I thought I’d share two recent selfies, in case y’all have forgotten what I look like:
So last weekend I went to the Fourth Annual Wisconsin Missing Persons Awareness Event. (I also went to the first and second ones, but missed last year’s.) Here are some articles about it:
- April is Missing Persons Awareness Month
- Loved ones of missing people come together
- Fox Valley Technical College raises awareness for missing persons
- Pinwheels placed for missing people in Wisconsin
I arranged for an Airbnb and said I would be at my hosts’ house by six on Friday. But I left a bit early, and I had forgotten also that I would gain an hour by traveling west. So I was in Illinois, contemplating what to do about this extra time, when I saw a sign for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and I stopped there.
I wound up dropping $70 on books at the gift shop — and they were worth every penny. I didn’t get to see the whole museum but it seemed really nice, and I enjoyed walking on this exhibit which was set in the floor:
So I got up into Wisconsin and in the last two hours or so of the drive I realized the car was making a funny noise. It was louder than normal. There didn’t seem to be any difference in the driving, but the engine was suddenly REALLY REALLY LOUD.
I arrived at my Airbnb and was let inside by a lovely married couple with two little kids. The wife escorted me to my room and the first question I asked was a recommendation for a mechanic. I didn’t want to risk a six-hour drive home on a faulty vehicle. The nice lady gave me a mechanic friend’s cell phone number.
The mechanic’s name was Matt. He agreed to collect my car from the Airbnb’s driveway and look at it in his shop while I was attending the next day’s event. I then messaged Marsha Loritz, the event organizer, to ask for a ride to the event, two miles from my Airbnb, the next morning. Marsha said she would ask a friend to pick me up.
The next morning the mechanic came and took my car away, and time passed and I waited patiently but Marsha’s friend never arrived to pick me up. Finally I got a ride with the nice Airbnb husband, a work-from-home dad who cheerfully put coats on his toddlers, bundled all of us into his car and trucked me over to the place. (I later gave this couple five stars and a glowing review on Airbnb.)
So I showed up slightly late and Marsha’s friend saw me and was like “OMG did I forget to pick you up?” and was upset with herself but I shrugged it off. I was there. It didn’t matter.
The first hour or so consisted of standing at my table and answering questions from passersby. I got a call from the Matt the mechanic. My car’s wheel bearing was broken. I COULD drive it home, but there was a slight chance that at highway speeds the wheel would come flying off and cause an accident that might kill someone, possibly me. Or he could fix the car right then and there.
Of course I wanted the car fixed, but there was a rub: Matt didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay for the repair. He recommended someone else, but that shop turned out to be closed on weekends, and I was looking at the very real prospect of getting stuck in Wisconsin with no wheels until Monday.
I was quietly wigging out about this when I was approached by SAR (search and rescue) dog handler Rachel, my friend and fellow event attendee. I told her my problem and she promptly offered to lend me all the cash I needed to pay for the repair! Rachel saved my butt!
Problem fixed. She took me to Matt’s place after the event (stopping at an ATM for cash on the way), and went inside with me to meet Matt to make sure he wouldn’t be a creep. I paid him and drove home.
Getting back to the event itself: it was quite awesome. Rachel took this photo of me there:
There were at least seven dogs present. Four of them were therapy dogs (from left: Louise, Gracie, Ava and Bernie.)
There were also at least three SAR dogs. Rachel brought her Dutch Shepherd Rieken, and there was also Calvin, who was delighted to meet everyone and hammed it up for ear rubs and “good boy”s:
And there was this SAR-puppy-in-training who was trying to be professional but kept jumping on people:
Amber Wilde‘s family was there. Bobby Joe Fritz‘s family was there. DonaMae Bourgeois Bayerl‘s family was there. Marsha Loritz and her sister lost their mother, Victoria Lynn Prokopovitz, I’m sure other families were there as well but I didn’t see everyone. It was pretty well attended, pretty crowded.
The keynote speaker was Patty Wetterling. Of course most of you know the story of her young son Jacob, who was found in 2016, nearly thirty years after he was abducted at gunpoint. I didn’t get really good photos of her, but there’s this article you can read about her speech which has pics.
