The Tale of Richard Rothery 
By Katrina Rasbold

Another England story and like the others, all 100% true.  What a wealth of spooky crap came out of THAT place!  I feel like Bonsai, Shenzi and Ed, the hyenas from The Lion King (“Mufasa”  *shudder* “Say it again”) in that I’d LOVE to go back with the knowledge (and husband) that I have now!!  

I mentioned in Don’t Pick Up Hitchhikers that we lived in Maltings House.  Maltings House (Lord, my kingdom for a scanner!  I could show you a picture!) was a wonderful, lumbering pink monstrosity that I in no way sufficiently appreciated in my youthful age of 21 when I began living in it.   The main part of the house had been built around 1460 and a very shaky addition at been added in the 1920’s to support a kitchen (a HUGE kitchen), bathroom and “box” room.  When you would stand in the kitchen, which had a glorious sun room/mud room porch behind it at the back yard, and look into the hall way that led to the bathroom, box room, front door and entry to the living room, the entire hallway was crooked.  The door (full closing door) and whole hall leaned to the right like this  /_/ .  To the right was the bathroom, which had the uncanny ability to shock the crap out of you when you would step into a tub of water.  The landlords (Roy Bannister and Wife) debated this for some time before finally sending round Colin, the repairman in the village, who, after many attempts, determined the cause to be that the heating element in the water heater had eroded to the point that the raw electricals were exposed and carrying a current all the way through.  Don’t know exactly how THAT worked, but if I remember 9th grade science correctly, the current should have been broken if there was no water coming from the faucet.  Regardless, we were all cured of any heart arrhythmia whenever we set foot into that bath of water.  Unfortunately, there was no shower either, which, no doubt, would have sprinkled many volts down upon us.  The box room was probably about 6’x6’ and had a giant electrical heater on the wall, to warm the boxes, I suppose.  The front door was a big, carved lumbering thing that led out into a beautiful, but small, front yard with a railroad tie fence and a beautiful cobblestone driveway that no one ever used (no one ever used the front door, consequently and it remained dead bolted for most of the time we lived there).  Interestingly enough, the British shared one commonality with my home people in the southern US, which was the nearly exclusive use of the back door when visiting.  Unfortunately, my back door was attached to that sunroom, so if I was in the front part of the house, it was impossible to hear anyone knocking that far away.  Anyway, the fridges in use at that time were the size of an apartment or dorm fridge in the states, which was a pain since we were a family of 5.  No dishwasher (awwww), but more cupboard space than I’ve had in my past three houses put together. 

The front of the house was magnificent with odd, open beam ceilings that started out low and ran high to the center, beautiful bay windows and dominating the living room and, on the opposite, the bedroom, a full wall, step in fireplace.  It still had indentions and hooks in the brick where pots once hung to cook food.   It was glorious.  To the right of the fireplace, was a rickety staircase that led to the 2nd floor, consisting of two rooms, one of which we used as a toy room for the kids and one that was the guest room.  The guest room LITERALLY had a burnt orange carpet and bright purple walls.  It was visually scalding.  The floor was like furrowed fields, where the wood had, over the years, molded around the broad beams, so it was in waves.  The kids used to sleep in the toy room, but they were terrified of the upstairs, so we had to move all three downstairs to squeeze into the box room.  Because we lived far, far out in the country, if friends came over on a Saturday night to drink, play cards and relax, they would often sleep over rather than navigate the tiny British roads with a case of wine in them, so our guest room saw some use.  One of the wonderful things about the guest room is that there was a curtain covering a doorway in the room that was a passage that led all through and around and winding amidst the 2nd floor.  Paul kept the wine back there so it would always be cool.  Our friend, Buck swore that the room was cursed because he could never get it up in there and always had nightmares when he stayed over.  

