I think it more likely he engaged in the act of onanism in her presence, as boys of that age are wont to do with the least provocation. This took place the day after lawmen riddled Ms. Parker and Clyde Barrow and company with bullets in an ambush. She’d already gone stiff on a makeshift slab in the back room, too perforated to contain the embalming fluid. Something about her presumably made Elmer go stiff as well, but then he was thirteen and hadn’t seen anything of celebrity criminals, or the world. Working in a combination furniture store and funeral parlor, he was already quite familiar with death.
Elmer’s sex crime might have gone undetected, but thousands had lined up early to see the famous gun moll’s corpse and he was caught with his pants down in the mortuary. His father, the undertaker, could have kept quiet about the incident, but it proved too good a story for the old man not to repeat, even though everyone else had moved on with the passing spectacle. It wasn’t as if the whole town didn’t already know. Repetition of the story put considerable strain on the father/son bond and Elmer joined the Army instead of going into the family business.
There’s still a poem that Elmer wrote in his own schoolboy hand, a splendid example of the Palmer Method. It talks about unrequited love. It’s a terrible poem, but it conveys the loss and confusion of youth quite well.
People like my brother love to research genealogy, discovering all sorts of connections to the famous and infamous. Kinfolk rowed over on the Mayflower, steamed down river with Mark Twain and rode out with Jesse James. Genghis Khan laid all the virgins as he laid waste to their homelands, so there’s scientific proof that one in two hundred on this whole damn planet are related to the leader of the Mongol Hordes. Which maybe explains a lot. That’s how it goes with this history business. It’s multiplicative.
Great Uncle Elmer fought in North Africa and Europe, rising to the rank of sergeant in the infantry. After making it through almost to the end of the war, he died a hero, taking out a machine gun position in the Battle of the Bulge. Within the family he’s still remembered as the boy necrophiliac. Maybe he never intended to come back anyway.
In the years since, they’ve made movies and written songs about Bonnie and Clyde, but none mention Elmer. It would be decades before J. Edgar Hoover became known for wearing women’s clothes and bugging Martin Luther King’s phone calls to try to blackmail him with his own infidelities. Hybristophilia —otherwise known as Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome—is the term for sexual arousal via a partner’s participation in an outrage such as rape, murder or armed robbery. Bonnie Parker liked to write poetry and take pictures, some of which survive. There never was evidence she actually shot anyone herself, even though the public imagination remains convinced to the contrary thanks at least in part to staged snapshots of herself holding weapons and looking tough.
Machine guns and all their progeny continue to thrive in the world at large. It’s an incontrovertible fact that my own deranged nephew took my brother’s Glock to the shopping mall and killed three random people and a security guard before blowing his own brains out. The whole thing took less than fifteen seconds thanks to the seventeen-shot clip. There’s security camera footage of the whole thing. The kid would have been fifteen at his next birthday. He didn’t leave a note, just a text message saying “I’m going to the mall. Don’t expect me home for dinner.”
I don’t know what to say to my brother other than I want to ask him why he didn’t at least lock up his goddamned guns as good as he did his genealogy research. I had a hell of a time getting into it after he passed. Maybe he didn’t want me to see his goddamned kiddie porn collection.
Perhaps we don’t learn anything much from history, even within our own families. Sometimes it seems like hybristophilia has reached epidemic proportions in this world, the same as machine guns. I think Great Uncle Elmer, if he were around today, might say to keep your pants on and be careful going around corners, because sometimes it’s hard to tell where the real criminals wait in ambush.