Joe Terrace

Damon Runyon

August 29 1936

Joe Terrace killed his wife, Mrs. Terrace.

He never liked her very much.

Joe Terrace was a linotype operator on the Morning Chief.

He was a mighty good man at his trade.

He rarely made a typographical error. He was so accurate that Bob Frater, the proofreader on the Morning Chief, seldom bothered to read proof on Joe Terrace.

Bob Frater once won five dollars from Saul Letch by betting him Joe Terrace wouldn’t make a typographical error in six months.

This was when Saul Letch was a printer on the Morning Chief and before he was elected sheriff. Mr. Cleve Van Dusen, Sr., owner of the Morning Chief, got Saul elected sheriff. Mr. Cleve Van Dusen, Sr., always liked to have his own man in the sheriff’s office. He liked to have his own men in all the other offices, too.

Joe Terrace thought he was pretty slick about the way he killed his wife, Mrs. Terrace.

He planned it for twenty years.

The first ten years he couldn’t think of how to do it. He was a slow thinker. The second ten he got it all worked out.

Every Sunday and holiday when the weather was nice Joe Terrace would take his wife, Mrs. Terrace, on a little outing into the hills northwest of Our Town.

Mrs. Terrace hated outings. She hated hills. The sand fleas got into her stockings.

She was a short, fat woman, and very good-natured. She always tried to please her husband, Joe Terrace. He called her Tubby. She went on the outings because she thought he liked them. She didn’t know he was planning to kill her. It would have upset Mrs. Terrace.

Joe Terrace always took her to a place in the hills called Lover’s Leap because a couple of lovers were supposed to have jumped off the cliff to their death years ago.

There are fifty thousand Lover’s Leaps in the United States, and the story about them all is exactly the same. It is very strange that so many lovers jumped off cliffs together.

On Memorial Day, Joe Terrace took his wife, Mrs. Terrace, out to Lover’s Leap and got her to look over the cliff. While she was looking, he hit her on the head with a rock and knocked her off the cliff down into the creek bed.

Nobody in Our Town ever thought of doubting Joe Terrace’s story that it was an accident. He put a mourning band around his hat and looked sad.

Everybody remembered what a faithful husband Joe Terrace had been, and how he took his wife, Mrs. Terrace, on those outings. Everybody said Joe Terrace must miss her apple strudel.

One Monday morning Sheriff Saul Letch was having his breakfast at his home on South Catalpa Street. It was over a year after Joe Terrace killed his wife, Mrs. Terrace.

Sheriff Letch had the Morning Chief propped up against the sugar bowl in front of him. His wife, Mrs. Letch, was hiding in the kitchen until Sheriff Letch left the house. She knew he would be in bad humor. He generally was.

An election was coming on, and the church people of Our Town were hot after Sheriff Letch. They were led by Rev. John S. Clee, pastor of the First M. E. Church, South. Rev. John S. Clee was giving Sheriff Letch fits. He said Sheriff Letch was no good. He said Sheriff Letch was leagued with the forces of evil. Rev. John S. Clee meant the saloonkeepers and the gamblers.

He didn’t mean Mr. Cleve Van Dusen, Sr., owner of the Morning Chief.

Things looked pretty bad for Sheriff Letch.

He got up from the breakfast table after drinking only two cups of coffee, and put on his hat, and went to Joe Terrace’s house on West Eighth Street.

Sheriff Letch usually drank four cups of coffee with his breakfast. His wife, Mrs. Letch, made wonderful coffee.

Sheriff Letch knocked on Joe Terrace’s door for ten minutes. Joe Terrace worked nights on the Morning Chief, and slept until noon. He was a sound sleeper.

He finally came to the door with just his pants and undershirt on. He was holding up his pants with one hand. Sheriff Letch said, “Good morning, Joe, come with me. You’re under arrest for killing your wife, Mrs. Terrace.”

Joe Terrace said, “All right, Saul. Wait till I get my suspenders.” He said, “I’m not sorry to be arrested. It’s been on my mind.” He said, “Yes, I killed her, Saul. I wish I hadn’t. How did you find out?”

Sheriff Letch said, “I read your confession in this morning’s paper, Joe.”

Joe Terrace said that couldn’t be, because he hadn’t made any confession; and Sheriff Letch showed him Rev. John S. Clee’s sermon in the Morning Chief. The Morning Chief always published all the sermons delivered in the churches Sunday in full. Mr. Van Dusen, Sr., said it was good for business with the church people.

In the middle of Rev. John S. Clee’s sermon, where he was talking about the Lord forgiving sinners, was a line that said, “Please, Lord, forgive me for what I did to Tubby.”

This line had no relation to the rest of the sermon.

It didn’t make sense.

Joe Terrace pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, and Judge Dixony gave him fifty-five years in the penitentiary.

Some said it wasn’t enough.

When it came out how Sheriff Letch discovered Joe Terrace’s guilt by reading Rev. John S. Clee’s sermon, the church people of Our Town said Sheriff Letch couldn’t be such a bad man if he read sermons.

Rev. John S. Clee took back what he said about Sheriff Letch being leagued with the forces of evil, and went around making campaign speeches for Sheriff Letch.

He said Sheriff Letch was all right.

Mr. Cleve Van Dusen, Sr., put an editorial in the Morning Chief, saying that it was a wonderful thing for Our Town to have a man in office of the high spiritual character of Sheriff Letch.

Sheriff Letch was re-elected by a large plurality.

He never mentioned that he knew Joe Terrace always set up the sermons for the Morning Chief, and of course Sheriff Letch never made it public that he had been reading the sermons every Monday morning for two years only because he was always hoping to catch Joe Terrace in a typographical error so he could win his five dollars back from Bob Frater.

Sheriff Letch told his friends that he figured a linotype operator’s attention was more apt to wander when he was setting up sermons than on any other kind of copy, and especially Rev. John S. Clee’s sermons because they were so dull.

It is a curious thing that nobody else in Our Town noticed that typographical error before Sheriff Letch brought it up, not even Rev. John S. Clee.