Lori, age 3; Cynthia, age 4; Mark, age 5. The three Maine children — Mark, Cindy, and Lori — grew up in Clairemont. Their father was a policeman — a motorcycle cop.
Each of us knows from his own experience that there is something beyond the evidence.
Though sun shone down on the quiet Mira Mesa neighborhood that morning, and sky stretched serenely cloudless blue, though a rosy-cheeked child pedaled his red tricycle next to a neat margin of green, green grass, and I heard birdsong and smelled bacon frying and miracle of miracles, sniffed yeasty warm bread baking, I felt hunched under brutal images. I headed unsteadily toward Jay and Lori Helle’s house.
I thought about how Channel 39 that week had broken into Geraldo’s inquiry into sperm bank mixups with Elisabeth Broderick’s trial, how Broderick described her actions on the morning she pumped three shots into her ex-husband and his new wife. Broderick had spent the last year at Las Colinas. Her skin glowed bluish-white. “An albino pumpkin,” the person watching with me said.
Cynthia, age 10; Lori, age 9. McVey dropped out of school in the eighth grade. By her 16th birthday, she was addicted to meth.
Broderick’s plump face so filled the television screen that her head appeared forced into the console, as if pressed down into a box too small to hold it (and her blond hair spread so lifelessly across her wide forehead, I found difficult to believe gossip I’d heard, that fellow Las Colinas inmate Karen Wilkening, “the notorious Rolodex madam,” acted as Broderick’s hairdresser). Broderick tipped her head to one side, smiled an enigmatic, crooked half-smile, showing teeth she testified she’d had fixed to make herself more attractive for the husband who would eventually dump her. She spoke about her ex-husband in the present tense, as if he were alive.
Cynthia, age 10. "Cindy and my dad were really close. She was his first little girl, and he spoiled her and never spanked her."
That same week I sat in a courtroom one floor below the hail where would-be Broderick spectators formed long lines. No one waited to enter the room where six-foot-five-inch, 350-pound Alan Michael “Buzzard” Stevens stood trial for killing 26-year-old Cynthia Lou McVey, a methamphetamine user with a history of prostitution (the autopsy showed seven times the methamphetamine dosage recommended for therapeutic use).
The DA’s office charged that 48-year-old ex-biker and night watchman Stevens (whose criminal record dates from 1964) inveigled McVey into the Ford van (in which he lived) with offers of drugs, then hog-tied her with yellow rope, gagged her with dirty blue socks and masking tape, beat her, and, ultimately, in “a fit of violent, sexual rage,” choked her to death. Stevens’s attorney, public defender Milly Durovic, contended that McVey willingly engaged with Stevens in a bizarre sexual game and died because her heart, damaged by a decade of speed abuse, gave out, and further that while evidence showed Stevens dumped McVey’s body, evidence did not show Stevens killed her.
Lori Helle. Helle and her mother got in the car and drove up and down El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue.
McVey dropped out of school in the eighth grade. By her 16th birthday, she was addicted to meth. She married. Apparently in self-defense, she shot and killed her husband. She married again. Her husband was alleged to have beaten her. November 27, 1988, McVey and a friend drove from Nevada (where McVey had been arrested for drug possession and theft) to Carlsbad. There they applied for dealing jobs at a card room, Ralph & Eddie’s. McVey’s friend got the job, McVey didn’t. McVey stayed at Ralph & Eddie’s drinking tequila sunrises. Shortly before midnight, McVey and her friend left. The friend went to another friend’s house, and McVey, outfitted in black leather jacket, jeans, pink sweater, and high-heeled boots, took off in search of a new bar. On November 29, 1988, a motorist stopped to urinate along Pala Temecula Road near the Pala Indian Reservation. He saw two bare feet, then discovered, hidden under a mattress pad, McVey’s body.
Cynthia's high school graduation portrait. Mark, Cindy, and Lori attended and graduated from Clairemont High School. “She got a ’65 blue Mustang for her 16th birthday, and she was in that all the time."
Court was not yet in session when I arrived. Stevens, his attorney and prosecution staff, and marshals in brown uniform were the only people present. Like Elisabeth Broderick, Stevens, who had been in custody for 18 months, had also taken on jailhouse pallor. His blanched, puffy flesh made me think of fungi swelling out of dank hollows. He whispered to a marshal: he needed to use the bathroom. I could hear his voice, hoarse. I saw blue teardrops tattooed beneath his right eye. (Stevens has 184 tattoos, including one that reads “Beloved Shawn,” in memory of his son, dead 22 years ago. Shawn was two months old when he choked on his vomit and died.) Two marshals escorted Stevens out of the courtroom in body chains. As he plodded up the aisle toward me, his huge, loose belly hanging — swaying — out over dark trousers held up with suspenders, I looked into his eyes. Nothing.
