I’ve heard a lot of stories from my grandfather. He was a detective for 27 years of his life, and I grew up listening to the tales of he and his fellow lawmen. As a child, he obviously amended the stories quite a bit to make them age-appropriate, but as I grew up, more and more of the true stories came out.
Starting about two years ago, my grandpa got sick. He’s been on a slow decline ever since, and while it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with, his illness acted as the catalyst for a set of stories he’d never before brought up. He said he kept them “filed away deep in the folder he doesn’t like to open”. He calls them “The Impossible Ones”.
But this last one, the one he told me last night, he says it’s the one that still keeps him up some nights, the one he thinks about every day. He said he’s looked over the case files more times than he can remember, done a full re-examination of it all more times than he can remember, and it never makes any more sense. He said he only told me now because he can feel in his bones that he doesn’t have a lot of time left.
I recorded him telling me the story, so what follows is my transcription of the case, verbatim. I’ve only excluded his coughing fits and any off-topic remarks made during the telling of the case.
The case was a murder/kidnapping, at least that’s what it looked like,and it was me and Olson, I’ve told you about him. There was a family, the Nebels. There was Benjamin, the husband, Jennifer, the wife, and Katie, their 6-year-old daughter. One of their neighbors had gone out for the paper around 6AM and saw the Nebel’s front door wide open. When she went over to see if everything was okay, she saw the wife’s body.
The neighbor called 9-1-1 and eventually we were sent over there. Now, when I say there was no outward signs of a struggle, I mean it. There was no sign whatsoever that anything had happened, well, except for the dead body. But even her body, there were no wounds, no marks of any kind. I’m getting ahead of myself.
On our way to the house, it came over the radio that the husband and daughter were unaccounted for. If you’re thinking “the husband did it”, we did too, obviously. Problem was, both the family’s cars were still in the garage. So we think they might be on foot. Some officers canvassed the neighborhood, and no one had seen them, including two neighbors that were on their porches for hours starting in the early morning. No one had heard any kind of commotion coming from their house, either.
I mentioned the wife’s body. She didn’t have a hair out of place. She was on her back in the kitchen; about a third of her upper body was under the table. We found out after the autopsy that…well, she’d just…died. There was no cause that they could find. She’d been a perfectly healthy woman, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, ate right, exercised. It was like she’d just blinked her eyes and gone from alive to dead.
Anyways, we searched the house. We went through it with a fine-tooth comb, basement to attic, found nothing. No evidence of a struggle, no weapon, nothing. So we left. We’d spent hours in that house, thought maybe we should come back in a day or two with some fresh eyes. We went over to where Benjamin worked, he was a supervisor at a lumber yard.
According to his coworkers, he’d shown up at work that morning just before 5AM. When he got in he worked on this narrow crate…thing he was building in his office, something he’d told his coworkers was a project for his house. According to the other morning supervisor, he’d only built about half of the thing. Around 6:15, he said he was running to the bathroom, and that was the last anyone saw him. They never saw him leave.
While we were at the lumber yard I realized I’d left my notes at the house. We drove back over there, and we got there while they were taking the wife’s body away. As soon as we walked in, the stench hit us like a bus. It was…well, it was what a newly discovered but long dead body smells like.
We knew it obviously couldn’t have been the wife. We asked a few of the officers and forensics folks that were still at the house what the smell was, and they told us that it had only started a few minutes before we’d gotten back there. I’m not exaggerating when I say the smell was everywhere in the house. I’ve smelled some dead ones before, but this smelled like every wall in the place was lined with corpses.
Pretty quickly, we found that the smell was strongest leading up to the attic. Now I told you before, we checked the attic. I checked it myself probably five times. But we went back up, me and Olson. I was up the little pull-down ladder first, and when I poked my head up I saw something. I saw a piece of wood, like a box, you know, a crate.
It was shaped kind of like a rifle case. Maybe three feet tall, two feet wide, maybe six inches deep, rectangular. It was standing straight up, and there was blood leaking from it. We called the photographers and all the people in there, they all do their thing, and finally they pull out all the nails and open the box.
Out falls the husband.
