The lingering story of a big city crook and his small town murderer
Most towns in America have at least one entrepreneurial black hole. A geographical oddity, where business after ambitious business will start up before unknown forces coincide to ensure its failure. I’m sure you can imagine the one in your hometown: the pizzeria that was a Mountain Mike’s, a Peppy’s, and a Pizza Milan all while you were in fourth grade. Or the hardware store that changed names and owners each year you were in high school. Whether it's abnormalities in their foundations or curses on the soil beneath them, these establishments end up as tombs of the aspirations of men and women. They uproot American dreams. They are unlucky pieces of real estate.
At the corner of Poplar and Vine in Greencastle, Indiana, there once stood a two-story, Victorian-style house that frequently doubled as a restaurant. It looked more like a place to raise nineteenth-century children. It had a storybook window where the roof meets, nooks and crannies where toddlers could hide, and you might not be surprised to see a grandmother baking cookies in its kitchen.
Although the house lacked the traditional framework of a restaurant, several entrepreneurs would take their chances. It was a Paradox Café, an Uptown Bistro, a Brewster's Restaurant. It was located in what would seem like a good spot for business: just south of downtown next door to a coveted greasy spoon named Marvin’s. The house was well within sight of the passing undergraduates attending DePauw University, Greencastle’s wanna-be Harvard parked in an Indiana cornfield.
It was home to a Black Angus restaurant when the doors were shuttered in February 2001. Due to the circumstances surrounding the closure, the university voted to raze the building and replace it with a parking lot. The city council objected, deemed the house a structure of historic interest, exhumed it at its foundation, and moved it across town – no easy task. They dropped the house in an easy-to-miss lot between a highway entrance and a bowling alley.
But the university didn't want the building out of sight before spring due to a need for student parking.
On Saturday night, February 24, 2001, during a period when the steaks from Black Angus were failing to lift the curse at 102 Poplar Street, a violent thunderstorm kept most locals indoors. When lightning struck outside the Black Angus shortly after midnight, it muffled the sound of five gunshots as they rang out from the restaurant’s kitchen. Three of the .38-caliber bullets tore through the building into a wellness center next door. The fourth ricocheted and lodged itself into a kitchen wall, and the fifth found the left temple of the restaurant’s owner, Richard Hauff, whose face-down body was discovered by police three hours later.
This is not just a story about a cursed building. It’s about a middle-aged, property reseller named Paul Dell, a man with marital problems, bills to pay, a bad drinking habit, and a .38 caliber pistol in his bedroom dresser. It’s about his wife, Jean Dell, a woman who – like her husband –got charmed by her smooth-talking new neighbor. And it’s about Richard Hauff, the 60-something cook, entrepreneur, and former Chicago mafioso who rented an apartment out of Paul Dell’s home and who may have been sleeping with Paul Dell’s wife.
But most of all this is a story about a small town in Indiana called Greencastle, a place where not just one, but every small business has an abyss waiting to swallow it. This is a community with bills to pay and bad drinking habits. While it may be accustomed to petty theft or streaking undergrads, Greencastle doesn’t know much about murder.
Towns this size like to talk, and nearly 15 years after the dramatic death of Richard Hauff and the questionable sentence issued to his murderer, Greencastle still has stories and it still wants to tell them.
When I called the Putnam County Courthouse at 3:30 on a Monday afternoon the secretary asked me exactly which case I wanted to discuss with Matt Headley, the honorable circuit court judge presiding in Greencastle.
“Paul Dell? He’s already out of jail right?” the secretary said to me while she brought up the file. “Gosh, that’s awful. Only five years for murder.”
I was struck by how willingly I was offered this opinion. She patched me in with Matt Headley before I knew the call had been transferred. On the line with Headley I cautiously tried to detail my intentions, doubtful he’d be willing to disclose litigation notes on a controversial murder case still sleeping in the back of the public mind.
“Do you have any time this week when we could meet?” I asked Headley. “And I do understand the sensitive nature of the case.”
“Sensitive for who?” Headley said, “For the guy who’s dead?”