Cynthia, 1985. “They were at my mom’s house, and Steve went into the bathroom. He didn’t come out and didn’t come out, and so Cindy knocked on the door."
On the People’s side, forensic photographs were pinned to an easel. The photographs showed McVey’s naked body. From the second row, I could see that the autopsy block raised McVey’s head and torso so that she appeared to be awaiting a theatrical sacrifice. It was a cruel posture, without sentimental relief. I could see bruises around her neck. I could see rope wound round her.
Cynthia's diary. “September 16th — Steve. Me. Bad girl. No more ever. Got to get rid of Steve.”
Marshals returned Stevens to his chair. The chair creaked when he sat down. The judge resumed his bench. The nine-man, three-woman jury absent, Durovic moved to introduce testimony that could indicate that tape had been placed over McVey’s mouth after, not before, her death. Durovic suggested that tape and socks might have been used to stop post-mortem purge, blood and saliva that flow naturally from orifices after death. I stared at yellow roses whose tight buds fanned out from a vase placed on a table below the judge’s bench.
Front of Cynthia's diary. “January 16th, Still clean, still at Mom’s house. Steve called, talked about ten minutes. January 17th, Still clean, no pain pills today. Hurray!"
Since June 1985, 43 women have been killed, their bodies disposed of in rural areas around San Diego County. Until Buzzard Stevens’s arrest a month after McVey’s death, no one had been brought to trial for any of these murders (and only because detectives matched Stevens’s fingerprints to prints found on tape that held in place the blue socks that may or may not have been placed in McVey’s mouth to stop the post-mortem purge was Stevens apprehended). Of the 43 women, 28, like Cynthia McVey, were identified as prostitutes or drug users.
Jay and Lori Helle. "Up to that point, she kept trying to get clean. That’s when he started using her as an informant, and once you start doing that, I think it’s almost impossible to get out of it.”
I was visiting the Helles because in February 1986, Lori Helle’s older sister, Cynthia Lynn Maine, a prostitute, heroin addict, and PI, police informant, did not return to the University City apartment where she and her four-year-old son were staying with her mother. Twenty-six-year-old Maine had not come home before. During the early ’80s, she’d worked the streets — car dates, mostly — to service her $700-a-day drug habit and that of the man her family says turned her on to drugs. Off and on she cleaned up, didn’t use. And Lori Helle believed Maine wasn’t using immediately before her disappearance. “She looked good, looked clean, looked healthy, she didn’t look like she was on drugs.” Helle first learned her sister was missing when their mother called to say Maine hadn’t come home. Helle and her mother called Maine’s friends. No one had seen her. They called John Fung, a policeman for whom Helle believed her sister had worked as a PI and with whom Maine was in love. Helle said that Fung was not helpful. Helle and her mother got in the car and drove up and down El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue.
Cynthia, 1985. “They were at my mom’s house, and Steve went into the bathroom. He didn’t come out and didn’t come out, and so Cindy knocked on the door."
Six weeks after Maine vanished, her mother — Lynda Coleman — was notified that Maine’s car, registered in Coleman’s name, had been abandoned in the parking lot of the El Torito restaurant in La Mesa. On the car seat, Coleman found her daughter’s purse, her cigarettes — Virginia Slims — lighter, and a jacket with money in the pocket.
Coleman and Helle repeatedly contacted police to ask about progress in locating Maine. Both claim police ignored their requests for help in finding Maine or gathering information about her disappearance. Almost three years passed. Then in late 1989, members of the Metropolitan Homicide Task Force, charged with finding the perpetrator, or perpetrators, in the killings of the 43 women, came to Mira Mesa to ask Helle about her sister’s connection with murdered prostitute and PI Donna Gentile and Maine’s possible friendships with San Diego policemen. Task force members told Helle her sister’s telephone number had been written on a paper found in Gentile’s belongings.
Gentile had given information against police officers that led to disciplinary actions against them. In June 1985, her beaten, naked body was uncovered east of Pine Valley on Sunrise Highway. Her clothes were folded and stacked atop her belly. Rocks and gravel had been packed into her throat and mouth, perhaps as memorial to Gentile’s enterprise as a snitch.
Stepping onto the sidewalk leading to the Helles’ house, I tried to conjure the scene in which the person who jammed gravel into a woman’s mouth, who beat and killed her, then stood next her body and carefully folded clothes and stacked the garments on the lifeless flesh.
