A Crime In the Neighborhood


It was the summer of 1972 when Spring Hill, a Washington, D.C., suburb, got its first taste
of an increasingly violent, insecure modern world. The quiet residential area, whose inhabitants
traditionally left their doors unlocked and spent the summers attending one another?s cookout, was
rocked by the news that 12-year-old Boyd Ellison had been raped and murdered, his body dumped
behind the local mall. While shaken residents organized a neighborhood watch program and clued
detectives in on anyone?s suspicious behavior, the inhabitants of at least one house were distracted
by a tragedy of their own: 10-year-old Marsha Eberhardt?s father, Larry, had run off with his
sister-in-law, leaving his wife and three children to manage on their own. Marsha, stunned by her
father?s abandonment and having broken her ankle, spends the summer witnessing her mother?s
desperate attempts to cope, the neighborhood?s paranoid response to the murder and even the
country?s disorientation over the unfolding Watergate scandal. The tension proves too great when
the Eberhardts? shy bachelor neighbor, Mr. Green, takes interest in Marsha?s mother. Though
murder is the most visible crime in Marsha?s neighborhood, it is by no means the only one,
Marsha?s father and aunt run off together and Marsha wrongly accusses Mr. Green for the death
of Boyd Ellison.
Marsha?s father had left before the summer Boyd Ellison was killed. The divorce had a
tremendous impact on the whole family. Marsha?s twin brother and sister spent the summer away
on vacation and since Marsha had her ankle in a cast, she wasn?t able to do things most kids did
during the summer vacation like swimming. Marsha remembered "it was only after my father left
and Boyd Ellison was killed that I started to wonder to myself what might happen next."(35)
Since Marsha had so much time on her hands during the summer of ?72, she seemed to fill the
time with investigating who could have killed Boyd Ellison. She kept a journal of her thoughts and
even goes so far as to keeping track of Mr. Green?s daily routines. It could be that Marsha needed
to get her mind off of her parents divorce, and the murder of Boyd Ellison did exactly that.
Marsha was extremely curious of her neighbor, Mr. Green, because he was a bachelor
living in a neighborhood full of nuclear families. Mr. Green didn?t fit in with everyone else
because he was generally withdrawn and socially awkward. Shortly after Boyd Ellison?s death he
threw a barbecue for the whole neighborhood but no one showed except Marsha?s mother, Lois.
Lois felt sorry for Mr. Green because no one had shown up for his barbecue, so she decided to go
over and join him. Marsha didn?t like the idea of her mother flirting with another man besides her
father. Marsha?s mother would make a point of waving to Mr. Green if she happened to be in the
yard just to be neighborly. They would also exchange gardening advice since Mr. Green kept his
yard immaculate. Marsha, like most kids whose parents get divorced, didn?t like the idea of
another man replacing her father. Lois and Mr. Green are two extremely lonely people who seem
to get along well but Marsha fears Mr. Greens presense.
Marsha is also curious of Mr. Green because on the day that Boyd Ellison was murdered,
Mr. Green had returned home from work early and then left again. According to Marsha?s
evidence notebook, "around the middle of July-July 20th to be exact, three and a half weeks after
my father and Aunt Ada disappeared, [ I ] saw Mr. Green?s car drive past the house, two hours
before he normally got home from work. Later Mr.Green pulled up ten minutes before his usual
time ... he looked sallow as he got out of his car, a little bruised around the mouth, and he had a
Band-Aid stuck below his lower lip."(86) This particular event made Marsha very curious of Mr.
Green especially since it had been the same day that Boyd was murdered. From this point on she
had wondered if the killer lived right next door to her and her family.
Another possible reason that Marsha gets caught up in her "detective" work is that she?s
lonely. She doesn?t have many friends to play with and since her brother and sister are gone, she?s
all alone with her mother. Lois has enough problems of her own so she doesn?t give Marsha much
attention. At the same time Marsha seems to be seeking attention by confronting her mother about
what she knows