Jack, Jill, Todd, Darren
Their son’s pointer finger was sent to the Obermanns in the mail by a fake name: “Ronald McDonald.” DNA tests confirmed the pointer finger belonged to their son. Don and Mary Obermann later proceeded to contact the Unsolved Mysteries-like show Mysteriously Missing. Mary had seen it featured on an episode of Entertainment Tonight, where a child abductor was brought to justice because Shelley Ronson of Alaska, who watched Mysteriously Missing, reported that her neighbor Mike Lanskey fit the description perfectly of a man reported to be kidnapping teens near the canning factories in Alaska. Mary Obermann went to the Mysteriously Missing website and filled out an online application. The producers contacted Mary three weeks later, asking if her son had been located. Mary said he hadn’t. The producers asked if there was anyone she could pre-interview, to give them “more of a feel for the story.” Mary said there was “one guy.” They told her to send the audio tape to their address in California.
There was a guy, he was in Italy. He had spoken to authorities and said he had contact with Darren the day before he disappeared. His name was Jack Whitney. Mary had only spoken to him via email. She hoped that maybe she could get a little more out of him. Since Mary was “not good with questions and stuff,” she asked a girl at her church, Jill Studbeck, to do the interview for her. Jill worked as a paralegal and seemed good with questions when she was quizzing confirmation students on the Old Testament. Jill agreed to do it. Mary had her over for coffee cake to discuss what Jill should ask.
Jill called the guy she was dating at the time, Todd Simmons, to do the recording of the telephone conversation with Jack Whitney. “We’ll do a conference call,” Jill said. “I really don’t want to let this woman down, so hopefully we’ll uncover some new information.”
Then that Saturday, a rainy Saturday in July, Jill and Todd conference-called Jack Whitney in Rome. He had a deep, congested voice. Jill was staring at a picture of him. He was wearing black, worn jeans and a purple-green flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off. His hair was oily and slicked back. He had a tattoo of a Walrus on his forearm.
Jack asked why the family was dealing with a TV show. Jill said it was mainly because of the exposure the case would get and “the possibility that anyone out there might know about what happened to Darren.” Jill Studbeck said that last part with such a feverish moral pitch that Jack felt partially responsible for what had happened. Jack told them again that he had only known Darren for a few weeks.
“Where did you two meet?”
Jack met Darren in Naples, at the Hostel Rosso. Jack was working near there as a hustler, he said, after a few stints with fruit-picking on the countryside didn’t quite turn out (long, sweltering hours, low wages). Jill interrupted. “You mean you got paid for sexual activities?” Jack answered that it was just for a while. “But that really, like, doesn’t have anything to do with anything,” he said. Jill wrote “prostitute” in her black Moleskine notebook.
A lot of things brought Jack to Naples. Jack had been backpacking in Europe and Northern Africa after running away from a bad home situation in Omaha. “I’m a pretty fucked-up individual,” Jack said. “But I guess that’s really not, uh, relevant or whatever. Haha.” Jill wrote “scatterbrained” in her black Moleskine notebook. Along the way, at the age of fifteen, sixteen, he met a lot of people and got swept up into a—”Wait, wait—a bad home situation?” Jill asked. “Yeah, my father hit me and my two sisters,” Jack clarified. “So you tried to divert yourself or something? By getting involved in all these—” She sounded flustered, like she was trying to regurgitate a rock. “—These heavy, hard or weird things?” He kept going. “It’s not quite that simple,” he said.
Along the way he sought out some hardcore metal shows, Jack explained, which usually occurred in undisclosed locations. “Is there a reason for that?” Jill said sharply, but no one answered her. “You’d have to be in the know?” Todd asked. “Yeah,” Jack answered. There were some great shows, particularly in Romania and the Czech Republic. “Some really crazy shows,” Jack said. “Well, what do you mean by that?” Jill asked. “‘Crazy’?” Jill persisted. She wrote “crazy?” in her black Moleskine notebook. Jack went on to explain the bands—Schizo, Necrodeah, Height of the Algerian. He told them about the shows that happened in the woods. Which is where he met Stacy Agnes and Danny Sharp. “Are those the two that they have the warrant for?” Jack said yes, but that their actual names were somewhat different. He added that he didn’t believe Stacy or Danny had anything to do with anything. “Why not?” Todd asked, seeming perturbed. He said it wasn’t like that group of kids over in Milan. They didn’t know what he was talking about. Jack clarified that there was a particular case where two death metal kids conspired to tear apart a third kid while acting out an occult ritual in the woods. “But Stacy and Danny are really just petty thieves and hustlers who hung out with Darren and had, like, pentagrams and shit in their apartment. They’re basically a little suspect, but really have nothing to do with anything here.”