Lori Helle had been reported as saying in late September of this year to Union reporters, “I think it’s very possible police are involved in the prostitute killings, and I think a police officer killed my sister.” She had also said about her sister, “She wanted a life like mine. I was married and had a baby. But it was hard to go from what she was to a normal lifestyle. Plus, it was just too dull.” In that article, I had read that in 1984, the year Maine met John Fung, she had kept a diary. The diary had survived, and Lori Helle had it.
I had no particular interest in the police/prostitute story, was not surprised, not shocked that police use prostitutes as informants, that some police officers solicit prostitutes for sex. I had heard rumors that the recent investigation of possible police connection to the prostitute killings had its inception in complicated power struggles among the rich and famous: one powerful somebody wanted another powerful somebody shut up.
I was casting about. Of course I wanted to know what caused Cynthia Lou McVey to climb into that Ford van, and what really happened to Cynthia Lynn Maine, and why Elisabeth Broderick fired her five shots, why Buzzard Stevens stuffed blue socks into McVey’s mouth, or why this someone I tried to conjure in my mind’s eye crammed rocks down Donna Gentile’s throat (and where did the rocks come from?). I thought how excruciatingly painful the rocks would be, shoved past the mouth, teeth, a resistant tongue. I hoped Donna Gentile was already dead when that happened. I knew answers were not forthcoming. I would settle for something smaller, simpler: yellow roses for Cynthia Lynn Maine; if you will, a witness. I believe we should not forget.
Lori Helle and I had I agreed in a telephone conversation that we would talk primarily about her sister’s life before her sister became an addict and prostitute. I had asked Lori to try to recall stories about Cindy’s earlier life. Lori was hesitant to talk at all, then said perhaps it would be therapeutic, talking about it.
Bright red bougainvillea grows across the fence that surrounds the Helles’ patio. Thirty-year-old Lori, slender and willowy, looks taller than her five feet four inches when she opens the door and leads me into the tidy living room. She wears Bermuda shorts, a shirt. Her hair is carefully coiffed, her huge green eyes made even larger by meticulous application of eye liner and shadow. There is something of the porcelain about Lori, and about to break. She introduces me to her husband Jay, a square-shouldered, stocky blond. He excuses himself, goes to check on the couple’s five-week-old daughter, asleep in her bedroom.
On a handsome, dustless wooden bookcase stands a silver-framed wedding photograph of Jay and Lori and nearby a second photograph taken in Alaska, of Jay, Lori, and Lori’s son on vacation. An aquarium in which tropical fish swim and comfortable couches, upholstered in nubby beige fabric, fit out the room. Lori seats me on a sofa and takes a place across from me on a matching sofa. “Just a week ago,” she says, her voice tremulous, “it would have been Cindy’s birthday. She would just have turned 31.”
Lori tells me, about Jay, that they knew one another in high school, that they have been married for a year and a half, that this is her second marriage, that her son by her first marriage, which lasted seven years, will be six in January, that he is in school right now and expected home at noon. I gather that Lori hopes I will be gone when her boy returns home or leave when he arrives.
She says now, looking at me pleadingly, that remembering has not been easy, she recalls very little. The three Maine children — Mark, Cindy, and Lori — grew up in Clairemont. Their father was a policeman — a motorcycle cop. “He was strict,” says Lori, “perhaps because he was a cop. All his friends were cops. They would have a party and everyone there was cops. We grew up around a lot of police.
“We were afraid of him because he had a real deep voice and he would yell a lot. Or, I was afraid of him, I should say. Cindy and my dad were really close. She was his first little girl, and he spoiled her and never spanked her and he did anything for her. They were really, really close.”
Lori hesitates. Takes a breath so deep that it seems possible she will have inhaled all the room’s air, that the living room’s white walls will collapse inward. “Of course, Mark was also close to him. I guess we were all close to him, but he treated Cindy a lot different. He was harder on me than he was on her. He expected more of me.”
I say nothing — why refer to it? — about the recent mention of her father in the Union:
“Kenneth Maine, a San Diego police officer from 1967 to 1973 ... died in 1982 of a heart attack. After leaving the force, Maine was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and fined $5,000 in 1979 for his role in a finance company scandal.” While the children were in grade school, Kenneth and Lynda Maine divorced. What year did the divorce take place? Lori’s eyes narrow, her tongue goes to the corner of her mouth, she frowns. “My parents separated so many times, he moved out many times before they actually finally separated that it’s vague, but I believe Cindy was nine and I was eight. The divorce was hard on all of us. But it might have been harder on Cindy because she was so close with my dad.”
Lori gazes down at her narrow, fretful hands living a life of their own in her lap.
