Saturday, September 16, 2023

9/16/23—Sharing More About My True Crime Saga

My dad called me into the room and told me to sit down. He presented me with a stack of documents and said he needed me to sign them. I started reading the first one and he immediately got rankled and said, "just sign it." I could hear the impatience in his voice. I got all flustered and couldn't think straight. 

My dad never got physical with me. I might have gotten smacked once or twice in an era where that kind of discipline was commonplace. But I was always intimidated by him. He was, after all, what my mother threatened me with throughout my childhood: "Just wait until I tell your father." 

I think that sentence probably terrified more than one of my siblings. He'd come home. You'd wait, sweating out your fate, and the worst that might happen would be that would he come in your room, irritated, and say "don't upset your mother again." But by that time, you'd already sat in fear of him for hours.  My parents were exceptional at the psychological game. 

So when he pressed me to witness these documents, I did it. Without looking. I did get the gist, though. The one I tried to look at was an insurance policy that had my stepmother and her sons as beneficiaries. To this day, I can't tell you what the situation was on the rest of the documents or even how many there were. I just remember that he made me sign them without looking at them. And, frankly, I was left feeling confused and a little... violated?... betrayed?... by being forced to do something that wasn't "right" or "responsible" by pretty much the most honorable man I'd ever met. 

As a result, I was subpoenaed to testify for the defense at the murder trial. I guess her lawyers thought I would cop to signing all the insurance so they could say our family knew about the policies and were greedy and that's why this sweet blonde lady was being called a murderer. But that's not how it went down. They showed me the documents one by one and asked if it was my signature. I said, "It appears to be" each time they asked. I wasn't sure if all those were my signatures and if those were the documents I signed. And they asked if I remember signing them and I said something to the effect of, "I remember signing some documents, but I don't remember how many or what they were. She says she's good at forgery. So I can't say for certain." 

Last week I blogged about my father's murder. So if you are wondering what on earth I'm talking about, here's the link to that story. I have since remembered some new anecdotes and a few experiences that were personal to me, so that is what this week's blog is about. 

For example, I was supposed to be at her farm with my dad the weekend of the murder. In my mind, it wasn't a set visit. It was more like, "maybe you can come with us next time we visit." I had been to her farm before and enjoyed its remote, country setting. I had even shot targets with them with a real, live gun. So I knew she could shoot. 

So maybe the Thursday before this potential visit (he was murdered on a Saturday) she called me and told me not to come that weekend. She said she and my dad had things to talk about. It did strike me as vaguely odd that she wanted to make sure I didn't show up out of the blue because, in my mind, I hadn't been formally invited. I would never have just shown up without discussing what time I should show up and what I should bring. So it seemed a little weird. 

But a lot about her seemed weird. There was the life-size image of herself in a black lace bodystocking that lined her staircase wall. That could only be matched by the huge portrait of herself dressed like a Gone With The Wind southern belle, complete with parasol, above her living room couch. Your mom had those things in her home, too, right? Perfectly normal. 

There was a period before she was charged with my dad's murder that we pretended we didn't think she killed him...or at least didn't say it to her face. During that time, my brother and I went to her house. There were things of my mother's that she had left to me that my dad kept for safe keeping. So we went to retrieve them. They were things like her wedding silver—things you can't trust a 25 year old with, but you could totally trust a money-motivated serial killer with. 

BTW, probably 90% or more of our family memories and his memorabilia were either sold or burned. I think we got a box or two of things from her. But most any family memories we have—pictures and stuff—came from when my mother died. So I am forever grateful that we had the courage to face her and ask for the items that were earmarked for me. 

My dad was likely asleep when he was shot. He'd just had hot chocolate, so maybe that put him to sleep or maybe he was drugged. So when we arrived to pick up the silver and she offered us something to drink, we said, "NO!!!!!! Uh No. No thank you." 

That was probably the last time I ever spoke to her directly. It was a very uncomfortable experience. Scary. Dangerous feeling. I had my 6'4" brother with me. We definitely had her beat based on size. But she trumped that by being a sociopathic murderer. 

My experience then and until today comes down to a single word: surreal. The movie Blue Velvet seemed to capture it for me. In the movie, a sweet, innocent, shiny faced couple find a severed ear in a field. There is a scene in the opening sequence when the camera goes into the grass. Then into the dirt. And down deep into the seedy underbelly (symbolically) of human existence. The couple then gets drawn into that world by the mystery of the ear they found. Along the way, they lose their innocence and purity. They ultimately return to real life, but it's not as shiny as it once was and neither are they. 

I don't know how many times I've watched that movie. We all live in a world where women don't murder their husbands for the insurance money. Until they do. And then you live in a world where women murder their husbands for money. And you can never go back to the old world. We were lucky to be immersed in that seedy underbelly for just a year, more or less, because the trials were speedy. But that year took so much away. And it has echoed in us for 35 years. How could it not?

