“Because Kait is worth the truth . . .”

by Pari

I remember when I heard about Kaitlyn Arquette’s murder. It was 1989 and I worked in PR at St. Joseph Healthcare Corporation. My office was just a few blocks from the gas station where Kaitlyn was shot in the back of the head. Hell, I’d gotten gas there, had parked on the same stretch of crappy real estate where her car came to rest after being run off the road.

The murder was too close somehow. Too unthinkable. How could this 18-year-old, beautiful, bright girl be killed like that? It also sat horridly in my heart because one of my good friends still lived with the unresolved questions surrounding her sister’s murder more than a decade before.

Two young women, alone on a dark night, each murdered in cold blood. And no one could explain why.

In Kait’s case, after a few months the police claimed the murder was a random drive-by. But for some reason, the questions surrounding Kait’s murder didn’t go away. People I knew and respected whispered about police cover-ups, insurance scams, Vietnamese gangs, witness intimidation. In the newspapers and on television, Kait’s mother, Lois Duncan, talked about uncovering forensic evidence that refuted the idea that the murder could possibly have been random . . . or a drive-by.

A prolific and award-winning YA author, Duncan wrote a book in 1992 that cast serious doubt on the investigation and its conclusions. She did the national media circuit, verbally sparring with reps from the Albuquerque Police Department and the DA’s office. (Robert Schwartz was the DA at the time.) Those appearances on Good Morning America, Unsolved Mysteries, Sally Jessy Raphael and Larry King breathed new life into the investigation  . . . for a little while.

Kaitlyn Arquette isn’t front-page news anymore. The corner on the busy street near Albuquerque’s downtown looks as innocuous as ever.

And more than 20 years later, Kait’s family remains convinced the shooting was absolutely NOT a random drive-by. Is this irrational grief? Are they deluding themselves?

The police still stand by their investigation and conclusions. Are they right? Or was there malfeasance that should be looked at anew?

I don’t know. But I think that there are too many valid unanswered questions. I also know that the Arquettes didn’t start out as conspiracy nuts. They were just a regular family not angry at or suspicious of the police. Through the years, with reason, they became disillusioned.

Lois and I have known each other tangentially for years – one-to-two degrees of separation. We reconnected more recently on Facebook. Two weeks ago she told me that someone had set up a Kaitlyn Arquette channel on Youtube. You can watch some of the media clips there and judge for yourself.

As a parent, my heart aches for the Lois Duncan’s continued pain at the loss of her daughter. As a mystery writer who basically has tremendous faith and respect for law enforcement, I can’t ignore the questions Lois, her family, and credible private investigators have raised.

Decades ago when Larry King asked Lois what she possibly hoped to accomplish by keeping the investigation alive, she answered simply that her Kait deserved the truth.

She does.
My friend’s family does.
Everyone does.

So, look at the website and media clips.  If by some strange coincidence, you have information on this case, please contact Lois here. Who knows? Maybe you know more than you think.

And for discussion today  . . .

  1. Do you have good examples of police investigations? Detectives that deserve a shout-out for the work they’ve done?
  2. Do you have examples in your own life of investigations that ended with only more questions? Or that were abandoned before they should have been?

28 thoughts on ““Because Kait is worth the truth . . .”

  1. Laura Jane Thompson

    Lois Duncan was one of my favorite authors growing up (I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is amazing, even if Hollywood butchered it), and I did a report on WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER? for school. The case is disturbing, particularly because the police and DA's office were so reluctant to discuss it openly.

    Nevertheless, I can't tolerate a world where the police cannot be trusted. It's naive to think that police corruption does not exist, especially when this is a profession that draws people on power trips, but I have to believe the majority of cops are actually interested in protecting and serving.

    The alternative is terrifying.

    Thank you for posting this. Lois Duncan has worked hard to keep her daughter's case alive, and I pray she will one day have answers.

  2. pari noskin taichert

    Laura Jane,
    I know what you mean about a world where we can't trust those entrusted with protecting us. I, too, believe that most policemen and DAs are good, caring and conscientious people. I still start with trust when I think about or deal with them.

    But Lois's experience makes me very, very sad for many reasons beyond the murder of her child.

  3. Debbie

    Contentment. That's what she should have and with information comes understanding. With answers comes a final step towards healing. She deserves that contentment. Why is one of the first questions we ask and the hardest to answer. My blessing is for her peace.