I balked for a moment. Headley was looking through his schedule. That much was clear based on the inflection in his voice when he asked, “What are you doing right now?”
Matt Headley is well-connected to the Greencastle community. His father sells hardware on Indianapolis Road and has for over half a century, his daughter is a 2010 graduate of DePauw, and until he earned his current post on the judiciary, Headley was the Putnam County prosecutor. He led the 2001 legal action in the Richard Hauff murder case, the one I wanted to learn about.
An anonymous post from an online lawyer database said Headley had “a reputation for offering easy plea deals.” But when I asked why Paul Dell never went to trial, especially considering the breadth of damning evidence stacked against him, Headley mounted a pretty good defense of his own. It began like this:
“We never found the gun.”
I told Tom Chiarella I wanted to hear testimony from the court of public opinion.
“It’s all nattering gossip,” he replied.
Chiarella teaches creative writing at DePauw and also serves as fiction editor at Esquire Magazine. He lives across the street from the home where Richard Hauff lived back in 2001. The two were neighbors. I spoke with Chiarella on a Sunday morning in May on his front porch.
When I asked Chiarella what Richard Hauff was like, he recalled an occasion when Hauff gave him a bottle of ketchup he said he stole from a truck stop.
“He was very much a guy without a lot of moral sensibility,” Chiarella said.
Richard Hauff: From Orphan To Hustler
Richard Hauff was born in Iran sometime in the late 1930s and his real name was Hosang Torvan. His parents passed away during World War II. According to a quote from Hauff from an old newspaper article, an American soldier named Franklin Hauff found him wandering in the Iranian hills. The soldier adopted the boy somehow, then brought him to Arlington Heights, Illinois, and then changed his name from Hosang Torvan to Richard Hauff.
Richard would become a prolific golfer, winning golf tournaments and athletic scholarships as a suburban Chicago teen. His success on the golf course put him in close proximity to some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most powerful men. He made friends, and more and more nefarious connections as he neared his 20th birthday.
Eventually, Hauff began taking on odd jobs for members of the Chicago mafia. He accumulated capital at a fast pace. He told people he was in the real estate business. In 1958, he co-purchased an $800,000 country club in Mount Prospect, Illinois, with the goal of turning it into a private golf course and building two swimming pools. Hauff told curious reporters – drawn to the rags-to-riches story of an Iranian orphan – that while some of his own money went into the purchase, the lion’s share was paid by a man he would describe only as “a multi-millionaire from Florida.”
Hauff began showing up on Rush Street in downtown Chicago. At the time, the concentration of nightclubs, bars, and swanky restaurants on Rush Street gave the strip a reputation as the nation’s capital of entertainment. The street’s high-rolling frequenters knew little about Hauff besides his penchant for beautiful women and expensive, hand-tailored clothing. Old newspapers indicate that Rush Street regulars initially pegged Hauff as one of the many FBI agents probing the area’s crime syndicates. But soon Hauff himself would be the subject of FBI scrutiny, as he was often seen with Marshall Caifano and Albert “Obbie” Frabotta, both high-ranking members of the Chicago mafia.
Hauff was getting wealthy but his hands were getting dirty. Nightclub owner Cosmo Orlando violently assaulted Hauff in October 1959 using a blackjack – a small, weighted club wrapped in leather. Orlando attacked while Hauff was escorting Darlene Marshall, ex-wife of Marshall Caifano, across Cedar Street. From the hospital Hauff told reporters, “They could have had me . . . but they didn’t.”
The Army drafted Hauff at the turn of the decade. He was eventually shipped to Korea and, while there, the American government learned that Hauff failed to pay income taxes in 1958 and 1959. He was also caught trying to pass off worthless checks. A military police unit arrested Hauff on charges of larceny and forgery and put him in a detention center.
