by David McCool
A couple of months ago – I’m talking mid-June, right smack in that heat wave – I took a walk into the town centre to kill some time on what was likely the hottest day of the year. Had I stayed at home I’d have risked dozing off in front of the TV, and, at my age, my sleep pattern doesn’t need much more than a five-second, head-jerking snooze for it to be thrown right out of sync. Working in the garden wasn’t an option, either. I’d have been sizzled good, even with factor 50 and a straw hat on my side.
No, on a day like that the only sensible thing one can do in the city is take advantage of the air conditioning in the shops. So that’s what I did.
It was around 4PM, on the small square that you get to if you walk down either Wood Street or Church Street, that I decided the sun was just about bearable enough for me to sit in. I found a spot on the row of benches facing the mouth of Wood Street. Those benches – which, if you ask me, have to be the most poorly-set benches in the whole of town, owing to them only getting sunlight between the hours of about 7AM – 10AM – were perfectly placed for a day like that. Cool shade was the highest commodity, and if the retailers could have, they’d have packaged it up and sold it back to us in an instant. More importantly, for what I want to tell you, if you sit on the benches in front of the old Army surplus store (exactly where I was sat that day), you have an ideal view of the stairs leading down to the public toilets on Wood Street.
Not so far from where I was sat, a young father and his son – I’d put their ages at about 30 and about 10 – were stood together eating ice cream. The thing that drew my attention to this pair, rather than any of the other people around the square at that time, was that the boy was jigging about as if he had tourettes of the legs. After a few minutes, his dad signalled to the public toilets, then to a shop somewhere across the other side of the square. The father went his way, and the boy his. Kind of.
He stuttered and jerked in the direction of the toilets, but, given his current need, he certainly wasn’t in the hurry you would expect him to be. He would move along a little, stop, turn around (I assumed to check that he was still in shouting distance of the crowd), then repeat.
Eventually he reached the top of the stairs, pausing just shy of the first step. He looked back to where he’d came from, then back down the concrete stairs. Then, just as his hand reached out to hold the railing, he stood stiff and pissed his pants.
It was his father’s fault, too. He should have known better. He should have remembered that those toilets were Billy Bogroll’s.
Back in the late ‘60s, when I would have been around 25, a seven-year-old girl called Imogen Rogers got herself in the news when she disappeared from the front garden of her family home on the outskirts of the city centre. No trace of her was found. Rumours began to circulate that the person responsible for her disappearance was the toilet attendant from Wood Street. Alan Hostick was his name. He was questioned by police, but nothing came of it.
Then, in the 1970s, 15 children under the age of ten went missing in and around this city. None to be seen again. Some of them made the papers, some of them didn’t. Some of them had posters around the town, some of them didn’t. Although never officially stated, the finger of blame constantly pointed towards Hostick, who by then had been given the nickname ‘Billy Bogroll’. He must have been arrested a dozen times, but was never formally charged. People said he was a legal genius, and he got off because of loopholes. There’s always a loophole.
They say that the piping system there, from the urinals and cubicles, joins together underground to form one large pipe about a metre in diameter. Along this pipe there are a series of chambers which act as a kind of filtering system for things which get thrown down the toilet that shouldn’t. These chambers are meant to catch sanitary towels, nappies, condoms, needles and anything else that might get flushed down a public lavatory. The story goes that the chambers beneath the toilets on Wood Street are the final resting place of many a missing child. The acid content of urine and bleach that washes through the pipes daily, also washes over the dead children in there, they say, rinsing them away layer by layer. If anybody was to look down there, maybe they’d find a couple of scraps of gristle where a child used to be, or a browning rag that once upon a time was a pink summer dress. So they say.
I have vivid memories of the day my son came home from school, frantic and eager to tell me what had happened to John Carlyle, one of his best friends. John had been in the same position as the poor kid who’d wet himself this summer.
It was a Thursday night it happened on, while John was shopping with his mother after school. It was late, around 7PM, and all of the shops had closed. They were on their way to the bus station when John decided he couldn’t last the 20 minute journey home and told his mother that he really had to go. The only place that he could go was on Wood Street, which was also on their way to the bus stop. There was another public convenience over at the train station, but that was twice the distance, and it was raining.
So they got to Wood Street, and his mother, knowing the legends (but not believing in them) said she would stand by the entrance as he went in, and not move until he came out.
John walked down the stairs like a man to the firing squad. He went through the door and into a long corridor that led further underground again. To his left was the large glass window of the caretaker’s office – Billy Bogroll’s office – and by the time he reached the bottom of the incline the floor was two inches deep in murky liquid – urine or water, he wasn’t sure. The smell – which he described as being like his grandmother’s head after a trip to the hairdresser – suggested it wasn’t water.
He tiptoed over to the cubicles, just one of which was unlocked, and did what he had to do as quickly as he could do it. Without washing his hands or flushing, he made for the exit, oblivious to the liquid splashing up his trouser legs. As he passed the glass window of Bogroll’s office, John looked in and saw him hunched in the shadows. He said that he couldn’t say for sure what Billy Bogroll had been doing there, but whatever it was, he was doing it with a knife in his hand.
John Carlyle, aged 11 and a bit, had secured his reputation at school. He was a legend. No bullies would bother him, and even the teachers probably had a quiet respect for him. Why? Because he’d been into those toilets, and seen Billy Bogroll, and survived to tell the tale.
Anyway, here we are. It was coming to the end of the heat wave – you remember that storm that broke late on the last Friday of June? Well, as the thunder tore the summer apart, a mother sat at the window of her terrace phoning around friends and neighbours to see if she could locate her six-year-old daughter.
