A Bad Place to Die
Saturday, July 24 of last year was typically hot and humid. It was around noon -- not quite the warmest part of the day -- when three teenage boys walked single-file into a wooded area near Bear Creek Park, ostensibly to fetch a box of marijuana. Allegedly, once they were out of the view of the residents of a nearby subdivision, the third boy in the procession pulled out a small hatchet and struck the boy in front of him in the back of the head. As the wounded youth dropped to his knees the attacker struck him in the head again, then used the ax to slash his victim several times in the neck.
As 18-year-old Robbie Bayley thrashed about in the underbrush, he begged the two boys he had trusted as friends not to kill him, not to let him die. Unfazed, the pair turned their backs on Bayley and walked away.
Then things got sick.
During the next three weeks more than 30 teenagers made a trek into the Bear Creek woods to view the body of Robbie Bayley as it decomposed in the hellish heat and humidity of a Houston summer.
Some made repeat visits. Some brought along dates. Some reportedly took body parts as souvenirs.
But none of them -- not even those who knew Robbie Bayley -- felt enough remorse or revulsion to report what they had seen to the authorities.
When asked why they went, they numbly reply that it was just "something to do." When asked why they didn't bother to tell anyone, they say they didn't want to get involved.
The sideshow didn't end until Robbie Bayley's remains were discovered by two eight-year-old boys as they rode their bicycles along a well-worn path through the property. The wooded area runs alongside a creek that cuts through one of the northwest Harris County subdivisions that make up the area loosely known as Bear Creek.
Strip malls line both sides of Highway 6, which cuts through Bear Creek north of Interstate 10. Hidden behind the WhataBurgers, Luby's, Supercuts, Minit-Lubes, K-Marts and Kathy's Kiddie Korner are the homes of middle- to upper-middle-class, mostly white families. There are rows of cul-de-sacs with look-alike three-bedroom brick structures that house mall-dwellers and the children of MTV. Rent-a-cops patrol and protect these American Dream neighborhoods that sprung up in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the oil boom.
It was in this environment that Robbie Allen Bayley spent his final days, drifting from the home of one new friend to the next. Conflict with his father and stepmothers had made it impossible for Robbie to live with them; immaturity had made it impossible for him to live on his own. The fact that such a superficially placid area as Bear Creak could be home
to violence is, sadly, no longer surprising. And that an 18-year-old boy would be killed by other youths over drugs is, also sadly, hardly news. But the morbid acts that followed Robbie Bayley's murder, and the veil of silence that was drawn over his body, raise questions not only about how he died, but about how he lived. They are questions about the route that leads from being a child with promise to just another victim in a body bag.
Robbie was a smile, a charmer, a free spirit," remembers his father, Calvin Bayley, himself smiling at the thought of his son.
"Robbie was stubborn," interjects Wanda Bayley, Calvin's third wife and Robbie's second stepmother. "Very stubborn."
"Out of all the kids, Robbie was the one you never had to remind to say 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, ma'am,' " adds Wanda, who then laughs, "but he got into everything. He got into more than most boys."
So much so that he finally got into a situation where his charm and dark good looks couldn't save him.
As the Bayleys offer up their raw emotions and their memories of Robbie, Calvin sits on a sofa in the front room of their family home in Paris, Texas. Wanda sits on the floor near her husband. After several years in Houston the Bayleys recently moved back to Paris. To earn a living, Calvin works as an electrician in Dallas during the week, then makes the two-hour drive back to Paris each weekend. It's a hard way to go, but in Calvin's mind he had no choice.
"I guess you could say I was run out of town," Calvin says. "If I stayed, all it would take is for me to run into those kids [involved in Robbie's death] one time at the supermarket, and I can't say what I'd do. The way I look at it, they cheated me out of my son."
Robbie Allen Bayley was born September 8, 1974 to Calvin and Bonita Bayley, Calvin's first wife. Robbie was the third child of the couple, who had married when they were both about 16 years old. Before Robbie was two, he and his older sisters, Suzie and Patsy, had been placed in a foster home, marking the beginning of what would be, to his death, an extended and somewhat dysfunctional family life.
The kids were returned to their father after Calvin Bayley married his second wife, Jeanne. During her six years of marriage to Calvin, Jeanne became attached to the children. But when Calvin left her to marry Wanda, Robbie and his sisters went with him to Paris. Still, Jeanne, who has no children of her own, managed to stay in contact.
