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Friday, July 15, 2011

What to Say When They Sneer at You

(If you hear audio upon arriving at this site, please turn the volume off on your computer. It's from the KPNX embedded video. Sorry! I'm working on it!)

Originally published July 15, 2011

Casey Anthony will be released on Sunday. There will be a new flurry of news stories about her and the tragedy of her tiny daughter, the deceased toddler Caylee. Some will look askance at your interest in the case. Last week, Dr. Gregory Jantz on the HuffingPost scolded everyone who followed the Florida trial. I responded here, and promised to post a companion essay. Here is the one I had in mind. I originally had written this as a guest essay for the now retired prestigious blog, In Cold Blog. But now is the perfect moment to revisit it. I have some good answers, I hope, for you to employ when someone confronts you over your interest in the Casey Anthony stories.

It Never Ends

Why Do You Read True Crime?

It was a cocktail party as only Arizona can do them. A lone mountain looming high, separated from guests only by an iron rail, was the open backdrop behind the home of the hostess. I navigated her artfully planted cactus, low lying hedgehog and fuzzy upright pincushion, to join those gathered at the rail peering into the twilight. We scanned the creosote, brittlebush and saguaro landscape, breathing in the desert, looking for coyote silhouettes. A psychologist across the patio, we had been attending the same parties for about two decades now, gathered up his plate of tostada, guacamole, and bubbling cheese and headed toward me. “Camille,” he greeted me, “you’ve got to hear this.”

He had had a couple in for marriage counseling, he said, and it wasn’t going well. From where he sat, his professional senses kept directing him toward the wife. He focused his attention on her, asking a series of questions, until he finally found what he didn’t know he’d been looking for.

“My grandparents,” she had eventually mentioned offhandedly, “were killed by [...].” He named a very famous serial killer. For the sake of the counselor’s privacy, we’ll leave it unsaid here.

A pink gecko’s herky-jerky wiggling had caught my eye but I lifted my face because I knew this was the punchline to the story. My cocktail companion and I locked eyes. We said simultaneously, “It never ends.”

The heinous act of a serial killer, he had learned in his otherwise safe office as he faced a troubled couple, was still seeping poison two generations later into someone’s marriage. When the husband began courting that girl who would become his bride, he probably had no idea that she had any connection to a murder, much less two. Indeed, she herself had no insight into how deeply she had been influenced. Since the woman’s marriage is affected, it’s not a leap to assume that any children this couple has will also be shaped in unseen ways by the murders, even though the kids may never have even met their mother’s grandparents.

I am often asked the question, why do people read true crime? Perhaps the better question is, why wouldn’t they? Since Cain slew Abel, murder has been corroding the family of man like a drizzled acid. Studying how it happens is an act of social connection and recognition.

Serial Shooter victim Paul Patrick --featured in my book A SUDDEN SHOT--being videotaped by the TV crew from "Wicked Attraction."
Photos by Camille Kimball
My first true crime book brought me deeply into lives altered by a random gun blast. Some had to build additions to their homes to accommodate new fears, others lost their homes outright. Some had to switch roles from caregiver to care-receiver. All put on masks, mustering up their game faces, to carry on. When I escort a TV crew to the bedside of someone seriously maimed, I see the survivor gather his strength to play host—because this desire to connect and tell his story is fierce--and I see the exhaustion over take him after the cameras and mics are gone.

At one book signing, a pair of beautiful blondes hovered just out of range of my table. Some idle portion of my brain, that thing that wants to instantly categorize things in our immediate environment, figured they had been shopping and wandered in just to check out the commotion. But after more than thirty minutes passed, I saw they were waiting for their moment.