Who is the boy next door? What happened to the Logans? Is Essie... really Essie?
Based on true events
August 2021 – Logan, Illinois
She attended the summer program for incoming freshmen and it paid off.
“It was the best decision I ever made. I felt ahead of all the other incoming freshmen academically and socially. Especially since it allowed me to meet Brian, the guy next door.”
Brian and Nina were nothing alike, but he was everything she needed to prepare for college. Confident, ambitious and assertive, Brian felt like the world revolved around him and for that summer, he was right. Mainly because all of the other incoming freshmen at the summer program were women. Additionally, he and Nina were the only black students in the psychology program, but gained great experience because of it.
The program allowed them to ride in Ubers around the small town that looked incredibly uneven.
“You can tell where the funding is going. How do you have six huge buildings in the middle of nowhere. It’s giving bar graph with uneven data,” Brian commented with a chuckle. Nina often put on a fake smirk when Brian made comments to show how smart he is. He always had a remark or quote that no one understood. In a way, it reminded Nina of her father although his quotes never made sense. It made her miss him, but also provided a sense of comfort. For that reason she always engaged in the conversation.
“Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense to have these six large buildings surrounded by nothing. Especially when two of them are jails,” Nina replied.
“What are the other four buildings?” Brian asked.
“A police station, hospital, our school and a bank,” Nina said as the Uber arrived at the jail.
Going to a jail is not the ideal way a young student gains experience, but they were the only students who weren’t scared to volunteer with the inmates. They liked visiting and felt more chemistry with the inmates than their classmates at times. Brian and Nina often entered to a round of applause, and felt a sense of belonging they did not receive outside of the jail. When they told jokes, the inmates laughed and had jokes to tell in return. Strong eye contact, and genuine tears came along with childhood stories about family and trauma. More than anything, Brian and Nina related with the inmates so well because Black people represented three percent of the school and town– about 500 people. 401 of those 500 blacks were inmates in the jail.
The experience drew Brian and Nina closer throughout the summer, but it came to a halt once the Fall semester began. Busy with school work and new friends, Brian and Nina only found time to speak one time during the Fall semester and it was to introduce her to his new roommate, Greg, the other boy next door.
October 2021 – Logan, Illinois
"Howdy neighbor,” Greg would say when he greeted Nina. Greg was a local and lived on the same street with all the other black families in the area. He resembled Woody, the Cowboy from Toy Story. Thin, clean shaven and always wore denim jeans, cowboy boots and a big hat.
“The only black folks in this town are my neighbors so whenever I see someone who looks like me I call them neighbor,” he explained.
Greg and Nina had an instant connection because they both liked to read. Nina spent hours reading about Logan’s history while they studied in the library together and asked Greg a million questions. He was a Logan expert and had an answer for everything– much like Brian, but Greg only talked when he was asked questions– unlike Brian. That alone made her feel comfortable. One question she had was about the name of the town.
“So it wasn’t always Logan?” asked Nina. He crossed his arms, took a deep breath and leaned forward as he responded.
“Nope. Once upon a time, this here town was called Loganville. It changed in 2000.” Nina noticed that Greg was a bit taken back by the question.
“In 2000 the town changed forever… My best friend and his entire family were killed. It really shook us up.” Nina let out a loud gasp and leaned back in her chair.
“Who did it?” asked Nina.
“We still don’t know–”
“What do you mean you don’t know? It’s been 21 years? Is that why there’s so many jails? What if the person is still out there?” Nina replied swiftly.
“Nina… relax,” said Greg in a calm tone.
“There’s a lot to unpack. How about you let me take you to where it all happened.”
“And where is that?”
“Let’s just say, he’s the first person I ever said, ‘Howdy neighbor’ to.”
Greg's House - Logan, IL
The strangest thing about Nina getting up and leaving was her parents never calling to check on her. On one hand, she felt relieved to be out on her own, but also worried about her parents. The entire ride she thought about calling Dr. Edwards, but decided to send a text:
Hey Dr. Edwards! Could you please do me a favor and drive by the house to check on my parents? I haven’t heard anything from them since I left. Shortly after they arrived at Greg’s house.
Nina and Greg sat in Greg’s car outside of his house. She felt her phone vibrating. It’s Dr. Edwards. She turned her head to look outside the window right before answering the phone and noticed a gold-colored house. She immediately felt butterflies.
“You ok?” asked Greg.
“Yeah. Just never been this close to a crime scene,” said Nina. She continued.
“The house is still in good shape. Does someone live here now?”