Eight or nine or ten, what did Cindy look like?
“She had long, brown, straight hair, a round, round face. She was always terrifically happy. She was always kind of chubby. She was always the first one at the kitchen table. She’d hear the dishes rattle and she’d come running.
“We had these navy-blue matching outfits that had the little white collar and red tie and we put them on, and Cindy’s was tight around the arms, and we had to cut the sleeves on it so it would fit her.”
Did the family eat dinner together?
“Yes. We would all eat dinner at the table, and after dinner we would take baths and put our pajamas on. We’d watch Laugh In, and Tom Jones, and The Sonny and Cher Show.”
A particularly happy day from childhood that Lori remembers?
“Just little stuff. That’s what I remember. Little stuff.”
Perhaps an especially good Christmas?
“They all were pretty good. All Christmases are good. Our family didn’t have much money when we were growing up, so our mom would buy us clothes for our Christmas. She would buy socks, and she would wrap one sock and then wrap the other sock, so we would feel like we had 400 presents. But in reality, most of them were clothes. But we had toys too. We always had a bunch of presents to open.”
Children spat. Did she and Cindy?
“Offhand I can’t think of anything special we fought about. Cindy and I got along exceptionally well, and Mark and I got along well. But Mark and Cindy would fight a lot.”
Did she and Cindy share a room?
“Yes, we did, until I was 12. Cindy wasn’t organized. When she was done with her clothes, she would take them off and shove them under the bed. And I was always extremely organized and fussy, and my half of the room was always picked up.
“Cindy had a little rat who was in a cage, and we had a dresser in our closet, and she kept the rat cage on her side of the dresser, and one day she bought a new blouse and threw the blouse in the closet — brand new this blouse was — and the rat pulled the blouse into the cage and chewed it all up and made itself a bed.
“It’s kind of hard to remember back then. A lot of it I’ve tried to block out so it doesn’t hurt as much. It’s easier just to try to forget about it.”
Jay walks back into the room, studies his wife as a concerned nurse might. Out the window behind Lori, breeze stirs the bougainvillea. The aquarium burbles.
“We had a lot of pets when I was growing up.” Lori gulps, her hand flies to her face. She winces. “But you don’t want to hear about pets.” I do, I say, and she continues, all in a rush, talking about a Great Dane, then brightening, says, “Cindy had birds, and we had little funerals for them when they died.”
Did Cindy like school?
“Not really. Not many kids do. She didn’t apply herself. She could have done better in school, but she was more into socializing than studying.
“She would walk in the room and was the center of attention and bubbly and laughing, and that might have been her way for covering up being insecure because she was fat. She was pretty chubby.”
What did the family do for vacations?
“Most of the time we went camping, to the desert, or we’d go to the beach. My mom worked part-time at a Winchell’s donut shop, and so she’d get a big box of day-old donuts and cinnamon rolls and we’d have those, an endless supply, at the beach. But we went camping probably like once a month. It was a big thing in our family, probably because it was inexpensive and it was fun.
“Once at the beach my parents wanted us to go play because they were playing cards, and we all went down to the beach. We were eight and nine and ten then, and we dug big holes, and I got in one hole and Cindy got in one hole, and then Mark buried us with sand. Then he went up to where our parents were to get them. He didn’t come back and didn’t come back. Cindy and I began to be afraid our parents and Mark weren’t going to come and get us, and we began to think getting buried was pretty stupid. Finally Mark came back with my mom and dad, and they laughed and took pictures of us. It was an exciting adventure.”
Mark, Cindy, and Lori attended and graduated from Clairemont High School. “She got a ’65 blue Mustang for her 16th birthday, and she was in that all the time, and she would drive all her friends around, and she would usually take me because I would pay for gas, and she’d run out of gas quite often. I don’t think she had any hobbies; she wasn’t into crafts or anything. She was sociable. She had a lot of friends, and she did stuff with them.
“She didn’t make good grades. She could have, because she was so smart. But she didn’t do homework, she didn’t even try it. She barely graduated. In a newspaper article, my mom said Cindy graduated with straight A’s, and I laughed because she could have if she had tried, but she didn’t even open the books and read them. She barely passed.”
Did Cindy use drugs in high school?
“She actually had not been interested in or excited about drugs in high school. She would drink occasionally. My mom allowed us to drink in her house. She would say, ‘Tell me what you want and I will get it, because I don’t want you to drink and drive.’ So we were allowed to get drunk at home and we did, we had our share. We would drink and we would throw up. But Cindy didn’t drink heavily.”
In high school did Cindy fall in love? Have a steady boyfriend?
