• A blood-soaked, savage murder scene

  • a furiously jolting bank robbery

  • a drug deal in progress…

crime-scene

.

“My father and I went into witness protection when I was just a little girl.

We changed our appearances as much as possible (hair, clothing styles, he grew a beard, etc).  We moved across the country to a nice house pushed back against the Great Smoky Mountains. He never told me why we had to do it, but I never asked.

I trusted him.” *

(*excerpted from a Reddit story published Aug. 14, 2014)

………………

IT was terrifying and soul jolting… it happened in a mere second. You were a bystander, a spectator to bad people doing bad things.

Bad people with no compunction about doing bad things to you if you go public and merely share what you saw.

The vision of uninvited violence… a supremely surreal activity that came unbidden, unfairly, unwanted, into your life.

The sight of what you stumbled upon is ingrained in your head and lives with you as a constant companion in your nightly sleep, a rebellious house visitor who laughs in your face and refuses to leave even though you adamantly refuse to feed them or change the bed linens.

Inside your head, their footsteps creep the back hallways, a look on their face that you can’t erase or escape no matter how hard you try.

The witness protection program…

Like winning a big lottery prize, witness protection drags you unwittingly to a fork in the road you never anticipated.

A curse? A blessing? Or both?

……………..

“When I turned 16, however, I thought it was time that I finally found out why we were forced into this new life.

He told me that when I was very young there was a nice family that lived across the street from us; a mother, a father, and a beautiful little girl.

One late night, when the streets were empty and the beds full, a man came to their house and killed them. The mother and the father were hanged in the living room, and the little girl was left dead on the couch, bloody and bruised.

He continued on and told me that he just so happened to be awake the night of the murder.

He watched from his bedroom window as the man drove away. Once the cops arrived, he told them all the information he could: type of car, license plate number, even which direction he went. The policemen assured him that the man was very dangerous. They asked my father if there was any chance he was spotted peeking through the curtains, but my father was unsure. The officers encouraged us to flee town and go under witness protection to be extra cautious. My father wanted no trouble, so he obliged.

Two nights later he loaded up the truck with everything that would fit and drove us to the other side of the country.”

“Dad,” I said, “what happened to my mother?”

His eyes dropped and he slouched back in his chair. When he looked up, his eyes had a warm, soft tone. “When you were a young girl,” he said, “your mother was taken from us in a car accident.” His face hardened a little. His soft look was gone. 

“What was her name?”

He leaned back and rubbed his face. We sat in silence for several minutes. I didn’t think he was going to answer. “Karen,” he said, finally, “her name was Karen. And she was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen…”

I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. So much information was processing, and so many thoughts were coming and going. I wished I could remember my mother. There was so much more I wanted to know…”

…………….

law-and-order

OVER the years, I’ve vegged out on TV crime shows and seen regular accounts of witnesses who testified or provided information to authorities.

They became “reborn”, sent away in some time and space machine to become someone they didn’t know yet… themselves but somehow not themselves.

You see an unspeakable act of criminality and now your life is forever changed, brutally raped by someone else’s action that you happened to innocently observe.

Maybe there’s a romance to it. Maybe.

Many of us think about the notion of a second chance. A new life. An escape from life’s sometimes nastier, unhappy moments.

…………….

“As I lay awake, sleep was nowhere in sight. I thought of any way to link myself to my mother, to learn anything else about her. I got an idea. I remembered the old boxes in the basement that had sat untouched since we moved to our new home…

As I navigated my way around the boxes, a small one in the very back corner caught my eye. I pulled it out and noticed it had a label on it. It read:

FAMILY

Jackpot. I ripped the lid off and peered inside. My excitement died when I noticed there were no pictures, just several newspaper clippings. 

I picked up the top one. It was an article from the Obituaries on August 23rd, 2002. It took me only a few seconds to recognize the face – it was my mother. As I read along, tears began forming in my eyes. I thought I was going to burst into tears until I got to one section that confused me. It said:

Karen is survived by her mother [NAME]; father [NAME]; brother [NAME] and sister [NAME]; and husband Jack.

Where was my name? My father’s was in there, how could they have forgotten her daughter? I laid the article to the side and picked up another. The title read:

FAMILY SLAIN IN GRUESOME MURDERS

It didn’t take long for me to realize this was the article about the family that had lived directly in front of us. I began to read.

Last night, on August 24th, 2002, a mother and father, Lyle and Helen [NAME], were strung up by the neck in their living room. Their daughter, Lindsey, was found dead on the couch, bruised and bloody.

I stopped reading…. I tossed it aside and picked up another.

It was from August 23rd, 2002. It read:

WOMAN AND CHILD KILLED BY DRUNK DRIVER 

Yesterday, Thursday, August 22nd, 2002, a mother and her daughter were killed in an automobile accident. They were identified to be Karen and Katherine [NAME]. They were struck head-on by a drunk driver who was believed to be–

The article cut off. My head was spinning. I didn’t understand. Why does the article say I was killed with my mother? I felt angry, but I didn’t know who to be angry at.

I laid it aside and picked up another one. This one was from August 26th, 2002. The title read:

DNA TEST SHOWS MISTAKE IN FAMILY MURDER

As I began to read, I heard the basement door click open; my dad was awake. I hurriedly crammed everything back into the box and stuffed it back into its corner. As soon as I got to my feet and turned around he arrived at the basement floor. I was surprised to see a nervous look on his face instead of an angry one. 

“I’m sor–“

“Don’t apologize,” he said. “I haven’t been completely honest with you. Come upstairs.”

