Evil in a brown paper package
Mail bomb victim shares inspiring story of courage, triumph
March 31, 2010Editor's note: The following is the second in a series on the life-changing experiences of Charlene Castle. Charlene was a victim in one of the biggest news stories ever to hit Capac when she was severely injured by a bomb sent through the mail in February, 1995 to ANR
pipeline where she was employed. Charlene is sharing her story now in hopes of inspiring other women in abusive relationships to find their inner strength and make changes.
By February of 1995, Charlene Dell has gone through one of the toughest years of her life.
Soon she'll learn that it's about to get a whole lot tougher.
After making the scary but necessary decision to leave her unstable and destructive marriage of 12 years, Charlene is struggling to keep up with life on her own. She concentrates on her kids and her job at ANR Pipeline in Capac, a job that she likes and is good at.
She likes the people at ANR too. They're kind and funny when she needs it most. The joking and friendly banter give Charlene something to smile about while she's toughing it out in divorce court.
|Co-workers snap photos of Charlene’s office shortly after powerful blast from mail bomb left her severely injured.|
Her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Lawrence Dell, is keeping his promise to make her life miserable.
"Larry said he'd bleed me dry and that I'd be dragged into court over everything and that's exactly what he did," Charlene says.
The stress is made worse by Lapeer County court decisions that Charlene finds absolutely unbelievable—even bordering on the absurd. She believes Dell's attorney and someone inside the court system are close. She believes this works in Dell's favor.
For example, Charlene is awarded temporary custody of the house on Blacks Corners Road in Imlay City. Though Dell was ordered to vacate the home, he decides the rules shouldn't apply to him.
"He hauls me into court and tells them he'd put up a plywood wall in the house dividing it so we could share the house and (the judge) went with it," Charlene says.
This, of course, is not acceptable. Charlene packs up the kids and moves. Still, Dell is everywhere she turns.
"I didn't need his money for support, didn't need him, didn't need any property," she says. "But those were my kids and that is the one hold he knew he had and I was terrified he was going to hurt them to get to me."
Dell continues to work the court system, demanding more visitation time. He calls her friends, relatives, workplace. He seems to be everywhere she goes.
"I have paperwork from a session where (the Friend of the Court) said there was instability there but they turned around and gave him more visitation," Charlene says.
She changes her phone number. Seeks and gets an anti-stalking order but Dell persists.
"He harassed me at work to the point where ANR put in an electronic gate to keep him away," she says. "All the people I worked with were fantastic, they were my brothers. It was a good company to work for. They realized what was going on and did what they could to help me."
And so things were on February 7, 1995 as Charlene puts in another day with her friends and co-workers at ANR Pipeline. Charlene is busy doing paperwork that afternoon when a package arrives. It is addressed to her. That's not unusual. She'd gotten mail from corporate before. What is unusual is the way the package looks...all neat and tidy.
"Every red flag that possibly could have gone up went up," Charlene says. "It had a photocopied label with my name printed on it. Corporate never printed my name," Charlene continues. "The tape on the package was perfectly folded at the corners. Mitered, they call it."
Busy with paperwork, Charlene sets the box aside. Coworkers Paul Roggow and Dennis Castle start teasing her about it.
"The big joke was 'oh, this is addressed to you. We're going to open it,' and I said 'go ahead,'" Charlene says.
Paul and Dennis handle the package, try to get it to rattle and joke that it doesn't feel right. After a little more teasing they leave Charlene's office and go back to work.
Charlene finishes what she's doing and walks back over to the package. It is 1:26 p.m.
"I look at it and all the red flags and everything inside me, almost like God is
tapping me on the shoulder saying 'don't do it,' and my thought is 'I'm protected, I'm in a locked facility,'" Charlene says.
Charlene pulls open the flaps and instantly it registers what she's looking at. That recognition will save her life.
"I saw red and I saw white and I remember saying 'oh my God that's dynamite,' and I took one step back and started to turn away," she says.
Charlene is knocked backwards by a huge explosion and fireball that blasts out of the box.
She slams into a glass covered bookcase, covered in flames, surrounded by fire.
"That's when you realize evil has a voice because that fire just roared," she says. "It knocked me into that bookcase and I'm on all fours, trying to cover my face and everything's on fire and I'm burning and crying and I heard somebody yell. I realize that was me."
Charlene is trying to focus, she reaches back to try to stand up and run. A hot shard of glass runs through her hand. Her left leg is mangled—almost blown off. Still she manages to run toward the door.
Dennis and ANR Superintendent Bob Derocha are running toward her. Paul is racing for the fire extinguisher. Dennis can't believe what he's seeing but yells to Charlene: "Drop and roll."
"He kept saying 'drop and roll, drop and roll,' and he grabbed a piece of insulation that had blown out of the ceiling and put it on my face and over me to put out the fire," she says. "I remember him asking me what happened. I told him 'he got me.'"
Shocked by the scene, Paul is immobilized for a moment. Stunned. Dennis yells for him to call 911.
"All of a sudden somehow Dennis got it to register and Paul calls 911," Charlene says. The call goes through right before the fire burns out the phone lines, cutting off all communication.
Charlene's pain is indescribable. Eighty percent of her body is injured by shrapnel and burns. The burns cover more than half of her body. Forty percent of those are 'full thickness,' meaning there is no skin left—the flames penetrated her flesh. Shrapnel hit a femoral vein in her upper thigh and she is bleeding profusely. Shrapnel wounds, hot glass, her face and eyes burned and clothing melted to her chest, Charlene begins to go into shock. Despite the burns she feels chilled to the bone. Still, she manages to bark out orders, something her funny coworkers will tease her about later.
"They say 'you are one bossy woman when you're dying,'" Charlene chuckles as she chokes back tears. "This is where my kids are. Here are my parents. Get the kids and hide," Charlene instructs.
"Everything is in fast forward. I had to get those kids protected. I knew it was him and I knew (trying to take the kids) would be the first thing he'd do," Charlene says.
Dennis takes note of Charlene's commands. Then he gets down on the floor to comfort her. He lays beside her and gently talks.
"He's just talking to me and saying everything's going to be okay," Charlene says.
She starts praying as Dennis calmly talks. She asks God to spare her life, to keep her babies from the pain of losing their mom. She's praying with all her might. She hears something unusual.
"It's a voice and it said 'Hush, child, and rest,'" Charlene says, filled with emotion at the memory. "All of a sudden I just felt really warm all over and I had been so cold up to this point."
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.