“Cindy wanted to be married, real bad. She wanted a little family. She always was that type. When she did get married, it wasn’t the right husband. They didn’t know each other that well.” Where did they meet?
“A bowling alley.”
When was Cindy married? Where?
“In 1979. In the Catamaran chapel. She wore a wedding dress my mother had worn in her wedding. The marriage lasted four, six months.”
Certainly, I say, many people have asked Lori if she ever wonders why, born of the same parents, raised in the same home, she and her sister went on to live such different lives.
“Actually, no one has ever asked me that, but I often wonder why we turned out so different. But I knew all along we were different. Cindy always tried to help everybody. That sounds bad on my part, but if she went and bumped into two people and one was successful and the other a complete loser, she would make friends with the loser so she could help them. I am the opposite. If I had a choice, I would pick the successful person and try to go up with him rather than start at the bottom with the underdog. But Cindy would meet some loser, and she’d say, ‘I am gonna help this person,’ and she would do it.
“Even as a child. She would give away her toys. The little girl down the street didn’t have any shoes, so she gave her hers. It was a good quality she had, but a lot of times it doesn’t get you anywhere either.”
When did Cindy start getting in trouble?
“She didn’t get in trouble until she was in her 20s. That’s when she met this drug-addict guy. Until that point, she was very good.”
In 1980, Lori explains, Cindy met Steve Smith, a tall, lanky, brown-eyed heroin user in his 30s. The night that Smith and Cindy met, Cindy discovered his addiction. “They were at my mom’s house,” says Lori, “and Steve went into the bathroom. He didn’t come out and didn’t come out, and so Cindy knocked on the door. He didn’t answer, and she opened the door, and he was standing there and had a needle in his arm. She should have said, ‘Get out of here, don’t ever come back,’ but she wanted to help him.”
Soon after meeting Smith, Lori believes Cindy began to use drugs. “At that point in Cindy’s life, I don’t know if there was anything we could have done, because Cindy was the type, ‘Oh, I met this guy and he’s a junkie, and I’m going to help him.’ You can’t change her mind. It would’ve been that way anyway.
“We didn’t know she was into drugs for a long time because she hid it from the family. Also, for several years she lived kind’ve a normal life still, she had an apartment, worked as a waitress.
“After a while I began to suspect, because it was different between us, we weren’t as close. When she was in the hospital having her son, she was in a separate room because she had hepatitis, and then I felt pretty sure she was using drugs, but we didn’t know yet for sure. She hadn’t confessed to it, and she never did actually say, to my face, ‘I am a drug addict? It’s just the kind of thing you know. But you don’t come out and say, ‘I know you are an addict, because I can see the tracks, and you’re not the same, and you still owe me money.’ It was more that she — Cindy — just looks at you and doesn’t say anything, but she knows you know.
“In 1983 when I bought my house, she moved in with us, just her and the baby. But she’d have Steve come over and visit, which I hated because I didn’t like him. It wasn’t until about that year that things started getting bad. That was the year she sold all her stuff off.
“Cindy was a very honest kid, and she wouldn’t steal from anybody. After she began using, she would ask to borrow money for her gas and light bill, and so I’d loan it to her and I’d never get the money, and when things like that kept piling up, I said, ‘Something’s wrong, this isn’t like her.’
“Then she and a friend of hers, a guy, told me that he would put in a sprinkler system in my yard. He wanted $320 up front and promised me he’d have the sprinkler for me the next week and have it put in. So, great, I wrote him a check. We were strapped for bills at the time, and $320 was a big investment for a sprinkler system. Well, nothing happened. No sprinkler system. I called and called, and he wouldn’t return my calls. So finally I called my mom and said, ‘I am pretty sure Cindy has got a problem because she has just ripped me off for 300 bucks.’
“That’s really when I found out for sure Cindy was using. That was when she pretty much said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a problem.’
“So she was hooked by the time we realized she was an addict.
And she felt bad. She felt very bad, doing that to her family, ripping us off. She had been doing it to other people, but it’s different when it’s your family.”
Cindy was with Smith how long?
“I don’t think she ever left him. When she was working the streets and stuff, he would be in the car waiting down the street for her, he was always around, but he was waiting for his share of the money. Sometimes he would turn himself in, check himself into jail. And I guess she would leave him at times, because whenever she would come home to try to straighten up, she would leave him. She knew Steve was bad for her.
“She would want to clean up, and Steve would say, ‘Don’t clean up.’ Steve didn’t want her to get off of drugs because then he wouldn’t get any. But he had a lot more control over it, or he would seem to. She would get strung out and want more and more and more, whereas he could just use the same amount for a long, long time.”
What did Cindy use?
