I've been obsessed with morbid crimes, particularly involving children or women as victims, since as long as I can remember. My mom agrees that I've always carried an unnatural preoccupation with true crime in general, and in particular with those crimes in which I could in any way relate to the victim.
I was barely two when Jonbenet Ramsey was found strangled and with her head severely damaged in the basement of her family's home. Shortly after the story broke, our immediate family was vacationing with my dad's side of the family at an over-sized cabin somewhere in the mountains of Utah. The cabin would have needed to be very large to accommodate my grandparents, their offspring and the spouses of those who were married, and the children of those who had already started families. The family is much larger now, but even then, there were probably at least thirty people in that cabin.
The cabin had some sort of dish network TV access. The men and several women were watching BYU's football team in a bowl game. (I looked it up: it was the Cotton Bowl, which would have made the date January 1, 1997.) During a commercial, Uncle Mahonri clicked the remote control to a news channel that was covering the Jonbenet Ramsey murder case. I toddled closer to the TV to watch and listen. From the kitchen portion of a huge kitchen that connected with an even larger family room, my mother, who was spreading ricotta cheese across a layer of lasagna, hollered out loudly, "Change the channel now!"
Mahonri answered, "I'm interested in this!" and otherwise ignored my mom. My mother dropped the rubber spatula she had been using into the container of ricotta cheese and quickly made her way across a family room floor strewn with toys and children. She picked me up, then reached down and turned the TV off by pressing the "power" button on the TV. It's now a well-kept secret, but TVs can be turned off and channels can be changed not just with the access of a remote control device, but also by pressing buttons directly on a television set or on a cable or network box.
Mahonri, who held the remote device, blurted out, "What in the Sam Hill did you have to go and do that for? I was interested in that!" Another uncle quietly made a joke about Mahonri being concerned about whether or not the feds were onto him yet, after which all the men but Mahonri laughed. Mahonri glared at the others, then started to turn the TV back on with the remote control. My mother grabbed the remote device from his hand before he could turn the TV on again. "Hey! Who died and made you the TV monitor?" he yelled at my mom.
By this time, my grandmother had left the kitchen to mediate the dispute. My mom handed the remote control to my grandmother. "Mahonri clicked onto coverage of that little girl in Colorado who was found dead, " my mom whispered to my grandma, but not quietly enough that I couldn't pick up on the gist of what she was saying. "Alexis was watching, and I didn't want her to see it. I don't think it's good for any of these children to see it."
"We were watching the football game," my Uncle Steve explained to his mother, "and he [nodding in the direction of Mahonri; he couldn't point because he had nachos in one hand and an Orange Crush bottle in the other] clicked it off the game. No one else wants to watch that either, Mom." My grandma handed the remote device to my Uncle Steve, who had by then downed the nachos remaining in his hand. Steve turned the TV back on and quickly changed the channel back to the one carrying the Cotton Bowl.
My mother carried me into the kitchen, telling me that I could help her cook. "What happened to that girl?" I remember asking my mom. "Nothing," she lied to me. "They were just showing a picture of her because she's so pretty." It was probably right after the media had made the connection between Jonbenet and the baby beauty pageant circuit, as I recall the TV screen having been filled with the image of a beautiful blond child in formal attire with a tiara atop her head.
"Are you going to put blinders and ear plugs on her until she turns 18, Erin?" Mahonri hollered out to my mom. "This is the real world she lives in. You can't shield her from everything."
"She doesn't have to know about everything ugly in the world when she's two," my Aunt Cristelle muttered to my Uncle Mahonri."
"Shut up, Cristelle!" Mahonri muttered back. "You're every bit as stupid as Erin is." For the record, my dad was outside gathering firewood to bring inside. Mahonri would not have spoken of my mother in such a manner had my dad been in the room.
"Mahonri," my grandmother admonished, 'We do not speak that way at family gatherings. Go outside if you cannot control your mouth better than that."
Mahonri sulked through the remainder of the Cotton Bowl, in which, due to the magic of the Internet, I can tell you BYU went on to defeat Kansas State 19-15, leaving most of those with any interest whatsoever in a good mood.