  4. pari noskin taichert

    I wonder if anyone who has experienced a murder in his or her immediate family can find that contentment again? I don't know. My cousin was murdered many years ago and I still feel sadness when I think about the circumstances around that horrendous event. I'm mostly content in my life, but there are those things that continue to hit me in the gut when I focus on them.

    For Lois, I can't imagine a day goes by when she doesn't think about Kait.

    Like you, I hope she is able to at least get answers that are true enough — that address some of those whys — so she can have some resolution.

  5. Karen in Ohio

    Oh, gosh, I never knew this about Lois, how terribly sad for her and her family.

    I've only read one fiction book of hers, but years ago when I was preparing to write my first book I read a couple of her titles on writing.

    I can't imagine living with this sorrow for all these years.

  6. Debby J

    I live in Columbia, SC–a medium-size college town (University of SC)–and back in 1992 we had a young woman disappear. Dail Dinwiddie attended a U2 concert, went to a local nightspot in Five Points (an area of town near the USC campus) with friends, and vanished. The police did exhaustive searches, followed numerous leads, but Dail was never found. I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow her parents have gone through all these years. Losing a child under any circumstances must be horrible, but to have one disappear and never know what happened to them would be unbearable. Closure is an overused word these days, but in this instance, I'm sure it's what these parents must pray for on a daily basis. If it were me, I know I would.


  7. pari noskin taichert

    I was about to write "I can't imagine" . . . but realized I might be able to imagine what it must be like for a parent to lose a child into thin air like Dail Dinwiddie. I just don't want to try to imagine it because the pain — even at the level of fiction — would be too great.

    Thank you for mentioning Dail. If I had a wish today, it would be that all the parents living with these unresolved questions would get the answers that would help them the most.

  8. Tammy Cravit

    Thank you for sharing this, Pari. I agree with the other commenters – I pray that one day Kait's family will have the answers they seek. I know, though, that those answers may never be entirely satisfactory, even if the family eventually gets the truth. One of my relatives was murdered, before I was born, by a close family member. (Out of respect for my family, I'm being deliberately vague about details.) The perpetrator got away with it for many years, but the truth finally emerged a few years ago.

    Knowing the truth, knowing what happened, is better than the alternative, to be sure. But, finding out that a person whom I knew and loved growing up could have committed such a monstrous deed has raised questions for which there are, and now never will be, good answers. I pray that Kait's family will learn the truth, but I also pray that the truth won't leave them with even more questions. I wonder if not knowing is better than knowing, when knowing only raises more questions about the senselessness of what happened.

  9. Lois Duncan Arquette

    Pari, I thank you with all my heart for helping to keep Kait's case alive by describing her case in this blog. I'm currently writing the sequel to WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER? which will contain all the information our family and outside investigators have uncovered in the years since that first book was published. The title of the sequel will be THE TALLY KEEPER. And it will be dedicated to "Kait's Army." You are definitely now an official member of that Army!

  10. pari noskin taichert

    My dear friend's family (Not Lois's family) is pretty sure about who killed their daughter but if they're right, they'll never get justice and I know that hurts them.

    In the Arquette family's case, I think even knowing more would be a boon.

    Thank you. I don't know where the conversation will lead today. We've got many, many lurkers. Perhaps one of them will have info that might be useful. You never know . . .

  11. PK the Bookeemonster

    Hearing the experiences here shows that the real life stories of crime are completely different from fiction. In real life, it is heartbreaking, they didn't "deserve" it, rarely is there justice in any form, and no solutions or even sometimes an ending. Thinking of crime fiction in the abstract, how ever did it become "entertainment"? It is definitely "safer" as a puzzle on the page. Are people who once enjoyed crime fiction who then are personally touched by crime like this and probably profoundly changed by the experience unable to read crime fiction ever again?

  12. Lois Duncan Arquette

    I am Kait's mother: In my own case, my whole career was built on writing teenage suspense novels. At the time of Kait's death, I was under a three-book contract with one book still to go. I wasn't able to write it. How could I possibly invest myself in creating a fictional mystery about a young woman in a life threatening situation when my whole mind and heart were focused on our own unsolved murder? It was seven years before I could force myself to fulfilll my obligation and grind out that last suspense novel. Since then I've written many other things, but never a fictional murder mystery. Ironically, however, my publisher has reissued new editions of all my early suspense novels and has had me up-date them, so it appears to the public as if I'm still writing them.