“She used a lot of things. They used heroin the most. But when they couldn’t get that, they would do coke. They would do pain pills or go get methadone. If she couldn’t get drugs, she’d drink, to take the edge off.”
Was Lori shocked? That Cindy was using?
“Oh, definitely, yes. For one, as a kid, Cindy was extremely afraid of shots. She hated needles. I had many surgeries when I was little, and she would always say, ‘Oh, I am glad it was Lori instead of me, because I don’t want to get a shot.’ Even as a teenager she hated shots. So I was surprised that she would put a needle in her arm. But I can understand why she did.”
“Because she was supporting this guy’s habit, and after a certain point you keep spending so much money on him, you’re gonna think, ‘Well, I want my share of it too.’ That’s what she did. So she started using. That’s how she explained it to me. ‘Why did you ever start?’ I asked her. She said, ‘I just got tired of him doing all the money.’ ”
Lori laughs. “She wanted her share.”
Serious again, Lori continues. “She didn’t like doing it. She was sorry she ever started, but she had low willpower. When she was little she was always on a diet, and it wouldn’t take much to get her to break her diet. ‘Let’s go get an ice-cream cone, and you can start over tomorrow,’ somebody would say to her, and off she’d go to get the ice cream. So being a drug addict, it’s the same thing. It’s easy to be tempted. Somebody calls her up, asks, about drugs, ‘Do you want some?’ Cindy says, ‘Oh, yes, I’ll take it,’ because she can’t turn it down.”
Did their father know Cindy had become an addict and prostitute?
“I don’t think my dad knew she was using because I know he would not have approved of that, and he died before she was on the street. She was using before he died. He met Steve. And he approved of him, which kind of surprised me, because my dad having been a cop most of his life was prejudiced against long-haired guys. He thought Steve was good for Cindy, and I never could understand, but he talked to him and liked him. However, he didn’t know Steve was an addict.”
Before Cindy disappeared, did Lori ever wonder what it would be like, to be Cindy, lead Cindy’s life? Be on the street? Do drugs?
“I can’t imagine doing that myself. I’ve had dreams that I was doing it, not recently, but when she was first missing, I would dream that I was in her shoes, and I would wake up crying, awful. That was probably the worst part of my life, having all the dreams of being her, of being like her.”
Once Lori knew her sister was working the streets, she must have worried.
“Yes, because you never know what is going to happen to a person living that way. At any time, they could get killed by somebody or by the drugs. But I also had to try to not worry too much because I had my family, my life to live.”
Problems with Cindy and then Cindy’s disappearance, I say, must have been hard on Lori’s first marriage.
She nods agreement. “October 1986 was when I left my husband. Part of that was because of what I had been through. When you have a small family already, you don’t want to lose any more. Both sets of my grandparents are dead. My dad. My aunt died when she was 38. To lose another one, it’s been difficult.”
Lori goes to the bedroom to nurse the baby. I ask Jay what he remembers of Cindy from high school. “She was not the kind of girl guys would look at the second time. She was somewhat overweight, didn’t have any particular features that were striking. Her hair was just kind of wavy brown hair, she never wore too much makeup, if any makeup at all, and so she seemed sort of ordinary and earthy. She was always easy to talk with and one who would always like to be included into a conversation, and she would probably in fact butt in.”
What did Jay think had happened to Cindy?
“I don’t know for sure, I think she probably is dead, because I can’t believe she would stay away that long without communication with her son and sister. Even if she were in a witness-protection program, she would have figured a way to get in touch.”
Did Cindy’s family believe she might be in a witness-protection program?
“Briefly we thought that, but now I don’t think that’s a possibility.”
What did Jay see as possibilities?
“One possibility is she’s run away from the whole problem of her life to start a new life, and she’s married to a dentist and living in Beverly Hills as a housewife under a totally different identity. The likelihood of that is low. The other possibility is she was killed and murdered by someone she informed on and helped the police bust. That’s a likely possibility. The other is that she hurt herself; she was a heroin addict, she could have overdosed. That’s a low probability, because if that were true, the body would have turned up. The other possibility is that police murdered her. I think there is reason to believe that, although it seems unreasonable to think police would kill someone.”
How has Cindy’s disappearance and his and Cindy’s family’s belief that local police may be involved in her disappearance changed the way Jay sees the world?
“I’d say it’s changed it rather drastically, and it’s a step in the direction that my life has taken since graduating from college. The more you are out in the world, the more you realize you can’t trust anybody just because of the title they have. I’ve been a stockbroker for three and one-half years, and there’s crooks in that like everything else.”