Patty told the story of Jacob’s kidnapping and the subsequent 27-year investigation into what happened. I hadn’t been previously aware of the role played by Jared, who was also a victim of Danny Heinrich.
Heinrich, Jacob’s killer, specialized in what I’d refer to as “grab-and-gropes.” He would basically snatch a child — a boy of a certain age — and drag him into his car, sexually abuse him, then release him within minutes. Jared was snatched a few months before Jacob was taken.
As the years passed Jared became convinced that whoever had done this to him had also taken Jacob, and he thought the perpetrator must have committed many, many similar crimes that were not reported to the police. Because you know, it’s a young boy just getting into adolescence, they’re embarrassed and ashamed, don’t want to talk to cops or parents about what happened to them.
But they might talk to Jared, because he was also a victim. So he started reaching out saying basically “this happened to me, and if anything similar happened to you, please come to me and let’s talk because we need to identify this man.”
Patty talked about campfire gatherings of Heinrich’s victims, where they would tell their stories while staring into the fire, because something about the presence of the fire got people to open up. You weren’t looking into someone’s face and seeing all the shock and horror and whatever as you walked, you were just talking to a fire.
The cops worked very hard on the case, and the Wetterling family worked very hard, but without Jared I’m not sure this would have ever been solved.
Patty also talked about how in the immediate aftermath of the abduction, other people began to prey on the family. Specifically, she mentioned several men who came, supposedly to help support the family and support the search effort, but really to creep on the kids. Like, they’d offer to babysit all the kids while all the grownups in the town were out searching for Jacob, then they’re creep on them.
This was absolutely vile. I hadn’t even considered that someone would want to do that. Patty said she learned the hard way — and she advised other families of missing children, so they wouldn’t have to learn the hard way — to run background checks and ask for credentials for everyone who showed up offering to help.
She also made a lot of good points about education. How parents need to be educated about signs to look for, signs of predatory adults, signs that children are being abused. How children need to be educated to know when they’re being creeped on, or taken advantage of, and to know who to go to for help.
(It reminds me of an episode from my own childhood: when I was in second grade I was repeatedly touched inappropriately by an older boy on the school bus. On the ride home from school this boy — who, it must be said, was severely mentally handicapped, nonverbal, and probably didn’t have the capacity to realize what he was doing — would sit on top of me on the bus seat and touch me in a way he shouldn’t have.
This lasted for weeks and I kept coming home in tears over it. My mother asked why and all I could think of to say was “a boy is touching me and bothering me.” She did not understand what I was trying to tell her and thought it was a situation of teasing, and was like “so stand up to him and tell him to stop, then.”
This incident was referenced in the Longreads article about me. I remember the frustration I felt at the time, because I knew something was very wrong about this but I didn’t know what it was or how to explain it, and it didn’t occur to my mom to ask any questions like “Where exactly is he touching you?” And so nothing was done, and the situation continued until the boy got tired of this game and stopped of his own accord.
This could have all been avoided if even one of us had been properly educated, like Patty Wetterling was saying, on the signs to look out for and how to ask for help. Fortunately I wasn’t really traumatized by what happened, I think mainly because even at eight years old I realized this boy had something wrong with him and didn’t know what was he doing. It was just a very uncomfortable experience for me is all.)
So Patty Wetterling gave this awesome speech that had me tearing up, especially when she talked about the nice boy Jacob had been, and what the world lost when he died before he could become a man, and how people reached out to to help them in their grief and loss and show solidarity for them.
And Marsha gave a speech and read the names of missing people aloud, and their families got to come up and say “My name is so and so, and this person is my relative who disappeared from this town on this day.” It was very emotional.
Instead of a balloon release, Vincent, this year they did pinwheels instead. Each of us got a shiny foil pinwheel with the name of a missing person on it — I got Evon Young — and the suggestion that we could put it in our yard or our window or whatever in this person’s memory.
I handed out plenty of business cards. Then we all packed up and left, Rachel took me to my car, I paid the mechanic and I drove home, arriving shortly after midnight on Sunday.
I’ve been super tired since I got home but unable to sleep well. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt well-rested. The medication I take messes up my sleep and I often wake up after only about four hours, unable to go back to sleep again even though I feel like hammered dog poo.
