Murder has its own categories. At first we thought along the lines of a TV show: bullet, impact, death. But we gradually began to realize the extent of my parents’ horror. Though anyone would want to banish the images of that night from their mind, it is part of the process that every victim goes through to play and replay the violent scenario. If we slept, our dreams were filled with blood; if we lay awake, our imaginings were filled with cries and supplications. I remember with gratefulness the doctor who wrote me a prescription for Halcion. Even now, a hint of violence on the television and I have to turn it off, but in those days it was reality that assaulted. A conversation at the police station gave me a keyhole into fear. The female detective asked me: Where did the anger come from? My fragile, birdlike mother, a crazed attacker with a long, sharp knife. The death certificate reads #22. DEATH WAS CAUSED BY: Multiple stab wounds. I keep to myself what I read in their autopsies.
My parents’ last day on this earth was a Saturday. My father probably rose early because his hobby was going to garage sales. He was not a collector of any sort or someone who was buying for resale, it was just something he would do for fun. He would buy a tool, or an occasional piece of patio furniture, or a piece of costume jewelry for my mother’s collection. My father could fix or remake anything, so garage sales were the source of his raw material. Because we had just passed through the holiday season, my mother had been sporting a necklace of red seeds glossed to look like beads that my father had purchased at a garage sale.
Because my sister Cindy was questioned under sodium ambutal, we were able to know all of the details of the last day. My father barbecued steaks. I think because my mother did the cooking for my father and their six children for years and years, she could hardly stand to cook anymore. Then, too, my mother never was a Julia Child in the kitchen. I always laugh to think that the only two spices my mother commanded were salt and pepper. Never once do I remember a clove of garlic in my parents’ house. What I don’t know about that last night is if my father made his famous blue cheese dressing or if they used bottled dressing on their salad. My father guarded his secret recipe like an heirloom; he promised to reveal it to us at the right moment.
I know that my mother took cookies and hot chocolate to my sister Cindy while my sister was watching The Love Boat; that must have been between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. I would like to think that my parents made love that night before they went to sleep or that they kissed each other good night and cuddled in the spoon position for their last few hours. I would like to think that they knew how much they were loved by their children and grandchildren. But the world is so imperfect. Toward morning my sister heard a struggle outside her door and later heard the metal click of the gate as someone ran away. Later, when we were finally allowed into the house, we saw the stain of bloody footprints leaping from the back porch onto the patio. Later still, I remember my older brother David crying as he scrubbed away those footprints with a cleanser; we were getting the house ready to sell.
After the police left, the horror of telling others began. I called my sister in New Hampshire and told her. Then I realized she was alone in the house. So I called her mother-in-law and asked her to please run down to my sister’s house. Then I called my mother’s sister. She just kept saying, “No, no, it’s not possible.” And that’s how it felt. Impossible. Surreal. There was nothing in our knowledge or experience that could lead us to anticipate this — or accept it. Later that night some friends came over to comfort us. My sister Cindy was making her bed up in the study; she would live with us for the next two years. My older brother David was upstairs in front of the television. The news was on and I heard him scream. We ran upstairs to see our parents being carried from their house on stretchers. They were each covered by a sheet, and their house was cordoned off with yellow tape. The next and last time we saw our parents they were in two small gold boxes, their beloved bodies reduced to ashes.
The district attorney initially issued a warrant for the arrest of someone who lived in Orange County. There was not enough evidence to retain this suspect. Later the police told us that it was likely a hot prowler who had just come in for my father’s wallet. They suggested that the trademark in the little circles on the bottom of the murderer’s tennis shoes linked him to a certain race. Nothing came of this either. Finally we were told that it was a deranged neighbor avenging the maltreatment of my sister; however, there was never any evidence to support that idea. No more warrants were ever issued. It is a terrible thing to not know who committed this crime; it is worse to not know why.
We lived in fear for a long time because neither the motive nor the murderer was ever definitively established. We renamed our house the Bunker. We bought a big dog, and we fortified ourselves with weapons and people. My sister Karen left her family in New Hampshire and came to stay with us for more than a month. My younger brother Mel moved his family from Denver into our house. We sat on the front porch and smoked and waited for the police, waited for answers, waited for chaos to subside, for logic and order to return. But the old world was gone. The one where we slept in our beds soundly. The one in which our mother and father lived. I remember having this uncanny sense of more space and more light in the world, as if giant old-growth trees had just been cut down. My parents’ absence was that tangible.