‘‘What should we do with the body?’ A hypothetical question, ladies and gentlemen,’ the state’s attorney intoned as he stood in front of the jury box. ‘Yet I am convinced it is very close to exactly what one of these brothers asked the other.’ Here, Daniel Nordstrom let his eyes range over the eight men and four women sitting before him. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we will answer that question, and in so doing reveal the monumental cold-bloodedness of their crime.’
As I stared at the backs of their buzz cuts while they sat side-by-side at the defense table, nodding like bobbleheads as their lawyer whispered to them, I realized that as surely as the sun rises each day, the Kiernan brothers would end up here.
There was Tommy on the left and Donny on the right. Or, was it the other way around? I’d be hard-pressed to say without getting a closer look to see which one had a notch in the lobe of his left ear. That would be Donny, sporting a souvenir from an encounter with a romantic rival’s fishing knife.
So who are the Kiernan brothers? Why are they in court? And who am I? From last to first, I am Henry Waters, the editor and publisher of the Caller, a three-day-a-week newspaper in Benningfield, which is a small town, a burg really, tucked into the northwest corner of Illinois. It was a half-hour from Galena, the Jo Davies County seat where the courthouse is located. As to the Kiernans’ presence there, that will take some explaining, and I’ll get to it. As to who the twins are, that will take even more explication, and I promise you I will get to that in due course, too.
I should note here that I am not a native of either Benningfield or the state. I’m an ex-pat who moved to the town three years ago and bought the paper after my wife, Amanda, died and I retired early as managing editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel.
My interest in the Kiernans came about quite naturally. No sooner had the moving van left my new home it seemed, than I began hearing stories about the Kiernan family. Everyone within fifty miles of the town knew them. Like as not, many had some dealings with them, and just as likely those dealings had not gone well. So, my reporter’s curiosity was aroused quickly.
You may have noticed this: some people seem to glide through life always in sunshine, while others can’t get out from under a perpetual cloud. Every one of life’s episodes becomes a struggle from which they emerge with their knuckles scraped and bleeding. This dichotomy had long been a fascination of mine, and with the Kiernans there was very rich ground to explore.
Now, Tommy and Donny Kiernan were well acquainted with law enforcement; but even by the standards of their litany of misdeeds, the water they found themselves in the morning I write this, June tenth, 1983, was very hot indeed.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
‘All rise. Criminal Court for the County of Jo Davies is now in session,’ the bailiff intoned, ‘the Honorable William Norris presiding.’ With that, Judge Norris swept in from his chambers, set several folders he carried with him on the bench and took his seat. Tall and angular, Judge Norris made an imposing presence as he leaned forward, hands clasped in front of him and quickly swept the room with a stern gaze over the top of wire rim reading glasses perched near the end of his nose. It was his way of making plain who was in charge. I had covered a few other proceedings of his, and the rare challenge to his pre-eminence, usually by some self-important Chicago attorney, was made only once, leaving the lawyer to resume his seat meekly, the lapels of his tailored suit well-singed. There would be no such folly at this trial, a high-profile case prosecuted by the state’s attorney himself, while the Kiernans were defended by a Galena lawyer who knew better than to run afoul of this judge.
‘Are counsel ready to proceed?’ Judge Norris asked, barely waiting for replies. ‘Good. Mr. Nordstrom?’
So it began, the state’s case against Donald Allen and Thomas Brian Kiernan. The charge, murder in the first degree, the circumstances bizarre in the extreme.
In the jury box, eight men and four women, none of whom were familiar faces, turned their attention with requisite seriousness to State’s Attorney Daniel Nordstrom as he laid out the particulars of the case – that the Kiernans conspired with one Roddy McQueen of Decorah, Iowa to hijack an eighteen-wheeler loaded with prime Angus cattle meant for slaughter in Nebraska. That crime was accomplished by McQueen at a truck stop south of Dubuque, who drove the rustled beeves to a piece of farm property outside of Benningfield owned by the Kiernan family where the animals were taken off the truck and confined to a small lot. The truck was then hidden inside a barn on the property where, Nordstrom alleged, Donny and Tommy intended to alter its appearance and resell it on the black market. The cattle were to be split up and sold with the profits divided equally among the Kiernans and McQueen.
‘But,’ Nordstrom said, dropping his voice and curling his lips for effect, ‘among thieves honor is in short supply, ladies and gentlemen. And so it was with these defendants and their confederate.’ At this, Donny and Tommy turned toward each other, their faces pinched with incomprehension, I believe, at why they perceived Nordstrom had introduced the Civil War into his opening statement.