Between the two rooms on the second floor was a pull down stairway (only reached to about 3 feet off the floor) that led to the 3rd floor.  I never went up there, which is one of my greatest regrets in life.  Paul pulled together enough balls with Buck in his presence to go up and check it out.  He took a flashlight and made it as far as poking his head up into the hole, shining the flashlight around and scurrying back down like mad.  Paul, Mr Science, was terrified and deemed it an “evil” place.  Hmmm.   That, of course, intrigued me.  He said there were “old things” up there, furniture and such and I was dying to see it.  Never got to.  Every time I’d get ready to give it a try, a kid would yell or someone would knock at the door or Paul would come home unexpectedly and my plan would be foiled.  It was quite a procedure because the pull down stairs dropped down just barely away from the stairs leading down from the second floor.  Who worked THAT little number and why is beyond me, but if you slipped, you’d be dead on the stone floor before.  Complicating this further is that I am quite short and hoisting myself up onto that elusive first stair to the pull down steps was going to be a feat, possible requiring me to step first onto *something* else, then onto the bottom rung.  I never made it up in the year that we lived there.  If I were me now, I’d be up there the first day, especially considering the bait that Paul “forbid” me to go up there.  If not upstairs, somewhere in that house there was something I was supposed to find.  I never did and I now, as I mentioned in the previous story, dream about that house at least once every week or two, and I always dream that I’m finding things there.  I go back to the house, in some dreams it’s empty, in others, there are new renters there, and I look through the house and find things I’ve lost ages ago in different countries and different states, find people I missed, find hoards of money, find deeds to properties in my name, find old, old pages and books of history…I’ve found so many things in my dreams in that house since I moved out in 1983.  You think of a house being haunted by a ghost, but I’m being haunted by a house.  After I moved out, I was visiting with Kate who, not knowing my feelings about something being hidden in the house (because, let's face it, that seemed like a rather dumbass obsession to have, so I kept it quiet) asked, "So did you ever find what was hidden in the house?"  I asked what she met, fully intrigued and she told me that she and the past two tenants who had lived in the house (the only ones she'd known since one of the tenants lived there for quite some time) had the notion that something was hidden in it and just couldn't shake the feeling.  I admonished her soundly and asked why she hadn't told me while I lived in the damned place, meanwhile with me thinking I was insane and she said it just hadn't ever come up.  Kate was nothing if not pragmatic.

But that’s not the story.  The story is something less intangible and very real, which is the guy who lived across the road and up the hill from us, Richard Rothery.  I have not mentioned much about the grounds to Maltings house and I think that is because they defy description.  As I said, the front wasn’t much, but when the British choose to use the word “garden” instead of “yard,” there is a very good reason for that.  Our two side “gardens” and our back garden were a splendiferous show of rosebushes and gardenias and daffodils and every other fragrant and beautiful flower you can imagine.  As soon as the last frost would go  away (around June), they’d start their symphony and the fragrance would be so heady, you’d get high just from walking the grounds.  The garden to one side of the house actually had stone steps leading up to a second level of rolling green grass and rose bushes.  The trees were plentiful and huge and bold.  We had the requisite giant barn storage shed, falling down in the middle so I couldn’t go in THERE either and a giant, longer than tall wooden gate at the real driveway that people used around back.  Magnificent.  When you stood in the upper layer of the (I’m thinking here) East Garden, up over the stone steps, you could see Richard’s house.  It was originally Susan’s house, who was Kate’s best friend before she moved away.   Susan’s house was on the market for years, when suddenly, Richard showed up from down Somersham way and bought it, straight out cash.  Susan was gone in a matter of days, bidding a hasty farewell to everyone.  I only saw her once or twice as I was arriving when she was going.  For whatever reason, Kate quickly lost track of her after she moved.  So across Somersham Rd from me, there was Kate, who lived a bit down the hill across from me to the right in Yew Tree Cottage (named for the beautiful Yew archway in front of it which was god knows how old) and then to the left up on a tall hill was Richard’s House.  That’s what we always called it, although I’m sure it had a name. 

Richard was a single man, widowed, who owned a giant Afghan hound named Eleanor.  Richard was probably in his late 40’s or so and wasn’t a particularly attractive man.  He would walk the village roads with Eleanor, not answering when people would bid him good day and basically just going about his business.  People stopped wishing him a good day after Eleanor bit Harry Green, a village fixture who would, each day, rain or shine, walk from Ofton village into Somersham village, a distance of about 6 miles one way, to get his paper.  This was remarkable not only in that it was up steep hill and down to get into Ofton village, but also that Harry Green was probably about 80-years-old.  We don’t know why Eleanor bit Harry, but bite him, she did, which did nothing to help Richard’s standing in the community, not that he cared, which also didn’t help one’s standing in the community.  

