To read an excerpt from the book, please click on the following link:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

To Know A Story: Joette Smith

First off, thank you to my readers for your patience during these small breaks. As I have written before, Thistle, my granddaughter, has an enormous tangle on the top of her head--a mat, really--which felted up.  We were told we would have to cut her beautiful strawberry-blonde hair--pure Tudor gold, I like to say.  As a person who has spun wool for years, I told myself that there is no fiber which can't be unraveled, with much effort.  After nearly two months, I have made enough progress that I can put her hair into a bun above the tangle and it looks fine.  I expect everything to be greatly diminished, if not gone, by the time she is back in school.  She has even gone back to her swim lessons.  We are having a fun summer, albeit an abbreviated one.

I went to a writing group last night, comprised of women I have known (at least some of them) for over thirty years. These women had not seen Finding Asha Veil (new working title of the book) and loved it. I had excised a crucial chapter from it--describing my own experiences of losing a friend to a serial killer, of being assaulted by a professor as a young woman and my entire life falling apart.  My other group felt it  didn't belong, that it was disrespectful to Asha to have my story in there also (even though my story exists in service to hers in this book).  The women said, "NO!  Keep your story in there.  It doesn't detract. It bears her up."

Personally, I think Asha woud have wanted every woman's story told, if that were possible. I never knew her as well as I might have liked, but through the voices of friends and a bare handful of family, I feel a sense of her.  I can't put every woman's story in this book, but there are salient ones I feel I need to touch upon: the murder of Juanita Nelson, for one thing.

My friend brought up another murder I had totally forgotten about, though I was horrified beyond measure when it happened. I had researched the murders of women in Santa Cruz County thoroughly, I'd thought.  Why was this murder never mentioned in all the articles and research I did?

In 1983, a woman named Joette Smith vanished while walking home from Henfling's, a bar in Ben Lomond near the Ben Lomond Super. Her body was found in the San Lorenzo River the next morning, underneath the bridge near the market.  She had been beaten, raped, and strangled. Her clothing, along with the clothes of another woman, were found a short distance down the river. The case went cold and was closed a long time ago.  Here are a couple of links to old, weathered pictures of articles from our local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Talk about a woman who just disappeared in the media!  At least they told something about her life beyond her disappearance, unlike Asha (something I found horribly unjust). You can click on these articles to expand them; the text comes up very small, but is readable:

The Murder of Joette Smith

The Community's Response To The Murder

Joette's Friend Creates A Reward Fund

Michael McClish came instantly to mind: but he was a kid then, fourteen, close to fifteen. Joette's injuries reminded me of Asha's so strongly that I felt weak and had to sit down when I read the articles. What did McClish look like then? In adulthood, he was a strong, strapping man; you could easily imagine him overpowering a strong woman like Asha.

Still, a teenager that young can rape and kill, especially if the victim--albeit a grown woman--had been drinking, as Joette had been. He had to start somewhere; he boasted about his previous killings and was very specific about how he killed.  He had a very long history of this kind of boasting.  Even if he did not commit this particular murder, I am certain he knew about Joette, as he lived in the same town.

Whatever happened to Joette, she seems to be vanishing into the progress of time, the way a comet slowly retreats from the night sky until its light disappears.  I, too, forgot about her. The horror of how she was murdered--including that clothes from another woman were found with her--so chills me to the bone, so instils in me a feeling of shadows and this killer's derangement, that I intend to ask around about her. I wonder if any of the detectives on her case are still working for the department.

Like an origami box, Asha's story, and all its attendancies, keeps unfolding. What more is going to come my way?