When a car careened onto a baseball field in Sanford, Maine, during a Babe Ruth game in 2018, it set in motion a true-crime mystery 50 years in the making. Watch “The Hero of Goodall Park” at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday on ESPN.
“The Devil Was Out Collecting Souls”
1. IN 2018, ON a spring day that felt like summer, a man died at a baseball game in Sanford, Maine. He was killed at a baseball game, run over by a car at a historic ballfield called Goodall Park. The person who killed him has never called the death anything but an accident, but no one who witnessed it thought it was accidental. It couldn’t have been. There were too many people on hand, too many people who could have been killed instead, too many potential targets.
Approximately 200 people had shown up for the Babe Ruth League doubleheader that day. The weather had drawn them out after months of cold rain. They saw the car, a maroon Civic, on the ballfield. They saw players scattering and running away as the car circled the bases. They saw the car head toward people, only to turn away at the last moment. And they saw it speed past places where people usually gathered, the ticket windows and the concession stand. Then they saw it hit a man who stood at the park’s front gate, its aim as unerring as a bullet with his name on it, and they saw his body fly into the air and land some 40 feet away, crumpled and bleeding.
Two people die in this story, one old and one very young. Two people kill in this story too, and one of the killers is also one of the victims. They’re connected. Everything in this story is connected. There is a terrible secret kept and a score settled. There is a crime solved. There is a burden passed down from generation to generation and a burden finally lifted. Everyone who hears the story feels the need to interpret it; so do those unlucky enough to have experienced it. They all become philosophers and theologians; they talk about fate and karma, they talk about the turn of the cosmic wheel and the miracle of peace, and they talk about everything happening for a reason because it’s too hard to imagine it happening for no reason at all.
2. DOUGLAS PARKHURST KNEW he was dying on the day he died. Glen Emmons did too. They were neighbors who had become friends, and nearly every morning Parkhurst crossed a sandy road of stunted trees 10 miles west of Sanford and went to Emmons’ house for coffee. Parkhurst was 68 years old and in constant pain from a back injury he’d suffered years before as an industrial painting contractor. On good days he walked slowly as Emmons watched him through the window. He was squat and stocky, with an angry angled face topped with a comb of white hair and his considerable physical strength planted in his short legs. But there were few good days that spring, and Emmons sometimes saw him crawling toward his house on his hands and knees.
Parkhurst was a Vietnam veteran, and Emmons often drove him to see his doctors at the VA Hospital in Augusta. Recently, Parkhurst told him he had cancer again. He’d beaten it twice before, but this time, he said, the tumor was where the doctors couldn’t get at it. This time it was lodged furtively behind his heart.
One morning in late May, Parkhurst had a particularly bad time of it, and when he finally reached Emmons’ house he collapsed into the couch and instructed his friend not to call for help if he ever found him unconscious on his lawn. “I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready to go home.” But there were still a few things he needed to square away first.
Parkhurst had driven fast cars all his life, and he recently had given his granddaughter Taylor in Georgia a Mustang GT very much like his own. Now, to balance the scales, he wanted to give his grandsons Austin and Cameron, 19 and 14, his 500-horsepower pride and joy, a black Mustang with a decal advertising his service in Vietnam taking up the rear windshield. “That is not a beginner’s car,” Emmons cautioned. “What if he wraps it around a telephone pole? You’ll never forgive yourself.” The next morning over coffee, Parkhurst had reconsidered. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe he needs a different car.”
So on the first day of June, he got into the black Mustang and drove to Sanford to buy Austin a different car. He was a rural guy as much as he was a car guy, and he hated the traffic that even a small city like Sanford generates. But he wanted to do something for his grandsons, and he knew he didn’t have much time. He went to the Nissan dealership and paid cash for a used Altima for Austin and then headed for Goodall Park to watch Cameron play second base.
3. CAROL SHARROW HAD a long drive ahead of her. She lived in Sanford, but on June 1, she was supposed to drive to Colebrook, New Hampshire, a resort town near the Canadian border, to meet her daughter, Jenna. It was not an undertaking Carol could afford to take lightly. First of all, she would be on the road for at least three hours. Second, she couldn’t afford to take anything lightly, ever since the breakdown she had when she was 18.
Now 51, diagnosed with bipolar 1 and having endured several similar episodes, she lived each day of her life trying to maintain her grasp on even the littlest things. She was a diligent student of her own disease — she took her lithium, frequently checked in with her doctor and tried to keep to a schedule of work and sleep and exercise.
By day, she worked as a cashier at the Lowe’s on the south end of town and made it her business to know and greet her customers, proving her contention that she remained, in the face of illness, “a people person.” By night, she liked to sing karaoke, with a big voice well suited to her favorite song, “Me and Bobby McGee.”
But what was most important to her was being a mother to Jenna. She had given up custody of Jenna when she had a breakdown that ended her marriage to Jenna’s father. But she had stayed on good terms with Kirk Sharrow and had never left Jenna’s life. When Jenna got engaged, she wanted to include her mother in the plans and in the search for the venue. They would meet in Colebrook on the first day of June, for what they were celebrating was not just a wedding but their tenacity as a family.
Jenna was a student of her mother’s triggers. Life had forced her to be, because what triggered her mother was often what caused other people joy. The onset of summer — humidity — was a trigger. Family milestones were a trigger. One of the most devastating of Carol’s past episodes was triggered by Jenna’s graduation from high school, in the loveliness of a New England June. Now Jenna was getting married, and the humidity was high enough to frizz Carol’s auburn hair. Jenna drove to Colebrook and worried as she waited.
It was still early when Carol got into her car, a maroon 2003 Honda Civic given to her by a local domestic violence shelter. But she didn’t head straight for New Hampshire. She lived right around the corner from Goodall Park, where she used to watch baseball games and sometimes shoot baskets at the court across the street. The place had a magnetic pull for Carol. She poked the Civic through the black steel gate to the grounds of Goodall Park and parked it on the asphalt near the outfield fence.
It was a little before 8 in the morning, and there were no crowds. The only people present were the groundskeepers, seeding the field with a mixture of rye and Kentucky bluegrass. Two were young, and one, Kenny Mills, had been working at Goodall Park for 30 years. They watched the Civic come to an abrupt stop, the driver talking angrily to herself. They heard her rev the car until it screamed, and the two kids started riding their gray-haired colleague. “Hey, Kenny,” they said. “Looks like your girlfriend is here looking for you. And she’s pissed.”
4. THOMAS GOODALL WAS an Englishman who had the idea of supplying the Union Army with horse blankets during the Civil War. He went looking for a location with open spaces, a willing populace and a river, and in Sanford, Maine, he found all three. It was a farming town on the banks of the Mousam, and in short order he turned it into a productive mill town. In all, he built a million and a half square feet of mill space just north of downtown and put the family name on a library, a theater, a hospital and a ballpark, which opened in 1915 with 1,300 spectators in its wooden bench seats. He fielded a Goodall Mills team, which hosted the occasional band of barnstorming major leaguers on his field. On Oct. 1, 1919, the team played the Boston Americans, made up mostly of players from the Red Sox, including Babe Ruth, who had just set a major league record with 29 home runs.
That afternoon, Goodall carried a lead into the eighth. A week later, the team’s pitcher, Harry Donovan, described what happened next in a letter to his hometown paper: “I escaped without the loss of a couple of limbs but managed to groove one to the Big Boy that carried along my game ball with it. I had two strikes and one ball on Ruth. There were two men on the paths and the score was 3-1 in my favor. Then ‘Along Came Ruth’ and hit one a mile high … Gee, how he hits the ball!”
A few months later, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees. Thirty-five years later, Goodall Industries moved south and left Sanford to fend for itself, with a statue of Thomas Goodall standing across the street from the town hall, gazing confidently toward the empty mills.
Sanford has been trying to reinvent itself ever since, first advertising itself as “the town that refused to die” when it was, in fact, dying, and lately reorganizing its charter, electing its first mayor, investing in broadband and dubbing itself “Maine’s newest city.” But the mills didn’t reinvent themselves, and unlike the Goodalls they couldn’t leave. Their hulking shells occupied the northern entrance to downtown like vanquished forts, providing fuel for firebugs, space for squatters and reminders for the rest of the city that what once was would never be again. Today, there is nobody who actually calls Sanford “Maine’s newest city,” but plenty who will tell you that Babe Ruth’s home run traveled 700 feet from Goodall Park’s home plate, point to the old boarded-up candy store — “Babe’s Store” — where it landed, and call Sanford, Maine, “the place where the Curse began.”
5. AFTER CAROL SPENT the day showing up across Sanford in various states of agitation and eerie calm, she returned to Goodall Park with a screech. The crowd was used to hearing kids burning rubber out on Roberts Street, especially on nights charged with the promise of summer. But this was somehow different. This was like an alarm. They would all remember it later — the manager, the father playing catch with his son, the players on the field, the ump, the people in the stands. The screech was a sound with anger in it.
