Alerted by neighbors complaining of the stench coming from the little white house with the unkempt yard at 2857 Ida St., Omaha police Sunday broke out a window to get inside.
Allowing a swarm of blowflies to get outside.
In a bathroom, officers found severely decomposed products of conception in a bathtub, along with instruments designed to dismember the remains for disposal. The biological material had been covered with kitty litter to absorb the stench.
As far as they could tell, medical examiners say, the body had not been cut apart.
The legs and arms, however, had been bound with duct tape.
If this grisly scene had taken place 15 miles south, at Dr. Leroy Carhart's clinic in Bellevue, Neb., it would have been just another day in the late-term abortion business.
If it had taken place 12 years earlier, Angela Manns would be seen as courageously exercising her constitutional right to "choose," and woe unto any busybody who would tell her what to do with her own body.
Or that of her child.
BUT THE GRISLY END of Angela Manns' little boy, Michael Belitz, didn't come 15 miles south and 12 years earlier. It came sometime after the boy -- described as a "genius" and a great kid by his principal -- finished sixth grade at Minne Lusa Elementary School. The potential of his life was cut off after 12 years out of the womb, instead of 20-odd weeks inside it.
Michael Belitz, the "product of conception" of a tryst between an alleged drunk and an alleged addict, never did make it to the College World Series with his best friend and his best friend's mom.
He never did get to spend another weekend with his father -- a man with a bad liver and past accusations of methamphetamine use -- who had re-entered the child's life and was trying to make the most of it.
And he never did get to graduate as valedictorian, or go to college, or get married, or have children.
MEANWHILE, neither is Angela Manns being hailed as an upholder of the right to control her own body, nor of the right to choose whether or not to be a mother. Prosecutors, in fact, are charging her with first-degree murder, and the county attorney is trying to decide whether to seek the death penalty.
If prosecutors are right and Manns did hatch and carry out a plan to kill her son, circumstances suggest it was the senseless act of a tormented and desperate woman. Going by what has been reported in the Omaha World-Herald, Angela Manns -- and by extension her son -- had a dire existence:
Interviews with Michael's family suggest that problems in his home life were apparent well before friends say they last saw him in mid-June.I GUESS YOU might say she had her reasons. Allegedly.
Angela Manns — who was born Angela Arbogast on Feb. 8, 1963 — worked as a cashier at the University of Nebraska at Omaha from 1999 until 2007, and bought the white house at 2857 Ida St. in the summer of 2003.
Earlier, Manns had given up two children for adoption, including her oldest daughter, Carrie, when the child was 3, and a son at birth.
Manns kept a daughter, who now is a teenager, and Michael. According to court records, the daughter ran away from home in 2007 and eventually went to live with Carrie, now 28.
Carrie, who agreed to comment on the condition that she be identified only by her first name, reunited with Manns in 2006 and tried to maintain a relationship with her biological mother.
Carrie's family grew close to Manns' remaining two children.
“When we first met her, she seemed normal,” Carrie said of Manns. “But the more we got to know her, the more we didn't want to be around her.”
Manns avoided attending family get-togethers and often would stay up late into the night painting her living room, tearing up carpet or doing yardwork. She drank heavily and frequently lost her temper with the children.
Dirty dishes piled up in the sink, and the refrigerator and cupboards were mostly empty.
Her half-sister told Carrie that Manns woke her up one morning by beating her with a broomstick until it broke.
“Some days, she'd never get out of bed or she'd stay up for three or four days at a time,” Carrie said. “A lot of people only knew a part of her. ... If you were inside and with her for a day or two, you saw a whole different person.”
Then again, we all have our reasons for committing evil in the hope that good might come of it, right? We have our reasons, the abortionist has his reasons, and mothers have their reasons for passing a death sentence on the lives within . . . just like Manns apparently had for, authorities say, carrying out a death sentence on the child she bore 12 years ago.
A senseless murder? When does it ever make sense for a mother to choose death for her child? How does Michael Belitz' death make less sense than what Leroy Carhart does for a living -- less sense than the taking of any innocent life?
What is sensible about a culture that places the line between a constitutional right and homicide somewhere along the birth canal? That's not the reasoned application of civilized standards; that's the law of the wild, where the big critters kill and eat the little critters.
At least in the wild, the big critters can cite "got to eat to stay alive" as a reason. Not so for us. And we thought we had outgrown "might makes right."
The question at hand in River City is this: Ultimately, who is the victim of a societal double standard? Is it Michael Belitz? Or is it Angela Manns . . . allegedly?
WE OMAHANS live in a city, a state and a country where we have plenty of money and desire for McMansions, multiple automobiles, electronic gadgets and overpriced concert tickets but not enough money or civic will to operate a Department of Health and Human Services capable of protecting vulnerable children.
We Americans have run up a massive national debt not while making sure women have every reason to welcome their unborn children -- or not kill those already born -- but instead while . . . doing what, exactly? Fighting imperial wars of choice? Creating a land of senseless excess where the second-richest man in the world pays a lower income-tax rate than his secretary?
What kind of people, at long last, decide to tackle health-care reform but only if -- as a condition of expanding access to affordable treatment -- we can mandate federal funding for abortion?
One on side, we have "progressives" so enamored of death as a solution to the problems in women's lives that they insist on provisions that almost assuredly will doom the entire push for health-care reform. On the other, you have "pro-life" conservative activists railing against pro-abortion provisions in the House and Senate bills, mainly as a pretext for sinking a "socialist" scheme they wouldn't have backed anyway.
Despite how many "good reasons" for abortion that affordable, universal health care might eliminate.
But we all have our reasons -- Don't we? -- for embracing death as an answer for the problems of life.
If a jury finds that Angela Manns killed her little boy (for reasons that seemed really good to her at the time), let's not merely say, "Ah, because legal abortion exists, she. . . ." No, what we need to acknowledge is the evil deep in the crooked little heart of every man . . . and woman.
Evil that leads us to confuse principle with the sophistry candy-coating our desire to revert to the law of the jungle "in just this one instance." Because it's easier that way.
It was easier, at least so authorities suspect, for a disturbed and alcohol-addled woman to kill her son rather than straighten up and fly right. Than it would have been for her to call her eldest daughter and ask her to take on young Michael for a while.
Just like it's easier for us to have an under-resourced, beleagured social-services agency -- one where kids too often slip through the cracks and into the abyss -- than it is for us to commit the willpower and the funding to save the children.
For it is better for us that millions should die instead of our illusions, so that the consumer society may not perish.