"Robbie would call me from school," says Jeanne, who owns a company that repairs fire-damaged household items. "He'd go in to complain about his dad or something and they'd let him use the phone because they felt so sorry for him and he'd call me in Houston."
Jeanne would also see Robbie when he visited his grandfather in Houston or his birth mother, Bonita, in Dallas. "I was his mother for six years," explains Jeanne. "I cared for him like he was my own. We had a bond."
Like his sister Patsy before him, Robbie came back to Jeanne when he was 15, leaving Wanda and Calvin during Christmas of 1989 after they had again moved to Houston from Paris. However, Jeanne doesn't place the blame for Robbie's wanderlust on his dad and his dad's third wife.
"When kids have three [mothers] they tend to idolize the one that's not there," says Jeanne. "It's always better to be the parent who gets them on the weekends. So Robbie ran away right before Christmas and came to live with me. But then he started running away from me."
In reality, Robbie didn't so much run away from home. He just didn't come home until he felt like it. He also began to share his father's wide-ranging interest in the opposite sex.
"I found that Robbie wasn't running away from anybody," says Jeanne. "Robbie just did not want to quit doing whatever it was he was doing at the time. And he had his little girlfriends. I don't know how many of his girlfriends have told me that he spent the night in their closets or under their beds while their fathers didn't even know he was there. He was just partying."
Robbie's attitude that the party never ends extended to school, which Jeanne says he loved because of the social possibilities it presented. Even so, he left school for good after being expelled from Sugar Land Junior High for a seemingly innocuous crime.
"The principal called and said, 'Your son can't go to school here anymore,' " says Jeanne. "And it was from chewing gum. That doesn't sound very bad, does it? But the fact is that the teacher told him 12 times to throw the gum out. And he just sat and looked at her and smirked. Then he was told to go to the office and he gets up and walks out the door. So it wasn't actually for chewing gum. He was just totally insubordinate."
Indeed, Robbie was compiling quite a history of discipline problems. He was the only child in the history of the Paris school district to be kicked off a bus in kindergarten. Although he couldn't spell worth a lick, he was nevertheless viewed as an intelligent child who liked to take things apart to see how they worked. He also liked to push the outside of the envelope when it came to behavior. A fifth-grade teacher told his parents that Robbie would be either the smartest man in the world or the biggest con artist they had ever seen.
Not surprisingly, the discipline problems weren't limited to school, and Robbie and Calvin's relationship became strained. Looking back at some of his fights with his son, Calvin Bayley today doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"When Robbie was about 12 years old he got suspended from school," recalls Calvin. "And I said, 'Son, if you don't have an education and don't finish school you're going to end up digging ditches for a living.' And we had just put a new hot tub in. And I had a ditch about 40 foot long that I wanted him to dig. I got him up at seven that morning. I went out there with a can of paint and painted across the yard where I wanted it dug. I dug down and showed him how deep I wanted it.
"I got back that afternoon and it was the most perfect straight ditch you've ever seen in your life. But then I look up. And we had a large, two-story house with brick all the way up. There must have been 3,000 mud clots stuck on the side of the wall. Because while he dug the ditch, he amused himself by sticking mud clots on the wall. I mean it was covered."
"You did not discipline Robbie," says Calvin. "Both of you saved face. It was a negotiation with Robbie."
But officials at the next institution Robbie would attend weren't so tolerant. That was TYC -- Texas Youth Commission in Pyote, Texas, to which Robbie Bayley was sentenced in September 1990 for stealing a car. Robbie turned 16 in the west Texas youth correctional facility. Family members hoped his six months of incarceration would be the wake-up call Robbie needed. They were to be disappointed.
After his release in March 1991, Robbie continued to bounce around the parameters of his extended family -- staying a few months with his dad and Wanda, then going back to Jeanne. But he was soon out running just to be on the run again. He also spent some time with his grandfather near the east Texas community of Trinity. Everyone knew Robbie. He was the guy with no driver's license or insurance who drove a beat-up Ford truck that backfired, and who was dating the sheriff's daughter.
