Thursday, February 28, 2008

Truth Stranger Than Fiction?

Lately I have been on a reading kick. Late at night after all my work is done and the boys are tucked in and snoring, I find the "me" time I crave. I've discovered Ann Rule, a true crime writer who has covered many of America's prolific murderers and their victims. It surprised me to know that she once worked side by side with Ted Bundy before the world figured out what kind of monster he was.

I have read several of her books, the latest one being Green River Running Red, over 650 pages, 49 victims, and a serial killer that ran amok for 22 years uncaught. Creepy! The next book of hers on my list is Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder, in which she covers several cases, one being the Mary Winkler case. This is of particular interest to me because it occurred here in Tennessee, just down the road a piece. (In Southern speak, that translates a few towns over.)

I'm not sure what intrigues me most about these cases. I have the same fondness for CSI. Part of it is knowing it is a puzzle and that it can be solved in most cases by the evidence, the minutiae, the tiny things that others have failed to see. I know there are thousands if not millions of unsolved crimes in the United States alone today. But many of them probably could be solved with the right person dissecting the cases. In my fantasy world, that person would be me. In real life, I would not have the stomach for such grisly details. And the nightmares would probably haunt me forever. Still it intrigues me to no end...this science of dissecting particles and interpreting clues.

Another aspect that I find interesting is that of the profiler. This is someone who can read the clues left behind and get inside the killer's head. They can form a profile of what the killer may or may not be like by looking at the body and the way it was disposed of or not disposed of, the way it was murdered, the area the crime occurred, and in a thousand other ways. It fascinates me how all those details can add up to a physical and psychological profile. This, I think, I might have been good at.

And then I look at the book itself. The writer has all the sources available to her. She has access to witnesses, evidence, reports, case files, experts. She has become an expert herself. She takes all the information and compiles it in a compelling fashion--and sells books from it. I would probably struggle with the fact of making a living off others' misfortunes. I wonder at times if Ms. Rule ever feels like this. I have read enough of her books to know that she is adamant about speaking out for the victims, and she is careful to protect their dignity, and always treating them as a person with a name and a family. Still, it must be hard for the families of these victims to have the world entertaining themselves at their loved ones' expense. Still others, probably prefer that their stories be told--to memorialize their loved ones, to keep them from being forgotten.

I cannot say that I know how these families feel. I have had 2 such murders in my family, one unsolved and one solved. But both were in the 70's when I was but a child in grade school, and I only know what I have been told about them. My grandmother's brother's killer is serving time in a Tennessee prison. We recently found out that he had been released on parole, and the only reason he is back in is because he violated that parole. This is a man who stabbed my great uncle repeatedly and then played tic-tac-toe on his back with the knife and dumped him in a pond.

My mother's brother's killer was never found. My uncle David was found near train tracks in Redbud, Illinois where he had been working for the railroad. He was still alive--his neck broken, skin torn from his body down his back and legs as if he had been drug by the train. No train had run during that time. Someone had run over him or drug him with a vehicle and placed him on the tracks to die. He died a few days later in the hospital. My mom was 9 months pregnant and delivered early. I remember kissing his forehead and telling him goodbye. This was a man who had been honored in the Army for his bravery in Viet Nam. He lived through the terrors of war only to come home and be killed by one of his own.

These are the stories I would like to have told. These are the stories I would someday write given the luxury of time and ability to pursue them. How would my grandmother feel about this? How would my Uncle David's only living brother feel about it? I don't know. I suppose if I ever decide to follow in Ann Rule's footsteps, these are the questions I would ask...along with about a million others. What's your verdict? Is truth stranger than fiction? Which would you prefer reading? Which role would you prefer, the forensic analyst, the profiler, or the writer? I'll be the first to admit that when the light goes out at 2 a.m., I would prefer to believe these kinds of crimes and criminals never existed. Thankfully, I have another Book I read as well that comforts me, and as Paul Harvey is fond of saying, tells the rest of the story. Be sure if you only read one good book this year, that that is the One. BIBLE

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