Lori, rosier cheeked now and appearing more at ease, carries the baby into the living room. She sits down, lays the infant next her on the couch, tucks the tiny feet back into legs of a pink terry-cloth jumpsuit. She gently pats the baby’s stomach, smiles down at her. “This morning,” she says, “it was so cold, so we put this little suit on her.”
We watch the baby for a few minutes, and then I ask how Lori happened to find Cindy’s diary.
“After Cindy was gone, I went over to my mom’s house, and in the room she’d been living in there was a box of some of her personal things, and I just took it. In the box there was her diary and some pictures of her friends and family and some perfume I had given her and stuff like that.”
Jay wonders if I would like to see the diary. I would. He goes to the back of the house and returns with a long, narrow, red Leatherette-covered book on whose cover is imprinted: “The Virginia Slims Book of Days for 1984.”
Handing me the book, Jay says, “You buy a carton of Virginia Slims and you got that free.”
I open the book. A standard reminder-type format, one week of days per page, it was not meant for a diary at all but as pages on which to jot appointments. As ironic illustration of Virginia Slims’ slogan — “You’ve come a long way, baby” — every fourth page offers a photograph of a high-fashion model, gorgeously gowned, jewels sparkling at ears and throat and hands, and a misogynistic statement such as this, from Tolstoy: “Regard the society of women as a necessary unpleasantness of social life. Avoid it as far as possible.”
Cindy wrote with blue ballpoint pen, her upper and lower loops rounded, clear, a schoolgirl’s hand. Using the same blue ballpoint, her child had scrawled the pages.
I begin to read aloud, “Monday, December the 26th, Dad died one year ago”
“At least,” says Jay, “she remembered things like that.”
Lori adds, “She was sentimental about everything. That’s why I know she wouldn’t have just left.” Jay agrees. “She wouldn’t have just left her kid behind. She was very sentimental.”
“December 27th — Markie and I drove to see Steve today, it was so nice to kiss our daddy after two months.”
“That’s Steve Smith,” Lori says. “He was in jail all that month and the next. Nobody would go see him but Cindy. She would take her money that she earned and put it on the books so he could buy toothpaste and deodorant. His friends and his family didn’t care about him much because he’s been a junkie since he was 13.”
I ask how old Smith would have been in 1984.
“Thirty-one,” Lori answers, adds, “he’s still alive. I am surprised he has gotten this old. So many junkies don’t live this long. You almost never see old junkies.”
“December 31,” I read, “Myrt babysat.”
“Myrt,” Lori says, “that’s Steve’s mother.”
“Mark and I have Mexican food and spent the night at Myrt’s. One-half glass champagne at midnight, New Year’s Eve, big deal. January 1st, Cleaned Mark’s bedroom, worked from eight to three.”
Lori says, “Stuffy’s was where she worked. She was a waitress there.”
“Friday, January 6th — I am very upset!!! Mom came to Stuffy’s about rehab for 30 days.”
“Mom came to Stuffy’s and wanted her to go into a rehab program.”
“January 7th — Made Steve peanut butter cookies.
January 9th — Met Mom and Lori at the Hungry Lion.
January 10th — Met Mom and Lori at the Denny’s in National City. January 13th — Mark and I went to stay with Mom. Got pain pills. Still clean. Not too sick. January 14th — Still clean. Not too sick. Dolophin sure helps, so does a good attitude. January 15th, Still clean. Worked at Stuffy’s, 8-3.”
I say to Lori I’m surprised Cindy could clean up and go to work. “It’s easier,” she says, “than sitting around the house feeling sorry for yourself.”
“January 16th, Still clean, still at Mom’s house. Steve called, talked about ten minutes. January 17th, Still clean, no pain pills today. Hurray! Mark and I went to see Steve. January 18th — Still clean, spent night at Lori’s house. January 19th — Still clean. January 21st — Spent night at own house. January 22nd — Was very sick. Went to work. Sent me home. Slept all day. January 26th — Mom was 43.”
Lori smiles. “Cindy remembered everybody’s birthday. She remembered dates that some people died, some people got engaged. I had an anniversary of the day I met my previous husband — September 20th — and every September 20th she would call me up, that was like an anniversary in her mind. There was the anniversary when you met, when you got engaged, and when you married. A lot of dates to remember and she did. She was like that.”
“February 2nd — Steve’s release day.”
Then follow one after another page on which only Cindy’s son had scrawled, until, “March 6 — Went to airport with Mom and Lori. Still working at Stuffy’s. Barbecue at Mom’s everybody was there.” Then April, May, again only scrawls. Then, “Monday June 26th — Arrested for solicitation.” Then, “July 2nd — Arrested for under the influence.”