“No It’s been vacant all this time. The original owners rented it out to the family that died. He wanted to make sure they found the killer before he allowed another family to move in. So we can’t go in there, but all of us on this block are really close so we have a lot of pictures from 2000 that you won't find anywhere else,” Greg explained. He pointed outside of the passenger side window.
“That’s my house on the right. My parents aren’t home so there’s no rush. Just let me know when you are ready”
“Yeah, I’m ready,” said Nina. They both get out of Greg’s car and approach his house.
Nina’s legs start to feel weaker and weaker with each step. The butterflies in her stomach turn into pain. She stops. Greg notices and turns around.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’m not feeling good. I think seeing this house is making me homesick,” Nina replied.
"We don’t have to go in,” says Greg. Nina takes a deep breath and keeps walking.
“No, I’m fine. Let’s go.”
They enter the house and Nina begins to stumble. Greg catches her and sits her down on the couch.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” asked Greg.
“I need some water,” Nina replied. Greg runs into the kitchen and returns with a bottle of water. He stands with his hand out, but Nina doesn’t grab the bottle. Her focus is on the coffee table in front of her.
“Nina… the water…”
“What’s that?” Nina responds.
“A bottle of water. You asked for a–”
“No, that.” she quickly replies while pointing to an album under the coffee table. Greg puts the bottle of water on the table and grabs the album.
“This is what I wanted to show you. It’s an album from the Logan's,” said Greg.
“The Logan’s… my neighbors.”
“Oh that’s their last name,” Nina says while chuckling.
“Yeah. That’s why they changed the town’s name– to honor their family after the tragic loss,” Greg explains.
“That was really generous of the town.”
“Yeah. Let me show you Rob.” Greg sits next to Nina on the couch and opens the album.
They scan through the pictures. The Logans were a family of four. Both parents appeared to be short and slim. It was hard to tell their true build because they were dressed in big, colorful clothes, sweater vests, suits and sweat shirts that screamed 1990’s.
“This is Mr. and Mrs. Logan,” Greg said and pointed. The couple was pictured in front of a large bookcase.
“Wow there are so many books,” Nina replied in excitement.
“They had a bookcase in almost every room as you can see from the pictures. He was an author and she was a teacher so it makes sense,” Greg shared. He flips to the next page.
You can’t see it here, but they had the most colorful house. Full of vibrant colors. You’ve already seen the gold on the outside of the house. He flips to the next page.
“Here’s Rob and I when we were babies. Wow, this is so crazy!” Nina gazes at Greg as he speaks about Rob. “We literally knew each other from birth. Born the same day, in the same hospital. He came home before I did, but everything else we did in lockstep. Walking, talking, everything.” She examines a family photo.
“Wow, look at those smiles.”
“Yeah, the gap gene was strong.”
“I can appreciate a good gap,” said Nina as she blushed.
“Really, how would you know? your teeth are so straight.”
“Yeah, Thanks to braces. Once upon a time I had a gap too.”
“No way!” Greg yells and nearly drops the album.
“I swear, look.” Nina pulls out her wallet out of her back pocket and searches the wallet.
“I have two pictures to prove it.”
She continues searching as Greg flips to the next page.
“Oh Essie, I think her life was the biggest tragedy. They never even found her little body.”
“Here they are!” Nina exclaims as she pulls out two pictures and holds them on each side of her head. On the left side is a picture from her 13th birthday before getting braces. On the right side is a picture of her at age three. She closes her eyes and smiles to imitate her three year old self.
“Look at that gap!”
Greg stares in silence. Nina opens her eyes and sees Greg staring.
“What?” she asks. Greg takes a photo out of the Logan album and holds it up next to Nina’s three year old picture. He hands Nina the photo. Nina puts the pictures side by side.
“They’re the same picture.” Greg yells, “Essie?!”
Nina takes a look for herself and the pain in her stomach comes back. She gets up and runs towards the door.
“Essie, wait!” Greg yells.
Nina bursts through the front door with her mouthful of the largest vomit her insides could create, dripping through the webs of her fingers. She falls lifelessly to her knees and dresses the green lawn in a new orange shade. Her phone keeps ringing, but she ignores the call.
“What the hell is happening to me right now?!” she yelled before using her trembling arms to stand up for air. Her phone rings again– it’s Dr. Edwards.
“Where have you been?! I’ve been calling you for an hour!” Dr. Edwards angrily-whispered through the phone.
“You really don’t want to know,” Nina replied in a groggy tone.
Dr. Edwards continued.
“I came to check on your parents like you asked and… Well, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but we have a problem.”