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.

19 thoughts on “Tales from the Trail, Take 2

  1. What a story. That is too close for comfort. It is really creepy to think the man had been casing your house without you knowing it. Thank goodness he was caught before you became the next victim. Did you ever learn why he picked the 22nd day of the month and the number two? Did you move?

  2. I remember that story well and am so glad you did not become July 22: am glad you had a gun available to protect yourself also….have a wonderful road trip, get enough rest and say hi to Sisters for me when you are there next Friday….we will leave GV the first of April. It is snowing in Sisters as I write this and I am sitting on my patio listening to the birds: it is lovely here and I am reluctant to leave!!!

  3. We keep missing each other! Share my year between Corvallis and Sisters. You’re in Sisters tonight — and I’m in Corvallis, with a lot of snow and nasty roads between. Last time you were in the area I was in Sisters and you came to Corvallis when other commitments kept me from coming. I’ll keep trying though. Currently reading and enjoying Proof of Life, I love Lucy! (Hmm, sounds like the name of a show). Wishing you well on your travels. Enjoy Sisters and the beautiful mountains.

      • Oops, got my weeks mixed up. Next week we are expecting the arrival of the first great-grandchild (I’m way too young, really!), so really need to be here for that. Will catch up to you one of these days, meanwhile I’ll keep reading and enjoying.

  4. I have read previous blogs where you have talked about this but not in this much detail . Thank you for telling this story . I always wanted to know more about it. I will be creeped out the rest of the day thinking about it. Have you ever included anything like this in any of your books? Could be interesting in a Joanna Book.

  5. Wow! Just wow! That is one scary story. I can better understand now why you’re such a proponent of gun rights. You never know when the serial killer is right outside your door. I was going to school at Florida State in 1978 when Ted Bundy murdered the girls there. Scary month before he was caught, but no story like this one!

  6. I must say I am so excited I will be at your Chico signing next week. I have never been to one of your signings I really looking forward to meeting you.
    Although I’m in love with JP Beaumont, as he was the first book I read I do admire Joann and Ali. You have made these ladies into real hero’s to me.
    So I will be in Chico on Tuesday with smile. … Jan

  7. I was at the signing in Mesa but came in towards the end of you answering that question, and despite having been to one other signing had not heard the whole story. I worked with someone years ago whose half brother was a serial killer in the south so I do know how very true it is about affecting family members. Thanks fir sharing so much if yourself with us.

  8. Wow! That happened when I was in Sells. I was getting ready for my wedding in June.
    Obviously I am glad that nothing happened to you, but I’m sorry that you had to deal with the stress of knowing that he knew where you lived.

  9. The closest I came to a story not quite like yours was when the Boston Strangler was scaring the B-jesus out of Bostonians many years ago. One night I shared a cab with another woman, the cab driver let her out but would not leave until she raised and lowered her window shade in her home as a signal that she was ok. Such fear at the time.

  10. In re-reading you schedule I see you will be at the Twin Lakes Country Club . We lived near Twin Lakes for 25 years. Small world…now I will get to meet you in Chico. Really looking forward to seeing you. ..Jan

  11. Ms. Jance, you are such an amazing woman. You are even more interesting in person than in your blogs and the characters in your books. Thank you for sharing your real life and fictional stories with us. When I retire, I think I’ll be a Jance groupie (what are they called? — Jancies?) and go to your book signings all over the country. Do you go out of country?

  12. I was very happy to be at your book signing in Chico CA. There you sang songs and like all troubadours told touching stories. It was the most fun signing I’ve attended.
    So glad that you told us stories about your life and how you lived it. Much better than the rote Q&A. The emotion of a life lived with love and caring is still coming through. We are of an age, so I was able to relate. Good luck with this tour, and happy story making. Gloria

  13. That woman who’s never read any of your books is so lucky! Imagine having the treasure trove of your books waiting for her.
    The story of the man in the green car was so creepy!

  14. I’m so jealous of the woman who’s never read any of your books! Imagine having all of them to read for the first time (while I’m on my 2nd or 3rd reading).
    The story of the man in the green car was certainly a creepy one – glad they caught him fairly quickly – what a worry to have hanging over your head!
    I’ve met you twice at signings, and your talks, singing and poetry readings are so enjoyable, so I encourage anyone who hasn’t been to one to try their best to do so.

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