The next day, the rain cleared, the summer made a timid return, and the first missing posters went up. To start with, they were just in the local shops. Within days you could find them all over the city. I’ve even got one of them myself, not that it’s anything to brag about. Oh, I know what you might be thinking, but you’d be wrong. Those killings have nothing to do with me. I may have retired from the newspaper, but old habits die hard. I like to keep up my old connections, and keep writing about local happenings. Maybe it’s pretentious, but I think of myself as the city’s personal diarist. Anyway, like Imogen Rogers and all of the others that had come after her, Amanda Heartly became the poster girl for every parent’s worst nightmare.
The city shuffled its feet for a moment when the police found a severed human toe in the grounds of a church, but no sooner had word got around about it than they released a statement saying that the toe belonged to an adult male.
She hadn’t been missing a day when the whispers began. They always do. Once again, suspicious eyes looked towards Wood Street. Billy Bogroll was taken in for questioning, but soon released without charge. I’ll get to that in a moment… Just over a fortnight after his release, another face appeared next to Amanda Heartly’s in the newspapers: his.
Terry Culshaw, longtime landlord of The King’s Arms, and fellow member of the Ancient Barking Spiders (that’s the name of our quiz team), met with me a couple of weeks ago. Ten years ago this conversation would have taken place during a late night stay-behind, but as it happened it took place over coffee and muffins upstairs in the indoor market.
A group of guys drinking one night in the King’s apparently got talking about the missing kids and about the whole history of Billy Bogroll. One of the men, who also happened to work with Amanda Heartly’s father, said he knew where Bogroll lived, and suggested they go to his house and question him themselves. Do what the police wouldn’t do. “Times like this,” they said, “it’s people like us who’ve got to stand up for what’s right.”
Well, according to Terry, they stopped in the King’s until closing, by which time they’d had enough drink to send an ox to sleep. Not only that, but they were all fairly excited about ‘finding justice for the children’ and, as one of them mentioned, becoming ‘local heroes’.
They left the pub and Terry locked the door behind them, convinced that the next time he saw them it would be on the news.
On one of my biweekly visits to the city centre, I popped into the offices of the newspaper I used to work for. From time to time I would go there and ask if there was any light work for an old man. Vic Engels, my old boss, took me into his office like he always did when he had a spare 15 minutes, and told me all he knew about the whole situation.
Alan Hostick, later to become known as Billy Bogroll, was born the same year the Titanic sank, he told me. His father, who had the same name as him, went to fight in the Great War, and never came home. Margaret Hostick, his mother, was left to raise the three sons alone. Alan was the eldest. The youngest, Albert, died of TB at the age of three. The middle brother, Roy, moved out of the city in the 1950s, and nobody is sure what happened to him or where he ended up.
Alan Hostick stayed with his mother, supporting her when her arthritis made her unable to leave the house. He fought in, and returned from, the Second World War. On coming home, he took a job in a tobacco factory and worked there through the latter part of the 1940s and most of the 1950s, until he lost three out of the four fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident, and was forced to take early retirement. (This is where the rumour that he had one hand and one talon originated.)
He had problems finding work for a while, until somebody who knew somebody fixed him up with a cleaning position in the public toilets on Wood Street. For a man of vague social skills and only one fully functional hand, this was more or less ideal.
At the start of the 1960s, his mother took ill with influenza, which developed into pneumonia, and ended in her death. He remained in the family home, and kept up his position in the public toilets, but socialised less and less. He never married, nor had a partner, to the best of anybody’s knowledge.
The rumours about him he’d certainly heard, but he was indifferent to them. Kids – the brave kids – would shout stuff at him in the street, but it meant nothing. Alan Hostick closed himself to the world around him. If you were ever to need a real-life example of somebody who was just going through the motions, Alan Hostick would have been it.
His house, on Fareham Street, had no downstairs windows. He must have got tired of children breaking them on dares, so he had them boarded up.
He was one of this city council’s longest-serving employees, and (amazingly to some) he never had a day off sick. There was only one time when he didn’t turn in for work, and that was after the incident in the King’s Arms that Terry Culshaw had told me about. Alan’s employers didn’t notice his absence for two days, and almost a fortnight had passed before the police got involved and broke down his front door.
There was nothing unusual about his house. Far from the torture chamber that one would expect in a Billy Bogroll tale, it was a typical pensioner’s house with old family pictures on the walls, and decor that had gone out of fashion back when even I still understood what fashion was. I say there was nothing unusual, but there was the smell. One of the investigating officers described it as ‘the rotten melon smell of death’.
They followed the scent up the stairs and to the bathroom. One officer was foolish enough to attempt to lift the corpse, which had been soaking for two weeks, out of the bath water. Alan Hostick’s skin and flesh slid off his bones, and his bones fell apart at the joints.
The cause of death was listed in the news as ‘natural causes’, but Vic told me, off the record, that the old man had choked to death on his own dismembered penis.
Well, there wasn’t much of an investigation into his death. Alan was buried to some mild press attention, before a small crowd of people who most likely felt a streak of guilt for the bad things they’d said about him over the years before they knew who he really was. After that, the case was closed. Even if the police knew he hadn’t just died of old age, they didn’t have the time to waste or the inclination to look into the death of a man the vast majority had – still have – down as a child murderer anyway. Nobody was going to ask questions, so why provide answers?
The toilets on Wood Street have been closed for about a month now, and I hear that they are going to renovate them – maybe get rid of them all together. I’m not the only one interested to hear if they find anything curious down in the drainage system.
And if they don’t find anything down there, well, I guess whoever took those children is still out there.
Copyright © 2012 by David McCool
David McCool was born in Liverpool, England, in 1981. He currently lives in Poland where he divides his time between teaching English and writing dark fiction, citing his main influences as Stephen King, Rod Serling and Clive Barker.
Billy Bogroll is his first published work of fiction.
You can find out more via twitter.com/David_McCool or www.davidmccool.com