The Sad End Of George And Martha

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On the afternoon when Patricia Comkowycz found the mysterious package in her station wagon, Burrous had driven over to the S&S Plaza in his gray late-eighties Subaru station wagon, intending to dispatch George and Martha to San Francisco. He parked just outside the post office, which shares a flat-roofed turquoise stucco building with Linda’s Sunny Side Up café, the Touch of Class Dry Cleaners, the Barefoot Trader’s Beach Shop, and, right next door, a package-wrapping service called Pac ’N’ Send. Burrous had with him Leone Baxter’s mailing address on a slip of paper.

At Pac ’N’ Send they did a very nice job of boxing and wrapping the portraits, but by the time Burrous picked up his order and headed next door it was a few minutes after four and the post office had closed for the day. After tossing the package into the station wagon, he went around the corner to a row of racks behind the post office and bought a copy of USA Today. He did not notice that the station wagon into which he had put the package was not gray, was not a Subaru, and was not his.

The next day was Saturday, and the post office was open only from nine to noon. When Burrous couldn’t find the miniatures in his car, he drove back to Pac ’N’ Send to see if he might have left them there. At the wrapping shop they asked him, “Haven’t you seen the newspaper?”

A headline in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune said, SUSPECTED BOMB WAS JUST A PORTRAIT.

It emerged that the HAZMAT unit from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office had arrived at police headquarters, Holmes Beach, shortly after five o’clock Friday afternoon. Lieutenant Harris of the bomb squad had taken a wary look at the package in the cordoned-off area among the recycling bins behind the Public Works Department. A portable X-ray machine that the HAZMAT carried in its response truck had revealed small nails inside the box. Lieutenant Harris had gotten out a water cannon, stood at a safe distance, and aimed the gun at the package.

Officer Cumston’s report of the event concluded: “The box was blown and the contents revealed. It was a packaged picture of George Washington. The remains were placed into Property. The nails were from the frame of the picture.”

Fred Burrous came on Monday to claim the residue.

Recounting “the sad and humiliating story” in a letter to his “dear Leone,” Burrous wrote that he was “mighty miserable” and was “so sorry that I could have done such a dumb thing.

“In speaking with the local police,” he went on, “I found that Martha is completely gone. George is about half there.”

When the remnants of the First Couple reached San Francisco, Miss Baxter handed them over to her lawyer and friend, Richard Stratton, who contacted Baxter’s friend the art dealer Herbert Hoover, who had known the tiny George and Martha back in the partygoing days when they were all there. He concluded that even the morsels that had survived were representative of the work of Gilbert Stuart “at his best, with his most celebrated subject.”

The remains of the First Couple, larger than life size.

Miss Baxter’s lawyer filed an insurance claim.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Mrs. Comkowycz, and the Holmes Beach Police Department regard the case as closed. In their view, you simply can’t take chances nowadays with unmarked packages in your station wagon.