‘Til death do us part.’ Maybe. The strange menage of JoAnn Nichols and her exacting husband James.

July 18, 2013 | Author: | Posted in Fictional Stories


by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

Author’s program note. Being that I am a well-known commentator of many years standing, folks are constantly bringing “must” story ideas to my attention. But just how this tale came about is, in my experience at least, unique, as you will see for yourself in the next few minutes.

It started with a good sized box delivered to me by one of the nameless couriers who frequent my neighborhood and buzz me from the lobby. “Package for you, Dr. Lant. No signature necessary,” and then with a “have a good day” on their lips, they’re already on their swift way.

I descended to the lobby via our ancient elevator, and there found the box with my name on it, no return address. I noticed that right away. My informants, after all, commonly wish to go unknown.  I dragged the box onto the elevator, as completely uninterested in its contents as it is possible to be. But I was soon to change my mind…

The contents.

I am a stickler for order and efficiency. I was pleased that whoever sent to me was the same, although I didn’t know this until I had taken everything out and spread it all on the floor of my celebrated Red Drawing Room. It was only then that I noticed the envelope marked “Contents of this box.” This envelope was hand addressed in handwriting that was reasonable for our illegible times.

Item: Key ring of my late wife JoAnn Nichols with JN initials, house keys, car keys, etc.

Item: Our wedding license and her wedding ring.

Item: A menu dated December 20, 1985 from the Ground Round Grill and Bar in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Item: A recording of “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby on a seasonably white colored vinyl record.

Item: a letter from me, James Nichols, the man accused of murdering his wife and interring her remains behind a false wall in our house, to you Dr. Jeffrey Lant, the man I have selected to hear my story and, perhaps, to tell it. That’ll be up to you.


And then I remembered the case first reported by the Associated Press and Mr. Nichols had my fullest attention, for the case was sensational, gruesome, grisly and utterly and completely fascinating.

The Last Letter of James Nichols.

By the time you receive this, Dr. Lant, I will be beyond man and man’s justice. Just where I’ll be I cannot say; no man can. But the general run of the world will be certain I am burning in Hell on Satan’s exquisite rotisserie. Perhaps. But, perhaps not. At the critical moment in my life when I murdered my wife, I bet that there is no God, no final judgement, no retribution of any kind; just man’s puny version of deity, cosmos and the eternal.

Anyway, let me start my rendition of events by telling you honestly, I murdered JoAnn after sitting across from her at dinner at the Ground Round in 1985; I have included the dated menu from that night to establish the date beyond cavil. I seem to recall my well-done steak was particularly tasty that evening, though perhaps the savor derived from what I already knew I would do upon returning home and knew that unless I got away with it, this might be my last steak. That made me sad and thoughtful. Murdering my wife did not.

Never worthy of me.

As I contemplated my options vis a vis JoAnn, my eye fell upon the jewelry she was wearing on her sweater. It was a Santa Claus broach, the kind you get at Woolworth’s for $1.59 plus tax. It was cute, of course, entirely appropriate for the first- grade teacher she had been for 22 years; gimcrack, cheap, vulgar; not worthy of the wife of James Nichols, for I am fastidious to a degree, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, a connoisseur. What’s more, I don’t just say this; I can prove it.

I always knew from my earliest days that I was destined for greatness. My mother, a true and thorough lady, told me so. She would take her hands and place my head between them, her eyes looking into mine and say, “James, be worthy of yourself… James, be worthy of me”. Then she would squeeze, hard, to remind me. One day when she did that, I saw, really saw the jewelry at her throat. It was a Maltese cross in what I later learned to call brilliants, 15th century Venetian, studded with rubies. Breathtaking.

It is in the box in front of you now… to live life at the demanding standard of this necklace and my mother who wore it with hauteur, elegance and an unmistakable air of majesty became my firm and constant objective. JoAnn was just a convenience, to be used for what women can be used for and nothing else. And when my dear mother died and I inherited the Maltese cross and stunning rubies, I didn’t even show JoAnn, much less let her wear it. Herein lay the problem.

