No Running (in the Hall)

In 1996, I was a twelve year-old girl, adjusting to my new junior-high school life—things like moving between classes, lockers, gym clothes, and of course the new reality of hall monitors; grim, omnipresent adults, stationed between rooms with pads of pink detention slips. The most popular hall monitor was Mr. Francois. He was a large man, 6’4 and wide, with an impassive expression. He rarely smiled but seemed to be well liked amongst the students. I would see him hunched over in groups of adolescents, chatting casually. Once I saw him slow dancing with an older student.

Despite his friendly reputation, I was a rule follower and desperate to avoid the gaze of authority, so when I heard a voice booming at me over the sound of a dozen swishing backpacks, my heart hammered in my chest. I turned around. Mr. Francois was towering above me, staring fixedly at me from behind his large square-framed glasses.

“Where you trying to get to so fast?”

“I was just—”I glanced at the students rushing past, darting to get around us. “Trying to catch up to my friend,” I said.

He shook his head. “There’s no running in the halls.” In one hand, he held up his pack of pink slips, “Now write me a paper about why there’s no running in the school. Give it to me tomorrow before lunch, or I’ll see you in detention.”

The possibility of lunch detention was beyond unsettling to my 6thgrade self. I completed the assignment that evening and the following day I scanned the corridor for Mr. Francois, spotting him in the middle of the hallway, leaning against a locker. I walked up to him with measured cautiousness, the epitome of a responsible student, fearing I might still somehow provoke punishment. “Here,” I said, thrusting the handwritten paper into his hands. I walked away with forced calm.

The next time I thought about Mr. Francois was the summer before 8thgrade. Someone turned on the news and I found myself staring at a vaguely familiar face in the corner of the screen, a pair of dull, motionless eyes peering out from behind a pair of large square glasses. I read the text on the screen with a sense of dawning sickness. Poughkeepsie Man Linked to Slayings of Eight Women. I watched as workers, wearing white gloves and masks, unloaded a series of bodies in the background.

In the years that I was in middle school (1996-1998), Kendall Francois killed 8 women—primarily substance addicted sex workers. He hid their bodies in the home he shared with his parents and younger sister—telling them that the putrid smell of decay was emanating from a family of raccoons that had died in the walls. The bodies of his victims were rotting, undetected, for 2 years.

At the time, I remember hearing rumors that Kendall Francois had murdered sex workers as an act of revenge, having contracted HIV from solicited sex. According to Wikipedia, Kendall Francois was HIV positive, however it isn’t clear whether this was a contributing factor in his serial killing or his primary motive. Regardless, it seems that he died without much regret, quoted as saying “…they all deserved to die.”

I haven’t thought much about Kendall Francois over the last 20 years. Reflecting on the experience this year, I was struck by the fact that an employee’s killing spree was not publicly addressed at the school I attended. There were no assemblies. No counseling sessions. No parent support meetings, etc. The charges were brought against Kendall Francois the summer before I started 8thgrade, and by the time Labor Day rolled around, his name was mostly a whisper at lunch tables or between classes.

Of course what’s more concerning is the reality that a serial murderer almost gave me lunch detention; and that, at the time of our only interaction, he had already begun to kill people. His first victim, Wendy Meyers, was already dead and decomposing in the attic.