It was the bottom of the fifth, no outs. Tim Curley, the manager of a Babe Ruth League team sponsored by his insurance agency, Curley & Associates, had just made a pitching change. The game, he said, was an “old-fashioned barn burner.” His team had fallen way behind and had scratched its way back. But of course the score didn’t matter very much to him. He was exactly where he wanted to be — in Goodall Pahk, which he, and so many others, called the “crown jewel of Sanford.” He had hit his first home run here as a boy, when Goodall Park still had wooden grandstands, a scoreboard standing inside the fence in deep center and a pitched outfield that made you run uphill when you were tracking down fly balls. Tim had a son now, TJ, and he loved seeing him stand underneath the lights of Goodall Park the way he once had.
It was around 7 o’clock in the evening, and TJ was playing first base. He tossed the ball around with Cameron Parkhurst and the other infielders. They were waiting for the new pitcher to finish his warm-up tosses. The new pitcher had the ball in his hand, planning to start with a curve. Then came the screech.
There is an alleyway at Goodall Park that runs along the dugout on the third-base side. It is a place that never sees the sun, but, curved and narrow and barely wide enough to admit one vehicle, it is known as the “safest place in Sanford.” Kids play there during ballgames, without supervision. Babies play there, while their parents watch the games. On the evening of June 1, a 4-year-old boy named Ethan Young played there while his father, Shawn, stood by the chain-link gate to the ballfield and talked to his friend Tim Curley.
Halfway through the fifth inning, Ethan pulled at his dad’s hand and asked him to play catch. Shawn put on his glove. Then he saw a maroon Honda Civic careening through the alleyway, the screech he’d heard from Roberts Street now a roar. He had never seen a car in the alley before. He thought it was going to run him right over, but it stopped, the driver revving the engine in place. He picked up Ethan and placed him on a low abutment of a nearby stone wall. The driver was talking angrily to herself, her auburn hair frizzed into fire. “Open the f—ing gate!” she ordered. “No way,” Shawn answered, standing in front of his boy. She made the car shudder and scream. She rammed the gates, and when they yielded to the force of her charge, she hit the field with the pent-up energy of a stone freed from a slingshot.
The players didn’t understand. They were 13- and 14-year-old boys. There was a car on the ballfield. Was the driver drunk? Was she a terrorist? Was she going to kill them? They began to run. They ran into the outfield or they jumped on top of the dugouts and climbed into the stands, where a few of them began to cry. “Get off the field! Get off the field!” the announcer shouted through Goodall Park’s PA system. The umpires stayed on the field, and she drove right at them before turning at the last moment, going from third to second to first to home and then driving back over the pitcher’s mound.
Tim Curley thought of running to his truck and getting his gun. But as she barreled past him, he recognized her. She was the woman who had taken care of his grandmother when she was dying 12 years before. He found his cellphone and called 911. Shawn Young ran after the car down the alleyway, but he pulled his quadriceps and fell down where the walls gave way to a view of Roberts Street. A man threw a baseball bat at the car as it passed him, but it bounced off without slowing the car down. The players who had climbed into the stands kept climbing to the top, where they could see what was happening on the stretch of asphalt between the playing field and the street. The car advanced to the barred service gate farthest from the stands, stopped in front of it, revved up and then hit it so hard that the wheels of the Civic left the ground and the pattern of the bars imprinted itself on the front of the car like teeth. Then it went into reverse and charged the main gate. It had enough room to accelerate, and it never slowed down. People started screaming. A white-haired man had come down from the stands and was trying to close the gate. He was short, stocky, wearing red shorts over his thick legs, and he had appeared out of nowhere. There were calls for him to get out of the way, but he seemed determined to hold his ground. A woman cried “Oh my gawd!” The Civic, at speed, struck the white-haired man head-on. His sneakers flew into the air, as high as the top of the stands, and so did he. He landed on the double yellow line on Roberts Street, and Carol Sharrow drove the Civic toward Main Street with a screech and a squeal. She hit and ran, while blood began pooling around the head of the man who had tried to stop her. It turned out that Tim Curley knew who he was too. It was Cameron Parkhurst’s grandfather, Douglas Parkhurst.
It was over. Tim felt sorry for Mr. Parkhurst, and for Cameron. But he felt relief too. They were here for a baseball game and something terrible had taken place right in front of them. But if someone had to die, at least it wasn’t a child.
6. DOUGLAS PARKHURST HAD a seat where he customarily sat at Cameron’s games, near the top of the stands, where he wouldn’t have to walk too far. He was sitting next to Cameron’s mother, Donna Poole, when Carol Sharrow drove her Civic onto the field. He was sick and in pain, but later Donna told Tim Curley that Cameron’s grandpa said “I need to protect the children” as he made his way down toward the field. Most other people in the ballpark were running away from the field; he went toward it, and then toward the open gate. It is uncertain what he was trying to accomplish by closing it; most people think he was trying to prevent the Civic from reaching the Little League fields across the street, which were crowded with young kids. But what is certain is that he tried to do something.
When the Portland television stations reported his death, they said, “People are calling him a hero,” and the next morning a few bouquets of flowers appeared in the bars of the gate he tried to close before he died.
The other hero was the first-base ump, Clint Howard, a big man, who not only stood his ground but began waving his arms in an effort to draw the driver’s attention to him rather than the teenagers running away. When the car turned toward him, he thought, “What a strange way to die.” But Carol Sharrow turned away from him, as she turned away from all the others except Douglas Parkhurst. Later Clint wondered, Why was I spared and Parkhurst killed? “What did he do?” he asked.
Douglas Parkhurst died waiting for an emergency helicopter at a hospital once named for Thomas Goodall’s daughter-in-law. When Clint Howard thought he was going to die, he thought of his own son. After hearing the news of what had happened at Goodall Park, his son called. “Dad,” he said. “The devil was out collecting souls tonight.”
Take a look at this excerpt from the upcoming E:60 “The Hero of Goodall Park,” which looks at a 2018 hit-and-run incident at a Little League baseball field in Maine.
7. DOUGLAS PARKHURST HAD been dead for about three hours when the police knocked on his son’s door. Doug Parkhurst Jr. lived in subsidized housing at the south end of Sanford with his son, Doug Parkhurst III. He had not seen or spoken to his father in a long time, a couple of years at least. He was 45 years old. He listened to the news about what happened to his father at Goodall Park and didn’t say much. He did not go get his son. He was reserved by nature, especially when it came to family business, just like his father. He let the policeman talk, and when he asked him a question about the incident that ended his father’s life — “Did this have anything to do with what happened back in New York?” — he immediately regretted it. What happened just now in Maine was bad enough. He shouldn’t have mentioned what happened in New York.
After the police left, Doug Jr. knocked on Doug III’s door and entered his room. The boy was watching YouTube videos. He was 17, a high school student. He was built just like his father, who was built just like his grandfather. He had lived with his grandfather for a time, after his grandfather left — or fled from — his home outside Fulton, New York, and moved to Maine. They all lived together, his father, his grandfather, his father’s brother Brian, all of them in the same house. But then his grandfather became involved in Brian’s roofing business, and they began fighting, and Brian moved away.
One night, Doug III came back to the house with his father, and a sheriff’s deputy wouldn’t let them in. His grandpa was evicting them. They had to live in their car for a while. That’s when Doug III first learned about his grandfather’s secret and New York. Now his father told him his grandfather was dead.
Doug III loved his grandpa. He loved when his grandpa used to take him and his cousins out on country roads in the Mustang, driving so fast their heads would snap back with the torque. But that seemed like a long time ago; that seemed like the past. He never knew why his grandpa doted on Austin and Cameron and on his cousin Taylor — the apple of Parkhurst’s eye — and not on him, and now he never would. There were days when he wanted to call his grandpa, out of the blue, just to say hello, and now he never would. His grandpa and his father had a history of fighting, but he’d believed they’d reconcile, and now they never would. It all just seemed such a waste. It all just seemed so … unimportant. The importance of whatever had kept them apart had disappeared in the instant of his grandpa’s death, and he began thinking of how he could somehow bring them back together. He looked at stories of what had happened at Goodall Park on his phone, and he began thinking of how he might be able to do something important with his life. The unimportant things fell away, and he didn’t go back to watching videos. He just cried.
8. JENNA SHARROW’S MOTHER never made it to Colebrook. Jenna was with her fiancé and her father and her fiancé’s family in the place where she was to be married, and she wanted her mother to be included. But her mother never arrived. And now came the old apprehension, the one that had been with her all her life. Her mother had seemed so happy. But happiness was itself a volatile thing.
