Andrew Winters ran a small farm about three miles from town. He owned ten acres and on those ten acres he had a barn where a small collection of animals--goats, cows, and a couple of pigs--were kept along with chicken coops. The Winters house was a simple frame structure, one-story high with a half story for the attic. The white paint was nearly gray with dirt and age. Andrew Winters made quite a bit of money even though it didn't look like it. His money didn't come from the animals or even the small amount of crops he tended to but from repairing farm equipment.
Farmers would come from miles around and drop their equipment and machinery off with Andrew for him to fix. They would then walk the three miles into town to wait for their equipment to be repaired as Andrew never put up his house for visitors. Not that there was any room in the house.
Along with Andrew, there was his wife, Catherine, a quiet and disciplined woman who mainly worked on the crops and did housework. His daughter, Virginia, was a widow who helped with the animals. Five years ago, she had gotten married in a rush after she had been charmed and bedded by Karl Gimenez. She immediately got pregnant and the two of them got married despite protests from both Karl and her father. Karl was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and sold drugs in order to make money. It was known that he was unfaithful but Virginia wanted a father for her daughter, Cecelia. A little more than a year ago, Karl was arrested and, even though he was legally married to a citizen, deported back to Mexico. Virginia kept in contact with Karl through his friends, Angel and Andreas Garcia. The last time she spoke with them, they revealed that Karl had been killed. Virginia was distraught mainly because she wanted a father figure for Cecelia. Virginia struck up a friendship with a new neighbor, Matthew Lawrenz, who lived two farms over. She then allowed Matthew to sleep with and impregnate her, giving birth to Joseph but Matthew was adamant he really wanted nothing to with Virginia or Joseph. They kept up their affair though.
Matthew finished and rolled off of Virginia who was underneath him on her stomach. "You know, we could move in together and still do this," she said. She was always hinting about moving in together or getting married. Matthew had yet to take the bait.
"I thought we were fine just doing this," he said. "Besides, you know we were just having fun. You didn't have to get pregnant."
Virginia sat up and grabbed her clothes off the floor. "Okay. Well, just so you know, you'll be hearing from the state in a few days about child support for Joseph. He's your kid, you should help take care of him."
Virginia stormed out of Matthew's house and walked back to her parents' farm. It was a gray, cloudy day and getting cold. Snow was in the forecast so she had to get home and help Andrew to get the farm ready for it. A train whistle went off in the distance behind the woods that surrounded these farms. She walked home in silence, her mind drifting everywhere.
Andrew Winters woke up to a snow-covered farmstead. Everything looked pristine and new. He stepped out onto the slab of concrete just outside of the back door. He noticed footprints in the snow leading from the house, past the barn, and toward the woods. Although they weren't so much leading to the woods, as he noticed, but to the house.
"Did you follow them? Where do they go?" Peter Webber asked, as he helped Andrew on the combine stored in the barn for one of Andrew's regulars.
"No, I didn't follow them. They go into the woods. They were probably from a drifter walking along the railroad tracks. They saw a light and thought they could get a quick meal or something but we were all asleep so they left."
"But you said the tracks didn't lead away from the house," Peter said.
Peter Webber was a handyman that helped Andrew with work around the farm. Peter helped with the animals and crops but also on maintenance and helping Andrew with the machinery. Webber liked to drink and had bragged about sleeping with Virginia numerous times at the bar even though he never had. He also complained about all the money that Andrew hoarded when he was working for pennies. To anyone who listened to Webber, the Winters were close to being millionaires.
"You're right. It's probably a hobo from the tracks," Peter said, assuming Andrew was just drunk or just seeing things. But he remembered something he saw a couple days ago. A man standing at the end of the woods. He didn't recognize him and when he started to approach, the man went into the woods. Peter initially thought it was a hobo from the train tracks. Maybe not.
At dinner, the family ate in near silence. The ceiling above them creaked and groaned. They all looked up. "What was that?" Catherine asked. "Another animal get into the attic?"
"I'll check it out after dinner," Andrew said.