"He broke up with the sheriff's daughter," recalls Wanda. "But then he started dating her sister. The truck had broke down so the sheriff carried him to the outside of town and told him, 'Bye.' "
When Robbie turned 17 he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. His family had no idea why. Each time Robbie called he claimed to be doing something different. Sometimes he talked about maybe changing his name and doing some modeling.
That dream was a recurrent theme in the fantasy world of Robbie Bayley, who by then, according to a close friend, had added marijuana and LSD to his arsenal of escape. Jennifer Phillips, now 20, was 16 when she met Robbie. Phillips says she treated Bayley, who was a year her junior, like a little brother. Often, when Robbie had problems and hit the road, he would come stay with Phillips at her parents' house, sometimes sleeping in her closet, other times sleeping in her car. After they grew apart, Robbie stayed in touch by phone. Phillips says Robbie wanted to start his life over.
"He wanted to change his name so bad," says Phillips. "He didn't want anybody to know who he was. He used to always talk about going out to California and being a model. And he gave himself the name Christian Dior. Whenever he called the house and my mom would answer the phone, he'd use a British accent and say he was Christian Dior.
"He always had big plans. He would say he had a modeling job in California. He was going to model for Cosmopolitan. This was the big story he told me before he left. He was going to come back here with two Ferraris, one for me and one for him. He was a dreamer."
But instead of California and a Fabio lifestyle, it was Arkansas and menial labor. After a year in Little Rock, Robbie returned to Texas in September 1992. At the time, he was working for one of those hideous traveling youth groups that go door-to-door selling magazines. When the bus stopped in Houston, he called Jeanne to come get him. Robbie tried to work for a while with his electrician father, but their relationship again soured. So it was back to Jeanne. This time, though, she laid down the law, telling Robbie that his rock-and-roll lifestyle and rowdy friends had to go.
Robbie seemed to agree, moving back in with Jeanne at her apartment in southwest Houston in the spring of 1993. For two months he lived under the new rules and worked at her restoration company -- measuring damaged glass, taking sofas to be reupholstered and tables to be refinished, ordering supplies, endearing himself to Jeanne's customers with his innately charming manner. For the first time in his almost 19 years, Robbie Bayley seemed to have some direction. He obtained a driver's license, registered to vote and saved enough money to get an apartment across the street from Jeanne, who thought her boy was finally on the verge of growing up.
But by May 1993, Robbie's progress had begun to unravel. Against Jeanne's wishes, Robbie took on a roommate, and the partying began anew. On a Monday in that month Robbie reported for work and told Jeanne he needed some time off. Instead, she sent him on a one-day out-of-town job to give him time to clear his head. The next day the teary-eyed Robbie quit anyway, telling Jeanne it was very serious and she just wouldn't understand.
"My mistake," says Jeanne, "was that I thought this was going to be like the prodigal son and that he would come to his senses. And when he did I would take him back. But I never went to him and told him that. I should have. I was just stubborn."
So was Robbie. Within weeks, the party, at least at Robbie's apartment, finally did end. First the electricity was shut off. Then he was evicted, even though he would still sneak back in through a window to crash or have sex with the latest love of his life. Among the last of these was then-17-year-old Danielle Powell. Danielle says she "assumed Robbie was selling drugs because he always had them" and that they "totally connected" while "frying" on some blotter acid when they were hanging out at the hot tub at a southwest Houston apartment complex.
"Back then I was only 17 and I wasn't allowed to have boys spend the night," says Danielle, now a University of Houston freshman. "One night we went over to his apartment because he was finally going to show it to me. There was no electricity."
After uncovering a mattress the young couple had sex and confessed their love for each other. It seemed like true romance, or at least as true as Robbie Bayley could be.
By the end of June, Danielle was looking to the future. "I had become so attached to this guy," says the small, young woman with sandy hair. "I just wanted to marry him. I mean, we were talking about getting an apartment together when I turned 18 that September. I mean, we were naming our kids, you know?"
In addition to the talk of getting a place with Danielle, Robbie had decided to go into the grass business -- mowing instead of selling, that is. He had a flier printed up and passed it around the Bear Creek neighborhood, where he was now drifting from one friend's home to the next, even though Calvin and Wanda Bayley were also living in the same area -- a fact that made it easier to start his fledging business. He borrowed their truck and lawn mower.