It was midnight when the phone rang in her cabin. Her aunt, her mother’s sister, was on the line. She’d been calling Jenna’s cellphone, but she couldn’t reach her. She’d had to call the hotel, and the hotel rang her through. She had something to tell her. Her mother had indeed suffered another episode. But this time was different. There was a finality to the news. Her mother was in the news. There had been an accident. A man was dead. Her mother had killed him.
More from Tom Junod
9. WHEN SHE HEARD the news on the night of June 1, Darlene Ashby McCann was in a place she never was — away. She was in Houston, picking up a custom-made van for her daughter, Sherrie. Darlene lived outside of Fulton, New York, and she rarely left her home because Sherrie had a disability after a car accident in 1998. Sherrie lived with Darlene and her husband, Larry. Darlene took care of her and everybody else. Larry took care of Darlene. Or he always had.
Larry died of cancer 12 days before the night the phone rang and 20 years to the day after the accident that caused Sherrie’s disability. There had been so many accidents in Darlene’s life, all of them shrouded in mystery, all of them greedy in what they’d taken from her. Larry’s death wasn’t an accident. But it was the loss she didn’t know she could handle, because Larry had helped her handle all the others.
“Did this have anything to do with what happened back in New York?”
Douglas Parkhurst Jr., to detectives after the hit-and-run at Goodall Park that killed his father
Darlene was 65 years old, and the accidents — the losses — had framed her life for the past 50 years. And more than the losses, it was the mysteries that shook her to her foundation. It was as though God were trying over and over again to teach her something but she could never figure out what it was. The answers lay beyond her, and so she remained what she’s always called herself: “God’s problem child.” Twenty years ago, Sherrie flipped her car onto the fields of a local horse farm on her way to school. No one ever knew what had happened, no one ever explained why. And 50 years ago, when she was taking her sister Carolee across the street for an ice-cream cone, a car came out of the night …
Now the phone rang, in Houston. Darlene’s son was calling. “Did you hear what happened?” he asked.
Darlene listened as he told the story of a Civic on the ballfield at Goodall Park. When he finished, she put the phone down. She knew that God was trying to teach her something, right now. But she was God’s problem child. And the man who had died, in a hit-and-run accident, was Douglas Parkhurst. Douglas Parkhurst.
She hoped God would forgive her for feeling a sense of peace.
“He Never Even Stopped”
10. FULTON, NEW YORK, LIES about 400 miles west of Sanford, Maine. But it is the same kind of town on nearly the same latitude, Fulton situated between Syracuse and Rochester as Sanford is situated between Portland and Portsmouth, both of them untouched by major highways and split by rivers that account for their existence. Each once measured its prosperity in lunch buckets; each ended up a monument to the transience of corporate goodwill, with populations measured barometrically in the low tens of thousands. But the factories in Fulton lasted longer than the mills in Sanford, and in 1968, on the night Darlene Ashby celebrated her 15th birthday, the air in Fulton still smelled of milk chocolate from the Nestle’s plant.
The Ashbys lived in a small house on First Street, a spur that ran alongside the main drag, state Route 57, with the river running behind them and a little road, Nestles Avenue, branching off and providing a thoroughfare to the factories. George Ashby Sr. worked at the old Sealright plant and walked to work every day. His children, too young to drive but free to roam, walked everyplace else, especially when his youngest, 4-year-old Carolee, wanted to go somewhere.
Carolee wasn’t the birthday girl that night — Darlene was — but 11 years younger than Darlene and nine years younger than George Jr., and full of precocious, infectious energy, she was a gift to the Ashby family every day, and so she received many gifts in return. People gave her things. Family friends brought her candy when they visited the house; the baker gave her doughnuts when she walked downtown holding Darlene’s hand.
Darlene never resented the attention her sister received; the light that shone on Carolee shone on all of them, and she and her brother fought over whose room Carolee was going to sleep in at night. She was their accomplice, or maybe they were hers; they rarely went anywhere without her, and even when they went out to steal wine grapes from the arbors belonging to their Italian neighbors, they brought Carolee along as a lookout. They also brought her to the beach, where she collected stones in a little bag, and let her dog-paddle in the Oswego River, though she wasn’t allowed. She was the kind of child who could get away with anything and at the same time the kind of child who didn’t need to. There was no trouble as long as Carolee came along, with her curly brown hair and inquisitive brown eyes. Her father, George Sr., for reasons obscure to everyone but him, called her his little “Tonk.”
Carolee wanted to get birthday candles. It was already dark in Fulton, and she wanted there to be light on Darlene’s cake. “She cared about the candles more than she cared about the cake,” Darlene says. Their 13-year-old cousin Cheryl had come for dinner, and so the three of them headed for the Victory market, across 57, holding hands and talking about their plans for later in the evening, when the darkness would be complete and they could all dress up and wear masks. It was Oct. 31, 1968.
It was Halloween.
11. THE LITTLE GIRL is not wearing a costume. She just looks like she is. She’s wearing what she always wears, what she insists on wearing no matter the weather — black rubber boots and a hooded red sweater. She is Little Red Riding Hood every day of the week.
Night comes early to Fulton at the end of October, with the sun setting just before 6 o’clock and unleashing a chill from the shadows. Light from the Victory market burns like a beacon, calling from the other side of 57. It is a natural speed trap, a so-called arterial highway that requires drivers to slow down when they enter Fulton on their way north from Syracuse.
Darlene and Cheryl have crossed it many times, day and night, light and dark. Now they cross the single white line on the blacktop with Darlene holding Carolee’s hand, and after they buy candles for her cake, Darlene decides to buy something for her little sister, an early treat for Halloween. Carolee likes ice cream much more than she likes candy, so they stop at the Carvel stand and buy her a vanilla cone, the white custard swirled high and brought to a point. It’s a little unsteady, and as she licks it on the way home, she is careful not to topple it, following Darlene at arm’s length and clinging to her hand.
They go back the way they came. There are no stoplights on their part of 57, no stop signs or crosswalks. Cousin Cheryl sprints across both lanes and waits for them on the other side; Darlene moves slowly, holding Carolee’s hand as Carolee holds her ice-cream cone. She makes it to the white line in the center of the road but has to stop, waiting for a car approaching from the north to pass by. She is cautious and she is careful, acutely aware of her responsibilities as an older sister. But as she waits, she feels something, something she will later call a “tug,” and then she is no longer holding Carolee’s hand.
Darlene’s palm has been emptied, her sister’s hand a sudden absence, a clutched coin a magician has made disappear. She is still turned in the direction of home. She is still facing Cheryl on the sidewalk, and so she sees Cheryl’s face change, erupting in a wordless scream. Where Carolee once stood is only the ice-cream cone, upside down, alongside a black rubber boot. Darlene looks north and sees, at an impossible distance, Carolee lying in the road in her red hooded sweater, and then, at a distance that keeps extending itself, a car picking up speed as it heads north and disappears into the night, its red taillights blurred by the tears in her eyes.
The tug at her hand. Her cousin’s screaming face. The ice-cream cone, upended. The single black boot. Carolee motionless, head facing north, nearly half a football field away. The lights of the car, blurred as if on a rainy night.
The tug. Her cousin’s face. The ice-cream cone. The boot. Carolee. The car.
Tug. Face. Cone. Boot. Carolee. Car.
These become the irreducible elements of Darlene Ashby’s life. The pieces that don’t add up. Time passes; life bestows its blessings and inflicts its wounds; mortality encroaches and memories fade. But these live forever.
12. WHEN DOUGLAS PARKHURST came home from the service in 1971, people said he had changed. As a teen, he had always been such a nice boy, quiet and shy but personable — the kind of boy parents liked, the kind of boy people remembered smiling behind the wheel of his ’62 Buick Special as he and his brother Lenny drove through town. At 19, he entered the Air Force and shipped out to Vietnam.
At 21, he came back to Fulton sullen and withdrawn, and he was drinking a lot. His father had just died. The Buick Special was gone. And word was he suffered from nightmares. There were some people who said “he couldn’t take it” over there, who said what he saw in Vietnam accounted for what he saw in the middle of the night.
Soon after he returned home, at an annual fair in Hannibal, New York, he met Antoinette Terramiggi, with her thick dark hair and her close-knit Sicilian family. They married and were devoted to each other. She was the only one he could really talk to, and years later, his sons, Doug Jr., Joe and Brian, came to believe she was the only person Douglas Parkhurst ever truly loved.
