This is the conclusion of story that I covered on July 9, 1984, while working for the Belle Banner and the Bland Courier, sister papers of the three-newspaper Tri-County Publications. (Part 1 appeared on Monday).
Police, neighbors and a distant relative put together the following narrative: Seven hours before the auction was scheduled to begin, Christial – who actually went by her middle name, Veneda ‑ dumped 30 gallons of gasoline and 30 quarts of motor oil throughout her wood frame house. The tinder box that was once her paid-in-full haven included piles of old newspapers, a cord of wood, some old tires and $30 worth of fireworks. She was apparently sitting in a recliner in the living room at 5:30 a.m. when she struck the match.
The explosion immediately flattened the house, blew out windows at Bland High School just a block away and dozens of other windows through the little town of about 600 people. The explosion blew Veneda right out of the house. A step-cousin raced to the scene and found Veneda – conscious but badly burned and incoherent – laying on the side of the road. An ambulance took her to the University of Missouri hospital in Columbia (called the MU Medical Center back then).
Local police got a call from the Bland Post Office at 8:30 a.m. Someone found a letter taped to the wall inside the lobby, along with copies of the canceled and endorsed check that Veneda had written to the contractor, the signed agreement with the contractor, and the legal notice of the sheriff’s auction. The next day a duplicate of the letter arrived at the Gasconade County Republican, the 3,500-circulation weekly newspaper in Owensville where, incidentally, I would go to work in April the following year.
There’s really no way to end this story on a positive note, although the lien laws were changed a year later to provide greater protection for homeowners.
The image of the smoldering ruins of the house is still haunting. And so are the words of her letter:
“The hassle of living just isn’t worth it anymore. Nothing is worth living for. I can’t have anything no matter how hard I work I work for it and somebody else enjoys it … Just because there is a crooked law on the books for you to hide behind to win the easy way, you don’t any of you care about justice. I am a woman alone with no knowledge of the stupid laws. So that leaves me helpless in their hands.
“I can’t have anything no matter how hard I work … But this is the time I’m not going to hand it over. I’ll burn all and go in the fire myself. Then you bastards can sift the ashes or look elsewhere for the money you want. I signed a contract and I honored it. I paid once for what I got. I don’t intend to pay again … This house and car is all I have to show for 44 years of work. I can’t enjoy it and I don’t intend anyone else shall.”