Sunday, January 13, 2002

Robbery of Monte Tewksbury

        Monte Tewksbury's kids were old enough to remember their dad. The youngest, Matt, was 12 when his father was murdered, stabbed during a robbery nearly 19 years ago. He coached his boys' Little League teams. Some nights he'd come home from work at Procter & Gamble, then get right back in the car to drive his daughter, Kimberly, to her music lesson.

        The Tewksbury house in Mount Healthy was a place where children congregated. “Dad and Mom had lots of kids besides us,” says David, the middle child, now 33.

        When they're together, they recollect bits and pieces of life back when it was normal. Their father's piercing, two-note whistle. His big, yellow “Archie Bunker” chair. He smelled like English Leather after-shave. They were embarrassed when he mowed the lawn in plaid shorts, tennis shoes and black socks.

        “I loved him,” David says, “but I wish I could have known him as an adult.”

        A scientist, Monte monitored clinical tests of new drugs for P&G and moonlighted as a phlebotomist at area hospitals. Kimberly, now 37, remembers him sprawled blissfully on the floor, Petula Clark drifting through the headphones. He liked to bowl, and he went to church on Sundays. He struggled with his weight — once losing 70 pounds through Weight Watchers. He had a weakness for egg sandwiches and Road Runner cartoons. He was strict and his language could be colorful. He made them laugh.

        They remember.<

A worrywart

        Mrs. Tewksbury — Sharon — says her husband always worked part time. “He was a worrywart,” says David, who lives in Los Angeles. “Real careful about money.” Monte worked his way through Wilmington College clerking at a convenience store, so when the King Kwik on Pippin Road needed help, he took the job.

        And there he was murdered on April 17, 1983.

        After scooping $133.97 from the register, one of the robbers plunged a 5-inch knife into Monte's right side, puncturing his liver and diaphragm. The dying man pulled himself to the phone and told his wife he was hurt and needed help.

        Sharon called an ambulance, then rushed to the store, where her husband was lying “on the cold, dirty tile floor, bleeding.” He was crying, she says, because they'd taken his wedding ring. “He knew he was dying.”

Legal jousting

        His murderer, John Byrd Jr., has been sentenced to die Feb. 19. This is, of course, after the customary prolonged legal wrangling. “We showed up at the trial and at all those hearings,” Kimberly says. “I've been hoarding vacation days for 18 years to make sure I would be there to represent Dad.” Sharon, who retired Friday after 30 years as an administrative assistant at P&G, says, “Nothing has been normal since this happened.”

        In the intervening years, this good father and loving husband, Monte Brent Tewksbury, who was just 40 when he bled to death, has been reduced to a four-word epitaph: “Murdered convenience store clerk.” His children and his wife know that he was considerably more complicated. They laugh and tease each other, as families will, reliving memories.

        Which is all they have.

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