The prosecutor continued his narrative with these facts: The three had a falling out when McQueen insisted that his slice of the proceeds should be bigger than the brothers’ because he had taken the risk of hijacking the big rig. Tommy and Donny demurred on the grounds that they were the masterminds of the plan without which there would be no proceeds at all, so if anyone was deserving of a greater share, they were. (This was an assertion which drew a low grunt from one of the twins and nods from both.)
This discussion, which took place in the auto repair shop the boys had inherited from their father Sean, soon enough degenerated, Nordstrom said , fueled by copious amounts of Irish whisky, and the disputation became more serious. McQueen remained adamant, growing angrier the more the twins insisted that he take only an equal share or nothing at all. At that point, matters came to a head when McQueen began denouncing the Kiernan lineage, with special reference to the women and their sexual proclivities. Two of the female jurors put their heads down and wrung their hands as Nordstrom paused in his recitation of the sordid story. Then, resuming:
‘This so enflamed Donny that he leaped at McQueen, and the two grappled and fell to the floor, wrestling and pummeling each other with their fists. At the point when McQueen appeared to have the upper hand, Tommy intervened. Using a discarded fan belt as a garrotte, ladies and gentlemen, he choked the life out of Roderick McQueen.’ At the defense table I saw the twins shift their weight slightly and appeared to wink at each other. ‘But now these two defendants you see before you had a problem,’ the state’s attorney continued, ‘a big problem: ‘What should we do with the body?’’
Let’s leave the question for the moment because I want to get at what intrigued me that went beyond what transpired in the courtroom. I needed to get to the bottom of the story of the twins themselves, so I began to ask around.
‘My, I don’t suppose there was a single day that went by that wasn’t thrown into a tizzy by some chaos instigated by those two. More tea, Mr. Waters?’ I was sitting in the parlor of Miss Abigail Fettridge. At seventy-eight, she had been retired for a number of years as the longtime principal at Jefferson Elementary in Benningfield. That tenure included the time the Kiernan boys were in her charge. A diminutive woman, she had a reputation for running a tight ship. But, I gathered, her ability to do that was severely tested by the twins.
‘A bit more, thank you.’ I replied, pausing while she topped up the terracotta mug she had placed on the coffee table between us. ‘Tell me, what was the nature of their transgressions?’ She resumed her seat, smoothing the wrinkles from her long gray skirt.
‘Oh, goodness,’ she replied, rolling her eyes. ‘From A to Z, they ran the full gamut, Mr. Waters. What you might guess – pulling the fire alarms, hurling nasty spitwads, those sorts of things. But the Kiernans could also be more… creative. And risqué.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, here is an episode which was recounted by my counterpart at the high school at the time, Melvin Lloyd. A fine fellow and, something you’re sure to appreciate, a reliable source, in my view. It’s a pity he’s no longer with us to talk to you himself; but I will do my best to be accurate.’
As she began to recall the incident, I could see Miss Fettridge’s face begin to redden.
‘Well, I really don’t know if I should – could – repeat this…’ she paused again, choosing to sip her tea. ‘Modesty constrains me, Mr. Waters.’
‘I certainly don’t want to put you in an uncomfortable position.’
She turned away. I knew she was struggling but also sensed that she really did want to relate the story. After a long moment, her face somewhat redder still, she looked at me again and began:
‘It was on a morning in April, I believe, shortly after the students began arriving between 7:30 and 8:00, that a wave of excited whispering and giggling swept through the halls. Melvin – Mr. Lloyd – said he emerged from his office in the middle of it and asked one of the students what was going on. He was told there was something hanging above the girls’ bathroom door on the third floor. When he asked what it was, the response was hysterical laughter. So, summoning Mary Atkinson, the assistant principal, they made their way upstairs. What they found…’ Miss Fettridge paused again, her eyes cast down for a moment in apparent embarrassment. ‘What they found were two rather large deformed eggplants which had partially grown together and a banana of prodigious dimension which had been fashioned with masking tape to resemble… the male genitalia.’
‘Yes,’ she hurried on, growing rather breathless, ‘in full tumescence.’
‘And this entire horror had been suspended by a length of twine from the fire alarm horn so that it dangled just above the bathroom entrance.’
Appallingly offensive, I grant, but my imagination was reveling in a juvenile way with the imagery it had conjured. I fought to keep a straight face.