But before the business was off the ground, Robbie and Calvin had had another one of their arguments. Calvin had heard that Robbie was transporting several teenage boys who had been seen breaking into nearby homes, so he took back the keys to his truck.
"That's when we had our conversation," says Calvin. "And it wasn't very pleasant. I said, 'Son, one day, if you don't straighten up, quit running around with some of these kids that you're running around with.... Every time that phone rings it scares me to death. One day a policeman's going to come to my door and tell me you're dead."
That was the last time Calvin Bayley saw his son.
At the time of his final blow-up with his father, Robbie was on the run again -- living with friends until their parents finally got sick of him and forced him to move on to the next. Shortly before his death, Robbie was staying at the home of a 16-year-old boy who would later become a suspect in the murder.
Wanda Bayley, Calvin's third wife, was the last member of the family to see Robbie. She recalls that it was around July 15, 1993, when he dropped by their Glencairn subdivision home on Sprey Lane in the Bear Creek area.
"Everything was fine," says Wanda. "He came in and wanted to know where his dad was. Calvin was working late. So, he gave me a beeper number. He was dressed up real nice. He looked really nice. He said he had a date and was running late and had to go."
But then Robbie dropped out of sight, and Jeanne Bayley began to sense that something was wrong. Jeanne had learned that the reason Robbie had left his job at her restoration company was that he had been sentenced to ten days in jail on a drug charge. Rather than tell her he needed time off to serve his sentence, he simply quit. It gave Robbie a reason not to call Jeanne, but still, as the dog days of summer approached, Robbie's silence grew alarmingly loud.
Calvin and Wanda also became anxious about Robbie's well-being. Jeanne attempted to allay their fears. "I told Wanda that I wasn't real concerned because I knew that he would call me on his birthday [September 8]," says Jeanne. "He always called me on his birthday no matter where he was, just in case I bought him something."
But that conversation took place in late August. And Wanda pointed out to Jeanne that some skeletal remains had been pulled out of the woods not far from their Bear Creek home on August 14. Still, believing that it would take longer than a month for a body to decompose, the Bayleys talked themselves out of the idea that the corpse could be Robbie's.
Meanwhile, Jeanne placed a personal ad in a weekly paper Robbie regularly read, asking him to phone home. He didn't. And his birthday came and went. Now Jeanne was scared. The next day she met with Calvin and Wanda, who had been calling all the local jails and hospitals. They also called the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office and asked specifically about the body that had been found in the woods near their home. They were assured, however, that the body couldn't possibly be Robbie's.
Bonded by their concern for Robbie's safety, Wanda and Jeanne began passing out fliers with Robbie's picture and asking for information on his whereabouts. The circulars produced some disturbing phone calls. One was particularly chilling. A girl who refused to give her name told Wanda that she knew how Robbie had been killed.
"They took him out in the woods and hit him with a hatchet," said the caller. "And he begged them not to kill him, but they walked off. Just thought you'd want to know." Then she hung up.
"That was ten o'clock on a Sunday night," says Wanda. "And I just got sick. Calvin kept asking me what it was, and I just couldn't say anything."
On September 11, the Bayleys filed a missing persons report with the Harris County Sheriff's Office. That same day, Wanda had another spooky telephone conversation with a female friend of Robbie's.
"I called her, but didn't tell her who I was, and told her I was looking for Robbie Bayley," recounts Wanda. "And she said, 'Oh, he's dead.' And I said, 'Excuse me?' And she said, 'He's dead.' And I go, 'What are you talking about? Who said he was dead?' And she said, 'Well, everybody.' And I said, 'Who's everybody? I want some names.' And she said, 'Just everybody. I was asking about him the other day and they told me he was dead.'
"Then I got mad and I said, 'I want some names, now.' And she said, 'Oh, you'll have to talk to somebody else about that. Bye.' I haven't been able to find her since then."
Meanwhile, Deputy Craig Miller of the Harris County Sheriff's Department began questioning teenagers in the Bear Creek area. He quickly concluded not only that Robbie Bayley was dead, but that he had been murdered and his death was common knowledge among local teens.
"I began beating the brush and started hearing the general rumor that Robbie had been killed," says Miller. "By then the kids regarded it as pretty much old news."
Curiously, although the kids couldn't tell Miller if the police had been notified or if there had been a funeral, they all seemed to know how Robbie Bayley had been killed.
