by J.D. Rhoades
Well, I had a fun
and funny column planned for today, with
my usual wit and jollity. But I find myself unable to write anything like that
This past Friday
morning, Emily Elizabeth Haddock was home alone, sick with a case
of strep throat. Three young men, not realizing that there was someone in the
house, broke into the mobile home where
she lived. Apparently, when Emily
surprised them, one of them shot her to death with a stolen .22 caliber pistol. Emily’s
grandfather found her body on the floor when he stopped by the house to check
on her and saw the door forced open.
Emily Haddock was
12 years old. She went to my daughter’s school. She lived on the same road as one of my daughter’s close friends.
The three charged
in the murder were apprehended and jailed Monday night. They’re 16, 18, and 19
years old. They’re being held without bond and two are most likely looking at the death
penalty. The time and place of their next bond hearing is being kept secret
because of “security reasons.”
The news vans are all over the courthouse
square, and the reporters are all there, with names like Sloane and Greg and with
their perfect hair perfectly in place,
droning away with that look of fake concern on their faces, and I’m sorry, but I
just want to punch them. They were outside the Sheriff’s office as they were
taking one of the defendants to the jail, and they were asking “why did you do
it?” I mean, do they really expect an answer? Is there one?
Where do you begin to process something like
this? How do I make sense of the utter stupidity and futility of it all when
someone who’s nearly the same age as my son is involved in the killing of a
bright, happy, pretty girl who’s only a
little younger than my daughter ?
I’m sure there will
be those who see this as an indictment of the availability of guns, even though
the gun wasn’t bought from a dealer, it was stolen in another B & E. Comments are already
up on the news stations’ websites blaming the parents for leaving the girl alone, even
though we really know nothing about the economic circumstances that might have led to that.
At some point, since the accused are black and the victim was white, the race
issue is sure to raise its ugly head. The pontificating and chest beating has
just begun, and the whole prospect just makes me sick. These people, victims
and perpetrators, aren’t symbols or symptoms. They’re a sweet, sunny-natured
little girl and a trio of young dimwits like
the ones I see every day. Except now one of them’s dead, and at least one of
the three others are probably going to be dead in a few years at the hands of the State. Because if someone
dies while you’re committing a felony like B & E, it’s first degree murder, baby. Class A, top of the sentencing charts, even if you didn’t
plan the death. Unless you’re under 17, in which case you’re "only" looking at life
without parole. At age 16.
As crime writers,
I think we sometimes lose sight of what murder’s
really like. Most often, it’s not a puzzle for the brilliant detective to
solve. It’s not the plot device that causes the plucky heroine and her true love to get together so they can be happy and just too cute for words forever. It’s
not the dangling thread of a giant tapestry of international conspiracy to be unraveled.
More often than
not, a murder is just a stupid and
pointless fuckup by someone who didn’t start the day out thinking “I’m gonna
kill me someone today,” but who started that day with one bad choice that cascaded
inevitably into another, then another, like a snowflake that turns into a snowball
that turns into an avalanche. In this case, the avalanche leaves an innocent girl dead
and not just one, but four families devastated.
I’ve been looking
at the words above for the last fifteen minutes, trying to draw some conclusion
from all this, some point. And I can’t find one. But maybe that is the point. This
story’s not going to have a happy ending, or a moral, or a compelling or even a coherent plot.
It’s just some really shitty stuff that happened this past weekend. All I can
do to try and make sense of it is to write about it.
And it’s not enough.
I’m so sorry. I hope your daughter is ok. There’s really nothing adequate to say.
my last story as a smalltown reporter was about this same sort of stupid crime. A kid who through a series of bad choices and bad luck wound up killing someone who was trying to help him. I’ve been thinking about it since 1991… still doesn’t make sense to me.
Probably, that isn’t very comforting. The situation is too complex, too tragic, and you have clearly seen too many similar cases to think that there are easy answers.
Writing may not be enough, as you say, but absent the god-like control a writer has over fiction, telling us about this tragedy in your community is the best you can do. Hearing about the situation lets us give you a bit of support, and maybe your writing helps to ward off some future crime of similar stupidity. Cold comfort at best.
I’m sorry that I can’t be of more help. Hope you can comfort your daughter better.
During my tenure as a small town reporter, I only covered two murders. No mystery to them. In one case, a kid killed his father over a pack of cigarettes. In the second, two men were fighting over a woman and one pulled a gun on the other. He waited for the cops to come after he shot his rival.
You’re totally right in that the world is not full of serial killers with no identity and a mystery to solve.
This was a terrible crime. It’s awful that the parents would be made to feel guilty because they left her home alone. She was 12, which should be old enough to do that. My thoughts go out to them and the rest of her family and friends and the entire community.
This is shitty.
Maybe what you’re telling us, J.D., or what I’m getting out of your essay, is that we writers shouldn’t get too smug about or disconnected from what we’re writing about. Or think that we understand murder because we write about it from the safety of our homes.