‘That, Mr. Waters, got the Kiernan twins expelled.’
‘There was just no controlling those two.’ The man who spoke was, like Miss Fettridge, retired. Father Aleksander Dombrowicz had been the parish priest at Our Lady of Sorrows, the only Catholic church in Benningfield, the church the twins’ mother had taken them to Sundays for several years in hopes it might have a positive influence on them. ‘Grace tried, God rest her soul,’ Fr. Dombrowicz went on in a voice weakened by his advancing years, which were now spent in a retirement home operated by his order, the Society of Jesus.
‘But the lessons didn’t take?’
‘Sadly, they did not, largely because of the boys’ father, Sean. He was always at cross purposes with Grace. Not only was he highly skeptical of the Church as a theological proposition, but he was especially incensed that the parish flock was in the care of ‘that damned Polack’ priest, as he was fond of calling me.’
‘He never came to the church?’
‘So you made no headway with Tommy and Donny?’
‘The good Lord knows we tried. When they were ten or eleven, we appointed them altar boys, hoping their attendance during mass would lead them to become more reverent – and well-behaved. He paused to carefully remove his glasses, take a handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers and slowly began polishing the lenses. As he did so, he resumed: ‘It had no such effect, I’m sorry to say. Instead, they used their positions for mischief. I will give you a prime example. As you know, Sean Kiernan owned an auto repair garage. I’m told that despite his reputation as a man with a foul mouth and a taste for rough living, he was nothing short of a genius when it came to fixing automobiles.’
‘I have heard the same.’
‘Yes. Well… apparently the twins inherited that trait and began displaying their expertise at an early age. Now, to the point. When they were altar boys, they took it into their heads to play a trick on the Sunday worshippers, and here is what they did: they methodically loosened the nuts and bolts holding the supports for the kneeling rails in all the pews. They loosened them just enough so that they would fold down normally, but whenever any weight was put on them, they would fall apart and collapse. And collapse they did during mass, causing the boys to react with glee but leading to a far different response from the parishioners. Poor old Mrs. Temple, one of the more ample of the church members, upon applying her full weight to the rail, had it give way, causing her to topple sideways into the main aisle. It required three of the stouter men to right her. All the while she moaned and cried out to the Virgin and our Lord. It was a pitiful scene, sir. I had little choice but to abandon the mass at that point. The incident left Mrs. Temple with a damaged right knee requiring a complete surgical replacement. There were complications, and she was never able to get around thereafter unless with one of those motorized scooters. She was quite understandably angry, and I’m afraid it festered to the point where there was talk of a lawsuit.’
‘And was there?’
The old priest smiled faintly. ‘No, no, there wasn’t. I had a heartfelt talk with Mrs. Temple on the advice of the Church’s attorneys, and convinced her that litigation might hamper her fortunes in the afterlife.’
‘Their old man? Sean? He was no kind of a example except bad.’ Bill Kiernan, who was in his mid-forties, was first cousin to the twins. ‘My dad, his own brother, never had no luck tryin’ to tame the man. He was a loud drunk who either let the boys get away with murder – which was most of the time – or threatened to kick the shit out of them. The man couldn’t even control Tommy and Donny or himself long enough to get through my father’s wake, for Christ’s sake. You want to hear that story?’ he asked.
‘Sounds like it could be a doozy.’
‘Oh, it’s a doozy, alright. And then some.’ We were sitting across a worn table topped with scuffed Formica in the kitchen of Bill’s house trailer. ‘How about a drink?’ I threw a glance at the plastic sunburst clock on the wall. It read 10:45.
‘Little early in the day for me, but thanks.’ He curled up one corner of his mouth in a way that signaled both his bemusement and condescension. There was a half-empty fifth at hand along with a glass, so he unscrewed the cap and poured generously.
‘Mother’s milk in old Killarney,’ he declared and then drank. ‘Now, where was I?’
‘Your father’s wake?’
‘Ah, what a rat-fuck it was.’ He paused and took a deep drag on his smoke before continuing. ‘So here’s the picture: We’re all in that funeral home in Galena, the one owned by the Jews. Benheim is it?’
‘Blenheim’s,’ I corrected.
