Allene was still feeling poorly, but David had anticipated that. The water from the tub in the next room rumbled through the pipes—a hot bath was waiting for her. David had also prepared a breakfast tray in the kitchen with a bowl filled with Shredded Wheat cereal, a container of cream, and hot water for her morning cup of Postum, a popular coffee substitute made of whole grains and molasses for those who didn't care for caffeine.
David guided Allene down the short hallway to the left of their bedroom. Much of the tiny bathroom was bright white, including the walls, the fixtures, and the tile around the tub. The room was far too cramped for two people, so David gently maneuvered her around the basin; she suffered from notoriously weak ankles.
Allene kicked off her sheep fleece-lined slippers, untied her nightgown, and hung it on the door nearby. David helped her step into the tub, which was now quickly filling with warm water. Weighing about 115 pounds, Allene was a delicate woman even at her healthiest, and her stomach was still bothering her that morning. She hoped that a long soak might move along her recovery—she didn't intend to wash her hair, just relax. She didn't even bother with a bar of soap.
Allene was steady as she lowered herself into the water, while David turned and left the door slightly ajar, stuck on a thick doormat. The tub was about halfway full when she turned the handle and slowly stood up—it was time to begin the day. The doorbell rang, but it might have gone unnoticed.
Suddenly the light that illuminated her bathroom vanished—deep blackness was everywhere. Perhaps she had closed her eyes, just for a bit, but the sensation was startling, as if she was blinded by thick ink.
She was breathless, and now there was an aching at the back of her head, stretching from ear to ear. She collapsed.
The outside of the porcelain tub was cold as her body slumped over the side. Her torso dangled halfway out. Her arms hung down. Allene's head tilted toward the tiles of the bathroom floor as one of her beautiful dark braids, which she had so gently fixed earlier, became unpinned and drooped along her left arm to the floor. The ends of her hair were frayed. One of her hands rested on a slipper, which had been lying on the tiles just outside the tub.
There was blood everywhere—even on the ceiling—but she didn't notice. She was limp, dying. Red liquid from the back of her head quickly spilled into the clear water in the bathtub as crimson tentacles reached away from her body. The water slowly turned pink. Dark red streaks slid along the side of the tub. Within minutes, the blood glistened in her hair, soaking the brown strands along with almost every surface of her bathroom.
Allene Lamson's gruesome death would soon attract more attention than her quiet, ordinary life. Her friendships and her marriage would offer morbid fodder for a scandal-hungry press and a politically savvy prosecutor. Most of Allene's friends didn't realize that her gracious smile had hidden some troubling secrets, but soon everyone would know. She was married to a killer—even he had admitted it. And soon newspapers across America would accuse David Lamson of murdering Allene, too. But that narrative would unfurl later. For another few minutes Allene Thorpe Lamson would lie alone, dying in warm bathwater.
For the past three years David Lamson had been a reliably cordial neighbor. His scheduled weekend tasks in the small backyard were part sweat equity, part social hour. Friends peered over their fences and gossiped with one another about colleagues and classes as they trimmed their lush fruit trees—quince, apple, pear, loquat, and fig, among others.
"I hoed," he remembered, "cleaned away the weeds by the blackberry vines, which I wanted to irrigate."
That morning David's task was to trim his artichoke plants in the back garden, not an unusual edict for many husbands who chose to use the holiday as a day to check off their chore lists. He strolled into the garden around seven after having a small breakfast with coffee.
The Lamsons would soon be off to the mountains. They planned to spend the summer away from Palo Alto and would be renting out their bungalow for a few months. There was so much to do beforehand.
Neighbors watched David navigate the piles of trimmings and weeds. Right before ten, he stopped for a chat with Helen Vincent about simonizing her car.
"I remarked that he was doing more than one thing at a time," recalled Vincent, "getting a sunbath and doing his garden work."
During their conversation a woman appeared in his garden, Julia Place, the Lamsons' real estate agent. She explained that she had two clients with her from San Francisco who might want to rent the Lamsons' home for the summer. David seemed a bit surprised, because they hadn't arranged an appointment. Allene must not have heard the doorbell's ring from the bathtub.
"He said it would be perfectly all right if I would go to the front," said Place. "He would go through the back door and let me in with my clients."
Place and Vincent watched David slip on his shirt and walk into his house through the back porch, while the agent and her clients returned to the front. Less than four minutes passed before an alarming sound came from inside—perhaps a scream.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor.