Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Someone else's murder Part II

The end of something horrible took place on New Year’s Day. We start each new year with high hopes, and plans for a better future.

A few years ago, a girl named Meredith Emerson went hiking in Vogel State Park, a few dozen miles from here next to a place unfortunately called Blood Mountain. She was picked off by a predator who had wandered up here in search of easy prey, which he found. He led arresting officers to Ms. Emerson’s body, and will spend the rest of his life in prison…we hope.

On 11 August 2009, a woman named Kristi Cornwell left her parent’s home and went jogging on Jones Creek Road, also not that far by country miles from where Ms. Possum and I live.

She was talking to her boyfriend in Atlanta—150 miles from here—when she was heard to say “Please don’t take me.” Her cell phone was found later, even closer to where we live.

The story of Kristi Cornwell’s disappearance made national headlines. Exhaustive searches were conducted. Locally, the efforts to find Ms. Cornwell were heroic and untiring. Community awareness was kept at a heightened stage.

Last November, Ms. Cornwell’s abduction was the subject of an hour-long episode of Discovery ID’s series “Disappeared.” My refrigerator still has a pinned-up sketch of the suspect and a “vehicle of interest” that was being sought by the GBI.

Kristi’s brother never gave up. The day she disappeared, he was up here from Atlanta in two hours, and he never left. I surmise I saw him more than once, flying up and down the Dooley Creek flats in a helicopter that continually prowled the area. Volunteers combed the extensive woodlands and national forests of this vicinity. Cadaver dogs, profilers…nothing was spared, as it should be.

Nothing was ever found.

On New Year’s Day, acting on a tip from the GBI that a prime suspect’s cell phone had “pinged” a tower off Moccasin Road—about six miles from here—Ms. Cornwell’s brother entered the woods. Less than 100 yards from the road, he found her charred, skeletal remains. The killer burned and partially buried her body. An autopsy is pending to determine the exact cause of death, but forensic examination has positively identified her.

As someone with a passing acquaintance of the cynical nature of law enforcement, I did not maintain the family’s hope that this ordeal would turn out otherwise. It was not a question of “if,” it was a question of “when.”

That question has been answered. It is hard to write about this without crying. I know exactly how Kristi Cornwell’s family feels. My father was murdered by a serial killer in 1985. No arrest was ever made, although the authorities knew the identity of the killer. Knowing something and proving it in a court of law is apples and oranges.

My father’s killer fell under a truck in the 1990s, proving that there is a God. The prime suspect in Ms. Cornwell’s murder killed himself in 2010. Cornered by law enforcement seeking to apprehend him for a kidnap/rape in an adjoining county, and suspected of an attempted snatch not far from here in North Carolina, the creature put a gun to his head and possibly did the world a favor.

(Although I know his name, I maintain a policy of not mentioning the names of killers, nor will I deign to call such an animal a man.)

The case will remain open, as is my father’s. There is no statute of limitations on murder, and until there is a conviction, there is no so-called “closure.”

In fact, there is never “closure” in a murder. People who speak of such an academic, abstract concept are just that: academicians or talk-show hosts who are educated way beyond their intelligence. There is no nostrum for the next-of-kin; there is no balm we can rub in our chests and wake up in the morning not thinking about and missing those taken from us. My father would have been 103 this past month. It’s doubtful he would have made it that far under normal circumstances, but his killer robbed him of God’s allotment of days. His killer took from me the chance to hug him and say “good-bye” under the peaceful conditions of our appointed times.

Ms. Cornwell was decades younger than my father. She has a son who is old enough to understand the horror of what has happened. Her parents must suffer the agony of burying a child, which is never supposed to happen in the natural course of events. My prayers are with them, that they may find the peace and strength to carry on.

The community at large will never know if that mook who took his own life was the one who murdered Ms. Cornwell, or if there is another predator living among us.

(Just days after I wrote this, some lunatic shot an Arizona congresswoman. I looked up “deranged” in my dictionary, and his grinning mug shot was in there. More on that in a bit.)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

White Christmas/Black Christmas

25 December 2010

0900: The alarm clock goes off; classical music and a repeating tone from Hell. I unglue my eyes and stare at the unnatural brightness reflecting in through the bedroom windows. It has snowed during the night, as predicted. For the first time since 1882, we are going to have a white Christmas in Georgia.