‘That’s the one. So we’re all cheek-by-jowl in the place – family, friends – a shitload of people, most of them I didn’t even recognize. Sean, of course, is already three sheets to the wind. He’s swaying back and forth and getting louder by the minute. The priest had said his piece and then invited people to come forward to pay their respects at the side of the old man’s casket, starting with the members of the family. So everyone starts falling into a line, you know? Now the twins – my dad died twenty-five years ago – so the boys were thirteen at the time. When it’s their time, they step into place, fold their hands in front of themselves and try to be respectful. Well, Tommy leans toward Donny and makes some kind of joke. Now Donny at the time was going through his bubblegum-chewing phase. Always the same – Double Bubble. Big wads. Four or five pieces at a time. It’s a miracle he’s got a goddamned tooth left from all that gum. Anyway, Donny is working his Double Bubble like cud when Tommy says whatever the hell it was he said. This causes Donny to throw his head back and start to laugh. And just as he lets out this massive cackle, his mouth flies open at the precise moment Tommy claps him on the back. And when he does that – well, it was kind of like that Himeling maneuver thing, you know? – the goddamned wad of Double Bubble – I swear it was half the size of a baseball – goes flying out of his mouth, up through the air. A perfect goddamned arc – this is like happening in slow motion – and makes a three-point landing in the middle of my dad’s forehead.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Damn right I’m serious. I was standing not six feet away. And I wasn’t the only one who saw it. Plenty of others were close enough, and that includes Sean. And when he gets a load of what happened, he goes apeshit, you know? ‘What the fook?!’ he starts screamin.’ You should know that the drunker he got, the more he fell into the brogue. Well, the people start gasping and all, and the uproar begins for real. Now, when Tommy sees what’s happened he doubles over laughing, soon to be followed by his brother. And they couldn’t stop. Like a couple of goddamned hyenas. This gets Sean even more infuriated. ‘I’ll beat yer fookin’ asses, the both of ya,’ he yells while a couple of the men try to hold him back. He was a fairly big man, you know, and when he put a few under his belt, he could be a handful. ‘I’ll teach ya to disrespect me brother,’ he shouts. Then, from somewhere back of the crowd a voice yells: ‘That’s the most respectable he’s looked in years, Sean!’ Sean staggers in a circle bellowing ‘Who said that? Who said that?’ And when he sees it’s Dom Finucci, he really goes ballistic. See, him and Dom had a history. Some kind of dispute that went back years. Neither one of them had any use for the other. So, you ask, why does Dom show up at the wake? Just to needle Sean’s ass. That’s my opinion. Anyway, Sean yells ‘I’ll knock yer fookin’ dago block off!’ wrestles free of the guys who were trying to hold him and bull-rushes Finucci. And then, all holy hell breaks loose. Tommy and Donny are still bent over laughing, people are starting to take swings at each other for no good reason that I could see. Even some of the women got into it, slapping and pulling hair, cursing and calling each other dirty bitches. The priest, well, he steps up and starts reciting a few ‘Hail, Marys’ in a loud voice, trying to get people to calm down. No use. The only thing left was for the Jew undertaker to call the cops.’ Bill Kiernan stopped, took a last drag from his cigarette and finished what remained of his whisky. He shook his head. ‘That’s the way things went with Sean’s branch of the family – the goddamned Irish crazies. And that’s why the twins grew up the way they did.’
I think now you can see that it was no mystery why I said at the start that there was an inevitability to Donny and Tommy sitting in the Jo Davies County Courthouse that June morning.
Back to the body of the unfortunate Roddy McQueen. How were the Kiernan twins going to deal with that dilemma? While neither of the boys set the academic world on fire, as attested to by Miss Fettridge and others, when it came to learning the shady arts, the twins seemed to be quick studies. Nonetheless, they were far from brilliant criminals, and the outcome of their scheme to rid themselves of Roddy McQueen’s remains was a perfect example.
‘We will show, ladies and gentlemen,‘ Daniel Nordstrom said, ‘that having killed Mr. McQueen, these two defendants used the impending burial of one Lydia Cochran to hide his body. How so, you ask? By slipping into the cemetery the night before the interment, deepening the freshly dug grave by a couple of feet, depositing McQueen’s remains and then covering them with dirt to make it appear the grave had not been touched. The next day, Mrs. Cochran’s funeral was held, her casket lowered and the grave was filled.’
Several members of the jury shifted in their chairs, reacting to the brazenness of the scheme. I turned to the defense table in time to see Tommy and Donny exchange brief glances. It seems they found it impossible to hide their self-satisfaction.