After dinner, he went upstairs and peered into the attic. With his flashlight, he couldn't see anything. He walked around, heard and saw nothing. The next day, the sounds of walking in the attic continued but Andrew could find nothing. When night fell on the third day, the Winters family went to sleep as they always did. Catherine cross-stitched, Andrew read, Virginia nursed Joseph and softly sang to Cecelia.
In the middle of the night, a noise awoke Virginia. She looked out the window and caught a glimpse of someone in the barn. She went outside to meet the person where she was immediately struck down with an axe, the blade easily cutting through her skin and skull. Virginia was able to let out one piercing scream before she fell to the ground.
Andrew heard the scream. "Catherine," he shook his wife awake. "Did you hear that?"
"It sounded like a scream." He pulled the covers off and got out of bed. "I'm gonna check. Sounded like it came from the barn."
Andrew went out to the barn and slowly peered in but saw nothing out of the ordinary. As he stepped inside, the blade of the axe split his head in two and he landed with a dull thud on the ground. Fifteen minutes later, curious as to where Andrew had gone, Catherine followed her daughter and husband to the barn and to the same fate.
Peter Webber saw no evidence of anything when he arrived the next morning. He knocked on the door but no one answered. Smoke was coming from the chimney but he could see no signs of life. Assuming that Andrew, and the rest of the family, was ignoring him, he gave the house the middle finger and left.
"Did the Winters go somewhere?" the postman asked Matthew the next day. "Their mail is still in their box."
"They should be home. There's been smoke coming from their chimney," Matthew said.
Matthew walked to the Winters' house. No smoke came from the chimney. All the doors were locked. "What's going on?" Peter asked, coming up behind Matthew.
"Have you seen Andrew or Virginia?" Matthew asked.
"No. I came by yesterday but no one was here. Or they were ignoring me," he gave a light chuckle.
"The mailman thinks they went away but I've been seeing smoke coming from their chimney so I came over to investigate," Matthew said. He opened the door to the barn and went inside. Nothing looked out of the ordinary until he noticed a door placed over a pile of hay. He lifted the door off the hay and saw the bodies of Andrew, Catherine, and Virginia underneath the blood-soaked straw. "Jesus Christ," he whispered.
He dropped the door and ran out of the barn to the house. "What are you doing?" asked Peter.
"I'm looking for my son," Matthew bellowed as he unlocked the door with a key and went inside the house. Nothing in the house was disturbed but the chimney had clearly been used as well as some dishes in the kitchen. In Virginia's bedroom, Matthew found the bludgeoned bodies of Cecelia and Joseph.
"No idea who did this?" an officer investigating asked another officer who was looking around for clues.
"No idea. The two who discovered the bodies would be my first picks but there's no evidence. Word around the bars is that Webber guy talked a lot about stealing money from Mr. Winters and Lawrenz was recently given a summon to pay child support."
"So they have the motive."
"There was nothing taken. There's cash littering the house in places--all of it untouched. Anthony Loudekis once broke into this place and stole some money but, again, nothing was taken."
"I heard a rumor that Gimenez is back in the country."
"Gimenez? He's dead."
"His friends--those punks, Angel and Andreas, say he faked his death. I know it sounds stupid but what else is there? Maybe he got mad that his wife was sleeping around. Joseph isn't--wasn't--his."
"The killer supposedly lived in the house the day after the murders."
"Mm. No thank you. You know, it could just be a drifter following the railroad tracks. Sees smoke or a light on and instead of just asking for some warmth and food, lures them out here and just takes the house."
"That Lawrenz guy has a key. It's how he found the kids' bodies. Why'd he have a key?"
"Maybe they gave it to him since he was a neighbor. Maybe she gave it to him so he could come over at night."
"Maybe he stole it."
"We have, what? Four possible suspects?"
"We should get started then," the two officers began walking toward Peter and Matthew who were being detained by the barn by another officer. The bodies of the Winters family were covered and loaded into a van. A train whistle sounded from behind the woods, breaking the silence.