For you see, I decided to collect more jewels, even a king’s ransom in them… and over time I did. Where did the money come from? For openers, there was JoAnn’s paycheck, meager but useful. And my own ingenuity. Renowned Vassar College was in the neighborhood, and I robbed the young ladies of their pin money and baubles, which I traded up and sold, thereby raising funds to get pieces which became over time luminescent, magnificent, splendid.

I visited my trove often and thrilled as I ran my fingers over some of the Duchess of Windsor’s famous canary diamonds; a magnificent ivory pendant containing a miniature of Marie Antoinette’s sister Marie Christine, and that gem of gems, a diamond and emerald necklace fashioned in St. Petersburg by Faberge’, a gift of Grand Duke Sergei to his wife the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, sister of the last Tsaritsa. All three were killed by revolutionaries, so that I might have it. You, Dr. Lant, with your great knowledge of such matters might imagine how ecstatic and proud I was to acquire this, to acquire everything.

But just acquiring was never my objective. I wanted to see them worn, by a woman who was to the manner born. For this JoAnn had to be taken care of and not by divorce either, for that involved lawyers, expense and the stringent laws of New York. What’s more JoAnn had begun to hint about just how much she knew about my secret life and a trove now worth over $5,000,000. To keep it all intact and forfeit the delights of legal entanglements, JoAnn needed to be permanently removed, neatly, cleanly, surgically, finally, immediately.

It was in the event ridiculously easy to snuff the remaining life in JoAnn’s tired, worn out  body. She bent down to turn on the phonograph. Her favorite Christmas song began to play. It was “White Christmas”, and she went to her maker with Der Bingle’s sweet seasonal melodies in the air. Just one blow to the back of her head sufficed. I had been practising, and what I do, I do well. There was hardly any blood at all.

La pie’ce de re’sistance.

Killing someone is child’s play. Getting rid of the body is not. That’s why I’m so proud of my solution to this insistent little problem. I simply buried her intact in a container in a dry basement, behind a false wall and piles of hoarded items, which had hardly any smell whatsoever. Yes, that was a pleasant surprise!

Then I sat down to type the most important letter of my life (until this one), the one I handed to police December 21, 1985. It wasn’t a suicide note; rather a brief letter in which she admitted to “a degree of depression” and the need to go off by herself and get some peace; not least because she was dwelling on the death of our only child, a son, years ago.

Like everything else I touched this masterpiece worked too.

Of course the police “knew” I was guilty. I knew it, too. However they couldn’t prove a thing and couldn’t even get a warrant because the judge said there was insufficient evidence to convict. And so I found out how easy it was to get away with murder, lowering my already deep disdain and contempt for police, judges, courts and every other authority. But you, sir, are not very interested in hearing all this. You, I know, want to know what happened to the trove, the king’s ransom that is my life’s work.

The key.

I could have given it to charity, to wash away some small part of my sins, except that I never thought I’d sinned; quite the reverse, not to mention that I’d been burdened with JoAnn’s putrefying remains and the occasional, always annoying police visit, hoping to trip me up — me!

I found my solution in the astonishingly beautiful article you wrote on your elegant Red Drawing Room. I knew I had found a kindred spirit who would take the necessary  pains to protect and enjoy what it has taken me a lifetime to acquire.

Thus in the packing box, beneath a false bottom (I must have my little joke) you will find a key and thorough details on where the trove resides and how to access it so you can bring it back to Cambridge, for yourself.

You will think of course, dear Dr. Lant, of calling the Poughkeepsie Police and Dutchess County authorities, turning this letter and everything else over to them, thereby becoming eligible for the derisory reward they are offering; then writing the story in your elegant, inimitable way.

Think again.

Take my mother’s magnificent jewel-encrusted Maltese cross in hand. Stroke it. See it amongst all your magnificent treasures, substantially augmented by my great gift to you. I think we both know what you’ll do, sir, don’t we?


James Nichols died last December of natural causes, aged 82. He had no heirs. A contractor in Poughkeepsie was clearing out hoarded items and debris from Nichols’ home, when he came across the body of a woman in a sealed container behind a false wall in the basement. She was still wearing a Santa Clause broach in perfect condition. “And may all your Christmases be white…”

**** EDITOR’s NOTE: This is a FICTIONAL STORY by the author woven from a real life event.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is the author of over a dozen print books, several ebooks, and over one thousand online articles on a variety of topics.



This author has published 447 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.

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