So it went on the opening morning of the trial. By the end of the day all the testimony was complete. The only prosecution witness was Sheriff Brad Renfroe, who testified that the whole scheme was uncovered when the stolen cattle had broken through a gate at the Kiernans’ and a farmer next door found them grazing in his field. A check of their ear tags allowed them to be traced. The same was true of Roddy McQueen’s fingerprints on the steering wheel of the hijacked big rig that was hidden in the Kiernans’ barn.
As to learning how the boys disposed of Roddy’s body, that proved surprisingly easy, the sheriff told the jury. When a search was made of Tommy’s house, deputies found a VHS tape laying on a coffee table with a Post-it note stuck to the top reading – At the 4:30 mark, this is how we do it. The tape was a grainy documentary entitled Secrets of the Mafia Dons, and what the relevant portion of the tape showed (and this was played for the jury) was a technique for body disposal used by the Cosa Nostra in Sicily during the early years of the Twentieth Century in which the corpses of the dispatched were buried in the graves of people just before their funerals. A quick check of recent burials – there was only Mrs. Cochran’s – an exhumation order from a judge, and the Kiernans’ goose was well-cooked.
As for the twins’ attorney… well, I hope they weren’t paying more than minimum wage for all the ‘defense’ he provided. His name was Floyd Logan, lightly regarded in county legal circles, and it was clear to me why. Perhaps the case was viewed as such a lost cause that Logan felt there was no need to put up any kind of a real challenge. Now, I am no law school graduate, but even I might have mounted some attack however feeble on the prosecution’s evidence. Anything. But there was nothing. Instead, I suppose in an attempt to engender sympathy from the jury, Floyd Logan called a single witness, Madeline Stannard, the boys’ ninety-eight-year-old aunt.
Although frail, as you would expect, Mrs. Stannard was able to walk into the courtroom with assistance when called to testify. Her progress was halting, painfully slow. By my watch, it took four minutes and twenty-eight seconds from the time the courtroom doors opened until, tiny and grey in a plain print dress, she was settled into the witness chair. Her head was bent so far forward that her chin hung down practically to her chest. You would have been forgiven for believing she was napping. I could summarize her remarkable testimony, but why deny you a sense of how it played out as it occurred? Here, from the official trial transcript:
BAILIFF: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me.
WITNESS STANNARD: What?
BAILIFF: Raise your right hand and repeat after me.
WITNESS STANNARD: Who are you?
BAILIFF: I –
JUDGE NORRIS: Ma’am, are you having trouble hearing the bailiff?
WITNESS STANNARD: What?
JUDGE NORRIS: The bailiff. Are you having trouble hearing the bailiff?
WITNESS STANNARD: Who are you?
JUDGE NORRIS: I am the judge of this case, ma’m… this way, ma’am. I’m over here.
WITNESS STANNARD: Oh . . .
JUDGE NORRIS: Are you able to hear the bailiff?
WITNESS STANNARD: The who?
JUDGE NORRIS: The bailiff, madame, the bailiff. He needs to swear you in.
WITNESS STANNARD: Swear at me? He better not or I’ll sock him in the goddamned face.
MR. NORDSTROM: Judge –
MR. NOLAN: Judge –
JUDGE NORRIS: One at a time, gentlemen. I can only hear you one at a time. Now, Mr. Nordstrom?
MR. NORDSTROM: Your honor, really? This has already become a travesty and the witnesses hasn’t even been sworn.
JUDGE NORRIS: Mr. Nolan?
MR. NOLAN: Is the prosecution trying to stop me from calling my only witness?
MR. NORDSTROM: I am trying to prevent this trial from degenerating into a farce, which is what it is on the verge of becoming.
JUDGE NORRIS: Mr. Nordstrom –
MR. NORDSTROM: This is a serious case, your honor.
JUDGE NORRIS: You need not remind me, counsel. I am well aware of the gravity of the case. I consider every case that comes before me serious, sir.
MR. NORDSTROM: Your honor, I meant no –
JUDGE NORRIS: Sit down, Mr. Nordstrom. The witness will be heard. Bailiff?
MR. NOLAN: Excuse me, your honor.
JUDGE NORRIS: What is it, Mr. Nolan?
MR. NOLAN: Your honor, if it please the court and if Mr. Nordstrom agrees, could it be stipulated that Mrs. Stannard has been sworn?
JUDGE NORRIS: Mr.Nordstrom?
MR. NORDSTROM: Anything to expedite this –
JUDGE NORRIS: I did not invite your commentary, Mr. Nordstrom. Confine yourself to answering whether you have an objection to stipulating that this witness is sworn.
MR. NORDSTROM: I have no objection.