"They said they had heard that he had been hit in the head with a hatchet," says Miller. "Then I remembered the body in the woods. I called the medical examiner's office, but they assured me that the body was that of an older man. But I went ahead and told [the Bayleys] that I personally thought the person in the woods might have been their son and that they needed to get some dental records together."
Sergeant James Cashion of the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's Office had also been asking questions and getting similar results. Cashion remains puzzled that none of the youths came forward with information about Robbie.
"I thought I'd seen everything, but I've never seen anything like this," says Cashion, one of the first two law enforcement officers on the scene when Robbie's body was discovered. At the time, of course, they didn't know whose remains had been found. In fact, the corpse was in such an advanced state of decomposition that investigators at first couldn't even determine whether the victim was a man or a woman.
It was a Tuesday in the early afternoon when the two eight-year-old boys made their grim discovery in the woods. Cashion and his partner were dispatched to check their story. They parked their patrol car on Addicks-Satsuma Road where it crosses Langham Creek near a water tower. Then they walked about 1,000 feet into the woods bordering the Bear Creek Villages subdivision. The remains were located about 40 feet off the main trail, the skull next to the left leg.
According to the postmortem report by the medical examiner, death was the result of a "fractured skull due to blunt trauma of the head." The examiner also concluded that the victim had been stabbed in the face. Exposed to the summer heat and humidity, it had taken only a few weeks for the body to decompose.
"Some amount of mummified tissue was still present over the lower portion of the hip, the areas of the thighs, upper legs and knees," reads the report, which lists that the remains were found with various articles of clothing such as Levi's jeans and Fila athletic shoes. The medical examiner's inventory also makes note of items that were not there -- among them 12 missing teeth, which lends credence to statements by family members that some of the teens who came to view the decaying remains took away body parts as mementos. Investigators say they can't confirm the fears of the family. However, they do say there are rumors that some kids played soccer with Robbie Bayley's skull.
"I've talked with several individuals who went out into the woods to look at the body," says one investigator. "They'd be sitting around and somebody would say, 'Hey, let me go show you the body.' And they'd just go out into the woods and see the body. It was just sort of the thing to do. I would venture to say that about three dozen kids did that."
"Nobody ever bothered to tell anybody, as far as authorities go," the investigator continues. "Nobody ever bothered to tell their parents. Never bothered to say anything to anybody else, other than to another friend who would be taken out there. It wasn't until we contacted them or contacted their families and made arrangements to have them brought in that we ever got any voluntary response.
"A lot of them said they were sickened by the sight and the smell of it, but they figured somebody else would tell the police. It wasn't their job."
the remains of Robbie Bayley were not positively identified until September 17, 1993, when medical examiners were able to match the boy's dental and nasal-cavity records. But police were already looking at several suspects, including the 16-year-old boy whose mother had let Robbie live in their home. However, by that point in the investigation, the suspect, Matthew Wells, had been placed in a boarding school in Provo, Utah. Similarly, another suspect, 17-year-old Stanley Nicholas, was enrolled in a military school in Harlingen, Texas. Police were also interested in talking with a 17-year-old girl who had apparently been one of Robbie Bayley's last flames.
According to the girl, Katherine McGowen, on the day of the murder she and Robbie had a date to go to AstroWorld. But instead of heading directly to the amusement park, the couple first drove to Matthew Wells' house. When they arrived, Stanley Nicholas was also there.
McGowen says the four of them then drove around the corner, where the three boys got out and walked off into the woods to look, Nicholas and Wells said, for a box of marijuana. After about a half-hour, says McGowen, Wells and Nicholas returned without Robbie. According to McGowen, when she asked where her date was, the other two boys explained they had been attacked by someone throwing rocks and that Robbie had run off in the opposite direction.
McGowen says that she, Nicholas and Wells then decided to wait for Robbie to return at Wells' home. When Robbie didn't show up, she convinced the pair to take her into the woods, where she futilely searched for him for about 30 minutes. McGowen told police she was later informed by a friend that Robbie was dead.
Authorities also questioned other Bear Creek-area youths -- first those who had heard the rumor of Robbie's death, then those who actually went out to view his remains. The investigation began to focus on those kids who had information about the possible killer or killers.
