The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders
by Anthony Flacco, with Jerry Clark, foreword by Dr. Michael Stone, host of the Discovery Channel’s “Most Evil”
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Thirteen-year-old Sanford Clark felt his stomach lurch when he realized that his mother was really going to send him away. He stared down at the floor and fought to control his breathing while his brain reeled from the news. Everything about it felt wrong. The atmosphere in the room took on a poisonous feel, as if a thin mist of acid had just rolled in through the window. He knew that his mother and uncle were telling him a pack of lies. It was all so off-kilter and strange that the moment belonged in a bad dream.
There was his mother, Winnie, doing more of that wink-and-grin whispering that she and her younger brother Stewart always fell into whenever they thought nobody was around. Today, for some reason, she didn’t appear to care that Sanford was standing right there—or even that her husband was in the room. She seemed determined to end Uncle Stewart’s visit with all the closeness that she could get from him. Sanford wondered how his father could fail to see it. But when John Clark was at home, he just kind of floated around in their lives. He had gotten himself bitched into silence at some point in the distant past, back when Sanford was too small to remember. Now he only knew his father’s ghost.
He strained for a way to get his father involved, even though that was generally not productive. While John did have enough strength to explode for a minute or so when life’s stresses became too much for him, he also burned out as quick as a match head. Nowadays, he seldom bothered with anything enough to lose his temper over it. On the rare occasions when he did slip, Winnie made sure he paid for it, sometimes for weeks.
But today their whispering—it almost seemed more like flirting—had the terrifying purpose of giving Sanford away to Uncle Stewart. It was clear that no one could stop her. Their story was that Uncle Stewart would be taking Sanford on a road trip in his big Buick roadster to visit the city of Regina, about 150 miles southeast, the capital of Saskatch¬ewan. “It will be a grand trip, Sanford!” Uncle Stewart enthused. “And I know you’d love to see the Regina Pats on their home field, right?”
“They’re junior league.”
“Sanford,” Winnie added, “Regina is our capital city and you need to know about it. It’s a beautiful place and you’re going to let Uncle Stewart show you around.”
“We’ll make a game out of it!” Uncle Stewart chimed in, lying like a crooked salesman. “We’ll drive around town, looking for any leftover signs of the Regina Hurricane.”
“Wasn’t that before I was born?”
“Not that far. It’s been fourteen years—so if they haven’t fixed everything back up by now, we’ll write to the newspapers! An exposé! Think of it: two hicks from Saskatoon criticizing the capital. It’ll be a scandal, ha-ha!”
Sanford figured that the only scandal here was that his mother was going to give him away while she and her brother lied to him with such conviction. Sanford was no stranger to his mother’s skills at deception—he had spent much of his life in listening to her lie to anybody who had anything to give up.
He had forgotten how much his mother and her brother shared the trait. Prior to this two-week visit from Uncle Stewart, Sanford had not seen him or his family since they had left Canada in a hurry two years before. Nobody ever told Sanford why the Northcott family wanted to leave the country, but their whole family knew that Uncle Stewart had managed to infuriate certain neighbors with his treatment of their children. No doubt he could lie well about that too. But Sanford had sneaked up on his mother and uncle earlier that day while they were gig¬gling in the corner, making their plans for him. Now he knew full well that nothing about this Regina story was true.
He sneaked another glance at his mother. Winnie was in one of her detached moods, not really recognizing anything that was going on around her. The only time she looked anybody in the eye while she was in this mood was to rage at them. He figured that was why she could dis¬cuss shipping him away like it was nothing. He struggled for his voice.
“This is a bunch of baloney!” he finally blurted. “I know we’re not going to Regina! He’s taking me all the way down to the States! I heard you talking about that stupid chicken ranch!”
Winnie aimed that stare of hers directly into his eyes. He saw it then: she would sooner take a bite out of his skull than acknowledge the truth of anything he said. Her eyebrows pulled inward. “Why, you selfish, self-centered son of a bitch! What about momma? Huh? What about me?”