Being raised in the military, I believed in justice. To the very fiber of my being. When she was declared not guilty, I nearly fainted. I lost my legs in the courtroom and one of my brothers caught me on the way down. Everything I believed about right and wrong and karma and all of that was brought into question. Can you come back from that? Yes. To a degree. But you can never go back entirely. The ideals upon which I was raised—the ideals ingrained into my version of reality—proved to be painfully invalid. 

Another thing that year took away was our opportunity to grieve. At first you're in shock. Then maybe you're afraid for your life a little bit. The night he was murdered, after my brother and I got back from West Virginia, I and all three of my brothers slept together in one of their living rooms. I remember sleeping on the sofa with a brother on the floor beneath me, close enough to touch. I think we all felt safer together that night. 

So there was some fear. Then all the investigation stuff starts happening. And each day brings new details. Then there's all the press. And the trials. There are journalists around. It feels like everyone knows. You have to maintain composure. All of the oxygen in your life is spent on the investigation, the trial and, frankly, her. And then the trials end. And the circus leaves town. But by then, a year has passed. And there are no more distractions standing between you and grief. But now it's too late and too anti-climactic to properly grieve. 

The way my mother looks at me, the 
baby, while five other kids aged 8 and 
under crawl all over her, says everything.
I feel like I've worked through all the trauma and found whatever good there was in all of it. But I can't say I ever grieved in the way I was able to grieve for my mother. Despite all the drama and chaos around my dad's passing, nothing will ever touch me the way my mother's death impacted me. I miss her every day of my life. She is the one who carried the mantle of forming us as people and being there when we cried. She did the work of raising six kids with a man who wasn't always present while holding down a full time job. At one point, my mom was working on a congressional campaign and raising six kids while her husband was thousands of miles away in Vietnam being shelled by the enemy. The fact that I never got to know her as an adult is the biggest hole in my life. 

I'll share something interesting that happened before the trials in a voice-from-beyond kind of way. Maybe it was my mother reaching out from beyond the grave. But my dad told everyone a different story about how he and my stepmother met. Depending on who you were, they might have been introduced by friends, or maybe they met at an event or maybe they met in a bar. So this runs around in my head...why would my dad lie about that? I'm not sure my father had ever lied to me about anything in my life. Except maybe Santa Claus. 

So I'm talking to a reporter on the phone one day and telling them that we don't know how they met. Then it hits me hard out of the blue, he used to enjoy reading the personal ads in The Washingtonian magazine. What if that's where they met? The reporter then did her thing and found the exact ad my dad replied to. My stepmother was looking for a high ranking military official or former senator (aka guys with pensions). And my dad, as lonely as he was, said "hey, that's me" instead of "well, that's oddly specific." 

Anyway, outside of the stuff that happened in the creepy room when I was 4, this was the first thing I remember that felt like a "psychic prediction." It was around this time that I started getting involved in tarot, too. So, coming up with that "hit" fueled my psychic endeavors to a certain degree. 

You know, among my father's six children, there were six different reactions to his death. And six different levels of, and reasons for, anger in regard to my father. My dad was a great man, professionally. He was everyone's friend socially—a really easy guy to talk to. It used to piss my mom off because we'd stop for gas on the way to a family vacation, for example, and he would spend a half hour talking to his new best friend, the gas attendant, while we just sat there and waited. (Back in ancient times, you didn't pump your own gas. A man in a starched outfit used to do it. In fact, the jury foreman for the murder trial showed up in his gas station jumpsuit every day of the trial. But I digress.)

My dad also had a lot of integrity. He was a good man. But, for what I needed, he wasn't a good father. He was a provider and did a very nice job of it. But he was not a nurturer. And his work took him away from home, at one point for a couple of years. He worked a lot and wasn't around as much as many dads. All of us had different experiences, but my father didn't show much interest in my life. I am fortunate to have ultimately come to peace with the fact that I would never get what I needed from him as a father before he died. So I wasn't angry with him for how he died. I felt more like he just made a really bad judgment call. And if I had any anger at all, it was that he held all of us up to a really high standard of behavior and judgment and perfection, then he blindly follows this questionable woman to his death. 

Their marriage didn't last long. I don't remember the dates, but I think he met her early 1986 and was killed in April of 1988. One of the odd things about this is that when I talk about it, it's like it happened to somebody else. There is a detachment from it. A matter of factness about it. And it still feels surreal. I don't think I'm in denial about anything. It's just how my mind works, I guess, because I have the same detachment with other things from my history. 

It all feels like it happened to someone else. And, in a way it did. Trauma changes you. It's like a portal to another, better, stronger you. And the worse the trauma is, the more you transform. It literally happened to a different person.  

I have some spiritual beliefs about why it all happened and why it had to happen. As you might imagine, something like this impacts your life significantly. For me, though, it brought me much more good than bad. Yes. You read that right. I made a divinely inspired choice early on that no-doubt saved my sanity and kept me from being another one of the many victims she leaves in the wake of her narcissism and sociopathy. Stay tuned.