Back in the U.S., Hauff’s name would appear in the Tribune, the Daily Herald, and other Chicago newspapers off and on throughout the 1960s. He swindled investors into devoting funds toward a nonexistent Las Vegas casino. He conned a couple out of $50,000. He repeatedly conspired to commit tax evasion. Convicted on five counts of wire fraud in May 1967, he landed in federal prison, serving a three-year sentence concurrently with another for conspiring to obtain secret government information. Gerald M. Werksman, the assistant U.S. attorney and prosecutor for one of Hauff’s indictments, called Hauff “a menace to society, a con-man of the worst type.” Prison kept Hauff from ruining the lives of the innocent and the naive, for the time being.
In the 1990s, Hauff worked service-industry jobs throughout Indiana, after the closure of his short-lived Boca Raton, Florida restaurant, The Bayou. In Indiana he found some assistance from Margo Bode, the biological daughter of his adoptive father. Margo’s husband helped him out as well: Ken Bode was a professor of journalism at DePauw. Hauff picked up jobs as a truck stop cook and a liquor store clerk before becoming a chef at The Walden Inn, one of the few nice restaurants in Greencastle. Margo and Ken Bode had room to spare when they bought an extravagant pink-bricked manor on DePauw University’s faculty row, so Hauff moved into the house with them.
Nearing his 60s at this point, Hauff still looked like he had some fight in him. He was a barrel-chested man of average height with attractive features. He had a Mediterranean look. His hair was black with specks of gray and white. But he could no longer lead the kind of high blood pressure lifestyle lived in his earlier years. Doctors didn’t formally diagnose Hauff with congestive heart failure until February of 2001, the month of his murder, but health problems were evident far sooner. He was hospitalized with pneumonia that same month, two days after the death of his adoptive mother.
During his time in Greencastle, Hauff lived a life involving a blurry line between fact and fiction, as well as a certain sense of shamelessness. He told Greencastle locals how he escaped military prison in Korea, how he used to date Zsa Zsa Gabor, and how his “connections” frequently turned on him. While each story had some truth to it, many in town just thought Hauff a storyteller. Some were more easily persuaded than others.
“People in town were convinced he was Italian. It’s about as real as Mario.” Chiarella said. “What he was was a deceptive, charming con-man, and successful at some level. So I don’t know what kind of end those people deserve but it tends not to be a good one.”
Hauff’s murder in late February led to a Chef Boyardee brand of Italian stereotypes. Was the Sicilian offed? Or did the womanizing cheapskate take a permanent vacation?
I asked Matt Headley about his thoughts on Hauff and he regretted his response before he could finish it: “If you knew him very well, it would almost be like he’d want to go this way,” Headley said. He added: “I didn’t know him that well.”
But Headley may have been right. Would Richard Hauff – playboy, mobster, convicted felon – want to die in a sick ward, or in prison, or quietly in bed? Would he not prefer circumstances both deceptive and dramatic? Would he not want his story to keep getting told?
“It’s a pretty fucking rotten story,” Chiarella said. “I understand he bankrupted them and stole all their money.” Chiarella was referring to Hauff’s reign as the general manager of a restaurant he convinced Paul and Jean Dell to start up – one that Hauff promptly helped them run into the ground. “I’m not sure if a guy like that doesn’t deserve to get beaten down a little bit.”
Joe Heithaus is a 17-year Greencastle resident. He said he never ate at the Black Angus.
“I was on the Jean and Paul side,” he said. “I was loyal.”
Heithaus is the chair of DePauw’s English department. I spoke with him in his office on the third floor of Asbury Hall on a Monday afternoon. His office was cozy, with shelves of literature and seats you could sink into. He sat in an angular swivel chair with a winged headrest he said helped his back.
Heithaus recalled speaking with Jean Dell, his neighbor, well before the murder. “The way Jean described the story of the Black Angus was that Richard created it to spite them.”
Paul and Jean Dell: Unlikely Restaurateurs
Paul and Jean Dell were residents of Indianapolis until 1999, when they chose to move to Greencastle on the heels of a lucrative business opportunity. A towering pink-bricked mansion was up for sale. The F.P. Nelson house – known as "The Towers" despite having none – featured 24 rooms and a listing in the National Registry of Historic Places. In it, the Dells saw an opportunity. They planned to refurbish and resell a stunning piece of real estate. The man who sold them the property was former DePauw professor Ken Bode, who had recently left Greencastle to take over as dean at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. When Paul and Jean purchased the mansion and moved in, Bode’s brother-in-law – Richard – came with the property.