“So what happened, do you think?”
What happened with Darren was a bit more complicated. Jack found out that Darren knew Stacy Agnes and Danny Sharp. Jack and Darren found out that they were going to the same shows. Darren was moonlighting through all these thrash metal shows down in Naples, while by day he was sleeping (for a small donation) at the Fraterno Vigilancia monastery in San Solcio. Jack, Darren, Stacy and Danny all got to know each other a little bit through a few nights drinking vodka in the woods at these shows. “Oh, but oh—there was this one weird thing…” One night, drunk, Darren showed Jack a scar on his arm and said, “I’ve been abducted before.” Jack said he didn’t know the context. Jack said he just assumed that Darren meant aliens. Jack said he believed in aliens. “It’s just, like, you know, this huge galaxy, but…” Jack added it was funny that Darren only spoke of it once, when he was very, very wasted. Jack said he believed Darren meant aliens at first, but later on Jack said that Darren could have been abducted by humans too. “I guess it was weird because when he said that to me it was just so out of context.”
Jack said he spoke to Darren several times during this short period. They would meet at a local café called Le Ragazze. Jack said that their conversations were mostly about nothing, but sometimes got philosophical by default. “I’m no philosopher,” Jack said, like it was a prize he won or something. Jill Studbeck raised her eyebrows acutely.
Jack explained that talking about nothing eventually turned into talking about something when they started talking about strange dreams. Darren told Jack that something changed when he saw something one night and started having certain dreams, which in turn brought him down to Naples. Todd wanted him to explain it. Jack said that the main thing he and Darren bonded over was a dream they both had of an angel. Jack claimed that he didn’t know how the angel story came up.
“Sometimes you just get this feeling that life is sort of scripted, you know?” Jill and Todd glanced at each other. Jack asked if they could hold a few minutes because he had to go to the bathroom. Jill said they’d call back in ten.
Jill got Todd a Fanta from the fridge. “I don’t believe a word he says,” she said. Her nose twitched a little when she was disgusted, like a toddler who wanted to make you really believe she didn’t like the food she was given.
“Well, what is it exactly?”
“I just don’t trust him. Plain and simple as that. I don’t trust a word he says.”
Jill was like this when she decided to be aggressive. He grabbed her shoulders. She would never listen to reason in these states. Todd knew this. “Look, that mystery show just wants a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not,” he said. Jill lunged down to take a long angry sip from the fountain. “Well, he’s really just making it all about him and I’m really disgusted by that,” Jill said.
“And back to our scheduled program!” Todd blared, back on the phone. Jack immediately started—”It wasn’t just any angel either. It interrupted the middle of a dream I can’t remember. I was with some other people, maybe family or something, in a room. Then this place started filling with what I thought was smoke, but it wasn’t really smoke. It was clouds. And then it was clear we were in the sky, in an open sky that felt really high up but also felt like it was inside an enormous basement. And there were things hiding behind these clouds. So I saw this angel peek at me from behind one of these clouds. It had some armor on, sort of like rusted gold. And it had this violet sweaty skin and curly, oily sand-smeared hair—sort of Roman-looking—with these massive dark wings, the biggest, sharpest wings you ever saw, and it just looked at me.”
“Does this have anything to do with anything?” Jill interrupted. Her voice sounded standoffish. “Cuz—well—I’m gonna be honest with you here, Jack—I’m feeling a little misguided. Like I have no clue why this angel—why it’s pertinent. You really have to just—we need to hear the clear story. This is just very, very confusing.” Jill sounded like she was about to have a panic attack. Her voice had gotten more winded the more she spoke. She didn’t know what it was.
“Okay, just wait, though,” Jack said. “It takes just, um…just a minute to get to some things. I mean, I’m sorry, but I think in this case nothing is really all that clear.”
Jill felt slightly embarrassed.
“No…I mean, it’s okay. I just. I have acid reflux so it makes me a little ornery at times,” Jill explained.