I’ll never forget one night when my friend, Pam (wife of Buck the Limp-ed), were stumbling back from a night “up th’ pub” in the blackest pitch dark.  You could not see your face in front of your hand nor vice versa.  We could barely make out the gravel along side the road in front of us and could see the security light at my house, so we were inching along, piss drunk, holding each other up and trying not to think scary thoughts.  Behind us, we gradually heard a rhythmic clicking sound, getting louder and louder.  Our hearts stopped.  Our hearts stopped even more when the sound was joined by some heavy breathing.  We started trying to run, but weren’t very good at it.  At the exact moment of culminating horror, Eleanor *leapt* out of the darkness and onto us.  Evidently, she’d gotten away from Richard and we began climbing up one another like monkeys fighting for a tree, screaming and wailing all the while.  Once we got moving in one direction, we made it home quite quickly, scaling the big wooden gate like champion thoroughbreds and bursting through the door, poor Eleanor long dispersed by the commotion of us peeing our pants and screaming until our throats were sore.  

But even that’s not the story.  The story is still with Richard.  What I didn’t know until a few weeks before I moved out of Maltings House was that Richard had been a “local” before he bought Susan’s house.  He had only lived a few miles down the road in Somersham village with his wife, Helen.  I got these little bits and pieces, but the full story came one night during a drinking binge with Steve Mitchell, who was the constable of the area.  Being constable and all, Steve was seldom much of a drinker.  Now his deputy constable, Shane Brown (who we ladies all called, “Ahhhh.  Shaaaanne”) was a fine drinker.  Shane was a tall, strapping young man who did carpentry on the side and had gained a muscle for every house he’d built and there were plenty of both.  Shane had an easy laugh and brilliant blue eyes and a quick wink and we all adored him.  Ahhhhh.  Shaaanne.  *sigh*  He never wanted any of us and it wasn’t for lack of our trying.  He’d flirt, he’d laugh, he’s play but never a woman caught Shane’s eye for longer than it took to play a game of darts.  Shane went on “holiday” up North (Shane had been a local all his life, mind you) for a week and returned with *gasp!*  a wife!!  WTF??  Shane’s new wife was a shrewish woman named Margaret, who was about 15 years his senior who, being from the North and all, called him “Shin” and bossed him around a great deal (“Shin, wouldja be gittin yersef up t’Joe and gittin me some ciggies?  Shin, didja bring in that laundry as I toldja?  Shin, take yersef up th’Open All Hours an’ git me a Ribena.”  Pffft).  This resulted in much mockery of her behind her back.  Our Shane was forever ruined and whipped and defeated.  Ah well. 

So Steve didn’t drink much at all, but on this particular night, he was far, far into the cups.  The pub was lonely that night, with only myself, Steve, Joe the landlord and the old men who drank Guinness in big tankards and played cribbage.  I asked Steve if Harry had ever decided to press charges against Richard from Eleanor attacking him and he scoffed and said that he hadn’t wanted to make a big scene so no, it looked like the sorry bastard was going to go without punishment again.  I was immediately at attention.  A little bit of careful prodding got the full story out of Steve. 

It seems that Steve had been the Chief Investigator in the case of the death of Richard’s wife Helen, which was ruled a suicide by the coroner’s inquisition.  Helen’s sister called the constable when she was unable to reach Helen for several days.  The last she’d heard from her was that she and Richard had been fighting (not an unusual situation, evidently) and that she’d call her back the next day.  Several days later, she became concerned when she had not heard from her.  Steve and Shane went down to question Richard, who claimed they’d had a fight several days back and that Helen had gone to her sister’s to cool down.  Had he heard from her?  No and he didn’t expect to for a couple of weeks.  It was “their way” and people seldom interfered with a couple’s way.  Steve asked Richard if he minded if they had a look around and Richard thought about it and said he didn’t.  A few minutes later, Steve found Helena, busy at decomposing and hanging in the barn from a rafter right in front of the door with a ladder kicked over at her feet.  There was a funeral, with Richard stalwart and few people in attendance.  They were private people.  It was “their way” and few knew them.  Steve submitted his report to the coroner’s inquisition and the ruling of suicide was handed down, much to Steve’s dismay.  What bothered him most was that he’d had to unbar the barn door from the outside to search the barn.  There were no windows.  When Steve asked Richard how the door had come to be locked from the outside, Richard explained that there had been a windstorm the night Helen “left” (there had been) and he’d seen the barn door swinging open and gone out to bar it up.  Hadn’t he seen his wife hanging in the doorway, probably with legs still kicking at that time?  No, he had not.  It was dark and he just closed the door and barred it.  But he could see the door was open from a distance?  No, he could hear it banging, followed the sound and barred the door, eager to get back inside out of the wind.  That stuck in Steve’s craw ever since. 