Ima start the engines again today though.
Another ET entry: two men were lynched on this day in 1868 in Cheyenne, Dakota Territory (it didn’t become part of the state of Wyoming till 1890). One had shot a man; the other rustled livestock. They didn’t seem to have anything to do with each other and I think it’s just a coincidence that they were both hanged on the same night.
Happy St. Paddy’s Day, everyone. I’ve got a new Executed Today story for you: Robert Emond, hanged on this day in Scotland in 1830.
It’s a sad and all-too-familiar story of family problems, domestic violence and a loser who finally acted out in a jealous, paranoid rage.
The state had an ironclad case, and in the end Emond itself admitted his guilt. One question remains, however: according to the evidence, Catherine Franks’s body lay in the pigsty for two days or more, and the neighbors finally found it when they came to investigate the pig’s squeals of hunger. Why did the pig not eat HER?
I’ve had a few entries run recently on Executed Today that I hadn’t mentioned on this blog yet, so here goes:
- January 14, 1792: John Phillips hanged for robbery in Dublin, Ireland. Little is known about the case, but he would probably have been reprieved but for a little snafu with the paperwork.
- January 18, 1884: Maggie and Maggie Cuddigan lynched in Ouray, Colorado. They had adopted a little girl from an orphanage and proceeded to starve, neglect, maltreat and abuse her for months until she finally died.
The outrage must have been tremendous even by lynch mob symptoms — how often do you hear of white women, particularly visibly pregnant ones, getting lynched? The dead man’s own brothers did nothing to help him, though they might have been able to stop the lynching, and afterwards, the local priest refused to perform the funeral service and none of the local cemeteries would accept their bodies.
- February 20, 1948: Thomas Henry McGonigle gassed in California for the 1945 murder of fourteen-year-old Thora Chamberlain.
This was a murder-without-a-body case, one of the first in the state. (Though, after I’d already written the entry, Tad DiBiase told me it wasn’t actually THE first.) Thora is featured on Charley.
I’m really glad they took the risk of prosecuting this. They had a very strong case, but many prosecutors wouldn’t have wanted to touch the case without Thora’s body. McGonigle was clearly a very dangerous man and sounds like a serial killer in the making if he wasn’t one already.
So Michael and his mom and I all went to the visitation together and that was all right. There were lots of people there of course, and lots of floral arrangements.
I told the boys that I had no words for them except how sorry I was. I talked to Brendan’s wife a bit and suggested there were probably online support groups for young widows with children and maybe she should check some of those out.
The accident was not as bad as I had feared. I mean, it sounds dumb to say that because Brendan is still dead, but I had been afraid he was in bits or something and he wasn’t. Turns out the auger grabbed him by the arm and pulled so hard that his head slammed into the side of the machine and his neck snapped. He died more or less instantly. Open casket.
Then after we left, we met up with Michael’s dad, David, and we went to Pizza Hut and then everything somehow went very wrong.
David started teasing me about something or other and then the gears in my head got kind of stuck and I couldn’t think and I got very upset and couldn’t talk right and I started rocking back and forth holding onto myself, trying to keep myself from melting down, but it was already happening.
I had this urge to start knocking over plates and glasses and stand up and upend the table. I wasn’t angry, I just had to get the tension out somehow. I didn’t want to make a scene so I went to the bathroom to try to calm down and wound up making a scene in there instead. Screaming and moaning and throwing myself around the room and slamming my head into the tile wall over and over. Full-on meltdown.
I never want these things to happen. I don’t want to do those things and the whole time I was hitting my head I was crying out “stop” and “no” because it hurt and I didn’t want to do it.
After a bit, my waitress came into the bathroom — I don’t think it was to investigate the noise, I think she just had to go.
She already knew someone had died, because she had asked us earlier why were we dressed up, had we been at a party, and we explained we’d just come from a funeral visitation and she’d been like “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Our specials…”
She asked me if there was anything she could do to help and I said no and to please leave me alone, and she went out and told Michael that his wife was in the bathroom freaking out, and Jane came in and got me and said we were leaving. It was the middle of the meal. Pizza shoveled into boxes and everyone getting their coats and leaving and me feeling miserable and embarrassed and guilty for inconveniencing them and ruining what was supposed to be a nice dinner.
