I had just turned 21 and was working at the Attention Center as a Juvenile Care Specialist where they held delinquent kids destined to go to court. In those days, I was constantly getting calls in the wee hours to come in to help settle down one of our most notorious young clients, 14-year-old Dearle Alexander, who had murdered an 80-year old man down on Lake Street. That night, I used my gift of gab to deal with Dearle, and since he had read all of my ragged manuscripts I passed around at AC for the kids to read, he was especially interested when I told him that later that night I was meeting with the former partner of Lincoln’s murdered informant, Patricia Webb.
Dearle’s parting words to me were, “Don’t end up getting shot like Serpico!”
Later that night I sat at Village Inn Pancake House on Lincoln’s main drag, watching this big bear of a man approach my table. His name was John Upoff, and as a narc for the State Patrol he wanted to buy my old ‘59 Step-Van. He told me he had been Patty Webb’s partner before she was murdered. He also told me he had been her fiancé and then explained what he intended to use my van for: To bust drug dealers. John then talked about the murder, and while he shared with me some bizarre stories of setting up busts, he vowed, “Give me five minutes in the elevator with those bastards who killed her, and they won’t make it into court!”
Later that year, I met Susie, a girl who had known Patty Webb, as well. Susie told me she had a safe-deposit box that held the names of those who had murdered Patty. She claimed she had been deeply involved with these people and that when they had murdered Patty, they stalked her constantly, threatening her with her life if she ever narced on them. According to her, she gave a friend the key to this safe-deposit box with the instructions, “If anything ever happens to me, turn this in and solve Patty’s murder.”
I took mental notes of everything John and Susie talked about. What can I say? I am a writer and I am always recording inside my own head. I was doing the same the night 15-year-old Kevin Walker from Havelock ingested a horse tranquillizer, snorted coke, smoked a joint and downed a bottle of vodka. Kevin ended up making quite a spectacle on the Havelock train bridge overpass, claiming he was the Birdman. When the cops came to get him, he bit chunks out of his own hand and they had to cuff him and stuff him inside a cruiser. In his delirious state, Kevin begged the cops to take him to see Father Frye.
Earlier that year, I had been tagged with that name as a token of disrespect by ex-con Wild Bill Shepherd, who had watched me confront 8-year-old Kenny one day at Havelock Park. I made Kenny empty his bag of weed in a garbage can. Shortly after that, someone spray-painted narc on my van in big orange letters, broke out my windshield, and placed nails in my tires. Yes, back then as an anti-drug crusader, I was loved and hated by kids who came to the park to get high.
On the night Wild Bill S. challenged me to a fight, he literally stabbed my guitar with a hunting knife, so I gave Bill his wish. I fought him. Now mind you, I grew up on the periphery of the biker culture, and I was just a stone’s throw away from turning out to be either a biker or a kid mediator. I also grew up on the mean streets of Havelock known for its Irish railroading brawlers, and my uncle “Little Tough Tommy Frye” had been a notorious brawler back in the day. So I put up a good fight that night. And won. And later at some party, when someone inquired how Bill had gotten his split lip, Wild Bill replied, “Father Frye got in a lucky punch!”
The name stuck after that, and the cops having no idea Kevin was asking them to call me, took him over to Saint Pat’s and woke up Father Witt, asking to see Father Frye. When the cops explained to Father Witt that they had a drunken kid in their car, he realized Kevin was asking for me, so finally I ended up at the hospital psych ward talking him down for the next five hours.
That next morning is when I scribbled on a piece of paper, “It’s a bust!” And soon after, I had a manuscript, Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball. Within a month after 8-Ball was published, three detectives showed up at my house, Jim Breen, Noah Van Butsel, and Greg Sorenson. They were investigating Patricia Webb’s murder and they wanted to ask me some questions about where I had gotten my information. When I told them from John Upoff, Van Butsel said, “Did you know he was also a suspect in the murder?”
Breen then asked me who had read my manuscript before the book was published, and did any who read it have a new born baby? I was thrown off by this, but he explained that someone was calling himself Mister C and going around town raping women, and he smelled like baby powder!
As I sat there, thinking of the many kids who had read it at AC, I hesitated to tell them that my one friend just had a new baby, and that his wife had recently called me to tell me she had caught him shoplifting scores of Playgirl magazines, the gay ones. I could not see him raping anyone so I let it go and did not name him. Although he was the first one to read it.
“Why,” Van Butsel asked, “did you name your major drug dealer Mister C?”
I smiled and said, “I named my major bad guy Mister C, because I did not want the real life Mister D to come looking for me!”
The three were not impressed with my lame poetry, and they shared with me they indeed knew who Mister D was, a major drug dealer and suspect in Patty’s murder. Before they left, they asked me for autographed copies of my book, so I complied. They later arrested some rapist who had no connection to my book.
One month later while coming home from a speaking engagement late one night, I rolled into Havelock. Red lights came on behind me and a siren startled me. I pulled over, wondering what I had done. When the officer got to my van door, he stabbed me in the eyes with the bright beam of his flashlight and said, “Mr. Frye? Three of my friends got autographed copies of your book from you. Could I get one, too?”
Wiping the cold sweat from my brow, I sighed in relief and said, “Follow me home.”
Two months later, I received a cryptic phone call from some guy who asked me, “You’re the guy who wrote that book, right? Well, I am calling to give you a warning. The people who murdered Patty are still in this town, and they may come looking for you some day to ask where you got such accurate information. And if you don’t have a gun, I suggest you get one.”
Click! He then hung up, leaving me standing there, wondering who “those people” could be.
I never did find out. Neither did the Lincoln Police. It has been 38 years since Patty Webb was abducted from the Adult Bookstore in downtown Lincoln, taken to a farm near Firth, and shot and killed. Over forty suspects were interviewed. Still nothing. Her murder remains unsolved.
Two months ago, on the day I sent my screenplay based on 8-Ball to a producer in New York, I received an email from Channel 10/11 reporter Rob Jesperson. He wanted to interview me about Patty’s murder, however, I declined his interview, telling him the truth, that while I skirt the periphery of Patty’s murder in my book, the majority of my story is purely fictional and I come nowhere near the truth. I also added, “You heard the old saying, ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’? Well, right now, my dog is sleeping peacefully. So no, no interview, thank you.”
Who knows who has read the 15,000 copies of 8-Ball that have been published since 1982? Many kids I know, because I get contacts from them in group homes, institutions, and treatment centers. Probation officers and cops, because I get contacts from them, as well. But I often wonder if “those people” who murdered Patty Webb have ever read my book. Or if not, possibly one of their kids, a twist of irony that would be, right? Or if it one day if it makes to the screen, if those responsible will ever see it? They might not recognize the fictional account, but they will know exactly who I based my murdered narc on in the movie.
Who knows? Stranger things have happened.