Think about that. This guy was maybe 5’10”, 140lbs, and he was put in a three foot by two foot by six inch crate. His bones were just a mess. His insides, all his organs, they were flattened. They were just…wet, squishy pieces of fabric, almost. He was stuffed in there like…I don’t know what like. He was just a rectangle of blood, skin, and…parts. His skin had the discoloration of a body that had been dead for about two weeks…which obviously didn’t make sense since they’d seen him at work that morning. He was also missing his eyeballs.
We were standing there trying to rationalize the whole situation when something caught everyone’s ears at the same time.
A little girl’s voice, calling out for help.
What followed was a sequence of all the people in the attic, AND the rest of the house, AND the people out on the lawn, AND the few people that were standing on the other side of the yellow tape, all saying some variation of the phrase “it sounds like it’s coming from over there!”. Problem was, every single person swore they heard it coming from a different direction.
Me, I heard it from right above me. No kidding. The first time I heard that little voice say “help me”, I looked straight up, right up to the rafters. Of course she wasn’t there, it was just my brain’s response to where it perceived her voice as coming from.
We had to listen to every one of these people tell us where they thought they heard her voice coming from. People swore up and down they heard it coming from the kitchen cabinets, the bedroom closets, the refrigerator, the tank behind the toilet for god’s sake. People on the street said they heard it from underneath cars, behind trees, on the sides of the houses next to the Nebels. Everyone heard her voice for about a minute and a half, two minutes tops. And then it just stopped
About two weeks after that day, the wife’s sister had a funeral for Jennifer. It went fine, they buried her, all that. The husband’s remains were cremated not long after that and put on display in a different part of the cemetery. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point over the few weeks after he was cremated, someone stole his urn.
It was missing for about six months, and then one day we get a call, find out a groundskeeper at the cemetery had called in. The wife had been dug up and posed like she was leaning against the grave, just relaxing. She had the urn in her hands, but it was wrapped in skin. Well they tested it, and it was the husband’s skin.
They’d pretty well reconstructed the man after he poured out the crate, and he hadn’t been missing any skin. And remember I told you his skin was discolored? Well, this skin was perfectly preserved. And inside the urn? With his ashes, there were three eyeballs. Only one of them was the husband’s.
It’s been, what…22 years? I still hear that girl’s voice calling out sometimes. And I don’t mean my memory or mind is playing tricks on me. Ask your grandmother, she’s heard her. The same 6-year-old voice.
And then, I remember it was May 12th, 2007, I was going to pick up a pizza for us. I saw that girl. I saw Katie Nebel. I don’t mean I saw her grown up, I don’t mean I saw a little girl that looked like her when she was young. I mean I saw that fucking kid. She was standing outside the Walgreens right by our old house, crying.
I pulled over and got outta the car, and I started to walk up to her. I can’t explain how I felt in that moment. I was nauseous, I was so, so afraid. Terrified. More than I’ve ever been. She looked right at me and said in that same voice, “help me, please”. I don’t know what the hell happened, but she just disappeared. I never took my eyes off her. She was just there one second, gone the next.
I thought I was losing my mind. I was seriously worried about my mental heath. But then, about an hour after I got back home, the phone rang. It was Olson. Hadn’t talked to the son of a bitch in five years, and he called me that night. Said he saw Katie Nebel sitting on a bus stop bench, crying. He lived on the other side of the country.
Killed himself the next day.
[My grandpa took a deep breath after that.]
There’s never a good ending to these stories, I know. If there was, they wouldn’t be “The Impossible Ones”, I’d have figured them out one way or the other. And I know I’ve told you some others, but that girl’s voice still wakes me up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I hear it from downstairs, sometimes from the bathroom.
Sometimes I’ll be laying on my side, facing away from your grandmother, and it’ll sound like it’s coming from her mouth.
We never found a trace of that girl, nothing. I told you what they do with those cases, the– goddamn it. I–ah, I’m sorry. Let’s–that’s it. That’s the worst one. Some of the other ones might sound worse to you, but that’s the worst for me. Okay.
He told me he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and said now that he told me, he’d never talk about it again.
He did, however, tell me about a number of his other cases.