When one reads about horrendous crimes that happen to other people, it’s human nature to believe things like that will never happen to you or even to anyone you know. One example is the recent murder of the young, pregnant Marine wife in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
She “went missing” and hopes were high she would turn up. Instead, her body was found seven weeks later in a deserted mine shaft.
All evidence apparently points to her alleged lover (and neighbor).
But tabloid-style murders aren’t relegated to just other people, as I recently learned.
In 2010-2011, when my husband was attending the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., we lived in a large apartment-type complex called Young Hall.
Directly below us was a couple named Gerry and Colleen Muhl.
This was their second marriage with each of them having grown children from previous unions. Gerry had a daughter attending the Air Force Academy and he also had a son, who had tragically committed suicide several years prior at a very young age.
Colleen was slightly older with adult children and grandkids.
We were not extremely close friends, but we did spend some time together during that year.
Gerry — although definitely quirky and with a certain sadness evident behind his smile — was friendly and talkative with an offbeat sense of humor. He brewed his own beer and my husband occasionally joined him to sample a new batch.
Colleen was warm and kind and went out of her way to talk to our boys. I even asked her to watch them once or twice. There were Friday nights when we would join them for a libation and times when just Colleen and I would have a cup of coffee together.
We talked about mundane things like growing out our hair, our husbands eventually retiring, and our kids.
I recall Gerry had a hobby making intricately woven bracelets with what appeared to be 550 cord, and he gave one to me, Rob and the boys.
Colleen and Gerry seemed happy together — like best friends.
One day I heard their blender going seemingly nonstop (apartment living!) and later she proudly showed me all the fruit they had spent hours pureeing for smoothies, which they then packaged neatly in plastic and put in the freezer to enjoy later.
These are the types of things they did together, which makes the ending to this story all the more unbelievable.
The Muhls left Carlisle after graduation and went on to northern Virginia where Gerry worked at the Pentagon. Colleen kept in touch here and there with occasional emails and Christmas cards.
In 2013, Gerry retired from the Army and via email, I heard they were moving to Nevada where they had dreamed of living.
I believe the last message I received from her came last year during the holidays, and said something to the effect of, “we’re getting settled — come visit us soon!” I meant to write her back but didn’t get around to it.
In late spring, I learned that both Colleen and Gerry were dead.
From what I can gather, she “went missing” in February and Gerry told police she died of a heart attack in California while visiting her sister.
He was seen by neighbors moving rocks around in their backyard but explained that he was doing it for therapeutic reasons — to ease his grief.
Two weeks later, after persistent questioning by understandably suspicious police, Gerry shot himself.
Colleen’s remains were found buried in their yard, in a grave police called “sophisticated.”
Her death was ruled homicide by gunshot.
It still astounds me that these two people — with whom we shared laughs and beers — are gone forever from this earth.
But the fact that Gerry very likely killed his wife blows my mind.
Yes, he was an odd duck, and many others would say the same of him.
But a murderer?
And never once did we hear them argue or seem anything other than the contented couple that they may — or may not — have been.
The old adage “nobody knows what goes on in a marriage” could not be more true in this case.
I still wonder if Gerry just snapped or whether he had his wife’s murder planned for a long time.
And what part did his son’s suicide play in all of this?
My heart breaks for Colleen, for her children and grandchildren and for all her other family members mourning her loss.
There is no one left to tell the story of their marriage or explain what would make a man kill the woman he apparently loved.
Rest in peace, Colleen.