This is going to be cool.

0930: The special gourmet Christmas coffee is brewing. The snow is continuing to fall. It’s already four to six inches deep on the fence, but it’s still cool. I’m a Georgia native, and totally enamored of white stuff falling from the sky.

1030: The older daughter calls. She and her husband flew in from the Left Coast the day before, getting into Hartsfield just ahead of the oncoming weather front, and driving 150 miles from Atlanta into the mountains. This is going to be the first full-family Christmas gathering in 13 years. Presents have been wrapped, and Sicilian banana bread and fudge has been made in anticipation. Carpets are vacuumed, walls have been painted, and appliances are humming with anticipation.

1100: The younger daughter calls. She and her fiancé are on the road, driving up from Ft. Benning in the middle of the state. The snow continues to fall, but we are assured that the roads are fine and the People’s Republic of Atlanta is a deserted wasteland.

1130: The older daughter calls again. They will be leaving the Holiday Inn Express shortly. They plan to fly low and slow, timing their arrival with that of the younger kidlet and her beau.

1140: I call the neighbors who share the entrance of the goat-path driveway up Scorpion Hill, asking if they are going out, and if not, will they mind if the kids’ cars block their driveway? I am advised that they were out in their Jeep 4X4 that morning; the roads were already treacherous at 0800, and they have cancelled a planned journey to Atlanta. Hindsight says this should have been my first clue. I am further advised that perhaps our visitors should park in Gary and June’s driveway, across the road from the base of Scorpion Hill, since it is flat and level with the roadway. Gary & June are in Florida, and won’t mind a bit.

This should have been my second clue.

1215: The younger daughter and her fiancé are turning off the four-lane from Atlanta onto the major artery that serves this end of the woods. Minutes later, the older daughter calls to state that she and her hubby are departing the Holiday Inn in town. In normal conditions, it takes about thirty minutes to drive the fifteen miles from in-town to here.

1245: The younger daughter calls to announce that she and her fiancé have encountered what is now referred to as “the hill from Hell” and have gone off the high side. They are nose-down in a ditch, but the vehicular damage is described as “cosmetic.” They are given a number for a reliable towing service.

1315: The older daughter calls to say they turned off the US highway to encounter people standing in the secondary road waving them down. An intrepid 4X4 is flipped over in a ditch. “Don’t even think about trying to cross the dam or go any further!” they are told.

Did I mention that the snow is continuing to fall during this elapsed time from 0900 to 1300? It’s now up to eleven inches and counting.

1330: Ms. Possum and I venture onto the deck to watch the falling snow and reflect on the muffled silence. At one point, I remark that “it sure is pretty.” I get a dirty look from the lady who grew up in Michigan, where it apparently snows on a regular basis.

1345: The older daughter calls to say she and her old man are backtracking down the four-lane to join the younger daughter and her beau while they wait for the tow truck. It is a seller’s market on towing services, and the waits may be interminable.

1400: Ms. Possum and I retire to the warmth of the house. She moves to the non-smoking area of the house, and I settle in with a cup of the gourmet Christmas coffee and a cigarette to brood on the events of the day.

1410: The power goes off. My first remark? “Oh, perfect!” The rest is unprintable.

1411: I call the EMC to report the outage. The line is busy, and continues in this mode until 1630.

1500: I try to light the gas logs in the living room. The piezeo-electric starter refuses to strike a spark. When I bought the house, the owners said “Even if there’s a power failure, you’ll have heat.” They lied.

1631: I reach the dispatcher at the EMC, asking simply “How bad is this?” He replies that 50,000 customers in five counties are down. “It’ll be about six hours before a truck can get to your neighborhood to even see what’s wrong with the line.”

1700: After a conversation about how symptoms of exposure can set in at less than 50°, I inform Ms. Possum that we may have to evacuate. The older daughter has called, saying that they spent four hours waiting with her sister for a tow truck, but are now back at the Holiday Inn Express, where the power is also out.

1702: I call 911. I ask the dispatcher a simple question: “What is your plan for evacuation of the aged and disabled if this massive power failure continues?”

