer who tells us to wait while he goes to get a detective. He acts like he really doesn't believe us.

A detective comes out and they take down our statements.
At first they seem more interested in why we all came down here and how we found out about the sand quarry, which they tell us is called the Menantico Sand Wash.
"We heard it was a great place to go swimming," I tell them.
What did they want me to say? Did they expect me to tell them I was hoping for some kind of first-time sexual encounter, or that we were all pot heads looking for some secret place to get high or something?

"Just out for some early summer fun, officer." "Nothing more than that."

After telling the detective that I pulled the body in to shore, he tells me that I had a lot of "Moxie".

"How did you know the body was real?" he asks.

"I knew from the way it felt when I touched it, and blood was coming out of the nose when we got it to the shoreline, that's how," I tell him.

After they get through with taking our statements, they tell us to lead them back to the scene.

On the way back we're followed by detectives and patrolmen, and the coroner is also on the way.
Yeah, we're a regular convoy now.

None of us were prepared for something like this. How could we be?

Now it was time to sit back and watch a comedy of errors unfold before us.

Summer of '71 Chapter 14

So here we were watching the Vineland/Millville area's finest investigate what appears to be a murder at the Menantico Sand Wash. The sandy soil is making life difficult for the patrolmen and detectives. They slip and slide down the incline towards the body, and several of them lose their footing, and they tumble towards the water's edge. They take photographs and scour the scene for clues, and then they wait for the coroner to arrive.
The coroner is an elderly gentleman with a pronounced limp, and his limp makes it even more difficult for him. He falls once or twice trying to reach the body, and we are trying really hard not to laugh, but by now we all need some comic relief. The coroner finishes his examination, and slowly makes his way up the hill, trying hard to keep his balance.

Now the real fun begins. The cops put the corpse in one of those body bags that we see so often on the evening news when stories about Vietnam are aired. Then they try to carry it up the sandy incline. Well, they slip and slide, and go back for every step they go forwards. They drop the body bag once, then twice, so they stop and try to figure out what to do, all at our amusement. We try really hard not to laugh out loud.

There are two girls riding their horse bareback nearby, so the detectives get a bright idea. They commandeer the horse, which is reluctant to go down the slope, but somehow they manage to coax it down. The poor horse is skittish, and when they try to put the body bag on it, it jumps, so the bag falls off and slides back into the water. They try this one more time, but the horse is having none of it, and it is desperate to break free and return to its owners. The police wisely abandon their efforts. After a while they come up with a solution. Slowly, ever so slowly they crab-walk sideways up the slope, and after a few agonizing minutes they reach the top of the hill and get the body bag into the ambulance. More of them slip and slide their way back to their cars, and then they're gone.

We all break up.

The day is pretty much shot for us by now, so we all agree to call it a day. Our fun in the sun is over, so we pack up and head for home.

In Dave Yurkow's orange VW the jokes and puns about the whole thing are coming fast and furious.

We all cope with what happened in different ways, but the same thoughts are in all of our minds.

What really happened? How did this guy who looks to be the same age as us end up like this?

Two young boys who walked out of the Menantico Sand Wash by the light of the moon a few evenings before knew the answer.

Summer of '71 Chapter 15

Usually you don't have much to say to your parents when they ask you how your day has been.
Of course my mother didn't believe me at first when I told her I found a dead body floating in the lake we went to swim in. She had been just as perplexed about us all going there as the police had been. What's the big deal, anyway? If we had all decided to go down the shore for the day nobody would have questioned that now, would they?
Anyhow, Mom realized everything I told her was true when later on in the evening I started getting phone calls from different newspapers wanting to know all the details. They also couldn't understand why a bunch of teenagers from Gloucester County wanted to go to a sand wash in Cumberland County. No one understood mobility in those days, I guess.
The full details took a few days to come out in the paper.
The first story said the police were investigating a murder, and the victim had been identified as a 20 year old male resident of Vineland.
The how and the why hadn't been found out yet.
A few days later it would all come out.

Summer of '71 Chapter 16

Think hard, real hard. How persuasive do you think you could be? How much influence do you have with your closest friends? Could you get them to believe something supernatural? Could you convince them that another world exists, and that they could help you get to that world?
Think hard.
Think really hard.
The newspapers are hitting the pavement.

Summer of '71 Chapter 17

It was hard to believe the truth, but there it was. A 20 year old young man was dead, and I had found his body floating in a lake in an abandoned sand quarry.
This young man was murdered, but not murdered.
It was a sort of suicide, but with a little help from some friends.
I couldn't believe what the newspapers were saying.
This guy from Vineland had convinced his two teenage friends to tie him up and throw him into a lake so he could die a violent death. He needed to die violently, he told them, so he could serve Satan and command a legion of demons.
This is what he told his two friends.
He must have been very persuasive.
His friends did what he asked. They bound his hands behind his back, tied up his legs, and tossed him into a lake on a moon-lit night in June.
And then they walked away.

Summer of '71 Chapter 18

Michael. That was his name, the name of the young man who convinced himself that he needed to die a violent death in order to serve Satan and command a legion of demons. He not only convinced himself, he managed to talk his two friends into tying him up and throwing him into a lake, and then walk away from it like nothing happened.
So I had found the body of a Satan worshiper who wished to die a violent death.
He died a violent death with the help of his friends.
Think about it.
Think real hard.
What would you have said to one of your friends if they asked you to help them die? To tie them up so they could drown, so they could command a legion of demons.
Michael must have been very persuasive indeed, because his friends did it and they walked away.
Did they talk about it on the way home, or were they silent and lost in private thoughts?
Or did they talk about what was on TV or what movie they were going to see, or did they think about what they were going to spend the money on that Michael offered them for helping him out?
What about Michael? Was he struggling as the water went over his head and began to fill his lungs?
Did he hope that his friends were having second thoughts and were rushing back to save him?
Think about it.
Think real hard.
Michael’s friends did what he asked, they did him a favor, and then they went home, and Michael drowned.
Michael got his wish and died a violent death on a moon-lit night in June.
Very persuasive indeed.

Summer of '71 Chapter 19

So, you may be asking, did this really happen?
Yeah, it happened, alright.
I and a bunch of friends went out for an afternoon of fun and instead we got caught up in a murder-suicide; a personal tragedy with really bizarre overtones.
A young man my age was so troubled that he was able to convince himself and two of his closest friends that he should die, and they made it happen.
I was troubled that summer too, and so were many young men my age who still worried that their lives would be cut short by being sent to Vietnam.
We still had Richard Nixon to deal with, and Watergate was still on the horizon.
Chuck Zeller had to work that day, so he heard all the gory details later that evening.
John Marcone, Chuck and I and Bruce Zane from Wenonah were looking forward to going to a new college down in Atlantic County. We found an apartment in Pleasantville in August, and John and I had a few "adventures" before school started.
Keith Madden, Lynette Kean and Alan Kinkle were headed back to Gateway for their Senior year.
I would lose track of Dave Yurkow that fall, but I would link back up with him the following summer.
I saw Sherri Ehlers a few more times that summer, and we parted "just friends".
I don't know what happened to the boys who so willingly put an end to their friend's life.
Who knows how it affected their families.
I quit my job at Underwood-Memorial Hospital soon after the incident and just bummed around till college began, even though I really needed the money.
I wasn't too bothered by it all, but every now and then I would have the same dream over and over.
The body of a young man would come floating up to the surface of a lake and I would come face to face with it, its hands a chalky white, its face all purple and blue.
The body of a young man who walked into a sand wash on a moon-lit night in June.