Everyone was very nice about it. It would have felt better if they’d been mad at me.
I still can’t really understand what happened. What happened in the bathroom feels like it happened to someone else altogether, not me.
I felt really awful over the next few days, didn’t even want to get out of bed. I hadn’t had a meltdown like that in ages and I had started to think that maybe they wouldn’t happen at all anymore.
Then suddenly it happens and I’m reminded once again that I’m broken in a way no one can fix. And I ruined Michael’s family’s dinner and scared the pizza lady and acted like a two-year-old in the bathroom and I am still really embarrassed. I feel like I can never go back to that restaurant ever again.
My head STILL hurts horribly and aspirin etc. isn’t touching it and I’m afraid to seek medical attention cause I don’t want to have to explain what happened. They might lock me up or something. It sounds really weird and scary and I’d have a bit of a time convincing everyone I’m not actually a danger to myself. The pain will stop eventually. God knows I’ve had worse headaches than this.
Ima just go and resume my normal existence, work on the website some more — I’m on the home stretch, down the last 1,000 cases, woo!
A few more details have been released about the accident. He was alone so we can only postulate what must have happened. I’m not sure how long it was before someone found him, but by then he had already passed.
When Dad called me and said it was an auger accident, I didn’t really know what an auger was so I Googled it. When I saw pictures of them, I winced. It sounds like it must have been absolutely ghastly. I can only hope it happened very quickly and he didn’t suffer.
Visitation is tomorrow. Michael and I are going together. He’s only met Brendan twice, most recently at Christmas last year.
My family used to be very unkind to Michael. It was the age difference; they thought it was wrong for him to date me when I was so much younger. Some of them said a lot of nasty things about him, and pretty much everything he did they automatically read in the worst possible light.
I can understand their feelings; I was only 16 years old and Michael was 27, and a lot of people would have a problem with that. (I want to emphasize that Michael wasn’t in the habit of dating significantly younger people, and that our relationship was and has always been legal. We met in college; I was getting my high school education there and he was working on another bachelor’s degree.)
But the fact that I understood my family’s feelings didn’t mean their comments and actions hurt any less. Years passed, and my mother and siblings came to realize Michael really loved me and was good for me. But for the longest time he didn’t want anything to do with them.
Last Christmas, though, he decided to “bury the hatchet” and go to my family’s celebration, and everyone got on splendidly. I’m glad he went, the more so because he and Brendan got to have some positive interaction between each other before it was too late.
Michael’s parents plan to go to the visitation also, out of respect for me. The funeral is Monday. Michael has to work so he can’t go to that. I’ll go, of course. Break out the Special Occasion Shoes, the only heels I own. Brendan will be buried next to his son.
Frankly, I feel like a bystander in all of this. Like I said before, Brendan and I weren’t close. Actually, that’s an understatement; we barely had a relationship at all. We were a generation apart, hadn’t lived together since I was an infant, and had nothing in common.
So I don’t feel so much grief as commiseration for everyone else: my siblings who were closer to him than I was — he and Colin in particular were best buds — and our parents, and his children, and his wife.
I don’t think it’s really hit my parents yet. My mom says she still expects Brendan to call her any minute and regale her with the tale of his accident with the auger which he miraculously survived without serious injury.
Dad and I talked today and he said this is a much different experience from when my brother Brian died in 1988. Brian’s death, he said, was “dramatic” and a bit drawn-out: the car accident, hooked up to life support while everyone waited for news with baited breath and prayed for a miracle, the doctors declaring him brain-dead, and then turning off the machines and donating his organs. Afterwards, the organ donation folks invited Mom and Dad to meet the people who had received Brian’s corneas and kidneys, and my parents thought it over and said no.
Brendan, on the other hand, was just gone. I mean, he probably woke up in the morning and packed his lunch and went to work, thinking afterwards maybe he’d have a few beers and then maybe take the kids to see Black Panther, and then he was gone.
My family has survived the death of a son and brother once before, and I am convinced we can do so again. We’re strong. Things are shaken up and eventually they will settle into a new kind of normal.