His reply: “There is no plan.”

“So old people are going to freeze to death, and I have to go skiing in my wheelchair?”

“I can send an ambulance or a patrol car, but from what you’re telling me, they won’t make it up your driveway.”

Faced with the specter of two deputies carrying me down Scorpion Hill, then returning for the three-legged cat, the dog, Ms. Possum, and my wheelchair—in no particular order—I tell the dispatcher we’ll call him back.

More heavy winter clothes are broken out, and grins are exchanged at the prospect of bunking in fully-clothed to conserve body heat.

1800: Hunger becomes a concern. The plan was for everybody to go to the Tin Loong Chinese restaurant for the all-you-can-eat buffet, followed by home-made fudge at The Possum Den for dessert. We have not eaten all day in anticipation of this plan. I mutter that we have plenty of canned corn beef hash, beanie-weenie, and other survivalist-type rations in the boxes in the hall closet.

1805: We open a box of home-made trail mix gifted from one of Ms. Possum’s co-workers. It is washed down with cheap box wine and some of the aforementioned Sicilian fudge.

1930: We go to bed under four layers of blankets. So much for Christmas…

2350: As I lay in bed, trying to remember the coldest night I ever spent—ironically, sleeping on two bales of hay under a Confederate greatcoat in Olustee, Florida—the power pops back on. Everything in the house roars back to life…except the big TV in the living room.

26 December 2010

0930: Ms. Possum receives a text message from the younger daughter. After getting out of the ditch, they have made their way back to the four-lane, cut over to Chattanooga, and after picking up I-75 and driving all night, are an hour away from reaching Michigan and her fiancés’ parents’ house.

1130: The older daughter calls to say the she and her husband are going to make another run at Scorpion Hill. They didn’t fly 3000 miles from Sodom by the Bay, and drive 150 miles ahead of a blizzard, to be rebuffed by the last 15 miles.

1230: The older daughter calls again, to announce that they have gone into the ditch at the corner of our subdivision road, and they will be walking the last mile. Ms. Possum grabs her ski poles, and despite my admonitions, goes out to meet them. I sit uselessly on the deck in my wheelchair and stare into the white silence.

1300-1430: The older daughter and her husband spend some quality time with us.

1430-1445: Six different towing services are called to extricate the car from the ditch at the top of the hill. The older daughter keeps whispering: “Tell them we’ll pay cash, and bonuses!” One finally replies, and says he’ll be there in an hour. The older daughter and her husband gather their Christmas gifts, and all the clean cat litter we can spare, and head out for the corner.

1600: As it gets dark and we begin to worry excessively, the older daughter calls to report the following: The cat litter not only didn’t provide traction, it caused their car to slide further into the ditch. When the tow truck arrived, it promptly got stuck. After the driver winched himself out of trouble and gave the kids a ride back to the Holiday Inn, the older daughter handed him three $20 bills and whispered: “Don’t forget us in the morning.”

Monday 27 December 2010

1030: The older daughter calls to say that tow truck driver didn’t forget them. He brought chains, rock salt, and a come-along winch, and got them on the road. She and her old man beat feet to Atlanta to visit friends there before returning to the Bay Area on Thursday.

1100: It is discovered that the external appliance surge protector, leased at considerable expense from the EMC, did not shield the large TV from the surge when the power popped back on Saturday night.

1130-1730: The back-up 19” TV is brought out of retirement, so the some-times sports fan can squint at the final football game of the home team’s season. The Falcons lost. Perfect…

Monday 3 January 2011

0830: The holidays from Hell are over. The flood damage from back in September has been repaired, and there are few dealings pending with the insurance company. There are bills piled up on the side table. Time to take care of business: a couple of calls, fax the personal property loss inventory, and pay a few creditors off by check or phone call. But first, a cup of the last of the gourmet Christmas coffee, and the first cigarette of the day. Ten or fifteen minutes worth of news, to make sure we’re not at war with anyone new.

The back-up tiny TV is on, the coffee is brewed, the heater is warming the room. I set my mug down, transition from my wheelchair into my easy chair, dig out a smoke, and sigh. I flick my Zippo, and as I do so, the small TV goes “pop” and refuses to come back on.