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Bob Goss walked across the hall and leaned into Cathy Heidemann's office. He looked at the department secretary and, crinkling his nose, announced that his office stank something terrible. "I have no idea what it is," he continued, "but would you please have somebody check it out?" It was a Monday in late September; Indian summer was in full flush. The stench in the religion professor's office would go on to permeate Webster University itself, resulting in mysteriously missing files, nasty innuendo and a string of resignations.
Heidemann called maintenance. A canvass of the office revealed that a corner shelf was missing a little piece of wood at floor level. "I thought some critter had crawled in there and died," recalls Heidemann, a good-humored blonde. "We put in air freshener, but it only got worse." The next day, Tuesday, Heidemann, maintenance staffers and some work-study students conducted a systematic search. "They started taking Bob's books off the shelf, and they found it," says Heidemann. "Someone had taken a book and cut out the pages -- like a secret compartment -- and put in some ... what looked like chicken parts that you would buy at the store. It was pretty rank."
A bigot with some chicken was running wild in the sheltered land of academia.
The targeted book, a hardbound edition of Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto, was penned by Goss. Another copy, the paperback version, was found nearby, also with foulness smeared on its pages. Heidemann surmises that the offal had been planted sometime over the weekend, resulting in three or four days of mounting stink. Moreover, Goss' office door had been locked, and there was no sign of forced entry. Whoever did the deed had had a set of keys.
Public-safety officer Seth Mirza was ready to clock out when he got the dispatcher's call: Go to the Department of Religious Studies, on the third floor of Webster Hall. "It looked like cut-up animal parts in that book," says Mirza, 28, who has since resigned. "Honestly, I don't know what it was. But I was damn near ready to pass out -- it was that bad."
By then, others from the public-safety department had shown up. More used to writing parking tickets than handling macabre pranks, they documented the evidence, then tossed the mess in a Dumpster. At that time, Heidemann produced a note found tacked on Goss' door the previous Friday. "It was written on a spiral-bound memo pad like the [public-safety] officers keep," says Mirza. "It said: 'For the real story on human sexuality, consult ...' and then it had passages from the Bible. I remember seeing Genesis, Exodus and Psalms. On the back of the note was the word 'faggot.'"
In the administration's eyes, that derogatory word elevated the incident to the status of a hate crime. "It's serious," says Webster president Richard Meyers. "This kind of behavior is not tolerated, and we're looking into it." They've been looking into it for four months but still haven't solved the problem.
To Mirza, the note pointed ominously to a fellow public-safety officer. "I am not a handwriting expert, but I could tell from the writing it was Larry Leonard. I had seen his writing on sign-in sheets and reports. I am as close to positive as you can be that it was him," asserts Mirza. "He made no attempt to hide his writing."
Staffers in the public-safety, maintenance and housekeeping departments, as well as certain administrators, have access to campus master keys. Public safety has an accounting system that requires officers to check out key sets in a logbook. The weekend of the break-in, it was discovered that a set of keys was missing from public safety. Sources say the higher-ups in the Department of Public Safety -- director Larry Vertrees, manager Jamalh Bussey and working supervisor Deborah West -- were trying to determine which of the officers had taken them. They narrowed their suspicions down to Lawrence Leonard.
Says Mirza, "A couple days after it happened, I was at the information desk, and Deb West came by and remarked offhand that Larry Vertrees had gone to talk to Larry Leonard and had gotten it out of him. When confronted, Larry started crying, basically admitted that he'd done it, said he had the keys and turned them back in -- that's how she put it."
Not true, responds West. "The same day the meat was found, I and some of the officers involved were talking about it among ourselves, and there was a lot of speculation that it was probably Larry Leonard. So anything Seth heard was strictly speculation."
Mirza further suspects Leonard because of what Mirza calls his "Bible-thumper" views: "We had some discussions about abortion, women's place in society, the Bible. You couldn't have an intelligent conversation with him. He is not one of these people open to new ideas. No matter what you would say, his mind was made up." In Mirza's mind, Leonard is further implicated by hearsay: "Another public-safety officer who was friendly with him indicated that Larry told her he had a problem with Bob Goss," notes Mirza. "He didn't agree with [Goss'] sexuality."