The boys were fed up with the bully. He was a head taller than either of them and a master of intimidation. Michael forced them to do his chores and found it entertaining to give them a good wallop now and then. So on a warm summer morning in 1946, Donald and Jimmy lured the 11-year-old to a pond.
They watched as he squatted alongside the shore and used his knife to carve a live turtle out of its shell. As he leaned in to get a closer look at his gruesome dissection, one of the boys hit him over the head with a club. Again, again and again, until Michael's heart stopped beating.
There have been an abundance of recent news reports about young folks who have committed suicide because bullying went too far. But as Donald tells us, more people are at risk than the victims.
''Kids have to be taught that not only are the kids being bullied in jeopardy, but so is the bully. In my case, the bully is dead,'' said Donald, a Medina resident whose last name is not being used to protect his grandchildren and business partner from retribution.
The murder took place 64 years ago, when Donald was just 11 years old.
''It has haunted me every day since,'' he said recently, dropping his head into the palm of his hand.
Because of the recent suicides that have been
linked to bullying, Donald has decided to come forward to talk about his experience. His wish is that someone's life will be saved after reading his story — even a bully's.
How it began
Donald's father was not involved in his life, nor the lives of his six siblings. So when his mother died when Donald was a pre-schooler, the kids were sent to orphanages and foster homes. It was while living in a foster home, a farm in Brunswick, that he met up with Michael.
According to Donald and newspaper and medical reports from that time, Michael often threatened to beat his foster brothers if they didn't follow his orders, including doing his chores and rubbing his feet.
''He set up a boxing ring in back of one of the barns . . . and had the boys box one another. He wanted me to beat up my younger brother who lived on the farm, but I absolutely refused to do that,'' Donald recalled. ''And because of that, he got in the ring and beat the living tar out of me. I remember the other boys had to pick me up and lay me on a bundle of hay.''
A little more than a week before Michael was clubbed to death, he got into a quarrel with 12-year-old Jimmy while weeding the corn crop. Earlier, some of the foster kids had broken into a nearby house and Michael, who was nicknamed ''half-moon'' because of his low-rise britches, teased Jimmy, threatening to squeal on the gang by calling the police.
''Boy, I thought you were gonna kill him, '' Donald said, a comment that more than six decades later, he still regrets.
''Yeah, I'm going to,'' said Jimmy, who, according to Donald, could be a bit of a bully himself.
Jimmy and Donald made plans to sneak off to a neighbor's pond filled with turtles. They would steal Spam and pineapple from the fruit cellar and tell Michael that they would have lunch by the water. On the way to the pond, the boys stumbled over a club, probably the handle of an old shovel or sledgehammer.
''I knew that was what he was going to use,'' Donald said, noting that the details of the day run through his mind like a movie.
The farmer who lived on the property was on his tractor, but was too far away for him to see or hear anything going on at the pond. And, as fate would have it, Michael caught a turtle and began carving it up.
Donald remembered that Jimmy handed him the club: ''Here, you do it.''
''No, I don't wanna,'' Donald said, handing it back to Jimmy and running to the top of a nearby hill.
There, he began to pray, stopping short when he heard a scream. When he returned to the water's edge, Donald said, Jimmy was swinging the club, spewing profanity each time the weapon made contact.
''He handed me the club and said, 'You do it now.' ''
Fearful that he might die, too, if he didn't participate, Donald hit Michael with the club.
The boys dragged the body to some brush and rushed back to the foster home. That night, they sneaked back to the scene and used lime sacks to cover the body.
Michael had been gone for a week, but no one reported the boy missing. So it certainly must have been a shock to the farmer who owned the property with the pond to discover the boy's body.
Jimmy and Donald were taken to the Medina County Jail for questioning. Knowing that they were in serious trouble, the pair concocted a story that Michael had drowned while turtle hunting. That they had accidentally hit him with rocks. The story didn't hold up.
Plagued with guilt, Donald quickly confessed to the murder, recapping for police what had happened. Later, psychiatric reports would say that Donald was a boy who was easily led and did not intend to kill Michael.
In a July 22, 1946, Beacon Journal story, a reporter wrote that according to the prosecutor, ''the 11-year-old boy admitted that he and his 12-year-old companion killed the . . . boy because he was a 'bully.' ''
Laws were different then than they are now. Donald spent less than four years in the Bureau of Juvenile Research, a locked-down facility in Columbus for children, and at the Toner Institution in Pittsburgh. Toner, closed in 1977, was a military-type school for poor boys.
Today, Donald is a successful businessman who is married with children and grandchildren. He's not certain what happened to Jimmy, yet he has carried enough guilt for the two of them. The horror of what he did has never faded.
''For what I did . . . there would never be enough punishment,'' Donald said. ''I have never felt I received enough, myself. The Lord will determine that in the end.''
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or firstname.lastname@example.org