Did He Commit Suicide?

30 January 2010

I’ve just finished reading Janet’s life story. I call her and launch straight in with talk of Fred’s disappearance. This is the part of the story I am particularly interested in. Yes, I realise the funny stories of farming life are great, but I think the glaring gaps: the lost five days and Fred’s disappearance, are even more interesting.

I have obviously taken Janet by surprise because she breaks down on the phone. I am shocked; she still feels the emotional effects keenly, even after 34 years. She takes several moments to compose herself before telling me that the police assumed that Fred committed suicide since they found ‘evidence of disturbance’ on the top of an eight foot wall encircling a mine shaft on land at a nearby farm.

At the time, March 1976, police divers were lowered down the shaft, but they aren’t able to go deep enough to find anything.

I take what Janet says at face value. She says Fred’s state of mind was such that suicide was the conclusion the police came to.

There was no suicide note and as Janet said to me: “He was not the sort of person to commit suicide. He would never go off and leave his animals.”

Janet then tells me the writing of the book did not prove to be therapeutic for her – it has not unlocked any buried memories, the nightmares have not stopped and she is no further forward now than she was when he first disappeared. She has no idea what her nightmares mean and she has no idea why she lost those five days. She also tells me she has put Ball Beard Farm up for sale and she is planning to retire.

We arrange to meet for coffee in the village of Disley on the borders of Derbyshire and Cheshire. In the meantime I do some research.

I’m hooked, I realise I want to know more and, even though alarm bells are ringing, this is the most interesting ghostwriting prospect I’ve had since I became a freelancer.

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