  13. Debbie

    At the loss of her son (my father) my Nonna was told by some, 'To the world, he was only one', to which she responded, 'To me, he was the only one in the world.' I can't imagine the tears you must have shed with the writing and rerelease of the books. Thank you for spending time with us today. Our love is with you.

  14. Lois Duncan Aruqette

    To me, the most horrifying thing, (other than for the murder itself, of course), was the release of the movie loosely based on my novel, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER shortly after Kait's murder. Without my knowledge, the producers had turned it into a slasher film. I sat in my seat in the movie theater, too horrified to open my popcorn, as an insane fisherman, who wasn't in my book, used an ice pick to decapitate my characters. The audience squealed with delight as heads flew apart and blood spurted. And to make it worse, NOT ONE PERSON IN THE STORY, EVEN A PARENT, MOURNED FOR THE VICTIMS! The sensationalized violence was revolting, and the fact that the audience regarded it as entertainment was even more so. Having sat by my own child's bedside, watching blood ooze out through the bandages around her head, I wanted to vomit.

  15. Allison Brennan

    I have been a fan of Lois Duncan for years. I remember reading about the original case years before I had my own children, but only now as a mother I understand a little more about what she and her family suffered. Thank you for posting, Pari.

    Like Laura, I think most of those entrusted to protect and serve do a fantastic job. But I've also observed first hand those in power who have abused the trust placed in them for personal or political profit. I read every link on the page, Pari, because I only knew the basic case. Now I'm stunned by the circumstances and after effects of this murder. It's as if everyone involved is either corrupt or too scared to tell the truth.

    I hope that time and continued attention will spur federal law enforcement with no ties to the area to investigate the case and the department. This is one major crime. There are probably many other injustices perpetrated by the people involved.

  16. pari noskin taichert

    I know I think a lot about your question. I can't write about kids being abused b/c I'm a mom. I won't write about certain other things because they're just too close.

    I didn't know that about your writing after Kait's death. AND to have experienced what you saw done to your book — and the audience's reaction — oh, man, I would've just screamed at the top of my lungs. Nausea wouldn't have been nearly enough.

    Your Nonna's comment just broke my heart.

    I'm so glad you went to all the links. I knew there was a reason I posted them . . . I think your wish is a powerful one. I hope it comes true.

  17. Tammy Cravit

    Personally, despite my own experience with a murdered family member (and knowing a close friend whose stepfather murdered her mother and got away with it), I personally enjoy writing and reading crime fiction. I think for me, the difference between fiction and reality is that, in fiction I write, I can always create an ending where justice prevails and the innocent are vindicated. But gratuitous violence, like that in the movie version of Ms. Duncan's book? No way, no how. Not for me.

    In my writing, I constantly struggle with the balance point of how much violence to include in my stories. Usually, I'm aiming for "enough to convey the bad guy's badness, but not enough to cross the line into salaciousness and voyeurism." It's a very fine balance for me. There have been times where I've finished a scene where Something Bad(tm) happens to a character, and even though I *know* it's absolutely what HAD to happen for that story and those characters, I'm so drained by the act of harming a fictional character I care about that I lay down on my bed and cry. Do other writers experience that struggle, I wonder?

  18. JT Ellison

    Pari, this is unreal. I wasn't familiar with the case,but I am now. You're right, something odd is going on here. And why???? Thank you for bringing Kait's story to our attention.

  19. pari noskin taichert

    Thank you.

    I've never had a struggle with hurting a character that brought me to tears, but I certainly think about what I'm doing and how far the story and I want to go. I know I did some pretty brutal things to Sasha that never found their way to the final draft.

    When I wrote this, I thought you might find it interesting. I remember that post you wrote about the girl in your neck of the woods. Of course that one didn't include even a whiff of skulduggery on the part of law enforcement.

    I'm sorry to have kept you from writing. I hope that you're back in the saddle today.

  20. Marie-Reine

    Oh Pari, it was so important to read – had me thinking of my dear friend Betty. I think of what happened every time I go into my bedroom, but yesterday was more vivid. I spent most of the day thinking about the emotional ripple effect of these horrors… and how we deal with them. -Reine

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