Why Write About Murder?

My last two posts have been about a real murder that touched this very real life. (Ouch! I just pinched myself to make sure I’m real. I am.) Why would I want to do something like that, and why did I do it?

My favorite way of melting leisure time is reading murder mysteries. I don’t like serial killer stuff, or contemporary hard-core private dick BS. And I don’t like the genre where the word “thriller” is placed after the word “romance,” but I do enjoy a good love story. Those are in abundance in murder mysteries because love is one of the best, if not the only, cause of murder—lost love, love of money, love of power, love to be gained. But the squeeze me-tease-me-please-me kind of romance doesn’t rattle my heart, unless it’s done extremely well, and I haven’t found anything yet that isn’t a little underdone. Cozy murders make for a good read now and again. I see those as fantasies set in fantasy small towns that don’t exist (I live in a small town, and it’s a harsh, cruel place), with bad guys who threaten the fantasy as the ones who get murdered, and the secretly nasty person exposed as the killer who did everybody a favor. Floating away to make-believe places like that and spending time with make-believe charming people is enjoyable. I don’t apologize for my preferences.

With all murder mysteries, there’s the active participation of the reader scholars call ratiocination, a fancy word meaning the reader is engaged with the story and using their powers of reason to figure out whodunnit before the protagonist claims all the glory. We like figuring it out and tying up all the loose ends. It makes us feel safe. Safe in the book we’re reading, safe in the world the writer has created, safe in making us believe nasty people with nasty intentions are always snuffed, and we figured it out, tricking ourselves into believing we can do it beyond the page and in our own worlds.

That’s a bunch of BS, but we love it all the same. We love it even if we’re not along for the ratiocination and just want to enjoy the story, because the story always turns out with the bad guy exposed as a blackheart deserving of death by murder, and the killer one of those archetypal people who smile to your face and stab you in the back. Whew! Glad we caught him or her before they killed us.

At least that’s how murder mysteries used to be. In this insane new world of indie publishing and the scramble to find the new, more interesting character for the same old thirty-six dramatic situations, things have gone over the top. Characters, especially protagonists, have gone over the top, and I’ve been over the top with these stories so many times it’s gotten boring—too many cheap tricks and contrived characters.

At least that’s how I see it, but that’s not a slam against these books. At least I don’t think it is. There’s something haywire with my nervous system, and nothing puts me asleep faster than an action-adventure movie, even the good stuff like Star Wars or Star Trek or Harry Potter or a thrill-a-million Robert Ludlum spy thriller. I can’t help it. I know there’s going to be a lot of noise and action, always some new wow! factor of special effects thrown in, cars are going to flip/fly/roll/explode in new and exciting ways, and it’s just boring as hell for me. “New” and “never before seen” just don’t push my “Awake” button. I want the good old stuff dressed up and disguised beyond recognition, like the latest self-help book.

Same goes for the kookie characters appearing in contemporary murder mysteries. Yeah, yeah, they’re kookie. Big deal. Show me something unique, an ordinary character with secret labyrinths of their mind, and I’m all over that book, except nobody seems to be writing those.

So I figured, screw it, I’ll write it. That’s what I was thinking when I was brought up short by my own thoughts and asked myself if I was nuts. Murder for entertainment? Isn’t that a little sick? I finally decided there was a reason why murder is relaxing and entertaining, and that’s when my own contact with real murder in the real world crossed my mind.

Before creating my own setting for a perfect murder an imperfect protagonist would solve, I wanted to go back and re-visit just how horrible murder can be, what it’s really like, so I’d keep that in mind as I slipped into that fantasy world.

Guess what happened after I wrote it?

I re-read my post and I realized just how dull the writing was, and how little interest I had in making it more vivid. I told myself I just didn’t care, but that’s not the truth.

The truth is I’ve detached from the experience and want to stay that way. I have to detach because it’s too much for my conscious mind to handle, and there’s no way I’ll willingly make that real story more real in my mind. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. And I don’t want to go into how I probably betrayed Stan as I dug deeper into that murder because I’ve got to keep thinking of myself as moral and rational and an all-around good guy in the story of my own life. But most of all, I don’t want to go into how and why that young girl could have done such a thing, or how ambiguous the root of such a horrific murder can make some kind of rational sense.

