Norbert and Kathryn DeMars raised ten children; five boys and five girls. Of those ten, two were considered to be “all Kessler” as they resembled my mother’s side of the family. Mary Beth was all Kessler. She was three years older than I. Until she went away to college, we always shared a bedroom. As a young girl, she would wake at night with terrible dreams, earning her the nickname “NightMare.”
Throughout middle and high school we played on the same basketball team, we were on the same cheerleading squad, we were in the same extracurricular activities. We fought often. I’m not sure who resented whom more. She felt that I was stealing her thunder, and I resented her pomposity. She graduated high school valedictorian of her class and received honors such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, I was glad to see her go off to college.
Mary Beth dated a lot, and a lot of different guys. During the summer of her sophomore year of college, she met a local guy. Bill was born and raised in the Poconos from an extended family with much local history. He owned a small photography business in town, and every one knew Bill and everyone liked Bill. He was the guy that would buy you a drink, shake your hand, make you laugh. Mary Beth fell in love with him and they planned to marry right after college. I recall my Dad commenting, “I hope she’s not being swept away by fast cars and fancy clothes.” They married, and I stood up as her maid of honor. I think she felt obligated to ask me, because we certainly were not close.
She earned a good job with the Social Security Administration and Bill kept his shop. They built a house on a lot that belonged to Bill’s family, and was next door to his mother. The irony here is that the guy I was dating at the time lived in the same neighborhood and was also a professional photographer. Bill’s and my path crossed often, although I only saw my sister at family functions. Bill was a player, and had made passes at me from time to time which I brushed off to an over active imagination. One evening he pulled up in front of the dorm I was living in and asked if I wanted to go for a drive in his Austin Healey. I thought he was just being brotherly, and it was a nice evening for a drive in a convertible. This time his intentions were quite clear and I knew it was not my imagination. He accepted my refusal, and took me home. I felt somehow dirty, and never spoke of it to anyone.
Shortly after, I moved to Florida. I had a brother living in the North Miami area who helped me to get established. My mother was very good at keeping all of us informed about everyone else’s whereabouts and happenings. The years just sort of went on, and I honestly couldn’t tell you much about my sister and her life, except that mom said that she really wanted children, but Bill did not. Mary Beth was holding the family together financially as Bill’s business had failed and they were facing bankruptcy. Her life had little bearing on mine, until one night in November 1980.
I was working in Hollywood, Florida for a magazine printing company. I worked the “graveyard” shift from midnight to eight AM. I usually slept from three or so in the afternoon until about eleven o’clock in the evening, and would then get up and go to work. I would unplug the telephone because I slept when most others did not. Being a single female living alone in a ground floor efficiency, I was very security conscious. One night at about ten o’clock, a knock came on my door, waking me from my sleep. There was a streetlight directly outside the window of the back door, and I could see the silhouette of what appeared to be a large man. The apartment was dark and quiet, and I just waited until he left. Shortly after, I was up and getting ready to go to work when there was again a knock on the door. This time I answered it. It was my brother, Ken. He’d tried to call, but the phone was unplugged. He’d gotten a call from Mom. Mary Beth was dead. She’d been shot.
At this time, there were five DeMars living in South Florida: my oldest brother and his new wife, brothers Robert and Ken, and myself. We flew up to Pennsylvania together. It was the week before Thanksgiving.
The report was that Mary Beth’s body was found in the woods just off a narrow mountain road in a near-by county. She’d been shot in the head and suffered several stab wounds. Her car was found at a Holiday Inn in the town near where she worked, with blood stains in the back seat. A room at the Inn had signs of a struggle.
A funeral service was held in the same church in which she was married. The church was standing room only. At the cemetery, I sat in front of the casket holding the hand of my youngest brother and the hand of the grieving widower.
Thanksgiving dinner was painful. We all had speculations, questions, theories, but no answers. When we said grace, and my father spoke of our grief, I broke down. I knew how much my parents loved her, and I blurted out that “it should have been me.”
The mystery gradually unfolded. My parents received a letter cut from newspaper clippings that read in the form of a ransom note, referencing “the sins of the father.” Dad retired as head of the local Army Depot which employed most of the people in the area. He was a tough boss and not well liked. This “sins of the father” hurt my dad deeply. The letter was sent as a red herring, but the plan backfired. It actually helped the detectives in solving the crime.
Bill had been sneaking around with all kinds of women. While Mary Beth worked nights and weekends to pay off debts from his failed business, neighbors observed women coming and going from the house, even entering through basement windows. He was a regular at a local pub and was most charming to all the ladies. One frequently charmed woman was Pauletta Beehler. If you have ever seen the movie, “Fatal Attraction” with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas, you’d think it was based on the life of Mary Beth and Bill. Pauletta wrote Mary Beth a letter under the guise of a promotional company, saying she had won a prize and needed to go to a certain room at this Holiday Inn to claim it. Pauletta even called her at work to ensure she would come to claim her prize. Mary Beth drove there after work, entered the room, the light switch was taped down, and she was struck over the head. Pauletta wanted Mary Beth to leave Bill. She threatened her, beat her, and stabbed her. Perhaps the “Kessler” stubbornness came out, or perhaps love for Bill, but Pauletta was defeated. She put Mary Beth in the back seat of her own car, drove to the near-by hospital and told her to get out. She could not, or would not. Angered or frustrated, Pauletta drove up a back mountain road, pulled her out, put a gun to her head and shot her.
I returned to Florida, to my little apartment,to my job and tried to return to normalcy. There is something very dark that stays with you for a very long time after an experience such as this. Some of the curious things that came about were the dreams that we siblings had. Mom had a plate rail in her kitchen that ran all along the cabinets and held many very rare antique plates that she’d collected over the years, and prized. Two of us dreamt the same dream, the same night: Mom’s plates were gone. Mom mentioned a dream she had had, nervously giggling at the “rediculousness” of it. She dreamt that she was in Church and Monsignor McHugh was coming down the aisle in a wheelchair. Mary Beth’s death had crippled Mom’s faith.
Pauletta was arrested and charged with first degree premeditated murder. The case never went to trial. The lawyers plea bargained. Pauletta was sentenced to seven years for third degree murder. Bill received double indemnity on her life insurance policy, as she was the victim of a violent crime. He sold the house they built together, and remarried. He moved into a house just a few blocks from my parents’ home; an arrogant slap in their face.
I never accepted the reason for the murder: It always troubled me,. I read the detectives’ reports, the autopsy report, the news articles, everything I could. By this time, I was living on the west coast of Florida. I worked with a woman who was much older than I , who was an “Earth Mother” type. One day we were talking about Mary Beth and her death and my emptiness and my lack of closure. She told me to go to my dreams. That night, I dreamt that I was lying in bed and an apparition approached me, sat down on the edge of my bed, leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “Let it go” she said, “ It’s all right.” The kiss was so real, it woke me from my sleep. I sat upright and saw next to me a ghost-like being. In a knee-jerk reaction, I called out, “Who are you?!” The figure dissipated. I sat frozen.
I had never been much of the communicative daughter; someone else could take care of all that update stuff. But after Mary Beth’s death, I began calling Mom regularly. I always felt that Mary Beth stood between me and my mother’s affection. Mom always liked her best. But I also knew that no mother should have to outlive a child. So I tried to be more of a daughter. I called more often, and would end each phone call with, “I love you, Mom.” and she would say, “OK honey.” It took two years before she finally said, “I love you, too.”
Mary Beth Catherine DeMars Coffman was born June 21, 1951. I hope you have found peace, Mary Beth.