“. . . About you?”
“Do not answer my question with a question, you little shit!”
“Hell, Sissie—go ahead and tell him.”
“Oh, now you want me to tell him?”
“Might as well.”
“You want to listen to his whining?”
“He’s not gonna whine.” Uncle Stewart now directed a menacing gaze at Sanford. “Are you, sport?”
Sanford tried to ignore the question. “I don’t want to go to—”
“He’s not gonna whine!” Uncle Stewart barked. Then he continued in a menacing, overly soft voice: “_Are_ you, sport?”
“I wasn’t whining.”
Winnie snorted with disgust. “God damn it, you spoiled bastard! You don’t know what work is. You don’t know what struggle is.”
“That’s something every boy should learn, Sanford,” Uncle Stewart added.
“It’s not fair to just—” Sanford began, but Winnie cut him off.
“_All right!” she shouted. After a pause to stare into space and slowly shake her head, she took a deep breath and spoke, giving the appearance of weighing every word while she delivered her considered thoughts. “Son. There is truly—and I mean this—truly something wrong with you. I think that you are missing something that a normal boy is supposed to have. It’s this selfishness of yours, the way that you only think about yourself. There are words for people like that. Bad words. So all right, then, you want to know what’s up? Fine and dandy: here it is! You’re going down to California with Stewart. I was _trying to make it easier for you, but no, you won’t have it.
“Any normal boy loves adventure. Once any real boy gets out onto the road, you know, with the wind in his hair, it’s only natural for that boy to want to keep on traveling as far as he can, as long as he’s got plenty of sandwiches. A mother knows these things.”
“Why would I want to keep on trav—”
“But it’s a waste of time to think about you. A show of courtesy is lost on you!”
Winnie ticked her way through the old list of his sins, one finger at a time. She could take two or three minutes per finger, use up every one of them and add in a few of her toes before she got it all out of her system. He took a deep breath while the familiar damnations began trundling before him: A foolish daydreamer too misty-headed for his own good. A loafer who devoured popular fiction but who could barely sit through a class and seldom passed an exam. A dolt who responded too slowly, got her orders ass-backwards, or just went about everything wrong. He had always been more trouble than he was worth.
“That’s why you need this new life,” she summed up. “You can go to school down there and help take care of Uncle Stewart’s place the rest of the time.”
But to Sanford, this “real story” sounded every bit as ridiculous as their lie. Breeding livestock with Uncle Stewart out in the desert? San¬ford’s Uncle Stewart was a delicate, twenty-year-old aspiring pianist. He had lived all of his life in Canada until two years ago, when he and his parents had left for the States. The would-be chicken rancher had always been tremendously proud of the fact that he played the piano with enough skill to appear professionally with local orchestras and silent film houses. Uncle Stewart had played up here in the province and supposedly down in the States as well. The whole damned family knew about his dreams of becoming a concert pianist. And as for living in the desert, Sanford had never thought about it before, but why would any¬body move from a city like Los Angeles to live in the middle of nowhere unless they had to?
He chewed his lip in consternation and pushed his brain for an answer: what could there be about such an isolated location that would hold Uncle Stewart’s interest? Nobody was mentioning anything about that. But it stood to reason that a bunch of cooped-up fowl would be filthy and have an overpowering smell in that heat. Taking care of them was a guaranteed grind of disgusting work that went against everything Sanford knew about his uncle.
A stinking chicken ranch.
From The Road Out of Hell ©2009 by Anthony Flacco. Used with permission from Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Anthony Flacco is an acclaimed author, ghost writer, screenwriter, and public speaker. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America/West, International Thriller Writers, and the Mystery Writers of America. He is also co-author of Publish Your Nonfiction Book, coming from Writer’s Digest in November. For more information, visit www.anthonyflacco.com.