Richard Hauff had been living with the Bodes in the rear apartment. Arrangements were made to keep him there. Paul, Jean, and Richard became fast friends, exchanging stories, talking business, and earning each other’s trust. By spring, Hauff persuaded Paul and Jean they’d make good restaurateurs. The couple eventually bought into the idea and then bought Hathaway’s, a sub-street-level restaurant near the town square that has since changed names several times, from Sugar Moon to The Rockhouse to The Cavern Club to Hoods and Capers. At Hathaway’s, the Dells made Hauff their general manager and the trio immediately began making renovations. They transformed Hathaway’s from a bar into a family restaurant. A 2001 article from DePauw’s student newspaper estimated the renovations cost $35,000, in addition to the more than $100,000 price tag for the property.
“They didn’t move into this town to start a restaurant,” Heithaus told me. “It’s certainly their fault for agreeing, but to a certain extent they were led into it. They were both conned by the con-man.”
Paul and Jean were not nearly as good at serving dinner as they had been at flipping houses. With Hathaway’s flailing, Paul Dell and Hauff had a falling out that autumn, which led Hauff to leave his position at the restaurant. Adding fuel to the fire, Hauff had recently pitched an idea to DePauw to open a steak house in the two-story, Victorian-era house on Poplar Street, where a Brewster’s restaurant had just closed. The university approved Hauff's plan, and he began turning the establishment into the Black Angus. This new restaurant would be only three short blocks away from Hathaway’s. Heithaus called the move “a slap in the face.”
It was. In a town with a reputation for bankrupting restaurants, Hauff convinced the Dells to buy a dud, helped the couple rack up an enormous debt, and then set up competition down the street. Now Paul and Richard shared both a home and a business model. Exactly when they started sharing Jean is uncertain.
“It’s a trifecta of good reasons to be pissed off at someone,” Heithaus said. “I mean, what would you do?”
Paul Dell was 52 years old in February 2001. While no pushover, he didn’t look altogether dangerous. One of his neighbors described him as farmer-like: tall, somewhat portly. Two days before the murder, Dell left his wife a handwritten note. It read: “The pain of sharing you with Richard is more than I can express.”
On February 23, 2001, less than 48 hours before the murder, the owner of the building that housed Hathaway’s sued the Dells. Paul and Jean had no money. They hadn’t paid their rent since December.
Hauff and the Dells had resumed a working relationship earlier that month; Hauff still cooked at Hathaway’s on occasion. On the Saturday night of February 24, Hauff left work early at about 9 p.m., prior to the completion of the night’s cooking duties. Within an hour he returned to the restaurant to reclaim a bag he had left there and Hathaway’s employees witnessed him and Jean exchange choice words. A police affidavit said Hauff threw a childlike temper-tantrum, “screaming and striking a door with a plastic chair.” He left for his own restaurant, the Black Angus, a few minutes later.
Then Jean called her husband. Paul Dell arrived at Hathaway’s a few minutes later – according to police reports – aggravated and drunk. The couple stayed in a back office while employees continued to work and patrons continued to drink at the bar. Dell would later say that his night ended at 11:30 p.m. He and Jean ran through the pounding rain and into their separate cars. They drove home and neither left their residence for the rest of the night.
A few people caught in the storm thought events went down a little differently. One saw Dell speed erratically westbound on Seminary Street, skidding to a stop in front of a Bloomington Street stop sign. Another saw him blow through an intersection three blocks east of the Black Angus. Two others thought they heard gunfire. It was just after midnight.
At 1 a.m., Justin Homler thought something felt amiss. Homler cooked for Hauff at the Black Angus. He saw Hauff storm into the Black Angus after his shouting match with Jean earlier that night. He also knew about Hauff’s heart condition and his recent bout with pneumonia. Homler failed to reach Hauff by phone several times before expressing his unease to his mother, who was the one who eventually called the police.