Jay leans forward on the couch. “That’s the day she met John Fung.”
“That’s what changed everything,” says Lori. “Because up to that point, she kept trying to get clean. That’s when he started using her as an informant, and once you start doing that, I think it’s almost impossible to get out of it.”
Jay adds, voice angry, “You have no choice, you’re history. I think something should be done about that. Instead of the police taking these drug addicts who are prostitutes and forcing them into a lifestyle they can never get out of, they should try to help them to reform themselves.”
“But they don’t,” Lori says to Jay. “It’s not right. This Fung, this John Fung, played back into her. I don’t know if he really was in love with her, but he led her to believe he was. So she pretty much did anything for him, because she loved him. And women do that.”
Women do, we do that, I agree.
“July 18th — 21 people killed.”
“The San Ysidro McDonald’s,” says Jay.
“July 19th — I move to Mom’s. No more drugs. 7pm, came home. No more drugs ever!!!!!”
“She truly didn’t want to use anymore,” says Lori.
“July 21st — Markie two years old.” Nothing is written again until August. “August 2nd — John Fung, one month.”
“She had known Fung then for one month, that’s why she wrote that,” says Lori.
“August 28th — Me court. Come back Thursday, bring John. Bad day. Trouble. September 2 — Two months. September 10th — John called, first time in two weeks, came over, talked for two hours, headed for bedroom. Mark woke up from nap. Oh well.”
I stop reading, ask Lori if they had ever visited with John Fung.
“Since she’s been gone?” asks Lori.
No, I say, before she disappeared.
“Yes. Before that I saw him with Cindy. Then my mother and I both contacted him after she was gone. ‘Where is she?’ we asked him. ‘Help us.’ Because he was close with her. He was no help. And then he just completely avoided calls. He would just say, ‘Well, I don’t know where she is.’ ”
Jay sits up straight again. “I find that extremely incriminating, myself. If you are a police officer and if you’ve been hanging around with someone, whether it’s been an affectionate relationship, a friendly relationship, a romantic relationship, whatever, if you have a steady relationship of some sort with someone, and you’re a policeman, and that person suddenly goes missing, you ought to be interested. Anybody would be.”
“And he just blew us off,” Lori says. “He certainly didn’t act interested. He was almost like, ‘Well, why would you ask me?’ ‘Help us, help us find her’ we said to him. We asked him, ‘Where do you think she is?’ Because at first you think, ‘She’s missing. What happened to her? Somebody’s got her.’ ”
What did their mother believe has happened to Cindy?
Lori answers without hesitation, “I think she believes that the police killed her.”
Does anyone have any hope that she’s alive?
“I did, for a long time. I still hope she’s alive, but I don’t think she is. Without a body, there is still always going to be that hope. I have a hard time dealing with that. People will ask me, ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters?’ and I’ll say, ‘Yes, I have a brother and I have a sister, but I don’t know if she’s dead or alive.’ ”
“September 12th — Lori babysat.” Lori looks down at her hand, smiles. “September 13th — Made John two dozen chocolate-covered strawberries. September 14th — Took John his strawberries with Mark at bay. September 15th — Disneyland, Markie, Mom, Lori, Russ and Me.”
I read from the facing page what Joseph Conrad wrote:
“Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade, since it consists principally of dealings with men.” Near Conrad’s statement is this, in Cindy’s blue ball-point: “Loose lips sink ships, John says.”
“September 16th — Steve. Me. Bad girl. No more ever. Got to get rid of Steve.” I ask Lori if she has any idea, what this means. She shakes her head in the negative. “September 18th — Police funeral. No phone call from John. September 20th — John came over. September 24th — Lori 24.”
Kenny, Lori’s son, rushes into the living room. He slicks back his blond hair, barbered into a crew cut, grins. A red ribbon flutters from his checkered shirt. “What’s the red ribbon for?” his mother asks him.
Kenny touches the ribbon. “My teacher gave it to me for when I grow up to say no to drugs.”
“How was school?” Jay asks. “How was your snack?”
“Good,” Kenny says. “Good,” and studies me, the stranger in his living room, with widely opened blue eyes. Jay stands, puts an arm around the boy, walks with him to the back of the house.
What does Kenny know about his aunt?
“He knows she’s missing,” Lori says. “If he asks questions I answer them. But he doesn’t remember her. He was little when she left. When he’d ask before, I’d tell him, ‘She’s in heaven.’ So when he saw some stuff about her on TV news recently, he said, ‘I thought your sister was in heaven.’ ”
How did Lori answer him?
“I told him, ‘I hope she is, but I really don’t know for sure.’”