Tales from the Trail, Take 2

Things happen when I’m off on a book tour.  Connections get made that would never happen otherwise, most especially if I were sitting at home with my nose buried in my computer screen.  Twice on this tour, I’ve had people who have never read my books before come up to me at the end of a signing to apologize for not knowing about me previously.  There’s no need apologize for that.  One of the reasons for being out on the road is to have the opportunity to meet new readers.

I don’t have a standard “stump speech.”  I want to make the events fun, and I want the people in the various audiences to come away knowing something about me and about my work.  But if I’m in a room where the vast majority of the people have come to previous events, I can’t very well do the same old/same old every  time.   At that point, I do a quick change up on my non-existent teleprompter and do another talk altogether.

That happened yesterday in Mesa.  A woman who had been to Red Mountain Library events several times before greeted me in the parking lot, and it was nice to be welcomed by a familiar and very friendly face.  I remembered enough about her from our previous encounters to know that she’s someone who hails from Cochise County.

During the pre-talk Q and A session, one of the attendees, Red, (a recent widow and someone else I remembered from previous events) asked if I had ever been involved in a real homicide investigation.  The answer to that question is yes, and if you happen to be someone who has attended previous J.A. Jance events, you may have heard about it because it’s something I often touch upon.

In 1970 when my first husband and I were teaching on the reservation and living west of Three Points, Arizona, my husband hitchhiked home after school on May 22.  He went home to meet a batch of expected company while I had to stay late to decorate for the prom.  Over time we learned that half an hour before giving my husband a ride, the driver had forced a woman off the road at gun point, shot her, raped her in front of her two small children and left her to die.  It turned out that she was the third victim of a serial killer who murdered people at twenty-minutes after two on the twenty-second day of the month.

On our way into town that Friday evening, we were stopped at a roadblock.  That was the first we heard about the homicide.  At the trading post at Three Points, while my husband pumped gas and I paid the bill, I overheard a deputy saying something about two little kids and a man in a “green car.”  Back in our car, I mentioned that detail to my husband.  A few miles later, he said, “A man in a green car.  I wonder if that’s the guy who gave me a ride home.”  We did a U-turn, returned to the trading post, and told the deputy what had happened, who we were, and where we lived.  He wanted our phone number, but because we lived in the boonies—seven miles to the nearest neighbor or telephone—we had no number to give him. The next day, Jack Lyons, Pima County’s chief homicide detective, turned up on our doorstep.  He interviewed my husband from 6:30 AM until 3:30 PM, eliciting all kinds of telling details that the cops were able to use to identify the perpetrator.  Jack soon made the connection between the case on the reservation and two other unsolved homicides, but he didn’t exactly come right out and say so to us.  He did, however, suggest that we might want to consider going somewhere else to live.  Being young and stupid, we didn’t heed his advice.  What we did keep in mind was the fact that on the way home that day and while driving up the two mile dirt road between our house and the highway, the guy in the green car asked, “Do you leave you’re wife out her by herself?”  “Well,” my husband replied, “She’s got the dogs.”

In my late husband’s defense, at the time he said those words, he had no idea he was speaking to a serial killer.

During the summers, I worked in the library on a twelve month contract while my husband worked construction, usually out of town.  So for forty or so of the next sixty days, I was on the hill by myself.  I wore a loaded weapon and was fully prepared to defend myself.  When Detective Lyons arrested the killer on July 20th, he admitted to having been to our house on three separate occasions in the intervening sixty days, and we had been scheduled to be July 22.

Yesterday in Mesa, I told that story and explained how, years later, I met someone who’s life has been permanently impacted by that killer.  And that’s one of the reasons I shy away from writing about real cases in my books—real cases affect real people.

In Mesa I went ahead and did the real talk then followed by the signing.  At the very end of the signing line, who should I see but the woman who had greeted me in the parking lot.  “You know that individual you mentioned from 1970,” she said, “the one in the green car?  He’s my first cousin.”

Goose bumps anyone?  It’s not just the families of the victims who are affected by violent crimes.  The innocent family members of the perpetrators also suffer.

So that’s story number one.  It’s time to go do a talk and a signing.  Two a day keeps the doctor away.  So I believe I’ll save the second story, one about Second Watch, for next week’s blog.  As they used to say at the end of those old time radio dramas, stay tuned.  See you next week, same time, same station.