The news barely made it to the front page, in the after Christmas Edition of 2005, of the local newspaper in an Essex industrial suburban town of London.
It was a report on the finding of the fully clothed body of an unidentified young woman, on Christmas morning, in a small wooded area, nearby the notorious red light district of the town. It was a brief half column report on the top right side of the front page, with a simple headline: "Young female's body found."
A few weeks later the same paper carried a short article on the case, naming the woman as Susan Smith, a local prostitute in her mid twenties, who worked the streets in the red light district and who was generally known as "Red Sue" by other girls working the streets in the same neighbourhood. The article also stated that the cause of death could not be positively established, adding that forensic tests showed high doses of cocaine, heroine and amphetamines in the dead woman's tissues.
A touched up photograph of the dead woman's face accompanied the article, together with a brief description and image of a small tattoo found on her right shoulder blade, which depicted an angel.
The Police was asking for information from anyone who might have known her.
Joe and Mary Hislop, living in a small North-East England industrial town, were an unremarkable couple, an average plain Joe and Mary, both of them from average, unremarkable families. They married in 1981 and seven and a half month later, on Christmas Eve, Mary gave birth to a little girl, whom they named Evangeline after Mary's Grandmother. Everyone who knew the couple were under the impression that the baby's birth was a premature delivery, but Joe and Mary and their respective parents knew otherwise. The marriage wasn't a love match; the child was conceived in an unlit alleyway, behind the local pub's car park, after a Friday night binge. They married because it was expected of them by both families and somehow - against all odds - they managed to stay together in a loveless wedlock. The baby had curly fair hair and fair complexion. By age two Evangeline's long curly hair had a deep auburn hue.
Both Joe and Mary worked long hours in mundane, repetitive jobs and left Evangeline in day care from a very early age onward. The child was never abused, but neither did she ever receive any affection, either from her parents, or grandparents. She was a pretty and lonely child, who often smiled at strangers and loved to sing in a clear, almost angelic voice, but at home she was always discouraged and even stopped from singing, either by Joe, who disliked listening to any music other than bawdy football or rugby songs, or Mary, who preferred to watch her favourite soap operas on the telly, rather than listening to her daughter's singing. Evangeline learned early to withdraw from her parents. At age seven she was given the role of the angel in her school's nativity play and sang Silent Night beautifully to a spellbound audience. Joe and Mary missed the performance; they were in their local pub drinking beer. She was photographed in her angel costume by a press photographer for the town's Newspaper. A courtesy copy was sent to the Hislops in a brown envelope, which was never opened.
By age fifteen she was a stunningly attractive young girl, who started to stay out with the boys after school, experimenting with alcohol and a variety of drugs. At age sixteen and half, one early morning, she was violently sick. It was a Sunday morning and the noise she made attracted Mary's attention, who dashed to the bathroom, where she found Evangeline kneeling in front of the loo-pan violently throwing up. Her low cut nightdress exposed her right shoulder blade, tattooed with the image of an angel. Mary - recalling her own experience when expecting Evangeline - immediately and instinctively recognised the symptoms.
- "Oh you filthy little whore!" - she cried out in disgust and slammed the bathroom door.
Evangeline cried silently in her bedroom for a short while, then packed a little holdall with a few of her belongings and quietly slipped out of the house. She left a brief note on the top of the mantelpiece:
- "I don't want to live with you in this house any more". -
She took a train to Manchester, where she found shelter in a hostel for young expectant mothers. She signed herself in under the assumed name of Susan Smith. In due course she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, whom she gave up for adoption. Joe and Mary never reported their daughter as a missing person.
The Essex Police eventually traced the dead woman back to Manchester. There the trace went cold. Although foul play was suspected initially and the Police conducted a proper murder inquiry, in the absence of concrete forensic evidence that would establish a firm and conclusive cause of death, the inquest in the Coroner's Court ended with an open verdict, concluding that she probably died from the combined effects of drug abuse and hypothermia. The case was never formally closed, but after the inquest the Police quietly buried the files and, as no relative was ever traced, or came forward to identify the body, she was eventually buried under the name of Susan Smith. Her case was never reported in the national press or broadcasting media. It was just a routine, unremarkable case, after all.
On Christmas Eve of 2005 Mary Hislop climbed the steps to the attic of their house. Christmas was never celebrated in that household, yet she now had a vague notion that she wanted to look for some Christmas decoration. She could not even explain it to herself why; half knowing that she would never find any decorations anyway. She never bought any.
Aimlessly she started rummaging through some old boxes. In one of them, in a brown, unopened envelope, she found the fading photograph of a little angel, with curly auburn locks. It was the never glanced at photograph of Evangeline at age seven, taken after the School Nativity Play, the play she and Joe missed. She never realised that it was Evangeline's photo. How could she? She never seen her in the play, never heard that angelic voice singing Silent Night. The picture of an angel had a quiet appeal to her. It was as Christmassy as she would ever get to that certain Christmas feeling. She wiped the dust off the photograph and feeling empty inside she climbed down the steps.
She placed the photograph on the top of the mantelpiece in the dining room; the same mantelpiece Evangeline's note was left. She intended to remove it after Christmas, but somehow it stayed there permanently. A silent, unrecognised reminder of a lost angel. Just one lost angel amongst many that Providence grants as a gift of heaven to parents, who do not recognise the value and the beauty of the gift they received, and the gift they lost…
© P. J. Oszmann (2005. Revised 2006)
© Illustration created in Photoshop (2005)