Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Main Line Murders

The Artful Juggler

Smith had been a competent principal, but in 1976 or 1977, perhaps due to worsening personal problems, he seemed to get distracted from his duties to the school. He became an increasingly lackadaisical administrator. The students took advantage of his newly laid-back approach to education, sometimes smoking joints in the school parking lot.

Upper Merion High School crest
Upper Merion High School
crest

Not that Upper Merion had become a no-work school. Some of the more advanced students took a scholarly Great Books course that was the brainchild of Bill Bradfield.

In 1977 a fight broke out between Sue Myers and Susan Reinert. Myers did not believe her lover's insistence that he was not involved with "mousy" Reinert. Myers began dressing Reinert down while both were in the teacher's lounge. While the two women bickered back and forth, Myers gave Reinert a vicious kick, which left scratches and bruises.

Wendy Zeigler (Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia Pennsylvania)
Wendy Zeigler
(Urban Archives,
Temple University,
Philadelphia
Pennsylvania)

Bill Bradfield was a busy man. For one thing, he was juggling several women. There was Sue Myers with whom he was still living and Susan Reinert who was either his lover (her version) or his frantic, frustrated, always rebuffed pursuer (his). He was engaging in a relationship with a woman from out of state named Joanne Aitken. He also carried on a flirtation with a serious-minded, dark-haired female student named Wendy Zeigler. Unusual for a Bradfield girlfriend, she was extremely pretty.

Friendships with men were important to Bradfield and there were two who shared his confidences and spent much time with him. One was Vince Valaitis, another English teacher at Upper Merion. When he first came to the high school, Valaitis was in his early 20s but looked like he was still in his teens. Other teachers saw him in the halls and assumed a new student had arrived. Tall, handsome and bespectacled, Valaitis came from a comfortable background that he would describe as "sheltered." A devout Roman Catholic, he always carried a rosary in his pocket. Valaitis enjoyed science fiction and horror stories. He was the first to jokingly call Smith "the prince of darkness," a term that easily stuck to the baffling educator. Valaitis had been nicknamed "Clark Kent" by the students of Upper Merion.

When Valaitis was looking for lodgings, Bradfield suggested the apartment complex in which he and Sue Myers lived. Valaitis moved into an apartment below them, and began spending more time with Upper Merion's most popular teacher and his live-in girlfriend.

Bradfield often confided his distaste for Susan Reinert to Valaitis. "She's the second worst teacher at the school," Bradfield would opine without ever saying who was on the very bottom. And she wouldn't stop chasing him, Bradfield complained.

Valaitis could believe that Reinert pursued Bradfield because of something he experienced with her at a faculty party. Reinert was a bit tipsy and put her arms around Vailitis. "I thought it was rather forward," he recalled, "and I felt a bit uncomfortable." However, he added that "it was no big deal" and "I was never in an antagonistic relationship with Susan Reinert."

Close proximity and equally close friendship led the trio of Bradfield, Myers and Valaitis to become business partners. Myers had long cherished the idea of owning her own business in which she would sell arts and crafts. Bradfield determined that that dream should become a reality.

Echoes in the Darkness by Joseph Wambaugh
Echoes in the
Darkness by Joseph
Wambaugh

They opened the Terra Art store in the Montgomeryville Mall. As Joseph Wambaugh wrote in Echoes in the Darkness, "A corporation was formed with Bill Bradfield as president, Sue Myers as secretary and Vince Valaitis as treasurer."

Another good friend of Bill Bradfield's was a slender, good-looking but insecure young man named Chris Pappas. They first met when Pappas was a student in one of Bradfield's classes. The dynamic teacher fascinated Pappas. Pappas was very good with his hands but uncertain of his mental powers and Bradfield's encouragement was accepted with gratitude. Pappas eventually became a substitute teacher at Upper Merion. He may have spent more time with Bradfield than any other man save Valaitis. However, Valaitis and Pappas were not usually with Bradfield at the same time since the latter usually preferred to keep his special friends separate from each other.

There was a reason for this. He often told different friends different versions of the same story.

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