Uh-uh. Don’t want to live in that world.

But you do, because you’re already detached and love a good murder mystery, so I’ll give a bare bones sketch of it.

I got on the internet and joined some chats about the child-murderer’s upcoming parole hearing. On that chat thread I came across people rooting for her release and thrilled that it was a done deal before the fact. Many called her their BFF (nobody has that many BFFs). I came across the same reporter who was instrumental in assuring her life-in-prison sentence, strutting through the media and building a compassionate case for her release. Huh? Yeah, the tables had turned, and he was standing on top of that table where all could see him. I wrote him an email asking how he could have flip-flopped so drastically, and asked what new and credible evidence he’d come across that validated his support of her release. I got back an email that was pompous and threatening. It started with: “Listen, lady, I don’t know who the hell you think you are to question me, but back off.” Then he got really nasty.

Not once in those chat threads did I find any mention of the victim, any mention of the victim’s family, or any mention of the horrific nature of the crime. Shoot, man, he was twenty years dead. His murderer was the one with a life ahead of her, and that’s where the focus was.

What the hell has happened in this world? Many were weeping with joy because the convicted murderer would finally get to hold a puppy, which had been one of the things she’d mentioned during her first parole hearing, the one where she was denied parole because she was deemed a cold-blooded murderer. I discovered that she’d gotten married while in jail, that she had a fan club, that she’d gotten three A.A. degrees behind prison bars (such a sweet and reformed girl), and I learned that prisoners are offered education for free and earn points towards early release by doing so, while kids on the outside earned no points towards job security while getting their education, and left those hallowed halls of academe to the prison of student loan debt. But somehow, in the eyes of the distorted fans of real life murderers, that was a fair deal, as well as proof of her rehabilitation. I also discovered she’d be leaving prison with presents and cash gifts sent to her by admirers/sympathizers/fans during her imprisonment, the amount of cash legally limited to $10,000. I never did find out who paid for the divorce.

There were a few of us who tried to raise some interest in the victim and the absurdity of the death-row confession of another that would set her free, but that was a mistake. Her fan club jumped all over us as if we were the insane and heartless. And let me tell you, internet behavior on the subject of baking sugar cookies gets nasty, so don’t even let me help you imagine how nasty things turned when justice for the victim was brought up. When the now-adult niece of the victim entered the chat thread to mention her uncle and the damage done to her family, a wilding erupted on that thread, tearing her apart with talons ripping through the computer screen. All I could do was sit frozen in my office chair as the wilding occurred. I’d checked out of that reality because it was too much, far too much, to handle.

Where the betrayal came in was when I kept hanging with that thread, long after the initial excitement of the game wore off and there were just a few of us chatting about the case. One of those people claimed she was a law student at USC, and that this particular case was often used as a mock trial in school to illustrate the gross miscarriage of justice.

Let me interject here that you don’t have to go to law school to become a lawyer, but it does help a person pass the bar exam if they’ve got a bunch of formal education under their belt before trying. There are people out there with a natural born legal mind who have passed the bar, and it’s possible this girl wasn’t a student at USC and merely brilliant and focused and disciplined enough to learn the law backwards and forwards. In fact, there’s a high probability she wasn’t a student. I went to USC and didn’t hesitate in making calls to see if she was legit. Nobody could confirm, and the law school itself was downright nasty in their stance of neither confirming nor denying.

But she still made solid points, all of them pointing to big boo-boos in our legal system. That’s when I learned there’s a difference between justice and the law. It was proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this child lured the victim to the desert, that there had been a plot to rob him, that something had gone wrong and he’d been murdered, and for eight day after she’d  brought friends to see the desert-rotted corpse. Yet within the legal system, she had been done wrong. I can’t and don’t want to remember the specifics laid out by the law student, but they were all points adhering to both the letter and spirit of the law.  Thinking back on it now, it’s baffling why the miscarriage of legal justice hadn’t been given to the court as evidence of deserving a new trial.  Had that been done, she would have been re-tried, found innocent, and probably given restitution.  Wouldn’t that have been the better choice of her supporters, and her?  This is not a pleasant realization.  What a putz I’d been.

