Author: Cornish, Rick

Strange Banjo Stories
Seeing that giant banjo made by Don Timmer and his wife for their wedding ceremony and party a few years back started me thinking about the potential for banjos and just general strangeness. So I’ve done some research.

Mayhem in Montgomery
Police arrived at the home of Jerry and Janice Walker after a neighbor reported hearing a disturbance in the middle of the night. Discovered lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen was Mrs. Janice Walker, age 26. Police estimated that she’d been dead for less than one hour. Cause of death was almost immediately determined to be blunt head trauma, inflicted by a large and heavy wooden and/or metal object. The victim was not sexually assaulted and her purse, found on the kitchen table, contained credit cards and about one hundred dollars in cash. Sexual assault and robbery were ruled out. Moreover, there was no sign of forced entry, which suggested that Walker knew her killer and let him into the house.

Husband Jerry Walker, away for about three days visiting his elderly mother, was located in Bend, Oregon, told of the tragedy and rushed home to Montgomery. Walker’s location at the time of the murder cleared him as a suspect, nor was he able to provide any useful information to Montgomery investigators. “Jan was a sweet girl,” he said, “she didn’t have no enemies.” The grieving husband bristled at the question of whether she might have been involved with another man. “Jan and I loved each other. We spent all our time together. It was that kind of a marriage.” Walker, a musician, explained that in fact he’d recently dropped out of a well-known regional bluegrass band, Jimmy Davis and the Lonesome Wailer Boys, because his wife complained it took him away from home too much. “Does that sound like a woman having an affair?”

Within a month, the case of the bludgeoned housewife had begun to grow cold. Police followed every lead they had, but the problem was, there just weren’t many. No motive, no murder weapon, no suspects. Then, just short of five weeks after the discovery of Janice Walker’s body, the detectives investigating the case got a break. The owner of a small acoustic music instrument sales and repair shop called Montgomery police to report a strange discovery he’d made while working on a 1942 Gibson 1213 banjo. John McCluskey told investigators that the owner of the instrument had brought it in and asked that the banjo head be replaced and that the instrument be thoroughly cleaned and re-set up.

“You know,” McCluskey said, “right off the bat I got a little creeped out. See, I was in a mortician’s unit in Viet Nam, you know, the body bag guys, and I know how things look when it comes to big time trauma. Once I loosened the tone ring and slipped the head off I found signs that the banjo hadn’t just fallen down on the ground like Jimmy said. It was more like that old Gibson had been used to beat on some thing or some one—and beat HARD. The tone ring was actually a little bent. I found a few strands of hair, some tiny bone fragments and even a little grey matter mixed with dried blood. It wasn’t something you’d see right off, but once the banjo body came apart, I knew what I was looking at alright.”

The investigators asked if they could take the banjo for a forensic examination and, of course, asked for the name of the instrument’s owner. “Jimmy Davis,” the shop owner said. “A long time customer and general good guy. A little hot headed sometimes…..used to getting’ his own way. I’ll tell you this, Jimmy’s one hot banjo picker. In fact, he and his band, Jimmy and the Lonesome Wailer Boys, were just starting to make into the second tier of the Eastern festival circuit a while back and then, all of a sudden, they lost their lead singer and the whole damn deal just sort of fell apart. Heard lately the lead singer, Gary or Jerry or something like that, re-joined the band. You watch, Jimmy’s gonna go somewhere.
Posted:  9/1/2007

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