Sweethearts since before they graduated highschool in the early 1980s, Megan and Russell Barney married at eighteen and began building a life (with Megan’s dogs) in a single-wide trailer, just over the Connecticut state line in rural Dutchess County, New York.
Over the next few years, as they began to have children, Megan and Russell rented a couple other homes in New York before eventually settling back in Connecticut, alongside Russell’s family in Sharon, just a half hour from Megan’s neighboring hometown of Kent.
Living in Sharon, too, included a series of rentals (ranches, split-levels, as the family grew) until the passing of Russell’s mother meant inheriting a fixer-upper on a hillside above a lake.
It was a beautiful location, and an interesting one, partly because the lake had at least four names over as many centuries. Whites called it Crystal Lake and Mudge Pond, though the hillside development above it later christened itself Silver Lake Shores.
Prior to the 1700s it had been the heart of a thriving community of native Matabesec.
Russell was nothing if not handy around the house—even after a full shift of tool-and-die work. He’d served the same company for a decade, during which time he’d advanced from machine operator to supervisor as Megan, from home, steadily built a clientele for her daycare services.
Their precision operation of family and finances also found the two of them, in the early 1990s, equipped to make a bigger wager on the American Dream:
Don’t miss this large and lovely 1800s farmhouse in Sharon Valley . . .
The house would not only allow Megan to expand her daycare business and take up foster care, it would mean a bigger home and yard (or pasture, more accurately, complete with barn) for her and Russell’s own children, which by then included three girls and one boy, all under the age of nine.
And it was upon the front door of this, the Barney’s sprawling farmhouse in historic Sharon Valley, that Julie _X_ knocked and introduced herself, in the early 1990s, seeking daycare services for her son Carson.
I first met Julie in the early 1990s, when she came to me for daycare services. She and Jeff were living a couple towns over, I think. Maybe in Falls Village. Carson was their only child at the time. He was between one and two years old. So I guess this was around 1992.
After Carson started daycare, Julie and I became friends fairly quickly. I mean, I was friendly with all the daycare moms, but for whatever reasons Julie and I became pretty close.
A few years later she had Angela. Then Jesse, who was about a year after Angela.
Our families got together quite a bit. Which is to be expected. Our kids were only a little older than theirs. Russell seemed more or less okay with Jeff. The kids got along as well as any.
We did the same things everyone does. We barbecued. We went to the movies.
There’s not a lot to do, really, in the big ol’ town of Sharon!
I certainly had my issues with Julie — at least one major one — but I’d also tried to move past it.
When everything happened in 2003, and despite what she’d already done to me, we were still friends at the time. I mean, our kids grew up together. Our families went places and did things together. I don’t know how else to define friendship. By 2003, we’d been friends for over a decade.
It sounds strange to say now, but I didn’t think of her as just a friend. I thought of her as my best friend.
I mean, I was there when Angela and Jesse were born.
Julie asked me asked me to videotape the births.
When Angela was born, I think a couple other people were also there, but when Jesse was born it was just me and the midwife.
Both Angela and Jesse were home births.
Julie didn’t want to do any more hospital births. I guess because Carson’s had been so traumatic.
He was a vacuum birth.
Either forceps or vacuum, I forget now. Doctors don’t really do that anymore. It’s too dangerous.
Julie thought some damage had been done to Carson.
It was about a year after Jesse was born, Julie and Jeff bought the house across the road from us. And I mean, directly across the road. Their front door faced our front door.
Julie called me up, all excited. “You’ll never guess what house we just bought….”
Maybe it seems a little strange now, looking back, but it didn’t seem strange at the time. Mostly I remember the IRS had an issue with them after they sold the other house. Jeff and Julie had been negligent with the taxes. Didn’t file the capital gains or something like that. So the IRS actually audited them. I remember they owed over $10K.
Anyway, after they moved across the street, our families were pretty inseparable.
We all went to the kids’ school events, of course. And all the birthdays.
Camping. Some vacations together.
Even did Christmas a few years.
Julie, I saw all the time. Even if it was just waiting outside for the school bus in the morning, talking.
She would come over during the day, too, when I was doing daycare. She even enrolled Angela. Said it was to help Angela learn to socialize.
Julie was unemployed, mind you, but she still enrolled her kids in my daycare.
I was on the PTO. She joined the PTO.
I was PTO President at two different times. The second time, she became Co-President.
I didn’t think it was weird. We were best friends, right?
By the time everything happened in 2003, things had been crazy between Julie and Jeff for a good long while.
She would talk about his “impulsive decisions” or something, but she wouldn’t always give details.
At one point I think she hinted he might be having an affair.
And then there was something about him bringing home a gun — or some sort of weapon.
Jeff had been in and out of counseling for at least a year at that point. He’d been diagnosed ADHD, or ADD, or whatever. He’d been prescribed medicine — which he wouldn’t take. Or that he’d start taking, then stop.
Julie described him as a “pathological liar.” She said that he was too good at it. She could never tell what what was true and what was a lie.
It was just this continuously escalating situation with Jeff.
Lots of therapy. With more than one therapist.
The truth is, though, I tuned out a lot of it.
With Julie, it was always something. Always some drama. Either she was in crisis, or Jeff was in crisis, or the kids.…
So, I had to take what she said with a grain of salt.
But I remember Julie told me the kids were scared of Jeff. Scared of his temper, scared of the stuff he was doing.
I think it was late summer of 2003, Julie said — again — she was going to divorce him.
Julie and Jeff had already separated at least twice. There’ had been divorce-talk before.
But this last time was something else. Something serious.
Julie said Jeff would be allowed only supervised visits with the kids. A social worker will have to be present if he was going to be around them.
The thing is, “supervised visits” don’t just come up naturally in custody agreements.
Whatever had happened, it was something different from the usual. Something severe. Julie didn’t say what it was — but she said he had done something “unforgivable.”
During this whole period of escalating stuff with Jeff, Angela was also acting strange.
I mean, she was always a little drama queen — just like her mother — but this was different. Angela was spiking these high fevers, on and off, and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her.
Then Julie tells me that she found Carson molesting Angela.
Later on, Julie told DCF and police that she found out about the incest when Angela told her about it after a doctor’s visit. But at the time Julie told me, I was under the impression that she caught Carson in the act.
I don’t know if she was talking about intercourse, but I know she used the word “sex.”
I can’t say I was shocked.
Carson had been babysitting his sister and brother since 2002, when he was twelve.
And by 2003, he was also babysitting for the girl next door, Lily.
I mean, look at the timeline. Carson starts babysitting and suddenly Angela starts acting strange. Then, a little later, we start to hear all this stuff about Lily.
To me, it wasn’t a puzzle.
But that’s the irony: the police never once asked me what I thought.
READ CHAPTER 5: