December 4, 2004
The shriek of sirens piercing the chill December morning on Bogan Gates Drive was almost as alien as the thackety-thackety of helicopters overhead would be. This quiet street in Buford is a relatively new part of an upscale neighborhood, home to young and middle-aged professionals and their families. The houses here have mostly red-brick façades with glossy black shutters, not unlike homes in Atlanta's more affluent districts, but on a smaller scale. In 2004, the average price of a home in Bogan Gates was between $200,000 and $300,000 -- the homes would cost twice that in Denver or Seattle or Philadelphia. Buford is an ideal suburb for those who commute the thirty-five miles to Atlanta: large enough with over 14,000 residents to merit local shopping centers, but small enough to dissolve the tension that comes with driving the I-285 beltway that encircles Atlanta with bumper-to-bumper traffic. And Bogan Gates Drive itself is an oasis of serenity with its manicured lawns and colorful gardens. Children play under the watchful eyes of all the adults there. If some stranger should insinuate himself into this enclave, he would not go unnoticed.
A negative note, at least for some, is that close neighbors tend to know each other's secrets. There isn't the anonymity that exists in apartment buildings in large cities. Neither is there the loneliness that city dwellers sometimes feel. Even so, some families on the street have secrets that none of their neighbors could possibly imagine.
That doesn't stamp Bogan Gates as different; every community has its mysteries and even its surprising secrets. When reporters for television news and local papers sweep into such places, they are certain to obtain instant interviews with shocked residents who invariably say: "Something like that just doesn't happen here -- not in our neighborhood!"
But, of course, it does.
On this day in early December, Bogan Gates Drive just happened to be the site of one of the most horrific crimes in Georgia.
The town of Buford, its name as Southern as a name can be, sits close to Lake Lanier. This popular vacation spot's waters meander for mile after mile, cutting channels deep and wide into the shoreline, leaving inlets that resemble the bite marks of a giant alligator. Buford is surrounded by other small townships: Flowery Branch, Sugar Hill, Suwanee, Duluth, Oakville, Alpharetta. It is very close to the border between Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. Forsyth County once had a reputation as one of the most racially prejudiced areas in America. A sign beside the road there could read "Boiled Peanuts," or it might say, "Nigger, Get Out of Forsyth County, Before Sunset." But no longer. Oprah Winfrey once broadcast her show from Forsyth County, pulling aside the blinds to reveal raw prejudice. Today, those with set ideas about racial disparities have learned not to voice them aloud.
Buford, in Gwinnett County, is far more in tune with the twenty-first century, a bedroom community tied to a thriving metropolis. Young families who live there can enjoy relatively small-town warmth, or drive to Atlanta for more cosmopolitan pleasures.
The family who lived at 4515 Bogan Gates Drive fit comfortably into Buford's demographics. Dr. Barton T. Corbin, forty, had recently moved his dental practice to Hamilton Mill -- less than ten miles away. His wife, Jennifer "Jenn" Corbin, taught at a preschool in the Sugar Hill Methodist Church. Although Dr. Corbin's efforts to build a new practice often kept him away from home, and Jenn was the parent who spent more time with their children, they both seemed to dote on their sons, Dalton, seven, and Dillon, five. They went to the boys' ballgames and participated in school events at Harmony Elementary School, where Dalton was in second grade and Dillon in kindergarten.
Married almost nine years, the Corbins appeared to have all those things that most young couples long for: healthy children, a lovely home, admired professions, close family ties, and myriad friends.
Jenn Corbin, thirty-three, was tall and pretty, a big-boned blond who usually had a smile on her face, no matter what worries might lie behind it. Bart was also tall, taller than Jenn by two or three inches, but beyond that he was her opposite. His hair was almost black, his eyes even darker, his pale skin surprisingly dotted with freckles. He was a "gym rat" whose muscular physique showed the results of his predawn workouts. When Bart was dealing with a problem, however, or worrying over his finances, he lost weight rapidly and became angular and bony. Then his cheekbones protruded and his profile turned sharp as an ax, almost Lincolnesque.
Many of his female patients found Bart strikingly handsome; some others were a little put off by his intensity. But most of Bart Corbin's patients seemed to like him. He often traded dental care with his personal friends for some service he needed, using an old-fashioned barter system.
