Sunday, December 11, 2011

“You Can’t Lead a Double Life and be Happy”

The Short Story
by Robert A. Waters

The nondescript garage kept its secret for more than six years. Then sheriff's investigators arrived, lugging shovels and a body bag. It took just a few minutes of digging to unearth the bones of a murdered child. The story of his death and discovery is almost beyond belief. But even more amazing is that the killer walked free.

Christine Sturm, 27, of Clovis, New Mexico, and her former husband, Dan, had recently divorced. It was 1953 and she worked as a practical nurse at Clovis Memorial Hospital. Christine was known as a reliable employee who never missed a day. As a hobby, she enjoyed writing mystery stories.

After having been married for six years, Christine and Dan were in the middle of a nasty battle for custody of their three-year-old son. As evidence of his wife’s alleged mental instability, Dan gave his attorney a short story she had written. It made him afraid for his son, the worried father said. After reading it, his lawyer was alarmed and personally delivered the narrative to Curry County Sheriff Val Baumgart.

According to the Clovis News Journal, the nine-page manuscript “went into detail in telling the story of the birth of [a] child, the alleged crime, and the burying of the body in a shallow grave in the garage. The manuscript then went on to relate how Mrs. Sturm, who had written the detailed statement in her own handwriting, returned to her duties as a nurse at the Clovis Memorial Hospital, became sick, and was administered a half-grain of codeine.”

Sheriff Baumgart later said he thought the story was too realistic to be fiction and deserved to be investigated. After the little boy's remains were found, Christine was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. She quickly posted bond and was released pending trial.

The sheriff met with reporters. “It was an unsolved crime the way she wrote it,” he said, “and would have unsolved crime if it hadn't been written. It was a pretty good story for an amateur writer.” The narrative used the names of real people that Christine knew, the sheriff said. The final sentence read: “You can’t lead a double life and be happy.”

To strengthen his case, Baumgart sent his detectives to the hospital. There they dug through old files in an attempt to obtain a record of the medicine Sturm said she took on the day after she disposed of the child. They found nothing.

The suspect denied the charges, but gave no explanation as to how the remains ended up in her garage. Acting on the advice of her attorney, she refused to take a polygraph.

Sheriff Baumgart was sure he could get a conviction based on the circumstantial evidence. The sheriff said Christine would have been seven months pregnant when she married Dan, a carpenter, on December 24, 1946. Her former husband stated that he never knew she was pregnant. “Boy, I sure was dumb,” he said.

On September 22, 1953, a hearing was held. District Judge George T. Harris stunned everyone when he dismissed the case. He informed prosecutors that the statute of limitations had expired. Judge Harris ruled that the date on a prescription for codeine found by her attorneys (after the failed attempt by sheriff's investigators) proved that the infant had been born in February, 1947. He stated that “charges were not filed by the prosecutor within the six year time limit allowed by law.” The judge ordered the short story sealed, never to be made public.

Christine Sturm, an attractive blonde, walked from the courtroom and disappeared into the mists of history. Dan and their son followed in her steps.

The young boy found in the garage never even had a name. He never had justice, either.

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