JUDGE NORRIS: So stipulated. Proceed, Mr. Nolan.
MR. NOLAN: Thank you, your honor. Now, Mrs. Stannard. Ma’am? I’m over here, ma’am.
WITNESS STANNARD: Eh? Now, who are you?
MR. NOLAN: Floyd Nolan, ma’am.
WITNESS STANNARD: What?
MR. NOLAN: Floyd Nolan? The attorney representing your nephews? Donny and Tommy? Do you remember we talked?
WITNESS STANNARD: We talked? About what?
MR. NORDSTROM: Your Honor, I object.
MR. NOLAN: To questioning my own witness?
JUDGE NORRIS: Mr. Nolan, please. What is your objection, Mr. Nordstrom?
MR. NORDSTROM: To all of this. It’s clear this woman has little or no idea what any of this is all about.
MR. NOLAN: Your Honor, if the prosecution would stop interrupting –
MR. NORDSTROM: I knew this would degenerate –
MR. NOLAN: — I am laying the groundwork –
MR. NORDSTROM: – into a fiasco.
MR. NOLAN: – for her testimony.
JUDGE NORRIS: Gentlemen, I’m going to warn you one last time. You will address yourselves to the bench and not to each other. Understood? Now, Mr. Nordstrom, your objection is overruled. Kindly sit down and let counsel for the defense get on with his witness.
MR. NOLAN: Thank you, Your Honor. Now, where we’re we? Mrs. Stannard, do you remember that we talked –
WITNESS STANNARD: Who did you say you was again?
MR. NOLAN: I am Floyd Nolan, the attorney representing your nephews. We – you and I – talked about their court case? Why they are on trial?
WITNESS STANNARD: We did?
MR. NOLAN: We did.
MR. NORDSTROM: Objection, Your Honor.
WITNESS STANNARD: Them boys in trouble again for stealing chickens?
MR. NORDSTROM: Objection. Compos mentis, Your Honor.
MR. NOLAN: For God’s sake.
JUDGE NORRIS: I want both of you to approach the bench. Now.
I could go on with this, but it would serve little purpose other than to bolster the prosecution’s contention that putting Mrs. Stannard on the witness stand was a desperate gambit by Floyd Nolan that became precisely what Nordstrom predicted: a fiasco. The only real surprise is that Judge Norris allowed it to proceed for a long as he did.
Still, the trial wrapped up by the end of the day. After Mrs. Stannard was shuffled off the stand, the defense rested. There were brief closing arguments before the judge called a short recess, following which he delivered his instructions to the jury. They retired a few minutes after three o’clock and by a quarter to four, they were back with a guilty verdict.
Judge Norris saw no reason to delay sentencing, but before he did so, he gave both the twins the opportunity to make a statement. Tommy declined.
Not Donny. But when he stood in his ill-fitting black suit that shined in spots where a hot iron had obviously been applied, rather than deliver an expression of sympathy or remorse, he launched into a denunciation of the prosecution for ‘badgerin’ our dear, old auntie’ and finished with the following:
‘Okay, so we done what we done. We stole them cattle. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest move we could’ve made, but we done it. And, okay, we knocked off Roddy McQueen. You got us there, fair and square. But we ain’t sorry for it. No way, because we took him on as an equal partner and in the end he showed his true colors as the cheatin’ greedy fucking little weasel that he was. We say, ‘ good goddamned riddance.’ That’s all I got.’
And that was all. From there, at Judge Norris’ order, the state of Illinois officially retired the Kiernan twins, age thirty-seven, for life at the Menard Correctional Center in Chester.
I decided my last act in reporting on Tommy and Donny would be to see them off the day they were sent on their way south. Prisoner transfers are not normally occasions for fanfare, and the departure of the Kiernans was no different, except that I wasn’t alone as I stood in the early-morning fog outside the entrance to the sally port of the county jail. As the doors swung open and the drab gray prisoner van pulled out, two boys – they couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve – stirred a few yards from me. They were twins, identical in every respect – from their dirty-blonde mullets to the AC/DC Highway to Hell muscle shirts that hung from their bony shoulders. Still moving slowly, the van rolled past us; and as it did, the boys raised their right arms and began thrusting their balled fists into the air with the first and little fingers extended in the devil horns salute.
‘You dudes fuckin’ rock!’ they shouted in unison at the top of their lungs.
Inside the van, Tommy and Donny Kiernan smiled, raised their shackled hands and pumped them in acknowledgement.
Their legacy was secure.
© Nick Young