The sons did not have it easy. Their father was known as a family man and a patriot. Their father was known as a man who would do anything for anyone, when asked, and yet the father they saw out in the world was not the father who inhabited their home. Indeed, to meet Brian Parkhurst, now 44, is to know that he has endured something. It’s in his eyes. They are, like his features, small and sharp, but they are the eyes of a witness who can’t stop witnessing, eyes of such fixed and unblinking intensity that they appear lidless. Short in stature, like all the Parkhursts, but wiry as a wrestler, he carries about him the concentrated essence of survivorship. He speaks patiently and precisely, with forgiveness and forbearance, but he has questions, and they never seem to leave him, even though he knows most of the answers.
Why did his father treat others better than his own kids? Why wasn’t he loving? Why was he so isolated? Why was he so angry? Why was their mother the one who went to their ballgames? Why was he always somewhere else? Why didn’t he tell them about his life? Why was he so mean to Doug Jr., calling him things no father should ever call a son? Why was he so physically brutal to Joseph almost from the time he was born? Why did he seem sometimes to hate them?
He sometimes asked his mother. It was what happened in Vietnam. But whenever he tried to go further, she stopped him.
Never ask your father about Vietnam.
13. “HE NEVER EVEN stopped!” Darlene screamed, as the car that killed her sister made a clean getaway. “He never even slowed down!” For the rest of her life, she would have to contend with that fact. It wasn’t just that she had to experience grief and the irrevocable loss of Carolee; it was that she had to experience suspicion and the irrevocable loss of trust. As her mother said over and over, somebody had left Carolee in the road “like a piece of garbage.” And somebody else knew who it was, she was sure of it. Somewhere out there in the world someone had to know. Through the years, Darlene couldn’t meet people without wondering if they knew. She couldn’t hang out with friends without wondering if they’d heard. She couldn’t even pray without wondering why God, in his goodness, didn’t see fit to tell her.
The rest of the family suffered in the same way. Her brother Fred, born after Carolee’s death, was haunted by the stories. Her brother George didn’t trust people to care about him, when they only spoke about Carolee and asked about Darlene. Her father, George Sr., didn’t trust people not to steal the gifts he bestowed on her small gravestone and would sometimes spend all night in the cemetery guarding them, explaining, “I just miss my Tonk.” And her mother, Marlene, didn’t trust the son of a powerful local politician and never stopped trying to prove his complicity, figuring that only power could explain the world’s lack of concern.
The car that hit Carolee destroyed their little angel; the driver that ran off into the night destroyed the rest of them.
14. IN 1999, A FEW nights before Halloween and 31 years after the hit-and-run on state Route 57, two men who regularly jogged in the streets of Fulton passed each other. It was not the first time. They saw each other frequently, the one recognizable for an odd hat he wore while running, the other recognizable as Mark Spawn, the chief of the Fulton Police Department. But they had never spoken until that night, when the man in the hat asked the chief for a few moments of his time. He wanted to tell him what had happened three decades before, when a car ran down a little girl named Carolee Ashby and never stopped. The case was never solved, he said. The driver is still out there in the dark.
The next morning, Mark Spawn reopened the case and assigned it to a detective named Russ Johnson, who went through an old file and conducted interviews with those he regarded as the leading suspects. He never cracked the case. But Johnson befriended the Ashbys, and when he retired, his inability to bring them peace haunted him.
In 2012, he posted a message on a private Facebook page dedicated to “Good Memories of Growing Up in Fulton, NY.” “Does anyone remember the Caroleigh [sic] Ashby tragedy from 1968?” Johnson asked. “If anyone has any information please message me privately!…If I have reached the driver with this post, please know that you cannot be arrested after all these years, but can finally clear your conscience and help the remaining members of Caroleigh’s good family. I’ve always believed the person who did this is still among us. Thank you!”
Ruby Maxam was living in Florida when she read the post, but she’d grown up in Fulton down the block from the Ashbys on First Street. She was Ruby Dann then, and friends with Darlene Ashby. They were nearly the same age. She had taken her own 4-year-old brother out trick-or-treating on Halloween night in 1968, and later heard that Carolee had been killed.
Ruby was also friends with Douglas Parkhurst and his older brother Lenny in those days. They were little guys with hearts of gold. They would do anything for you. They were the nicest boys.
“He never even stopped! He never even slowed down!”
15-year-old Darlene Ashby, after the car that killed her sister sped away
Soon after Halloween, 1968, Ruby’s aunt Betty took Ruby to meet a friend of hers — Douglas Parkhurst’s sister, Pat. “If the police ever ask, would you be willing to say Doug and Lenny were with you on Halloween?” Ruby remembers Pat asking. Doug had been in an accident on Halloween night, and the police were asking about a dent in his car. He was crying and having nightmares, Pat explained. Ruby asked to be taken home. She was scared, and so she told her mother what had happened — what Pat Parkhurst had asked her to do. Her mother called Aunt Betty. “Don’t you get Ruby involved in this mess,” Ruby remembers her mother saying.
Ruby never told anyone outside her family about her meeting with Pat Parkhurst, and Pat Parkhurst later denied it. But Fulton was a small town, and over the years Ruby would see Doug and Lenny — they liked her mother, who always had a pot of coffee for them. When Ruby became friends with Lenny’s wife, years later, she heard about his drinking and his nightmares. Lenny’s wife divorced him in the Nineties, and around that time, she asked Ruby if she would call to check in on him.
They talked for a long time, and finally Ruby said, “Lenny, I want to ask you what happened that night.” Halloween. 1968. “He came right out and told me,” she remembers. “It was like, ‘Oh my god.’ He said they didn’t mean to. They were tired from being up all night and they were drinking. He said they still had the car buried up north in a place no one would ever find it. He said, ‘I’ll take you up there.’ I told him no, because I thought that if I went, I would never come back.”
Ruby and Darlene worked together at the machine shop, Black Clawson, at the time. Ruby saw Darlene and her husband, Larry McCann, every day. She thought of saying something to her, but she remembered her conversation with Lenny and grew afraid. Then Darlene’s daughter had her terrible accident and Ruby thought, “I don’t want to bring any more problems to this family, so I’m going to keep my mouth shut.”
Ruby wound up moving to Florida with her husband and putting Fulton behind her. But here she was in 2012, staring at a request for information from a retired Fulton police detective on Facebook. For more than four decades, she had kept her mouth shut, wracked with fear and shame and guilt. Now Ruby Dann Maxam wrote a message to Darlene Ashby McCann.
They had fallen out of touch and they weren’t even Facebook friends. To tell the truth, Darlene didn’t go on Facebook very much and was not familiar with its intricacies. But one day, she discovered a mailbox she knew nothing about, a mailbox for strangers. She opened it, and staring at her was a message from the person whose existence she’d dreaded — and prayed for — for 44 years:
The friend who knew.
“I Would’ve Told Them the Truth”
15. ONCE THERE WAS a boy who lived on the outskirts of Fulton in 1968. He was 18 years old. He’d been in an accident and he was scared. He couldn’t sleep at night. He woke up crying. His mother worried about him. She told somebody about him and somebody then told the police. The police were investigating an accident that happened on Halloween night. It was a hit-and-run. A little girl was killed. They were calling everyone who had been in an accident that night. They called the boy. There was a dent in his car, which he’d just bought in February. It was a ’62 Buick Special. He loved that car. He told a policeman he’d hit a white angel — one of the white concrete markers that lined the main roads. The policeman, Donald Zellar, asked to see it. The boy met him with one of his older brothers, Larry. Zellar measured the height of the white angel and compared it to the damage on the car. He said there’s no way that marker caused that dent. He wrote that in his report and sent the report to the chief. But time passed and no one from the Fulton Police Department called the boy again for 45 years.
The boy surfaced one more time a few years later, now a troubled young man. He was drinking at a party. Everybody in Fulton had heard about what had happened on Halloween six years earlier — the infamous hit-and-run, the little girl dead and the driver disappearing forever. That was him, he said. Afterward, another guest at the party called the police with what he’d heard. A report went to the chief, who had investigated Parkhurst when he was on the beat six years earlier and still took a proprietary interest in the case. This time, however, Chief Zellar was the one who made the decision not to pursue the lead any further. It is difficult to say why. But Marlene Ashby had always suspected that the Fulton PD was not telling her everything about the case, and the note affixed to the report when it was sent to Chief Zellar speaks even now to her suspicions: “I have not passed this information on to any other members of [the Fulton PD], so as not to start any rumors or cause any member of this dept. any problems, if there is nothing to this.”
Forty-five years later, when Darlene Ashby McCann forwarded Ruby Dann Maxam’s tip to two investigators at the Fulton PD, they didn’t know what they’d find. Mike Batstone and Steve Lunn had grown up in and around Fulton, so they’d heard about the death of Carolee Ashby. In March of 2013, they opened the case file and found themselves peering into a different world. The police in 1968 had not even taken their own crime-scene photos, relying on the camera of a passerby, and in the succeeding years they’d lost crucial evidence. But still, if you looked, Douglas Parkhurst, the frightened young man Ruby Maxam told them about, had been in the case file all along, unable to explain the discrepancy between his story and the evidence. It was as though they’d exhumed a grave and opened a casket and found a man with his heart still beating. “The hair stood up on the back of my neck,” Mike Batstone says.
