Two days before I’m scheduled to move in, I learn why the rent is so cheap. Not only do I have to adjust to sleeping without my wife, but I lie in the dark wondering what actually transpired in that little room just five feet away.I ask the broker for the keys so I can clean the place up. I’m still roiling with grief and resentment in the wreckage of my own marriage, and pondering such aggression doesn’t help.I click on a dim bare bulb, which reveals that the entire space is filled with a waist-high sea of furniture, clothes, children’s toys, hair dryers, and DVDs, all tossed there to clear my apartment for rental.My landlord, I will soon learn, had two daughters, aged three and fourteen when he killed their mother. I try to imagine how powerful a rage a person would have to be in to do such a terrible thing. I consider myself a cheerful guy, and my wife and I got along peaceably for most of our time together, but when we hit our rough spot, tempers flared. At first, I don’t want to know anything more about the murder, especially not gruesome particulars, but curiosity creeps up on me.One night, though, I’m woken in the wee hours by a repeating clanking from the direction of the bathroom—it sounds like the chains of Jacob Marley’s ghost.
In the midst of a ferocious heat wave and at the peak of one of New York City’s most inflated housing markets, I trudge across Brooklyn searching for a rental I can afford on my own, on a freelance writer’s budget.
After talk of a divorce, my landlord moved to the third floor.
Late on the evening of January 21, 2005, something very bad must have been going on inside his head: he cornered his wife in the bathroom, bashed her four times with a brick, and stabbed her in the head and torso. The story of that fateful night doesn’t end there, but it isn’t until a year later, when I come across an old newspaper story, that I learn the extraordinary next installment.
While I write, dreaming up fictional homicides all over south Brooklyn, I do my best not to imagine the real killing that took place a few feet from my desk.
Even so, the bathroom—walled, incongruously, in black and green Art Deco tiles and silvery disco-era wallpaper—is where I shave every morning and brush my teeth every night, and it takes a while before I stop looking for bloodstains.