Richard inherited a huge sum of money (a few million) from his wife, both as legacy from her family (despite attempts to block it, made by her sister who also believed he’d done her in) and in life insurance policies he’d personally taken out on her.  He paid cash for the house and settled in with Eleanor and the rest of his money for a peaceful second half of his life, or at least the next three years.  That is until a young, wild-eyed woman banged on the door to the Limeburners pub at 2am one morning after I was already back in the states.  I learned about THIS in one of the few letters I was able to exchange with Dear Kate before I lost track of her.  In the Hitchhiker story that Joe NEVER opened his door to ANYone after hours.  Evidently, her screaming and door banging had been impressive enough to get Joe up out of the bed and down to the door, where she flew in like the North wind.  She was badly shaken, scared to death actually, her clothes were torn off of her practically and she had quite a story.  She claimed that she’d met Richard at a pub in Ipswich (a town near us) and had come back to his house for drinks after the pub closed.  One thing led to another, culminating with (according to her) Richard attacking her, threatening her with a knife and chasing her as she was fleeing the house.  Steve went out again and, according to what he told Kate (they’d gone to school together and were fairly chummy), got a statement from the girl, got her to a rape counselor and took Shane up to see Richard.  Richard was calm and reassuring, saying yes, he’d picked her up in Ipswich in a pub and yes, they’d come back there for drinks, but that she’d misinterpreted him comforting her in a tender moment as an advance and had gone psycho on him, clawing and biting (he had several injuries) and he had pushed her out the door in an effort to defend himself.   Steve took his statement and was in the process of preparing to call in the situation, when he glanced up and saw Helen, Richard’s dead wife, standing in front of the door to the house.  He nearly fell over in shock, but Richard seemed oblivious.  Helen said nothing, just pointed mutely to an area of the brick wall that was across from the door.  Then she disappeared.  Steve cleared his head, shook it off and chalked it up to his own emotional involvement in the case and the late hour (Steve was not a man given to flights of fancy and worked solely in facts and evidence).  He said he hadn’t slept for a couple of days due to being called out at odd hours.  As he was leaving the house, he looked back at the area where Helen had pointed.  There were two bricks loose.  Ever the cool cop, he asked Shane to take Richard back into the living room to clarify a few points.  While Shane kept Richard busy, Steve climbed up and dislodged the bricks, only to find that 5-6 were actually loose.  Behind those bricks, in a cubby built into the wall, he found a large number of women’s clothing items, many bloodstained, all different sizes.  The last I heard in Kate’s letter was that Richard had been arrested.  She didn’t know what the charges actually were and I never got to hear the outcome of any trial because I NEVER GOT TO HEAR FROM KATE AGAIN!!  Talk about frustrating, but still…it’s a good story and it chills me to think of it happening right across the road from Maltings House!

Update:  I got a scanner since this was written two years ago:

Our friends, Steve & Bonita with their children,
Joe & David (my sons) on the right &
Joshua (my 3rd son) in the yellow sleeper.
The incredible fireplace in Maltings House
is behind them.

Joe, Carrie, David & Eric
(Joe & David are mine)
in the side yard of Maltings house
with Richard's house barely
scene in the background.
Please note, this is the side yard
there's a huge back yard behind
the photographer, another side yard
on the opposite side of the house
a nice front yard.  What I wouldn't
give for so much land now!!!

A great picture of Richard's house
behind (clockwise) David, Paul (my ex)
me with Josh in arms and Joe.
There is a road between our house
and Richard's just in front of our yard.

Pictures are from 1983