To an outsider, the Corbins' marriage appeared solid -- her sunniness balancing his sometimes dark moods. In truth, tiny threadlike fissures had crept silently through the perceived foundation of their marriage, weakening its structure from the inside out until a single blow could send it crumbling.
Most people who knew the Corbins weren't aware that Jenn had fled their home shortly after Thanksgiving of 2004, and that a divorce might be forthcoming. Those who did know were shaken that "Bart" and "Jenn" might be splitting up. To the world, they were a team, their very names strung together like one word when their friends talked about them. Bart-n-Jenn.
Jenn Corbin was responsible for that. She had struggled to maintain the façade that kept the foundering state of her marriage virtually invisible to the outside world. For at least eight years she continued to hope that she and Bart could somehow work out their problems and build a happy relationship. If they did accomplish that, there was no reason for anyone to know. If their union was irretrievably broken, people would know soon enough.
And know they would because, by the fall of 2004, Jenn had given up. Her parents, Narda and Max Barber, and her sisters, Heather and Rajel, knew that, although even they were reluctant to accept it. Jenn had tried to understand her husband and to make allowances for behavior she didn't understand. She had forgiven Bart for betrayals most other women would not put up with. It was he who had laid down the ground rules in their marriage, and she had accepted them. She hadn't gotten married with the idea that if it didn't work out, they could always get divorced. She and her sisters were born to parents who had married only once -- and who had just happily celebrated their fortieth anniversary.
Jenn Corbin was one of those people whom almost everybody liked, probably because she liked everybody. She thought of others before she took care of herself and she protected her small sons like a lioness would, doing everything she could to be sure they were serene and happy. She was the same way with the youngsters she taught in preschool at the church. She had a warm lap and sheltering arms when their tears came.
Jenn was a Barber before she became a Corbin, raised in a loving and a very close family. When she and Bart married, her family had opened up the circle and welcomed him in. Except for his occasional flashes of temper, Bart was a lot of fun and he happily participated in holi-day celebrations, outings on the Corbins' and Barbers' adjoining houseboats, or on picnics and trips. They all shared the kind of extended family loyalty that isn't seen very often.
Although Bart's mother, Connie, and his brothers -- Brad, Bart's twin, and Bobby -- didn't spend much time with the Barbers, their connection was amiable enough, if a bit distant. Bart's father, Gene Corbin, had remarried and wasn't often in touch.
The Corbins' marital difficulties didn't stem from in-law problems. Rather, Bart's new dental clinic was struggling, and a renewal of old issues had left their marriage on the precarious edge of oblivion. But with Christmas only three weeks away, Jenn was looking forward to finishing the decorations on a tall tree that sat in the Corbins' formal dining room. Her little boys shouldn't have to miss out on Santa Claus because of an adult situation that wasn't their fault. She was halfway through with the tree, and she had stacked boxes nearby that held her treasured sentimental ornaments, new ones she had purchased during the year, and, most precious, Dalton's and Dillon's handmade art work they were so proud of. Jenn already had wrapped and hidden lots of presents for the boys.
It was 7:30 on this Saturday morning, December 4, 2004, when Steve and Kelly Comeau, who lived across the street from the Corbins' house, were startled to hear someone knocking at their front door. They were still in bed; Steve had been out late helping a friend hang pictures, and on the way home he had stopped to help a stranded driver change a flat tire. When he answered the door, he looked down to see Dalton Corbin, age seven. Dalton's face was red and his cheeks were streaked with tears. He wore pajamas and appeared to be very upset.
"My mom isn't breathing," Dalton said. "My daddy shot my Mommy -- I need you to call 911."
Skeptical, Steve Comeau nevertheless called 911, while Kelly followed Dalton across the street to check on Jenn Corbin. She didn't even think about danger to herself, because she doubted that Dalton could really have seen what he said he had. Jenn was most likely just sleeping heavily.
The Corbins' overhead garage door was open. Kelly hurried beneath it, found that the door to the kitchen was unlocked, and headed down the hall toward the master bedroom, calling out Jenn's name. There was no answer.
There was light in the bedroom, although Kelly couldn't remember later if it was daylight or from a lamp. She could see Jenn lying diagonally across the bed. It was an odd position, and Kelly felt a little shiver of alarm. She told herself that Jenn was only sleeping, and she reached out to ...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.