Chapter 4

Brianna and Walern took a late evening horse ride on Scout and Blackie. They ended up at the graveyard. Some high school kids were sitting on the tombstones eating fruit and shooting the breeze.

"That seems kind of disrespectful," Brianna remarked.

Walern shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

"Do you want to see your family?" Brianna asked.

"Not with them here," Walern replied as he turned and steered the horse in the other direction.

They took another way home and it brought them past his family's farm. The house stood empty and deserted and Walern brought the horse to a stop at the edge of the front lawn.

"Is this your first time back here?" Brianna sked.

He nodded his head affirmatively.

"Do you want to look around?"

He shook his head no and gave Scout a kick to get moving. Brianna let out a sigh and pulled on Blackie's rein to get him to follow.

It had been three years since the killing and while whispers had been bantered about there had been no leads, no clues, and no movement on the case.

But then the Hurricane of '38 roared through Blue County creating plenty of damage, including nearly collapsing a barn on Wayne Gruzik's farm.

A farmhand cleaning up the debris discovered a twelve inch butcher knife hidden inside a collapsed wall of the barn. The worker was suspicious that such a knife would be hidden so he brought it to the Sherriff's Department without telling Mr. Gruzik of his discovery.

The knife had been manufactured by the local West Count Cutlery Company within the past five years which led to speculation that the knife was purposely hidden and not lost.

Gruzik's farm had been close to foreclosure and in the first few tough years of the depression and Wayne Gruzik had asked his fellow farmer Josef Nowak if he would waive the rent on some of the pasture land Gruzik was leasing from Walern's father.

Nowak couldn't afford to honor that request and Gruzik became resentful, especially as his debt increased. With the death of Josef Nowak, Wayne Gruzik not only saved on leasing costs, but he was also one of the area farmers who agreed to help out with the Nowak taxes in exchange for some of the cattle and free use of the land.

All local farmers were questioned in the aftermath of the murders and because the Sheriff didn't have much to go on and the farmers had alibis and there was no physical evidence, no suspicion was raised.

But the discovery of the knife clearly made Gruzik a suspect in the slaying of four members of the Nowak family and Wayne J. Gruzik, 57, was charged with one count of first degree murder and three counts of second degree murder. He was held without bail pending trial.

"I can't believe one of our own is responsible for this," Brianna's father said unhappily.

"He was nice to me," Walern remarked. "Before and after."

"He would have killed you had you been there," Brianna said with horror.

"Why did he have to kill everybody?" Walern asked.

"I'm guessing little Rajmund stumbled upon your Dad and Gruzik in the barn," Brianna's dad theorized. "Maybe he thought your mother saw him through the kitchen window or something and he knew there could be no witnesses."

"I didn't see him when I was coming back," Walern sighed.

"You were coming from the opposite direction," Brianna's father explained. "I'm guessing he went up over the northern hill back to his place. Then he was back twenty minutes later when the emergency call went out."

Walern didn't attend the trial. He didn't talk about the trial. And he didn't say anything when Wayne Gruzik was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death in the gas chamber.

Mrs. Gruzik sold the farm and left the area. Walren continued to live with the Ryans and Brianna stayed true to him by not dating in high school. She was waiting for him to propose to her – especially when he graduated from high school but Walern was exploring his options, including taking over responsibility for his family's farm and moving back into the house.

Then Pearl Harbor was attacked and three days later eighteen year old Walern Nowak was enlisting in the U.S. Army. He married Brianna as promised the day before he shipped out and they made love for the first time in his old room in his old house.

Brianna and her father worked on the house while Walren was off fighting the war and when he returned safe and unharmed – though as quiet as ever – he and his bride moved in to the house and restarted the farm.

Brianna and Walren Nowak had five children – Joseph, Maryjo, Alice, William, and Raymond. When Brianna's father retired from farming, she and Walren purchased the land and expanded their farm.

Walren died in 2002 at the age of 79 and Brianna still lives in the house at the young age of 96. Sons William and Raymond run the farm. William lives in Brianna's parents' old house and Raymond built a house of his own on a piece of the property.

Brianna's great granddaughter Missy videotaped Brianna for a family oral history. Brianna told of her life in the depression, the murder of her future husband's family, her secret favorite place that she and Walren visited frequently over the years, and the fact that she only loved one boy and one man in her entire life.

"People today don't know what true love is all about but I knew what it was when I was eleven years old," Brianna said into the camera. "It's not something you have to talk about. Walren never did. But you sure do need to know what it is. And he knew from the time he was fifteen. He loved me and only me. That's true love."