In Fallbrook, the memories of all three of them, false or true, bitter or fond, will move like the Mexican ghost La Llorona, the woman who, having killed her own children, haunts the streets, crying as if to remind you that the worst thing of all can happen, the thing you could not before imagine.
Judy called him Daddy, of course, and his wife called him Dean, but everyone else called him Carroll. He was small, thin, and bowlegged, partial to bow ties and cowboy boots, though not at the same time. He wasn’t a handsome man, really, but his glasses, his high forehead, his pointed nose, and his close-cut oiled hair made him look congenial and spruce, especially when he was clapping his hands together at the end of a good joke.
On that Sunday morning in 1957, 49-year-old Carroll Huscher was a successful man.
“A signal honor was bestowed on Fallbrook’s popular Carroll D. Huscher last week,” announced the Fallbrook Enterprise, “when he was elected President of the National Frozen Food Locker Institute at a huge meeting of members attending the industry’s annual National Convention at Hotel Morrison, Chicago.”
Food had always been his livelihood. At 10, he delivered it, at 24, he helped his father sell it, and at 31, he preserved it at Huscher’s Froz-N Foods, which he later called “C” Huscher’s Meats. There you could freeze the deer you shot, the pig you raised, the side of beef you intended to eat all winter. You rented a drawer, large or small, and after Mr. Huscher cut and wrapped the various parts, into the drawer they went, all ready for you to pick up once a week on your way through town. He sold regular cuts of meat too, and frozen vegetables.
“Mr. Huscher liked kids,” remembered a woman who shopped there as a child. “When I’d want to go into the locker with Mother, or any other child wanted to go in with his or her parent, Mr. Huscher would be buttoning up fronts, rolling up sleeves, and wrapping up little ones right along with the parent. All the jackets were for adults, so much rolling, wrapping, and buttoning was necessary (and then we probably looked pretty bizarre!). If you didn’t go into the locker but waited out in the main room and Mr. Huscher wasn’t busy, he’d chat with you, something most adults aren’t comfortable doing.”
Mr. Huscher kept his name on the meat locker even after he left the daily operation in 1955 to open a strawberry freezing co-op a block away.
“My sister and a lot of her age group worked evenings at the strawberry plant processing berries for freezing,” said a graduate of ’55. “They washed, sorted, picked rot (the worst job), and put them in freezer containers,” five-gallon gold tins with lots of sugar on top.
“I remember him opening the strawberry packing plant — it meant lots of jobs for people in Fallbrook,” said the son of a high school teacher.
Carroll and Gladys had been married for 23 years, but by 1957 they weren’t living together. Gladys and Judy lived in the house on Knoll Park Lane, and Carroll lived in the strawberry plant. The reasons for this were about to become public knowledge.
He started his car on Sunday morning, March 31st, and set out to see Judy and feed her horse. The weather was mild and encouraging, the cool, bright spring that came every year with its orange blossoms and roses and pink India hawthorn hedges.
In downtown Fallbrook, the shops were closed and silent, the windows full of stuffed rabbits and Easter eggs, the sorts of things Judy would like. On Valentine’s Day, the last holiday that had involved gifts of chocolate, Mr. Huscher had driven through town with two Valentines, one for Gladys and one for Judy, because this had seemed like the best course, but it wasn’t. Gladys refused hers, and then Judy said, “Why are you so mean to my daddy?”
He turned left onto Knoll Park Lane. It was a street, then, of respectable teachers and plumbers and shopkeepers, a street of arrival and relative prosperity. The grass in the yards was bright green. He knew the neighbors up and down the street: Leighton Harrison of the drugstore, his boys Eddie and Kermit, Bill Toomey of the high school, the Reeds, Ogdens, Aabergs, and Earls. He wasn’t really one of them anymore, but his daughter’s horse was waiting to be fed, and Judy was waiting too, in his mind, because he’d told her he was coming when she called to say good night.
The newspapers were still at the curb, though. Two fat Sunday papers, the Union and the Times. “It startled me for a second because the youngster is always out to get the funny papers,” he told police.
Judy had seemed fine the day before. When Gladys picked Judy up from the strawberry co-op at 4:30, Gladys had complained about how many hours it took her to buy supplies for the home ec students — “as many hours on a Saturday, when she wasn’t paid to work, as on weekdays, when she was.”
He parked the car and turned off the ignition. It was 10:35 a.m. No one came out, and no one appeared at the living room window when his car door shut. He walked behind the house to lead the horse up for water, passing, as usual, the window of his former bedroom and Judy’s window, where the blinds weren’t open. There was a gap of four inches, he noticed. He walked on and fetched the horse, then led him to the trough. There’s nothing to do while a horse drinks, so he walked back to the front of the silent house. That’s when he noticed the shades were down in Gladys’s room too. The shades were down, and the light was on.
“Something about it startled me, so I came around and took the horse back and tied him up real quick and came and looked in the window, here, the youngster’s.”