Greencastle Police Officer Sam Sellers knocked on the door of the Black Angus at 3:20 am on February 25. No one answered. Sellers removed a screen and entered the restaurant through an unlocked window. He walked past cleaned tables and pushed-in chairs before he entered the kitchen, where he found Hauff on his stomach covered in blood.
It seems Hauff brought a knife to a gunfight. Officer Sellers discovered a blade next to Hauff's body. Maybe there had been a struggle and Hauff picked up the first weapon he could find. Maybe Hauff lunged at his attacker and was shot in self-defense. Hauff didn’t look very threatening, and unbeknownst to Sellers, he didn’t look at all like the man he once was – one who used to wear thousand-dollar straight-cut suits and alligator-skin shoes. Here, in a Podunk town four hours from Chicago, Richard Hauff died wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a vinyl jacket.
In the moments after the gunfire, Paul Dell was probably trying to keep his thoughts focused on getting his hands clean – get out, get home, ditch the gun, construct an alibi. Whatever preoccupied him affected his discretion. As he stole through the muddy lot behind the steak house, he left a distinct trail of footprints in the soil beneath him. He probably tripped in the heavy downpour en route to his pickup truck – he was still drunk from earlier that evening. That helps explain the smears of mud police found on his steering wheel, armrest, and on the pair of jeans in his laundry room – washed, but not well enough.
But even after probing the Dell property and directing divers to comb nearby waterways, authorities never found the pistol.
“The handgun will be the key to the case,” said Police Chief Jim Hendrich during the initial investigation.
One neighbor thought it could be at the bottom of nearby Big Walnut Creek. Or maybe in one of many unnavigable chutes or clefts that exist throughout Paul’s massive home: a quick and easy spot to ditch a gun before the police arrived in the morning.
Without the gun, as well as several other critical pieces of evidence, Matt Headley’s prosecution team faced a difficult path to conviction.
Matt Headley: Building A Case
“She suppressed it,” Headley said to me. “She” being Putnam Circuit Court Judge Diana LaViolette and “it” being a key piece of evidence: a carton of .38 caliber shells police found in Dell’s dresser drawer, five bullets short of a full box. Headley said Judge LaViolette suppressed these items in a pre-trial hearing after disagreeing to the conduct of the prosecution’s search.
A few other pieces of evidence from secondary searches were also dismissed, three in particular which stand out. The first we've already discussed: mud and straw police found in Dell’s pickup, a similar concoction to what you would find in the south lot of the Black Angus after a heavy rain. The second: documents on Dell’s computer which the prosecution claimed could have proved the love affair between Hauff and Jean Dell. And the third: an audio tape with a conversation between Dell and his wife on the night of February 24, recorded hours before Richard’s death, in which Jean expressed her displeasure with how Richard had treated her. In it she asked Paul to “be strong” and not to drink too much, to which Paul responded, “I’m strong . . . I’m going to kill the little son of a bitch.”
Headley couldn’t use any of that. At the same time, Richard Hauff’s personal history wasn't doing the prosecution any favors. His prior convictions, mafia ties, and frequent encounters with violence gave the defense plenty of ammunition for an inevitable character assassination. They could convincingly paint Hauff as an aggressor – which is entirely plausible.
“He had a vicious temper,” Headley admitted. “He had threatened Paul Dell, and screamed at him, and just went berserk a few times.”
“Didn’t deserve to be killed by any means,” Headley continued, “but he wasn’t the principal’s wife or the bank president’s husband or anything like that.”
Perhaps even more concerning, Headley and his legal team had lost an oddly similar trial shortly before Hauff’s murder. It involved one man shooting another for fooling around with his wife. The man didn’t kill the interloper, but he shot him, and the court did not convict. A few jurors on the case told Headley that the lover “got what he deserved.”
Putnam County is generally considered a conservative area and Headley worried that ideology would translate into sympathy. Sympathy for a man whose business and marriage collapsed at the hands of an Iranian-born con-artist with a history of federal convictions and ties to big-city Chicago mafia. If the prosecution had taken the case to trial, Paul Dell faced up to 65 years in prison. But if just one of 12 jurors felt unconvinced, the jury would have left hung and Dell could have left a free man.