That's my earliest memory (and some of the details are sketchy to me; my mom filled in what I couldn't remember) of an encounter with true crime.
The kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart struck me hard. One set of cousins had grandparents on the other side of their family who lived just around the corner from Elizabeth's grandparents in Salt Lake City. Elizabeth was considerably older than I but, I had played with her younger sister on more than one occasion.
The disappearance of Laci Peterson bothered me deeply though she was much older than I, in particular because it happened not terribly far from where we lived. The killings of Carole Carrington Sund, her daughter Juli, and their foreign exchange student Silvina Pelosso were a source of great anxiety to me because my family had stayed at the hotel where Silvina and Carole were killed and from which Juli was taken. I've since then refused to vacation anywhere near the vicinity.
Polly Klaas was kidnapped and killed before I was born, but some misguided teen-aged relative babysitter watched a made-for-TV movie on the topic with Matthew and me in the room when we were not quite four years old. We both had nightmares -- Matthew for weeks and I had them for months, and probably still have an occasional nightmare based on something I saw in the movie.
I didn't have a direct connection to the Martin and Michele MacNeill case, but during summers that I spent with Uncle Scott and Aunt Jillian, the case against Martin MacNeill was being made. One of Scott's brothers lived very near the home where it happened, and his parents were not terribly far from the location, either. The other children were told to mention nothing about the situation to me, but I eventually picked up a newspaper and discovered that I was spending some of my nights within a literal stone's throw from a heinous crime scene. Having seen in person a man who drugged then drowned his wife in a bathtub has interrupted my sleep too many times.
In the aftermath of my own personal near-miss in the form of an attack that injured me but in which an all-out rape or sodomy was kept from happening, I received treatment not just for the physical injuries but for psychological ones. One of my counselors suggested that at some point when I have time (and when that might possibly be in the next few years is difficult to pinpoint) I might choose to focus upon perhaps just one of the true crimes from which I was impacted by the fallout to research and write about in depth.
While it would seem in some ways to be counterproductive to what I would be trying to accomplish, I can also see the logic in it. I suppose it's a way of facing down one's demons once and for all. I do not yet know which crie upon which I wuld choose to condense my efforts, or even if I might choose to write in great detail about my own experience. the disadvantage to using my own experience is that it is so very close to home that reliving it might be all the more painful. An advantage to using my own story as opposed to someone else's is that I've already been exposed to all the details. There won't be any new details to haunt me.
The particular counselor suggested that on nights when I've been awakened by an especially bothersme nightmares, I should assess my circumstances. if possible, my first course of action should always to be to go ack to sleep, with the assistance of others around me or even with pharaceutical assistance if it's not too soon before I must be awake.
If going back to sleep is not a possibility, I should assess my circumstances. If i'm feeling unsafe, i should do what i need to do to feel safe, whether than means calling someone to come spend the rest of the night at my house, sleeping in a blanket on my brother's bedroom floor, moving to my parenrs' room, for the remainder of the night if they happen to be around, or something similar.
If I've assessed my sitaion and feelperfectly safe yet cannot sleep, and if I'm unable to concentrate on any other reading or studying project, that is the time at which I should work on the true crime story on which I've chosen to focus. I would be doing that right now except that i've decided it wuld be best for me to choose a subject for my focus in the light of day when I'm a little less spooked by the nightmare that just woke me.
Tomorrow when Baby Andrew is sleeping, I will make a decision as to which true crime shall receive the benefit of my focus.
P.S. Tomorrow may be the final semi-quiet day around the home where I'm working for awhile. Baby Camille Catherine, who weighed in at 4 lbs, 7 oz, on Monday morning, is slated to make her very first trip home tomorrow (Wednesday). I'll be up at the crack of dawn helping neighbors and relatives to decorate the house with welcoming signs, ribbons, and balloons, for the entire family. (Even though he's too young at almost nine months to really know what's happening, we do not want little Andrew to feel slighted in the least.)