Are You Sleeping
Excerpt from transcript of Reconsidered: The Chuck Buhrman Murder, Episode 1: “An Introduction to the Chuck Buhrman Murder,” September 7, 2015
I didn’t know what to expect when I first met Warren Cave. By the time we were formally introduced, I’d spent several long afternoons with his mother, Melanie, a classically beautiful woman of enviable style and impeccable poise. Melanie’s son is one of her favorite topics, and she speaks highly of him, extolling his warmth and generosity, his skill with computers, and above all, his faith.
In addition to—and in contrast with—Melanie’s glowing characterization of her son, I had done my homework on Warren Cave. I scoured the police notes, trial transcripts, and articles profiling him.
Like most people who have even a passing familiarity with the case, the image I had of Warren Cave was that of a skinny kid with stooped shoulders and acne, his hair stringy and dyed black. Photographs depicted him perpetually clad in all black and never making eye contact with the camera. Warren Cave was the kind of teenager most of us would cross the street to avoid.
I had difficulty reconciling that image with the young man his mother had so favorably described. Had her maternal love blinded her to her son’s true nature? Or was the hardened image of his youth nothing more than posturing? Did the truth lie, as it so often does, somewhere in the middle?
When I first met Warren Cave in the Stateville Correctional Center, the maximum-security prison near Joliet, Illinois, where he’s been living for the last thirteen years, I didn’t recognize him. He has embraced weight training and replaced his skinny frame with hulking muscles. As he explained to me, his weight-training regimen is more for necessity than pleasure. In prison, he says, one cannot afford to be weak. This is a lesson Warren learned the hard way: his face is marred by a scar stretching across his left cheek, a harsh reminder of an attack by a fellow inmate one year into his sentence.
Warren, who keeps his hair close-cut and natural ash-blond now, still avoids eye contact. His expression is usually guarded, but he smiles warmly when
I mention his mother. Melanie drives two hours every Sunday to visit her son, and he says that she is his best—and only—friend. Aside from his mother and Reverend Terry Glover, the minister at First Presbyterian Church in Elm Park, Warren has no other visitors. Andrew Cave, Warren’s father, left the family shortly after Warren’s arrest and died from prostate cancer eight years ago. None of Warren’s friends from his youth have kept in touch.
I don’t waste any time getting to the important questions.
If you didn’t kill Chuck Buhrman, why would his daughter say she saw you do it?
That’s a question I’ve asked myself every day for the last thirteen years. And you know what I’ve come up with? Diddly-squat. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Are you saying she made it up?
Well, I didn’t kill Chuck Buhrman, so, yeah, kind of. But I guess I can kind of see how she might’ve gotten confused. Back then, I had strayed really far from the path. I was using a lot of drugs and listening to music with satanic themes. The beast had its claws in me, and I have to wonder if she saw that somehow. It must’ve confused her. She was just a kid.
You were just a kid yourself then.
I was old enough to know better.
Had you spent much time with her or the family before Chuck was killed?
No. We moved to Elm Park in 2000, so we’d only been living there for two years by the time Mr. Buhrman died. I wasn’t exactly the block-party-attending type, if you
know what I mean. I mostly kept to myself. I don’t think I ever spoke to Mrs. Buhrman. Sometimes I’d spot her in the garden, but other than that she basically never left the house. She was kind of weird, you know. She joined a cult, right? I did talk to Mr. Buhrman once, though. One afternoon my mom was having trouble with the lawn mower. My father was traveling for work, and I was too much of a jerk then to help her out so Mr. Buhrman came over to give her a hand. He and I ended up talking about the Doors for a while. He seemed pretty cool.
Did you know your mother was having an affair with Chuck Buhrman?
Maybe it was the abruptness of the question or maybe it was the strength of his religious beliefs which condemn adultery, but Warren visibly tensed when I asked this.
My mother is not an adulteress.
So you had never witnessed anything that made you wonder whether your mother was sleeping with Mr. Buhrman?
Don’t come here and insult my mother.
I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m only trying to get to the truth. I understand that, at that point in time, your father was frequently away on business and your parents were having marital problems.
Can we move on?
Warren was rigid and almost noncommunicative for the remainder of our meeting. His strong reaction left me with a bad feeling. Had Warren known that
something was going on between his mother and Chuck Buhrman? There’s no question that Chuck was having an affair with Melanie—she herself admitted to as much on the witness stand, her husband left her over it—but it’s unclear whether the affair was common knowledge at that time.
This is an important point. The affair is, after all, the motive the State ascribed to Warren. The State argued that Warren, already a troubled teen, was so upset about his mother taking up with the neighbor and destroying what was left of his parents’ already strained marriage that he killed the object of her affection. But an impartial reading of the trial testimony shows that the State was unable to prove that Warren had known about the affair, and it had difficulty producing witnesses who could testify to widespread knowledge of it.
In the end, the State’s failure to prove motive didn’t matter because there was an alleged eyewitness. But a question continues to nag at me—and not just for the reason that you might think. Did Warren know about the affair? And if Melanie’s family knew about the affair, what about Chuck’s? What exactly did his wife and children know?