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They went to see Lenny Parkhurst first. He lived with his daughter in a farming community west of Fulton. They took him to a McDonald’s and bought him coffee. The man who had frightened Ruby Maxam 20 years before was now in his mid-60s, diminished by his devotion to his habits but possessed of a barstool conviviality. He was a solitary man who liked to talk, and in this he found a match in Mike Batstone, whose chosen method for interrogation was extended conversation. They talked about bear hunting for 45 minutes before Batstone posed a question about Halloween, 1968.
“It was like I slapped him in the face,” Batstone says. And then Lenny surprised him. “I’ve always wondered about that,” he said. He’d been in the back seat of his brother’s Buick Special. He’d been drinking. So had Doug. But Doug was driving. Lenny was passed out. Then he heard the thump. It jolted him awake. He asked Doug what had happened. Doug told him he’d hit a guardrail. But Lenny didn’t think the thump sounded like something caused by a guardrail. He thought his brother had hit a small animal, a dog or perhaps a deer. They were on their way to a hunting camp they kept up north, and they kept going. But Lenny told Batstone and Lunn that he had never believed his brother’s story. Then he told them something else. He knew where the car was.
It was in the back of the property owned by his sister Midge, somewhere northeast of Fulton.
Batstone felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck a second time.
16. DOUGLAS PARKHURST WAS a law-and-order man. He answered the knock on the door of his trailer outside Oswego, and when the two detectives introduced themselves, he invited them in. “All he had to do was tell us to get the hell off his property and we would have had nothing. It would have been all over,” Lunn marvels. They talked about Parkhurst’s cancer, they talked about his back injury, and they talked about hunting and his decision to quit drinking. After a while, Batstone said, “I didn’t come out here just to pay you a call.”
“Do you need a donation or something?” Parkhurst asked.
“No, no donations,” Batstone said. “I’m looking for some help. I have a complaint, an old complaint that I’m looking for some information on. It has to do with a car accident.”
Parkhurst coughed like a kid in church as Batstone began a homily about the universality of human imperfection and the demands of human conscience. We’ve all made mistakes, Batstone said. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t have and not done things we should. But then we reach the point where we want to fix whatever problems we’ve caused before we leave this earth, and so lately, over the past few months and even the past few weeks, the people who know something about this car accident have started coming forward. They’ve started talking to the police. They’ve started telling the truth.
“Is one of my sons in trouble?” Parkhurst asked.
“No, sir,” Batstone answered. The accident they were investigating happened a long time ago. And no one was in trouble. That’s not why they had knocked on his door. They weren’t trying to bring charges against anyone — indeed, they couldn’t bring charges against anyone because the statute of limitations had expired.
They were just trying to help an old woman before she died. For years and years, a woman in Fulton had lived in an agony of uncertainty and suspicion about the accident that killed her daughter, and now Marlene Ashby was sick and dying, with the torment of unknowing intensified by the prospect of her end. She didn’t deserve to die in such pain, Batstone said. She deserved to know what happened to her daughter, Carolee Ashby.
He opened his notebook and produced a photograph of Carolee, a formal portrait of a curly-haired girl with an abashed smile.
“If I killed somebody, I think I would remember that.”
Douglas Parkhurst, to Fulton investigators
“Pretty girl,” Parkhurst said.
“Back in 1968, there was a car accident,” Batstone said. “Do you know which accident I’m talking about?”
“Nooooo,” Parkhurst answered, but with a rising cadence, the sound of a door creaking open rather than slamming shut.
“Police talked to you about this accident back in 1968. In 1968, on Halloween, you owned a tan Buick Special. We can get you the plate number if you want it.”
Parkhurst made a sound that started as a sigh and ended as a moan, an exhaled breath that turned into a vocalized “Ooooh.” It was a creatural sound, as if Douglas Parkhurst had been harpooned. He began belching, making faces because his stomach was causing him such obvious distress, and even as Lunn and Batstone listened to him denying any memory of the accident, they also heard the testimony of his body. “I believe that your vehicle was involved in that accident at that point in time,” Batstone said, an hour and 10 minutes after the interview began. Then two phones rang nearly simultaneously. The detectives dispatched to the home of Parkhurst’s sister Midge were calling Batstone to say they had found an old car, flipped upside down; Midge was calling Doug to ask why two cops were interested in the car on her property. “I can’t remember — I can’t remember what car that is,” he told her.
17. THE OLD BUICK Special was on its back, like the fossil of an ancient beast that had come to a violent end. It had been there so long its presence had become part of the landscape. It wasn’t buried, not exactly; it had just settled into the earth, and the earth had grown up around it with its devouring indifference.
Over the decades, members of the Parkhurst family had been in the habit of placing sticks and twigs on it when they cleared the yard, so that by now it resembled a pagan altar. Their children, including the children of Doug and Lenny, made a fort of it, climbing in and out of the tunnels created by its open windows, standing on top of the exposed chassis.
Lunn and Batstone had been around for a while, but they’d never seen anything like this. Forty-five years earlier, a car had come out of the darkness, taken a fledgling life and kept going into the darkness. And here it was, in the full light of day. A literal ton of evidence. Lunn wiggled through the half-sunken window. He retrieved a license plate frame from the dealership where Doug Parkhurst had bought his Buick Special in February 1968. He found the vehicle identification number that would eventually tie the car to a paint chip found on Carolee Ashby’s red hooded sweater. Batstone, a bigger man, examined what remained of the body. He came upon a piece of sheet metal sticking out of the ground. It was the front fender from the driver’s side, and it bore a dent the size of a human head.
In the case file, the two detectives had read about a young Douglas Parkhurst unable to explain the dent. From Ruby Maxam’s tip and Lenny Parkhurst’s admission, they knew where to look. Now, as though they had been led by the beat of a telltale heart, they not only could touch the car; they could touch what touched Carolee, struck her, in the last instant of her life.
In this excerpt from the upcoming E:60 ‘The Hero of Goodall Park,’ investigators make an intriguing discovery in a 1968 police report.
18. THEY INTERVIEWED PARKHURST three times, and he never uttered the words that would have ended their questions — I didn’t do it. He said, “I’m 99.9% certain I didn’t do it.” He said, “It doesn’t seem possible, hitting a little girl like that.” He said, “If I killed somebody, I think I would remember that.” He said, “If I killed somebody, I’d say, ‘Hey, I’ve done something wrong.’ I would tell you.” He said, “If I was involved, I’d like to know myself.” He said, “I don’t remember — I don’t think it’s possible that I hit a girl, or a man, or a woman like that.” He said, “I don’t remember — after Vietnam, so much of my life went.” He said, “If I can’t remember something back then, maybe there’s something I don’t really know.” He said, “There’s something there — there’s gotta be.” And he said, at last, “I don’t want to go to jail.”
And so, on April 9, 2013, Batstone and Lunn drove him to the office of Gregory Oakes, the district attorney for Oswego County. Oakes signed a letter informing Douglas Parkhurst that in the motor vehicle accident that killed Carolee Ashby, the statute of limitations had expired on the charge of manslaughter and on the charge of hit-and-run. Oakes would not and could not prosecute him.
“I pulled up a chair and sat knee to knee to him, not so much as a prosecutor but as a therapist, working on a human level,” Oakes says. He started crying. His head dropped down. I thought we were there. But then he stiffened up. He lifted his head and wiped a tear and said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t remember.'”
19. THEY FIGURED THEY’D never see him again. Eight days later, the phone rang on Steve Lunn’s desk. Douglas Parkhurst wanted to talk.
They met him in Interview Room No. 3, in the basement of the Fulton Police Department’s headquarters. It looks like what it sounds like. It is small and offers nothing for a drowning man to hold on to. The walls are painted cinder block, and there are no windows except the window to the hallway. There is a desk and there are four chairs.
Parkhurst sat in the chair pushed against the wall, his hair gray, his eyebrows jet-black, his features sharp, his profile as unforgiving as the blade of a hatchet. He wore a gray polo shirt, jeans and sneakers, with black sunglasses pushed up onto his head. He kept his thick legs extended and his hands either laced behind his head or folded on his paunch. He did not look like a man unburdening himself so much as a man buying a car and waiting to sign papers drawn up by the finance department.
Batstone and Lunn were salesmen looking to close. Could they obtain a full confession, or just push Parkhurst, in Lunn’s words, to go “as far as he can go”?
Batstone wrote down words Parkhurst used when he first came to headquarters and told them the story. But they are not quite Parkhurst’s words. Batstone read the sentences out loud as he wrote them. Parkhurst leaned back in his chair and said, “Mmmmm-hmmmmm.”
