Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ghosts Make For Good Television

Mike Arians is not a detective. He is just an ordinary man who owns a restaurant and can't get the ghosts to leave him alone.

The ghosts are behind his obsession with identifying the person who killed Mary Jane Reed and her boyfriend Stanley Skridla in 1948. That's a lot of years of haunting. Who wouldn't want to put a stop to the harassment?

The couple were shot to death at the local lover's lane, a secluded spot in Ogle County, Illinois. Mr. Skridla's body was found there, while the body of Ms. Reed turned up a few days later, in a ditch on the side of the road. There were some suspects at the time, but nothing could ever be proved, and so the case remains unsolved.

According to Mike Arians, the ghost of Mary Jane Reed haunts his roadhouse restaurant, and she's a persistent one.

In 2005, Mr. Arians thought he could placate her by getting her body exhumed for some forensic analysis using modern methods. Maybe some bullet fragments would turn up that could yield a clue as to the murder weapon. Mr. Arians has long felt that the killer was a former law enforcement officer whose advances were spurned by Ms. Reed, and if a bullet pointed to a service revolver, he'd have a stronger case to make.

Forensic anthropologists informed him that the skull in the coffin wasn't hers.

He tried suing local authorities, claiming there had been a cover-up at the highest levels. The judge did not see things that way, and tossed out the case. The sheriff's deputy who was implicated in the cover-up believed that the suit was just a publicity stunt because Mr. Arians was trying to make a movie about the murder.

So where is Ms. Reed's head? Could it be in Mr. Skridla's coffin, the result of a simple mix-up after the autopsies were performed?

Or was it something more devious?

Mr. Arians has just been granted permission to exhume Mr. Skridla's body to find out that very thing.

The Travel Channel was in Oregon, Illinois, in September to film the story that Mr. Arians has to tell. They'd be likely to send the film crew back if the exhumation reveals anything. Even if it doesn't, the sense of anticipation and potential discovery would be enough to get the cameras rolling. Ghosts make for good television, and the analysis following the exhumation would be compelling theater. It's a mystery to be solved, but a real mystery that may or may not be solved by the end of that particular installment of The Dead Files.

And if Ms. Reed is listening, this is the last attempt Mr. Arians will make to solve the crime. He can't think of anything else to do besides explore this rumor that circulated through the town all those years ago, that there was another man who committed murder out of jealousy. Whoever did it is most likely dead by now. The person Mr. Arians suspects did the crime has been dead for almost thirty years.

Like Capone's vault, this show might not discover anything. But if the viewers are riveted, it doesn't really matter. Except to Ms. Reed, whose restless spirit hangs out in a roadhouse restaurant, waiting for someone to bring her killer to justice.

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