Robert Patrick Singleton is an 18-year-old high school dropout who, much like Robbie Bayley, lived from friend to friend. When asked by investigators why he had gone to look at Bayley's body as it rotted in the woods, Singleton replied, "It was just something to do." However, he also says that murder suspect Stan Nicholas bragged to him that he killed Robbie Bayley because Bayley had allegedly stolen some drugs from him.
"He told me he was glad that he did it," says Singleton. He also has no affection for or fond memories of Robbie Bayley. Singleton claims that Bayley brought him to the attention of federal drug agents. He didn't elaborate on his own situation, but added that Bayley had a history of getting people in trouble.
More credible are the comments of 16-year-old Bryan Edward Purcell, who, like Singleton, knew Bayley through his friendship with Matthew Wells and who also made repeated trips to gawk at Bayley's remains in the woods last summer.
"Matt said there was a body in the woods," recalls Purcell. "We didn't believe him, so he took us out there."
Purcell says he wasn't able to tell who the corpse was because there was no flesh on the head. He also says he went to look at the body as many as four times.
Last fall, Purcell attended the military academy where Nicholas was enrolled. Purcell, too, claims that Nicholas boasted of the killing.
"Matt had told me, so I asked Stan about it," Purcell remembers. "He said they were out in the woods. Said they were going to get drugs. Said he pulled out a hatchet and hit him the back of the head with it. Said he hit him in the head with the hammer part of it, then with the hatchet in the neck. Then he drug the body back through the woods.
"Stan wasn't real clear why they did it. Just said that Robbie had stolen something from him. That Robbie lived with friends and that he stole their stuff left and right."
Katherine McGowen, Robert Singleton and Bryan Purcell recently testified at a hearing in which Stanley Nicholas was certified to stand trial as an adult in connection with the murder of Robbie Bayley. Nicholas, who suffers from a bad case of acne, is a skinny, dark, complicated kid with short dark hair. His rail-thin, white-haired father, who works overseas for Brown and Root, sat grimly at the side of his son, who showed no outward emotion during the hearing, staring blankly at witnesses as well as at members of the Bayley family. During most of the proceedings, Matthew Wells remained in the courthouse hallway under the nervous eyes of family members. Wells paced and occasionally slammed his fist into his hand, muttering, "Some day, some day." Wells, another skinny kid who wears very thick glasses, has yet to be charged in the case.
Also on hand for the two-day certification hearing were many members of Robbie Bayley's family. Calvin and Wanda Bayley drove in from Paris, Texas. Robbie's natural mother, Bonita Hathcock, came in from Dallas. Jeanne and Patsy Bayley took time off from their Stafford restoration business. Although fiscally they couldn't afford to spend time in court, mentally they couldn't have afforded not to be there. Still, they find some solace in their opinion that things could be worse. They could be the relatives of the suspects. But they also have feelings of guilt.
"The kid did not have that one special person in his life that he knew that, no matter what, he could go to that person," says Jeanne. "He went to one of us for one thing, one of us for another, and one of us for another. It's like he had a triple personality."
And Jeanne says she realizes now that she never completely knew Robbie Bayley.
"He told me once that, 'I know you think it's the people I run around with that make me like this. But, Mom, it's not them. It's me.' "
Last Christmas, right about the time Stanley Nicholas was arrested, Calvin Bayley went into the woods where Robbie was murdered and erected a small wooden cross at the site where his son's body was found. On the cross is the name Robbie A. Bayley. Calvin thinks about how Robbie was left there to die.
"I can remember when I was a kid and we'd be driving down the road and cars would be stopped, blocking traffic," says Calvin. "The next thing you knew there would be an old man or woman running across the road with a dog that somebody had hit wrapped up in their arms." He pauses, stricken by the notion that a dog would get more attention than his son.
Jeanne Bayley thinks the cross a simple, appropriate memorial. A bluejay feather and several small, hard berries have been placed atop it recently.
"I can see why the kids go out there," says Jeanne. "That's an awesome place. I mean, you're in the woods. You could be on a safari or an adventure. It is a great place to meet the Lord. I remember looking around and thinking, 'This is where my son died. This is the last thing he saw.' "
In many ways, she thinks, it wouldn't be that bad a place to die. "But I don't think," she says finally, "that the way he died was a good way to die.
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