The statement, belonging as much to Batstone as to Parkhurst, read as follows:
“Back in October 1968, on the 31st I was at my brother Lawrence Parkhurst’s house. He lived south of Fulton on [state Route] 57. … I remember that night my other brother Lenny Parkhurst and I had been drinking beer. We left my brother’s house and traveled north on 57 into the city of Fulton. My brother Lenny was passed out in the backseat, I think I had around three beers. …
“While I drove through the city of Fulton I heard a thud. It sounded like I hit a dog. I don’t know where I hit that thing but I know I drove past the old Sealright building. I don’t remember when I hit that thing but I know I told the police I had got into an accident at about 6:45 PM that night. I did not see what I hit. I did not stop. I don’t remember hitting the brakes. I left Fulton. I don’t remember seeing any kids but I believe in my heart I hit the little Ashby girl with my car. I did not see her or any other kids. … That night I told the police I hit the guard post. That did not happen, but I don’t know why the police never challenged me on this. I wish they did. I would’ve told them the truth.
“After my time in Vietnam I forgot all about the information. I did not start thinking about it until Sgt. Lunn and Batstone started to talk to me. I know in my heart and I am 99.9% sure that I hit that little girl with my 1962 tan Buick Special. I am oh so sorry. I can’t change anything but I hope this apology will be accepted and I beg for forgiveness.
“I don’t know how my car got behind my sister’s house but that was my car and it was the car that hit the little Ashby girl. Before this night I did not have any dents in my car. Again I am terribly sorry for what happened. I did not see the little Ashby girl. Please forgive me. I did not intentionally hit that little girl. I’m sorry.”
The story should have ended there, with a confession and plea for forgiveness. But while Parkhurst agreed to the statement, he did not compose its sentences. And when Batstone asked if he would apologize to the Ashbys face-to-face, Parkhurst declined. He wasn’t ready, he said. He had to talk to the doctor at the VA who was helping him with his Vietnam flashbacks. He signed the statement and stood up. Batstone, still at the desk, said: “Look at me. Are you going to be OK?”
Parkhurst looked at him and softly said, “Yeah.”
Parkhurst cried, raising his hand to wipe his eyes, and Batstone walked him out to the parking lot. When they reached Parkhurst’s car, he said something Batstone will never forget:
“I hope that one day I can do something to make up for what I’ve done.”
20. HE WENT TO see Lenny. He hadn’t in a long time. They were once so close. But over the years, the accident had divided them — Lenny in the back seat, Doug behind the wheel. They’d gone years without speaking. Now Doug told Lenny about his confession. “You should have done that a long time ago, Doug,” Lenny said.
“I know,” Doug said. “But I was scared.”
“Well, it’s not going to get any better now,” Lenny said. “Nothing’s going to change.”
They never spoke again.
Parkhurst called Doug Jr. “I made a terrible mistake,” he said. He didn’t mean the accident, or the secret. He meant the confession.
“He was scared to death of the Ashbys,” Batstone says. He felt he could no longer show his face in Fulton and asked if he could come live with Doug Jr. and Brian in Maine. When Brian first heard from Doug Jr. about the secret their father had guarded for so many years, he was “disappointed, obviously — it was hard to believe that he could do that, take a life and just bury the secret.” Yet at the same time Brian hoped that the revelation would allow him to understand his father at last.
“I think the secret had a lot to do with why he couldn’t be close to us or show us any kind of affection,” Brian says. But his father never talked to him about it. He never talked about what happened either on state Route 57 on Oct. 31, 1968, or in Interview Room 3 on April 17, 2013. “Whenever anyone would bring it up, he would get quiet or leave the room,” Brian says.
Nothing had changed and nothing had gotten better. The fate that pursued Douglas Parkhurst in Fulton, New York, awaited him in Sanford, Maine.
“Someone Has to Be Responsible”
21. CAROL SHARROW MADE it home from Goodall Park. After smashing through the gates that nearly trapped her, she roared up Roberts Street, turned onto Main and returned to her apartment close to the ballpark. She was inside when police officers knocked on her door. She came outside in a white V-neck Red Sox T-shirt, black jeans and boots. Her hair, which seemed aflame during her ride around the diamond, was tied back. She sat down on the step outside her apartment, lit a cigarette and drank a Red Bull, empty cans of which had piled up in the bushes outside her door. Then she began to talk as if she had all the time in the world.
Matt Jones, the detective in charge of the Sanford Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, wore plain clothes and engaged her like an old friend. He asked if he could bum a cigarette. He’d quit smoking long ago, but he had to get his bearings. He knew Carol. He had helped find her when she disappeared a few years earlier, and she said a cheerful hello every time he saw her at Lowe’s. Now she was clearly having a psychotic episode but also conversational, her manner as constrained as her message was untethered.
“Do you remember Babe Ruth?” she asked him.
“Yep,” he said.
“Did you play ball with him?” she asked.
“No,” Jones said. “Did you?”
“Mmhmm,” Carol said.
“You did? I thought he died a long time ago,” Jones said.
“Do you know how he died?” she asked.
“No. Do you?”
About 20 minutes after Jones began talking with Carol, his cellphone rang. He stepped away from her and took the call. One of his detectives at Goodall Park told him the news: Douglas Parkhurst had died on the helipad. He returned to Carol Sharrow with the knowledge that he had a job to do: He had to figure out whether Parkhurst had died as a result of manslaughter or murder. And yet the dreamy quality of the conversation did not change. He spoke with her for hours, the remains of the day turning to night. He had to find out if she was sober. She was. He had to find out if she had known Douglas Parkhurst before hitting him with her car. She hadn’t. At one point, she told him she had to speak to her lawyer — and then, in the absence of a phone, carried on a dialogue with her open, empty palm. He grew protective of her, even when he told her he had to arrest her. “For what?” she asked. “I’m cool.” But she offered no resistance, and was cuffed and led away in the dark.
Three months later, Carol’s daughter Jenna was married in Colebrook, New Hampshire, at the resort she selected the day Douglas Parkhurst died. Carol, by now hospitalized, could not attend. Jenna set an empty place for her, with a framed photo of the mother who always tried to be there for her, even when she couldn’t.
22. ON THE DAY of the hearing, reporters crowded the courtroom, most of them from local news outlets in Maine and a few from as far as Boston. After all, the death of Douglas Parkhurst at a historic ballpark had been a national and then an international story, and this is where it would end, in a chamber where the questions that the story posed — questions of guilt and innocence, villainy and heroism — were supposed to be decided. The reporters stood in a picket on the prosecutor’s side of the courtroom, their long microphones poised and ready.
I did not stand with them. I went to the other side of the aisle and sat down next to someone I’d met on my first trip to Sanford, a month after Douglas Parkhurst died and Carol Sharrow was arrested. I’d gone to an apartment complex on the south end of Sanford and had found two people sitting at a picnic table who bore a marked Parkhurst family resemblance, both of them thick-legged, with thick black hair under matching Yankees caps. They were father and son, united not just by blood but also by the father’s determination not to raise his son the way he had been raised, in the vise grip of silence.
Douglas Parkhurst III, D3, was quiet and watchful, with a mild and almost winsome countenance. Douglas Parkhurst Jr. was in torment, fearful that he had ruined his father’s name by telling the police about what happened in Fulton and at the same time relieved that his father had died instead of a child. These were emotions that could not reside comfortably in the same man, and they wracked him to such an extent that when I left that afternoon I could only hope that time would bring him peace.
It had not. On April 2, 2019, in the York County Courthouse, Doug Jr. seemed still at once highly agitated and immobilized by his agony, rocking in place in his long shorts, his hands shaking, his head shaved like a penitent. He was the only member of the Parkhurst family at Carol Sharrow’s competency hearing, and he said he had come to honor not his father but rather his mother, who, before she died of cancer at the age of 43, loved both of them. She was up there watching, he told me, and his presence on this day was what she would have wanted. He raised his eyes heavenward as if to check in with her, and when Carol Sharrow entered the courtroom, he released a small bleating moan.
“There were a hundred children on that field that day in the park I love in a community I love, and they’re going to remember that day forever.”
Carol was dressed for the occasion, in black slacks and a black jacket over a black-and-white blouse, her hair snapped in place by a black barrette. She walked with a slight limp, and also with an air of strict discipline. She had warned her friends and family members that she would not turn around and acknowledge them for fear of what the gathered cameras would do with the shot. She did not speak unless the judge addressed her directly. She left the talking to the doctors, who spoke in theoretical opposition — one for the prosecution, the other for the defense — but practical agreement. Carol Sharrow had bipolar 1. She had not stopped taking her lithium at the time she drove onto the ballfield at Goodall Park, but her addiction to caffeine, and the consequent diuresis, had reduced the lithium in her bloodstream to “negligible levels.” The pile of Red Bulls had proved to be another of her triggers. She’d suffered a “classic manic episode,” with a pronounced component of delusion. She believed she was friends with Tom Brady. She said she played baseball with Babe Ruth, the first hero of Goodall Park.