This is where I betrayed our friend Stan. I read the student’s  arguments, and I agreed on many points. The legal system had failed this young woman. Working from the position of reason as stated within the law, she should not have gone to jail.

That was a betrayal of the injustice done to the victim and the lingering ripple of injustice that lingered in the family. Both my curiosity and eagerness to reduce this to a legality, rather than a reality, played out on a public chat thread I’m sure Stan followed. I still felt the murdering kid in question should have been held in jail for eternity because she was guilty, and my emotions were still in a wreck of disbelief and grief for Stan, but I’m positive my cold attempts at understanding the law and this girl’s background came off as being in her camp and supportive of her release. Stan distanced himself shortly after those chat threads took a turn towards the legal. Perhaps I felt guilty on some level and I was the one that put distance between us. I’ll never know for sure, but I do know how I feel. And I know I feel even worse now that I’ve re-visited the events from a distance and questioned why a re-trail had never been requested, especially in light of the new confession.

I also know there is more to a nightmare than the events that happen within it. In our personal lives, we analyze the nightmare and look for the secret meaning of it, hoping to unearth clues of our subconscious. In the nightmare of this murder, I found no analysis of the absurd that made sense, just a nightmare beneath the initial one.

Not only had this young girl been the product of an abusive family, she’d been the one survivor of a mass murder when she was 11. She’d been at a friend’s house when a stranger burst through the back door and gunned down everyone in the room. Somehow, this girl, who would go on to senseless murder herself, was able to lay low, crawl out of the room, and survive. If you can call huddled in a corner, surrounded by dead bodies, and watching blood snaking its way into pools an act of survival, then she did, indeed, survive. The person that murdered this family was never identified and tried, nor was there any possible motive for the murders offered. I wasn’t about to go searching for answers. By that time, I’d had enough of the real thing.

None of this was brought up at the girl’s trial for the murder of my friend’s brother. Should it have been brought up? Where are the roots of justice?  Where is the seed of evil planted?  How can so much go so wrong in so few years to just one girl’s life? How could she not have been given help at the time, before she went on to murder, or at the very least, set the stage for that murder?

What a snake pit we fall into when we kick aside the leaves of a normal life to see what lies beneath. Was Stan’s laughter really as hearty and heartfelt as it appeared, or was it a second-by-second way of coping with what he could never speak about?

And here it comes. The third post about my real life brush with real murder, and I’m feeling it. I’m feeling it so I’m going to run.

Cold and detached. Just the bare bones of the story. (I have a new appreciation of “Dragnet.”)

Stan went through a period during which he continued to wear long jeans and withdrew from the Regulars hanging out on the patio. He gained weight during that time, and he appeared on TV when a new reporter on the scene seeking attention interviewed him about the release of the young woman. He said he was afraid for his life because she had murdered once, had an adoring fan club, and murdering the second time would be easier. But within 6 months Stan had lost the extra pounds, ditched the long jeans, and was back laughing that cheerleader’s laugh with his Regulars outside of Starbucks.

It was as if none of it had happened. Except that there was now distance between Stan and me and my husband. We still chatted, but there was a barrier of knowing that was palpable.

I regret every damned bit of it.

I regret that this life can be so fucked up that murder most foul is a part of ordinary life.

I regret that I started these posts just in time to finish them after the events in Aurora, CO.

I regret the emotional connection I feel with the victims of that slaughter and the knowing I’ll never shake off what it must have been like, and how it will linger and haunt and heal and break open again for them, for the blood thirsty who can’t help watching news coverage, for the family of the murderer, the families of the survivors and the murdered, for Stan who can’t help but remember, and for others like Stan.

I regret that this is normal.

And with that I’ll say: How about them Yankees?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s