Headley decided it wasn’t worth the risk. He and Dell’s defense attorney agreed to a plea agreement in March of 2002, just over a year after Hauff's death. At the hearing, Dell sat dressed in an orange jumpsuit with only Ken and Margo Bode seated in attendance. Days later, on March 25, 2002, Dell was sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison for reckless homicide, a class C felony on par with involuntary manslaughter.
“The pursuit of justice is never perfect,” said Judge LaViolette when she laid down her ruling.
The Banner Graphic, Greencastle’s local newspaper, reported that Headley had the plea deal okayed by Hauff’s remaining relatives before the hearing. “They were in agreement,” Headley was quoted as saying.
Richard Hauff had a son, Ross Hauff, who lived in Baltimore but could not attend the plea hearing or the sentencing. When Headley called the younger Hauff to explain the circumstances of the investigation and the problems he faced as prosecutor, Ross agreed to let Dell take the eight-year prison sentence, one that could easily become four years with good behavior. Ross’s blessing may have been motivated out of a worry that his father’s murderer could have gone unpunished.
Ken Bode, Hauff’s brother-in-law, suggested Ross also had hopes of making money. Bode made a statement to the courtroom shortly after the sentencing. It began: “It has been represented by the prosecutor that the family ‘recommended and desired’ this settlement. Speaking for the family in Greencastle, Margo and myself, that is not true, and I have asked Mr. Headley to stop making that representation.”
Ken Bode then invoked Hauff's son, Ross: “In time, Ross became convinced of two things that changed his mind and led to the plea-agreement. First, that a guilty plea from Mr. Dell would provide the best entry into a wrongful death civil suit . . .”
In a civil case, Ross could accrue a monetary claim from Dell for emotional and financial losses suffered after his father’s death. Having a convicted offender on the books would only increase the odds and the value of Ross’ compensation.
“. . . And second,” Bode continued, “that if the case went to trial, Mr. Headley might very well lose it.”
It was approaching 4 p.m. and the courthouse was closing soon. Headley sat slouched, leaning over the table we spoke at, his elbows supporting some of his weight.
“Hindsight being 20-20, should I have maybe just tried the case and lost?”
There was resignation in Headley's voice. His face held no expression. He never wanted to tell this story again, that much was obvious now. Thirty minutes ago, while I rushed to the square to meet him, Headley must have cringed; some kid was about to force him to defend decisions he made in 2001. And he knew, I’m sure, that this type of justification was something he would always have to find words for. At the time we spoke, the story was nearly a decade old. It wouldn’t go away.
“Maybe I should have," Headley continued, "maybe going back and trying the whole thing and just seeing what happened, maybe that would have been the way to do it. And then the community would have said, ‘Well, at least we know everything.’”
Headley was finishing up. Making his closing remarks.
“I caught a lot of grief over it. But a lot of people don’t know what I just told you.”
Inside A cursed building
Getting inside the house where Richard Hauff’s curious life story ended is far more difficult now than when the doors of the Black Angus were open. Thick particle board covers the front door and every window at ground level. The awnings hang. The gray paint peels where it isn’t charred. Upon arrival, I search through the stray shingles, piping, and trash around the building in search of something to help prop me onto the roof. I can't explain why there's a central air conditioning system beside the house, but it's going to serve as my springboard. I flop stomach-first onto the roof’s oddly up-to-date shingles. The second floor has several broken windows so I climb through the least precarious to get into a bedroom.
There are no beds in here. There’s nothing but broken glass and a few baseball-sized rocks on the floor. Down the hallway is a room I won't be able to enter; the doorway is blocked by debris from a collapsed ceiling. I consider climbing over the cross-beams and drywall to see inside. I also consider opening either of two closet doors in front of me, but it’s getting dark outside and a pair of gentlemen at Alex Alleys might have seen me while I cased this abandoned building. I decide to walk down the stairs, and the darkness requires I turn on my flashlight.