“While I appreciate the victims will not feel justice has been done here,” the judge said, “the evidence establishes [Carol Sharrow] is not criminally responsible as a result of insanity.” Then he placed Carol in the care of Maine’s commissioner of health. She left through his quarters, without a backward glance.
Doug Jr. stayed behind as the courtroom emptied out, his face in his hands, tears leaving pink streaks on his skin. “Someone has to be responsible,” he cried. “Someone has to be responsible.”
23. NO ONE HAD ever apologized to the Ashbys. After Parkhurst confessed in 2013, investigators Batstone and Lunn brought Carolee’s mother Marlene and sister Darlene to Interview Room 3. Though they had grown up in the same town, Darlene had never heard Parkhurst’s name. When she read his confession, she knew something was missing. She read again and again the language of indifference in the statement. It sounded like I hit a dog. I don’t know where I hit that thing. And she knew they needed to hear that the man who did this — this Doug Parkhurst who’d signed his name to the statement — cared about what had happened to Carolee, to all the Ashbys.
Marlene Ashby died in 2016, heartbroken to the end. Darlene grieved, first with Larry and then for him too. And then the phone rang telling her about the car on the ballfield in Sanford.
It’s hard for her to explain, she says. She knows how it sounds. She knows it makes her sound unstable or out for blood, when she is neither. But Larry died on May 20 and Douglas Parkhurst died on June 1. And as soon as she heard about what had happened in Maine, she was certain Larry had a part in it. She won’t speculate on what kind of role he played. But somehow he let God know that Darlene needed help and deserved peace. Somehow he made sure neither she nor Carolee would be forgotten. It wasn’t a matter of revenge. It was a matter of some circle finally being completed. She knew, in a way she never had, that Douglas Parkhurst had killed Carolee — no more of the “99.9%” certainty he allowed in his confession. And she knew God cared about her and her sister, and so did Larry.
It couldn’t have happened any other way.
24. THE BUILDING ONCE called the Maine Insane Hospital is 180 years old, and despite being abandoned, it still possesses a terrible authority. It’s made of quarried gray stones veined with mortar, with a steeply pitched slate roof topped by tarnished copper pagodas and with an extensive network of underground tunnels. It’s next to the river, which long ago allowed the afflicted to be taken there by boats, under the cover of night.
Today, Carol Sharrow lives next to that old fortress of ancient despairs, at the Riverview Psychiatric Institute, mint-colored and as diligently anodyne as a center for continuing adult education. She is one of 24 residents who came to Riverview by way of the criminal justice system, but she is now a patient and not a prisoner. She has one job, and that’s to get healthy and stay well so that she can leave. She takes her meds, goes to therapy, goes to group, goes to yoga, goes for walks on the grounds, makes sure she eats well and gets enough sleep. She has rights, as a patient, with access to the phone and a computer. She also earns privileges, and on the first day I visited her at Riverview, in a conference room with a view of the Maine Insane Hospital out the window, she picked up a phone and ordered sandwiches for us from a local sub shop in Augusta. She had ordered from the shop before, and spoke, when she hung up, of that “old Carol charm.”
I had come to Riverview at Carol’s behest. She knew I was calling her friends and family members to learn about her, and she wanted me to get to know the “real Carol Sharrow.” She is like that, sometimes — a person who is painfully aware of how others might view her. As befits someone who has been in and out of the mental health care system for the better part of the past 35 years, she tries considering herself objectively, both as a person and as a “case,” and also staying consistent with what she’s learned and what she’s come to acknowledge. She is frank and forthright, sometimes to her detriment. She’s also “chemically sensitive” — sensitive to vitamins, sensitive to steroids, sensitive to Red Bull, and if you take a look at her history, her episodes are often linked to a change in habit, a change in diet, a change in what she puts in her body.
She has not lost heart. She never does. Her optimism is what has allowed her to stay alive, what has allowed her to collect herself after each devastating episode and keep going. She is healthy now, she says, and she has been healthy since she arrived at Riverview and doctors put her on the right medication and monitored her lithium levels. She’s doing well — so well that she doesn’t belong at Riverview anymore, and everyone knows it. She has a lot of life left in her, a lot of good left in her, and all she wants now is the chance to do good, to make a contribution, to write and teach and show people like her how to go on living when the very worst has happened.
And of course that’s why I had come to see her — to find out how a person who has struggled most of her life not to be defined by illness survives illness having such a conclusive say. She had done something of permanent consequence at Goodall Park, something all her optimism and hope and resilience couldn’t undo. She had taken a life. How could she now salvage the life she worked so hard to make for herself?
It was an accident, she said. She has a vague memory of wanting to test her brakes and heading to Goodall Park. She remembers hitting the fence. But she says she has no memory of hitting him. And so she lives with her knowledge of what she did by reminding herself that it wasn’t what she intended to do — in the same way people involved in other kinds of accidents learn to live with themselves. People have fatal accidents drinking and driving. They have fatal accidents texting and driving. They have fatal accidents running red lights and going through stop signs. The accidents that change your life forever happen in the blink of an eye, and as Carol told me then and many times since, “what happened to me can happen to anyone.”
I did not mean to upset her when I told her about Darlene Ashby. I was, in fact, trying to give her peace, by telling her that what happened at Goodall Park had given Darlene the peace that had eluded her ever since Carolee was killed. But it didn’t work out that way. Carol had been so composed our entire conversation, so cheerfully disciplined in her affect. Now she broke. She began to cry, wiping her eyes with hands balled into fists, singing an aria of utter desolation: “Wait a second — I loved Goodall Park. I loved Sanford and I loved my life. I was having a good year. And someone’s going to say that this was supposed to happen? What the f—? What the f— …”
Carol had killed a man and was trying to find peace by telling herself that it was an accident. Now came Darlene Ashby, trying to find peace by telling herself that there are no accidents, that what happened had to happen … the implication being that Carol was just an instrument of some kind, a pawn in a cosmic drama beyond her understanding … the implication being that the accident that could have happened to anyone could only have happened to her.
A few months later, I went to see her again, in the conference room at Riverview. I was still haunted by her horror at the thought that the accident at Goodall Park was somehow foreordained, and the question I had to ask her was the same question I would have asked Douglas Parkhurst if he had been sitting in front of me:
“Are you sorry?”
“Sorry?” she asked, flabbergasted. “I’m going to live with this for the rest of my life. I mean, taking another life — that’s horrible. I have to live with that and I will for the rest of my life. And I don’t know that person. I don’t know that man. I’ve never seen him before and I have to live with the fact that I took the life of another human being. That’s the reality. And it’s hard. There were a hundred children on that field that day in the park I love in a community I love, and they’re going to remember that day forever. Because they saw a man get hit. They saw a man die.
“That’s how I feel.”
25. I WAVED TO him as I drove past — the bearded oldster with the shovel. The man I was looking for was in his early 70s, with a reputation formidable enough to have cowed Ruby Maxam into nearly 50 years of silence. The man bent over his shovel looked to be well into his 80s, tending to his yard in the gathering shadows of a late fall day in Sterling, New York. I passed him by and kept driving until the houses ended. Then I turned around and stopped.
“Are you Lenny Parkhurst?” I asked.
“I am,” he said.
“I’ve come to talk with you about your brother Doug.”
“Doug died,” he said. “He died in Maine.”
It was November, five and a half months after the death of his brother. We were way out in the country, and he was using the blue shovel to pick up apples from the lawn of his daughter’s house where he lived, piling them into cairns at the base of the trees that shed them. The trees were bent like crones, the wine-red apples small and withered. Lenny Parkhurst was not just short and slight; he was recessive, the sly occupant of his own diminution, a husk of a man who rattled in the wind. He had no teeth and skin slightly jaundiced by a lifetime of questionable habits. He wore a denim Carhartt jacket with a camo shirt underneath, black work boots cartoonishly large, and a checkered hunting cap with earflaps that made him look like a superannuated Holden Caulfield. His voice was not simply of another place but of another time — fuddy-duddy, old-fashioned, like the voice of a desert prospector in the movies, with a laugh that resolved into a wheezy cough.
He was 70 years old, but he told me he’d suffered an electrocution at a job site 31 years before and died three times before being revived. Now it was just him and the ghosts, and at first, when he started talking about “the accident,” I thought he was talking about the electrocution. But no, he was talking about what I was talking about. He was talking about his brother Doug, and about the little girl, and when I asked him what I came all the way out to Sterling to ask — when I asked him if Doug knew all along that he’d killed Carolee Ashby — he planted his shovel in the ground, put his weight against it and became very still. He looked me straight in the eye and said without blinking, “He knew.”
