He waited in the dark. It was late and the countryside was quiet, somehow sleeping through the blare of the train. Nobody heard the whistle as a warning anymore. He jumped off onto the tracks.
I TRIED NOT TO KICK UP ANY LOOSE GRAVEL. IT WAS a little before midnight on Saturday, May 15, and though the occasional car whizzed past, Main Street was deserted. As I walked toward the church, the wind blew quietly and rustled the leaves of the trees, which were lit with a late-night halogen glow. I had seen enough scary movies to enjoy the growing tingle of fear. I kept walking. With each step, the trees got unfriendlier and the silence falser.
I stopped at the corner of Summit and Ratliff streets, behind the United Church of Christ and next to the railroad tracks. The fear was becoming a pounding dread. I was at the center of the streetlight’s arc; beyond was an abyss. Somewhere down Ratliff Street there was an open two-car garage where a white Acura was still parked—where, in the early hours of May 1, someone had bludgeoned to death the church’s minister, Skip Sirnic, and his wife, Karen. I had planned to walk down that road to see what the killer saw and maybe to answer the question everybody in the town of Weimar was asking: Why?
The bright light gave no comfort. I felt marked, ridiculous. The dread turned to panic, and the warning signs—wordless but unmistakable—screamed in my head. Something evil still abided down that road, alongside those tracks. Only a fool would go there now. Maybe in the morning, in the sunshine, with company. I got the hell away.
At nine-thirty the next morning I sat in a pew at the church, known as the UCC, alongside 150 mourners. The guest minister, the Reverend Jim Tomasek, opened his sermon by reading from Murder in the Cathedral, T. S. Eliot’s play about the killing of the archbishop of Canterbury in 1170: “We are afraid in a fear which we cannot know, which we cannot face, which none understands.” The members of the congregation sat quietly, some still dazed, as Tomasek spoke of the helplessness and abandonment they were feeling, the anger and hurt. “There is always this kind of evil among us,” he said, “when people somehow become enraged in some mysterious way we don’t understand.” It had been only two weeks since the murders, but the future was the important thing. “We need to deal with what is,” he continued, “but let the present lead us into the future.” Good would triumph in the end, the good created by God’s love, “a love that is only interested in the welfare of the other.”
In the Bible, good is always triumphant. “No ills befall the righteous,” reads Proverbs, “but the wicked are filled with trouble.” The Sodomites were obliterated; Job kept the faith and was rewarded. The people of Weimar have heard these stories their whole lives. They believe that living right will bring the good life, and for the most part it has. They believe in an orderly world and an all-powerful God. They couldn’t understand how something so evil could happen to two people so good—two of God’s finest, who had lived their lives for their community and taught God’s love by example. They couldn’t understand how something like this could happen in Weimar, where few remembered a murder ever being committed. And they couldn’t understand their responses. “People here can’t believe the hatred, wrath, anger, and venomous attitude in their hearts,” says the Reverend Mark Miller, the UCC’s conference minister. “They have to decide whether they’re going to be controlled by evil or guided by good.”
That was getting harder all the time. The man who killed the Sirnics was turning out to be more vicious than anyone in Weimar, or Texas, could imagine. Soon the drama would capture the country’s attention too—an unfolding In Cold Blood that got colder every day.
In the cool of the evening he walked alongside the garden. At one point this had been wilderness, but she and her husband had cleared the brush and planted flowers and vegetables. Now it was the first of May, and the roses were in first bloom. He walked into the open garage. He grabbed a sledgehammer from the closet.
UP UNTIL LATELY, HARDLY ANYBODY KNEW Weimar existed,” says Reverend T. L. Craig, Sr., an elder of the St. James A.M.E. Church. “‘Weimar? Where? Never heard of it!’”
I had driven past the exit on Interstate 10 a hundred times, but I’d never gotten off. Weimar (pronounced Wy-mer) is not as quaint as Smithville or as bustling as La Grange, and it’s not a major interchange like Columbus or Schulenburg. It’s tucked away off I-10 halfway between San Antonio and Houston. The exit has a Dairy Queen, a Ford dealership, and two gas stations, neither of which are open late at night. The town has two motels and no fancy bed-and-breakfasts. Half the stores downtown are closed or in a state of relaxed disrepair. The Antik Haus just closed for good. The business of Weimar isn’t tourism but farming and processing farm animals.
It’s been that way since the town was founded in 1873. Back then it was called Jackson Station, a stop on the new railroad. Later, as more and more Germans and Czechs arrived, its name was changed to Weimar—perhaps because it reminded them of the old country, or perhaps because they reckoned they needed a more Teutonic moniker. The cemeteries are full of immigrants with names like Kupenka and Cejka, and their descendants are still around. The population of Weimar has hovered near two thousand for years. Some residents moved there to escape the big city, but most are natives who never left the rolling hills and pastures of Colorado County.
As in the past, the railroad is still a big part of life in Weimar. Forty trains roll through