I’ve had friends and acquaintances killed in drive-by shootings and when I bump into their parents, I can’t help but feel their loss, 20 years later. When they look at me, I wonder, do they think about their daughter and what she would have become if she had lived?
It’s enough. Crime only makes sense in fiction, and the only way we can deal with it in real life is to be there for each other. You’re there for your daughter, and even if we’re faraway strangers, we’re here for you.
So much of crime is neither brilliant nor interesting; it’s just stupid, mundane and devastating.
There’s no comfort to be drawn from even trying to make sense of it. The only comfort can come from knowing that we, in your wider community, care and share some of your horror.
Hug your kids, Dusty. Love them. Show the people you love in your life that that matter.
That’s about all you can do.
It’s good for all of us to remember that there are real victims of tragedy, and work that pain and suffering into our books as best we can. It’s incumbent upon us, as crime fiction writers, to honor the senseless fallen.
I’m sorry, Dusty. Bless you and your family.
“As crime writers, I think we sometimes lose sight of what murder’s really like.”
I think you pretty much said it right there, Dusty… Murder is the main vehicle of our profession, and it’s easy to forget the very real angst it creates for our characters.
I often cringe when I hear the label – ‘cozy’ – attibuted to a book. What the hell is ‘cozy’ about murder?
Crime doesn’t ever make sense, though I think the role of storytellers, from ancient times ’til now, is to try to give shape to the senseless as a way of dealing with it; otherwise, I think society would go completely mad without some illusion of order.
It’s horrible what the families are going through; it’s heartbreaking. I know this will affect your family–your daughter–quite strongly for years, and I wish I had words to help. Jake’s best friend was killed when he was 15 by a drunk driver who missed a curve and plowed into him. The driver had been let out on multiple offenses prior to that event. That senseless, brutal, stupid decision of that man to drink ripped up hundreds of lives forever. It still hasn’t made sense.
God, Dusty, this just stinks. I hate the senselessness of it. The hopelessness of it all. I have no words of comfort, unfortunately. And no solutions.
Correction…I should have said ‘real victims’ instead of ‘our characters’. Guess you know where my head is today, huh? Kinda made me sound really evil…
So sorry to hear about this. All involved are in my thoughts and prayers.
Thanks, all. My daughter’s actually handling it quite well. Her friend who lived on the same road, not so much.
lives, not lived. Gaah.
First, I want to extend my sympathy to JD’s family and the family of the victim. It’s horrible that we must sometimes be reminded how slender is the thread that holds our lives together. Hold your daughter a little extra tonight.
I’d like to follow up on JT’s comment about cozies. I agree completely. This is why I never read them, if I can help it. I am occasionally asked to review one. No matter how well it tells its story, I can’t help but feel as though my intelligence is being insulted. Murder, even one as “sanitary” or “cozy” as a poisoning, is an act of violence, and violence should never be thought of as sanitary, or cozy.
Dusty, you have done what you can do with this truth, and I thank you for it. There is no such thing as ‘enough’ when a life is lost like this.
We make myths in an attempt to impose meaning and order on chaos – I’m echoing Toni and many others. We make a story because we are humans, and the world outside of us, where bad things happen, is not.
I think a great many of us write because of cracks and fractures in our hearts from events just like this. It can’t be anything but good to build up a healing spell, as you do, to defeat our fears, to teach, to push back against the darkness.
Peace and heart’s ease to you all.
No conclusion, friend, except that death is always a mystery, too large for anyone to comprehend, as Shakespeare well knew — and Mahler, as well, per your well-chosen title.===================Detectives Beyond Borders”Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/
Dusty, shitty is right.
I hardly even know what to say. So many lives ruined from one stupid decision. I hate it.
Oh, I think that there’s definitely a place for “cozies.” When I’m buying a book for someone who is recovering from an illness or donating books to a women’s shelter, the last thing they need is something too disturbing. We can write something light, while being aware of the depths of reality.
Maybe the “cozy” is just another way of blurring the horror of it all. The violence isn’t too violent, the people are mostly nice, and balance is restored in the end. It’s a fantasy, sure, but who am I to denigrate fantasy.
I don’t much like cozies. I don’t read them, and I can sympathize with people who are turned off by them. But I am not going to turn into a prig and presume to dictate that they are an illegitimate way to write about killing.
What’s funny about crime? I dunno; go ask Ken Bruen, Donald Westlake, Declan Burke, Robert Crais, Reginald Hill, Hakan Nesser, Janwillem van de Wetering, Karin Fossum, Fred Vargas …
===================Detectives Beyond Borders”Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/
Thanks for the very moving post. I’m sure it was hard to write, but it’s powerful. I’ve been thinking about it off and on all day.
“What’s funny about crime?” Nothing, of course, when talking about murder. As Chandler said, it is not funny that a man should be killed, though it may be funny that he is killed for so little. I’m more familiar with Crais and Westlake than with the others on Peter’s list, but what I like about them is that the crime itself is never funny. Funny things may happen, or be said, in the periphery, but violence and death are never played for laughs.
I’m so sorry, and sending good thoughts….