Jack went on to say that Darren said he had the same dream about the angel. “I started talking about this crazy dream that brought me to Naples, and Darren just started looking at me, going uh-huh, uh-huh—that’s my dream…”
“But what if he was lying?”
Jack ignored the question. At the café Jack and Darren traced their history back to an intersection. They had both, at different points, stayed at a small house down by a wharf in Boston called the Blue Sun. There was a lady there, who was 92, and rented out rooms of her home to kind backpackers for only seven bucks a night. In the hallway leading to the rooms, there was a strange, small painting that some of the curious guests would stop and ask about. This painting, she said, was saved from the fire that burned down her family’s home in Naples in 1922. She was just a kid at the time. She had since been told that the painting had a history to it, that the painting of one of Satan’s archangels peeking behind a cloud was actually sitting on John Milton’s—Jill Studbeck interrupted, “You mean THE John Milton??”—”Yes, John Milton who wrote Paradise Lost“—was actually sitting on his desk when he wrote it. “That just doesn’t make any sense—” said Todd the English major, “Milton was blind and recited that poem to his daughter, I think, to transcribe.” “Yeah, I know…” Jack replied. “But the lady said that the story went that Milton had a dream of the painting years ago…and then later found it in a marketplace during one of his travels to Florence. It’s in his letters, I think. Or at least that’s what she said.” Jack described the angel in the painting as the angel in both his and Darren’s dreams. Todd was laughing. “That’s just a little too much,” Jill said. “And again, Jack, what does that all have to do with anything?” But Jack insisted that asking the proprietor of the hostel (who never gave out her name, but wanted people to call her “Ms. R”) about the painting brought them both to Naples, and that there at the café and at the death metal shows, they were intersecting. Jack was very insistent about this intersection, which made Jill wonder. And then his voice pulled back a bit and Jack said they didn’t know what to do from there, but “just sort of revel in its weirdness.”
“I don’t know what to make of it, really,” Jack said. “It just seems, you know, bigger than life. Sort of perfect for a TV show!” “Darren didn’t tell you where he was going the last time you saw him?” Jill Studbeck asked. Jack said he was going back to the monastery to wash up, and then he mentioned getting some ice cream later. “And there were no hardcore shows going on that night?” “No, none,” Jack answered. “And what’s this thing with his phone?” Jill asked. Jack said it was the most peculiar, and maybe unfortunate, thing. Jack had Darren’s phone. Darren had left without it, and Jack put it in his backpack thinking he’d give it to Darren next time they saw each other. The phone was off. When he handed it over to police, they found that voicemail box was all full—ten voicemails. Each voicemail was two minutes of what sounded like either white noise from a TV set or ocean waves. It was hard to tell. Jill wrapped up the conversation soon after that.
“Well…there’s a lot of guesswork here.” Jill said. “I don’t really see how things add up. You can’t base it all on a dream. There’s someone—an actual physical human being—who is not even in the picture here.” She placed her hand on the top of her Toyota. It was hot. It burned. She and Todd were standing in the parking lot. She was fed up with him and his reticence. “Listen, I do actually work a real job—so I have to head to work, okay?” She said, cracking open the Toyota door. “I mean, you should really have asked more questions.” Jill said. “Well, maybe questions mean something different to me than they do to you.” Todd said. She sipped her Lipton’s Iced Tea on the highway. She was thinking about it all the way down I-95—what the heck was missing? she thought. It made her angry and she broke the speed limit—something she never did. Then up ahead there was something wrong with the stoplight. It was stuck on red at the intersection. Jill was brimming with rage. She couldn’t quite describe it. She called Todd. She got his voicemail. “Hi Todd, it’s Jill. I’m just calling to say, well, to let you know that I think we both have been played. I mean majorly conned. And if you can’t see that, then I really can’t see us really being together. I mean, angels and these dreams and this guy who has no conclusive proof whatsoever—that he even met Darren Obermann? I think it’s bull. We have no reason to believe him. I hate to say it, but what if Darren Obermann isn’t even really missing? It’s just a pointer finger—” The voicemail cut her off. She kept calling him back and deleting her messages. It went on like this for an hour. She couldn’t quite put it straight out. Then she wanted him to never ever call her back. She wanted a solution. Now. Badly.