According to the local paper, Rodney Anyanwu was just sentenced at the Old Bailey for a murder he committed several years ago, to "time without limit" in a high-security mental institution.
I feel I know Rodney - the same way you get to know someone through a blog, cryptic clues on the great toilet wall - from before. But this is the first time I have seen what his face looks like.
Described as a schizophrenic who refused to take his medication and as a heroin user, he stabbed to death an old woman, 82. Violetta. This happened two or three years ago; according to the initial report (I've been following Rodney's career across Islington) he raped her first, but not so according to today's article. They also give the address of where the murder happened as different, not Arundel Place (Barnsbury) just around the corner from the old St Clements St. house, but somewhere in Finsbury Park. This too is strange.
Back then, when the murder was first reported, I phoned up the reporter for the Islington Gazette and told her I knew of two people Rodney had killed before Violeta, never reported in any publication. I was hopeful of selling a story or at least getting a tip-off fee, but she was not interested in knowing; nor were the Evening Standard. It was a story hardly big enough for them, on the London scale of things.
At some point, Islington housed him at number 6, Highbury Grove; that's right on Highbury Field opposite the aqua leisure swimming place, just off Highbury Corner. I happen to know because I lived there, for however short a time; perhaps ten days or two weeks, though it seems strangely longer, in the warm August of 2001. Way back in squatting days, before it had ever even occured to me to pay rent to anyone in this town to live somewhere. I have lived in the most amazing houses in the most desirable locations in London for free; and the best thing about 6 Highbury Grove were the amazing giant bay windows in flat 3.
And when me and Max and the others who weren't there when it all happened were evicted illegally, summarily thrown into the street because we were unwittingly living in a crime scene, we had no will to fight. Because the house was malevolent (or it had become malevolent) and it didn't like us there.
I know the whole story, now, but at the time, it unfolded slowly, obliquely, through clues and strange incidents, as I wandered through the abandoned relics of strangers' lives.
The top flat (apartment, US visitors, of five - one on each floor) was burned out. Part of its floor had collapsed into the flat beneath, a place with the touch of a woman, a woman's things strewn around, a cot for a child, and toys... a double bed in the other room, untouched by the fire.
The first time I went up to the top flat, on the top stair, there was a page torn out of a paperback, burned neatly around all the edges. I sat down to read it. It appeared to be from a horror novel. The scene: someone was investigating a fire, a possible case of arson: a case with inexplicable features. Finally the investigator can only suggest one thing to the other character (unidentified): "Do you believe in ghosts, Mr _____? Have you considered there may be no other explanation?" The last sentence on the page is: "I'm desperate. I'll try anything, even spiritualism."
I entered the flat. The smoke had blackened the walls, but only above a certain level: there was a clean cut-off level on the sooty, blackened parts, neater than many painters would bother to have painted it. I wandered, and stopped, and faced a cupboard, door burned or torn off. There was a crystal chalice, and scraps of torn paper, and seeds arranged in strange patterns. I entered another room, tip-toed across a precariously creaking floor. Bleakly bare, but for one collapsed shelf and a pile of books in the corner, cheap horror bestsellers (Koontz and similar) and a cheap New Testament. I flipped through some of the horror books. There were marginal notations in tiny letters in pencil, words or passages underlined alongside quotations from the Book of Revelations, or other cryptic phrases.
The kitchen, too, completely blackened, appliances scorched by fire, broken copper pipes jutting from the walls, dripping water. A thick pile of papers spilled from the cupboard under the sink. I crouched to look through them; legal orders to be sectioned (involuntary incarceration order on psychiatric grounds), psychiatric case-notes, letters from lawyers, immigration papers. I read at random in the stark light shining through into the shadowy kitchen from the corridor and living room, where the roof had collapsed.
But I think the first strangeness we came across, before we had explored that high in the building, were the scribbled notes on the backs of envelopes or on Post-Its. It soon became evident the former occupant of flat number 3, Mr Oliver Tindle, was gay (that's all I can say about him: blatantly hilariously gay, one room piled to waist level with gay porno mags, posters, sacks of condoms; the other rooms tastefully furnished to a gay man's fastidious taste - I chose his living room with two huge bay windows in which to sleep, and I still use his dressing-gown) and that someone, someone Dutch had been staying with him, who was mute. Therefore the notes to communicate.
They read things like "Is there a black boy? Is he here? Mentally deranged" and "My brother's danger, I am call gang, so I think you better leave now... I want you... Beg you... please forgive me... we are in danger", half of the text legible.
In flat number 4, I found the woman's diary, along with large plastic envelopes full of glossy photoprints, and letters with model agency letterheads. I sat down with the notebook to read.
(...to be continued. part 2 will be edited from the notes/diaries I kept at the time )