Can the sane and quick among us understand the isolation and desolation of those who are insane and dead to the world?
Her obituary was surprisingly short. Only the bare essentials — where she was born, her parents and brothers had died before her, while her husband, sisters, four children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were still living. She had worked as a secretary, and lived within the same area for most of her adult life. She was 77 when she died. I knew nothing about her family before I looked up her obituary, and the sparse details about her family was all there was. She seemed to be quite an unremarkable woman — a woman who had apparently done little, if anything, of consequence during her lifetime.
He was one of my best friends when we were teenagers in the mid 70’s. We rode motorcycles together, we played music together, and we spent a lot of time just hanging out together. With the split schedule in our overcrowded high school, we attended classes from 12:30 to 5:00 daily, and he would often ride his motorcycle over early in the morning, and I would cook omelets or other delicacies for breakfast. We were so close back then, but after his family moved to another state in 1975, we eventually lost track of one another, and we haven’t been in contact for over 20 years.
Cibola High School was scheduled to open in the fall of 1974, but they were behind schedule, and postponed opening it until January 1975. Officials kept all 4000 students at West Mesa High School, and split the schools with West Mesa students going to classes from 7:30 to 12:00, and Cibola students attending classes from 12:30 to 5:00. I got a job that summer working for Shannon, a craftsman who built cabinets, doors and furniture, and he wanted me to continue working for him after school started. I went to part-time, once school was back in session, worked from 7:00 to 12:00 for Shannon, then I drove to school for the afternoon. I didn’t like the schedule, and transferred to Albuquerque High Night School at the end of September, went back to working full-time, and attended classes 4 nights a week. The schedule was perfect for me, but my best friend’s mom did not approve.
“You didn’t enroll in Cibola now that it’s open?” she asked, obviously disappointed in me.
“No! I hadn’t planned to. I thought that was understood?” I answered. My tone most likely betraying my irritation.
My friend and I had ridden back to his house to take a break from riding our dirt bikes on the mesa. It was the third weekend in January 1975, and while the air was crisp, it didn’t feel cold in the warm rays of the afternoon sun. My friend’s dad asked him to help with something, and his mom asked me to come in and talk with her while the other two were occupied. I followed her into the kitchen, where we stood leaning against the counters that were at right angles, so we were facing each other. We were alone, as I didn’t see anything of my friend’s three sisters.
“So you’re going to simply drop out then?” She continued.
“I’m not dropping out, I’m going to night school!” I protested.
“Night school! What’s that? That’s where dropouts go to finish high school. If you are not in a regular high school, then you are a drop out as far as I’m concerned.”
“But I’m working full-time. You can’t expect me to quit a good job, and quit night school to go to Cibola?”
“That’s exactly what I think you should do” she answered. “You’re only 16, you’ll work ‘full-time’ most of your life after you finish high school.”
“But I can’t learn the skills at Cibola that I’m learning at my job!” I interrupted.
“School isn’t all about learning” she continued “It’s about friends and socializing and learning to be part of a community! You have to think about your friends!” she pleaded.
My friend had finished helping his dad and came in to fetch me so we could continue our ride.
“Think about what I said” she told me as I walked out the door. “Your friends are more important than a job!” I heard her yell from the the kitchen as we headed for our motorcycles.
“What was that all about?” my friend asked.
“Your mom is still upset over me dropping out of Cibola to go to night school.”
“She gave you the lecture about friends, community and learning to be social?” he asked, as we strapped on our helmets — he seemed all too familiar with his mom’s views on school.
“Exactly!” I answered as the kick starters fell under our weight, and the noise of our engines cut off any chance of further discussion on the matter.
She entered a plea of “innocent by reason of insanity”. After all, she had been diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic in 1949 when she was a patient at the Santa Fe Mental Hygiene Clinic. She was only 19 at the time, but it was 1975, she was 44 years old with a job, a husband and four children. She seemed to have been sane for the past 25 years — catatonic schizophrenia had become rare because treatment had improved — so the prosecution sought the death penalty.
She had only recently bought the gun, and the defense said she had tried to commit suicide the day of the murder. They argued that she was depressed, not in her right mind, and hallucinating. Yet one could argue for the prosecution that she had enough presence of mind when she made the long drive from her house to her victim’s house. Although her pathetic attempt at suicide had failed, she was competent enough when she came to committing murder.
One of her daughters ran to the neighbor’s house pleading for help. They found their mom laying on the floor of the kitchen, unresponsive. Their neighbor attempted to administer aid, but it was too late. She was dead, shot to death while her kids were at school, and her husband at work. Even if the neighbors were home at the time, the distance between the houses, and the thick adobe walls, would have made it difficult to hear the shots outside of the immediate vicinity of the house. She was left laying alone in the kitchen where she bled to death, no one but the murderer knowing anything had happened until the children came home from school.
I dropped out of high school at the end of the Spring semester in 1975. My best friend’s mom had foreseen that I would drop out before I did, but we never had the chance to continue our discussion about drop outs, school and work, because only three days after I had followed her into her kitchen, were we talked while leaning against the counters, she was murdered. Yes! It was my best friend’s mom — she was the one her daughters found lying dead on the floor of that very same kitchen.
My parents told me about the murder when I got home from school that night. I was so shocked, that I couldn’t believe what I had been told. After they found the murderer, I learned she had worked as a secretary for my friend’s dad, and that she was in love with him. She was well known to my friend’s mom, who had let her into the house. I often wondered if perhaps that woman had stood in the same place I stood, no doubt arguing about my friend’s dad, before she squeezed the trigger, ending the life of my best friend’s mom.
The seven women and five men selected for the jury were persuaded by the public defender, and she was acquitted. The “woman found innocent by reason of insanity last week in the shooting death of a Corrales housewife was ordered to remain in Nazareth Hospital for 30 days.” the paper reported at the end of the first week of May, 1975. The verdict was as much of a shock as the murder. That woman had to serve only 30 days in the hospital before she was released to spend what turned out to be the next 33 years of her life with her husband, her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.
I found it creepy to be in my friend’s house after that, and it wasn’t long before his dad got a transfer and they moved out of state. On the surface, my friend, his dad and sisters seemed to recover and make the best of life without a wife and mom, but the murder destroyed their lives. As normal as he tried to be, my friend was restless, he moved a lot, farther and farther away from civilization to the point that I lost track of him — it’s been over 20 years since I last talked to him.
So as you can see that unremarkable woman with such a sparse obituary had a consequential life after all, enough to easily fill more than a simple paragraph. But how would one go about writing an obituary for a person once diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic, who murdered her ex-boss’s wife, was tried and found innocent by reason of insanity? She was not in the class of Richard Ramirez, who had articles written about him after he died of liver failure before he could be executed for his crimes. She had only murdered my best friend’s mom, only ruined the lives of one family, and then she was quickly forgotten by the press and everyone outside the immediate families and small circles of friends. She simply faded away into obscurity, her dirty deed long forgotten by all but a few at the end of her life. She became conveniently unremarkable, so a sparse paragraph would do just fine — her grandchildren probably don’t even know that their grandmother murdered my best friend’s mom.
More tales from my youth:
Tales From My Youth — Do Not Throw!
Tales From My Youth — Mark 16:18
Tales From My Youth — Haagenson Motor Company
Tales From My Youth — Ulysses S. Grant
Tales From My Youth — Mack Crash Course
Tales From My Youth — Stranger than Fiction