The first floor is crowded: no place for tables, chairs, and steak dinners. Several average-sized rooms are dirty but overall empty. At the back of the house is the kitchen, which looks too small to fit any more than a single cook. A counter extends out into an L through the middle of the room, creating a small nook where a chef could conceivably chop onions and sauté mushrooms. A fire must have burned through this room in recent years; a melted air conditioner leans against one of the sooty black walls and what little daylight is left shoots through a break in the charred ceiling.
Coming this far, I try to take notice of little details, looking for bullet holes, pots and pans, even an old receipt. Anything that could testify to the building’s character. Finding nothing of the sort, I am left to envision a conversation that took place here in the early morning of February 25. Hauff behind the chef’s counter clasping a knife. Dell in the doorway flailing a handgun, drunk, yelling about money, futile business deals, and Jean. There had to be something about Jean.
What's Worse Than Murder?
“I don’t see a story in it. People are murdered all the time.” Chiarella said to me. “And it wasn’t even a murder. It turns out it was some kind of weird accident.”
Some locals believe Hauff’s death was, in fact, a mere mishap, like Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, another professor at the university. He heard that a bullet hit a pan hanging on a wall and ricocheted at an unfortunate angle. Perhaps Dell was aiming his shots above Hauff’s head to jolt him or get under his skin.
One condition of Dell’s plea deal included a “clean-up statement,” which was essentially an interview with a Greencastle police detective on the actual events of the evening. In it, Dell said he let himself into the Black Angus with a key Hauff had previously given him. He admitted to carrying a gun, but said he had no intent of killing Hauff. He said he was drunk at the time, and that he and Hauff began to argue. When Dell showed him his gun, Hauff picked up a knife. In opening fire, Dell only meant to scare him.
But whatever happened in the early hours of that Sunday morning, the only information anyone in Greencastle has is Dell’s brief testimony and their own, often-exaggerated assumptions.
“One reason people want a trial is they want to know the story and they want to understand. It’s not just punishment,” Chiarella said.
The morning was about to turn into afternoon and Chiarella seemed restless. I could tell it was time for me to leave. He continued: “I think Matt probably could have lost the conviction and then it would have been a lot worse for him. It’s an absurdly short sentence, but people get away with a lot worse.”
“Worse than murder?” I asked. He pretended he didn’t hear me so I asked again. “What’s worse than murder?”
Chiarella paused. He didn't like me very much.
“It’s not a murder if he just shot the pan. It’s an act of manslaughter. Or whatever – if that’s the thing that happened.” He paused again. Then he went on the offensive. “You don’t even know. And you’ve been investigating it. We’re all talking about things we’ve heard.”
A former student pulled up in front of Chiarella’s house then. Chiarella’s old chocolate Labrador barked at the sedan and Chiarella walked off the porch to greet the guest. I shook the professor’s hand as I passed him on my way out, but as I began walking back into town I stopped to look across the street at Paul Dell’s house. Dell was released from prison in 2007. Neighbors say that seeing Dell in the flesh these days is a rare occurrence. That he lives like a shut-in, rarely showing up around town, not even at bars. He and Jean live in the same home they lived in with Hauff back in 2001. No longer pink, the house is now a dismal olive green, with unturned dirt and tall weeds out front. Each tree is either dead or in the process of dying.
I stopped in front of their house when a screen door opened on the side of the estate. A small dog with curly white fur jumped out. Maybe a Westy. He waddled into a 20-by-30 foot area encased by a wire fence, presumably constructed for the pooch to romp around and defecate in. I hoped to see inside, to see Paul or Jean, but the door closed as quickly as it opened.
Chiarella was right. I don’t know. I don’t know whether a murderer got a lucky break or if a swindler got what he deserved or anything really, about what happened in the Black Angus kitchen on a stormy night in February more than a decade ago. Only Paul Dell knows, and maybe Jean too, if he ever told her.
What I know is that all the characters in this story are still walking the streets, all except for the victim. That much is shocking enough.