I was surprised at the calm tone in his voice. I rushed up the stairs and sat on the couch. He sat beside me and took my hand.

“Dad,” I said before he could speak, “why does that article say I was killed in the wreck with mom? I don’t under–“

“I will explain.” His face turned pale and his voice nearly left him. I could tell he was stressed.

“I’m sorry,” I started, “we don’t ha–“

“Yes. Yes, we do. You deserve to know,” he said. He took a deep breath before he spoke again. “Your mother was killed around the same time as the murders across the street.” His eyes began to water. 

“I faked your death.” He was crying now.

I felt so terrible, but so confused. I know it was hard for him to talk about, but the burning desire to know the truth kept me quiet.

He wiped his eyes and began again. “I faked your death in case that man came after me. I didn’t want him to know about you. I didn’t want you to get hurt.” 

“Okay, dad. I understand.” I let go of his hand. Something wasn’t right. “I’m going to bed now, okay?” I told him I loved him and quickly went to my room and locked the door before he could stop me.”

…………….

in-the-mist

HOW strange would it be to begin anew, re-birthed as an adult, an adult already brimming over with experiences and impressions, memories of loves, memories of disgusts, memories of people and things that would now cease to exist until our dying breath?

Your witnessing story told aloud in a brightly lit police station or an open courtroom means the price of good citizenship is your one way ticket to a whole new world.

A ticket to a world where “you” no longer exist. A world where fear of discovery lies around every corner.

………………

“He lied to me. I knew he lied to me because my mother was killed before the murders. How would he know we would need protection?

I grabbed my laptop and sat on my bed. I searched “Karen [NAME] car accident, 2002.” I clicked the first link. It looked to be the same newspaper clipping that I had just read downstairs, except this one wasn’t cut off. I found my place and continued reading. 

struck head-on by a drunk driver who was believed to be Lyle [NAME]

My heart stopped. Everything clicked. The neighbor. He was the drunk driver. He was the one who killed my mother. My father faked my death because he knew that the family across the street was going to be murdered. He knew because he was the one who murdered them.

He didn’t want anyone coming after me for revenge.

I searched my father’s name and clicked the first link. It looked like a wanted poster.

JACK [NAME] WANTED FOR FIRST DEGREE MURDER AND CHILD ABDUCTION

My heart sank to my stomach. All of my muscles tightened. I didn’t understand the abduction part, but I was growing too angry to think. My eyes swelled with tears. I couldn’t believe the monster my father was.

It hurt my heart to accept it. I didn’t want it to be true, but I couldn’t deny it. I felt so terribly for the parents, but even more for the little girl. I searched “Lyle, Helen, and Lindsey [NAME] murders” and clicked the first link. The first thing I saw was

WARNING – GRAPHIC PHOTOS

I scrolled to the first picture. It was straight from the crime scene. Lyle and Helen were hanging by their neck in the living room. I felt like I was going to puke.

I didn’t want to see the next picture. I scrolled anyway. All of my nausea, anger, and sadness was immediately replaced with confusion when I saw it. I looked at the little girl curled up on the couch. What bothered me most was not the blood or the bruises. 

I couldn’t believe what I saw. I had to call the police. As I grabbed my cell phone I heard a loud knock on the door.

“Katherine,” my dad was yelling. “Open the door. We need to talk.”

Fear struck my body and I began to shake. He knows. He knows that I found out the truth. I ran to my bathroom and dialed 911. I told them I was in danger. I told them Jack [NAME] was in the house and I was in danger.

I had to play it off. I had to act like I didn’t know until the cops got here. I hid the phone in the medicine cabinet and walked into my room. I wiped my eyes and tried to look as normal as possible.

“One second, dad,” I yelled. It made me sick calling him that.

I walked timidly to the door and opened it. He looked angry and nervous. He was pouring with sweat. I could smell liquor on his breath.

“Sorry, I was in the bathroom,” I said.

His drunk eyes locked to mine. Neither of us said a word. I could feel my eyes beginning to water. I was truly terrified.

He stared at me for several more seconds. It felt like hours. No matter how scared I was, my eyes never left his. His were evil, the eyes of a killer. Without saying another word, he turned around and stumbled to his room. I slammed my door and locked it. “

……………..

img_8249

SURPRISES.

There are lovely surprises that fill us with joy. A pygmy owl sitting calmly perched on a pine branch as we walk by. A job offer at double the salary. A cheap bottle of Gewurtztraminer wine that tastes better than a $100 bottle.

Then there are unexpected nasty, scary, gut-searing surprises that arise from the cold earth like an eerie corpse, a reality nightmare.

Do I have the inner strength to be a witness under threat of bodily harm or worse? I don’t know the answer. What if they threatened someone I love? That would kill me. Sophie’s Choice.

A new life. A life with new vistas and choices.

Maybe I’d grow my hair long and have a man bun and stand around in malls playing life-size chess games all day.

Or shave off what little hair I do have and become a zen-style monk and not speak to anyone for days at a time.

Or just wake up one morning and start walking like the old man in The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, seeking out inner peace and something unknown.

But more probably, I’d recreate my life in its current mould but with a new name and carry on doing what I’m doing because I like writing and running and playing guitar and travelling and chopping and dicing in soup kitchens. For adventure, maybe I’d get my glider’s licence. Maybe.

……………..

“I walked to my laptop to look at the picture one more time. I stared at the little girl curled up on the couch.”

The cops showed up ten minutes later, kicked his door down and arrested him. 

As they ushered him away in handcuffs, his eyes met mine one more time. I knew it would be the last time I had to look into the eyes of the man who killed my parents.”

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