And so did Lenny. The story he always told was the story from the back seat of the Buick Special, where he lay passed out after a long day of drinking until he heard a thump. He told that story again to me, even remembering the place where he bought most of his drinks, the Airport Inn. But he also told me he could still see her — “her sister couldn’t control her, and she ran right in front of the car. She had a costume on and I never knew what she looked like. I see her as a little clown.” He told me that he tried to go to her funeral, before he was stopped, and that he has never been allowed to grieve.
“My lawyer told me not to think so much about it. He said there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s done and over with. But something’s not right. I don’t like it. I think about it.” And so he sees her in his dreams, sees her lying there on the road, the white angel.
“How could I not?” he asked. “She was just a little girl.”
The next day, I saw the tan Buick Special, pieces of it anyway, tagged and cataloged in the evidence room of the Fulton PD. I picked up the piece of the car stamped with the telltale dent the “size of a person’s head,” as the old police report had it. I put it back down. I didn’t want to touch it, because of how it was supposed to have once touched Carolee Ashby, and because so many hands had already touched it and left their uneasy luster. But then I studied it, this stubbornly animate fossil, as it lay on the table, and very softly it answered one of my questions.
Carolee Ashby had been found 133 feet down the road from where Doug Parkhurst had hit her. But the body was intact, unmarred, and appeared almost untouched. And Lenny had said that he had seen her, that she looked like a little clown. How could this be? The strip of sheet metal offered an explanation. It was not from the front of the car and not from the side of the car. It was from the top of the car — from the quarter panel between the hood and the wheel well. If her head had left the inexplicable dent, the Parkhurst brothers had seen her, and possibly had carried her before she fell off 44 yards away. He knew, Lenny had said. They both did.
I had recently obtained the records of Doug Parkhurst’s service in Vietnam, the source of his flashbacks, the explanation for the gaps in his memory. He was a cook, for the entirety of a tour that lasted a year. I can’t claim to know how much action he saw, or what horrors he witnessed. But I suspected, with the hair standing up on my neck, that Carolee Ashby had been Doug Parkhurst’s Vietnam all along.
“It Might as Well Be Me”
26. “I HOPE THAT one day I can do something to make up for this,” he said after he confessed and then declined to apologize. “I need to protect the children,” he said five years later, right before he died.
Douglas Parkhurst was involved in an accident that he spent the rest of his life compounding and caused pain that he spent the rest of his life deepening. He tried to get away with something; he did until he didn’t, and the cost of his temporary success was higher than the cost of his eternal failure. And yet this whole story hinges on the connection between his stated desire to “make up for this” and his stated decision to “do something” for the children.
Did the first statement lead inevitably to the second? Did he make up for what he had done? Did he do something for the children? Was he a hero? Was he a victim of fate? Did he, a sick man, want to die? Was he redeemed by the courage he displayed before he died? Can a life be redeemed in an instant? Was his death an accident, as Carol Sharrow insisted, or the completion of a circle, as Darlene Ashby McCann believed? Did he choose to go down to the gate, or did he have to?
Listen to Clint Howard, the first-base umpire in the first game of the Goodall Park doubleheader on June 1, 2018, who waved his arms to attract the attention of the car rampaging around the diamond and saw it coming right at him, and then saw it turn and kill Douglas Parkhurst instead. “For 50 years, this guy carries a terrible burden,” he says. “Then he gets hit by a car and dies, and the burden doesn’t go away. It just goes to someone else.”
27. TWO OF THE players didn’t want to come back to Goodall Park when baseball resumed after the accident. It wasn’t simply that they were scared; it was that they no longer felt safe. They talked to their coach, Tim Curley, who reminded them that Goodall Park belonged to them. On Friday, when Curley & Associates came to Goodall Park to play the team that was on the ballfield when Carol Sharrow drove through the gate, the two boys showed up in uniform. The whole team did, except for Cameron Parkhurst.
Cameron came to the game dressed in street clothes, because he didn’t know what else to do — he didn’t know whether playing or sitting out would better honor his grandfather. So he listened. With his teammates, he listened to Coach Curley tell them that this was their moment, this was their youth, this was their dream, this was Goodall Park. And he listened to Coach Curley assure them that what happened on the field last Friday would never happen again. Cameron, of all people, had to know that this wasn’t really true — that even if what had happened last Friday didn’t happen again, it had already happened before, in another time and in another place. But Cameron was a Parkhurst through and through, to a degree that sometimes worried his father, Brian. He didn’t like to talk about his feelings, and so when at last he suited up and his coach told him he was batting leadoff — well, he could do that, all right. “He could run like a jackrabbit,” is what Tim Curley says, and he got a hit in his first at-bat, and then again in his second, and then again in his fourth. Cameron was aging out of Babe Ruth, and he had decided not to keep on going, not to move up into another league and play another season. This was it for him, the beginning of the end of baseball. But he was always one heck of a ballplayer, and on this night, he had the game of his life.
28. DOUGLAS PARKHURST CHANGED his will before he died and disinherited his sons. Douglas Parkhurst III, D3, who looked so much like his father, Doug Jr., was left with nothing but sadness. On one of my visits to Sanford, D3 surprised me with a text asking to meet with me. There was something he needed to say. I hadn’t seen him since I sat with him at the picnic table outside the apartment he shared with his father, and I hadn’t seen his father since Carol Sharrow’s competency hearing. We wound up meeting at an adult education center in Sanford, where he was getting his GED. He had dropped out of high school after his grandfather died, and now, at 19, he was a big kid in shorts, his hair shorn like his father’s, with very little in the way of possessions or accomplishments. But he exuded a subdued brightness and a preternatural sense of poise, not to mention a willingness to reach out to strangers. We began talking, and what he had to tell me was this: “I forgive him.”
“This all needs to be closed and put away. It can’t just be an open wound.”
Douglas Parkhurst III
I was stunned. How could he forgive his grandfather, who had caused so much pain to so many, including him and his father? But D3 didn’t want simply to forgive the old man. He also wanted to ask for forgiveness on the old man’s behalf. “The story needs to have an ending somewhere,” he said. “Not a terrible ending — not what happened to my grandfather. But there needs to be a close somewhere. This all needs to be closed and put away. It can’t just be an open wound. Maybe there could be a happy ending to this, and that’s what I want. I don’t want them to feel like our family hates them and they hate us. We have to close it.”
It was the conviction that had given him purpose when he was bereft, the cause that came to him when he saw how the world responded to the news of his grandfather’s death. So much was broken. So much needed to be fixed. Now this 19-year-old grandson whom Douglas Parkhurst rejected told me he wanted to give Darlene Ashby McCann what she’d always needed and what the first Douglas Parkhurst could never give:
A simple apology.
29. SHE IS WAITING by the lake, under a gray Fulton sky, on a windy Fulton day. She wears a heavy coat over a turtleneck and keeps her hands in her pockets. She is sitting in a wooden gazebo, facing the water where Carolee once swam. There are signs posted by the shore declaring that no one can swim there anymore. God only knows what happened to the water.
We pull up in a car. We had driven, the day before, the 400 miles between Sanford, Maine, where D3 lived, and Fulton, New York, where Darlene Ashby McCann had grown up. D3 had neither car nor license, and so if he was ever to apologize to Darlene, he needed help. I decided to give it to him, because, well, I was part of it now, and I agreed with my passenger — we have to close it.
D3 had gotten a job, working the midnight shift at the Burger King on the thruway service plaza. He was still trying to find his way. But he had a sense of mission and the courage to match, and when I asked him why he had decided to take on a task that had eluded generations of his family, he said: “Someone has to do it. It might as well be me.”
It might as well. He opens up the passenger door and comes around to my window. “Are you sure?” he asks.
“I’m sure,” I say. I’ve decided not to go with him. I’ve decided that he needs to be alone with her.
“You can, you know.”
“I know. But it’s your thing. Good luck.”
“I’m gonna need it,” D3 says, pink in his cherubic cheeks. Then he puts his hands in the pockets of his hoodie and walks in his long shorts on the path that ends with a woman who has waited 50 years for his arrival. She was four years younger than he is now when his grandfather took her sister away. D3 is a boy as once she was a girl. But this isn’t a boy’s choice, to take on two burdens like this, one belonging to her and the other belonging to his namesake. She feels something rising in her as he approaches, not just peace but hope. But it’s cold. When he sits down next to her in the bristling late-October breeze, he tilts toward her with his hands still in his pockets, and she puts her arm around his shoulder. Together, they look at the lake where a little girl once learned to swim, long before the water was tainted.