The idiom “got away with murder” has come to mean something other than its literal definition. Figuratively, it’s used to describe someone who was allowed to do something that others would be criticized or punished for–such as “he gets away with murder just because he’s so cute.” But to a true crime writer, especially one who often delves into Cold Cases, the original definition takes back it’s original meaning with all of its brutality, sorrow, unanswered questions, and justice for the victims and those who loved them still waiting over the long years, uncounted tears, and fading memories.
I’m reminded of this as I’m currently sitting in on the murder trial of James Nathan Scott, accused of raping and murdering a 19-year-old slip of a girl, Martha Guzman, in October 1979 as she knelt praying at the altar of an empty church in Denver. Thirty-five years! It’s an incredible detective story but the outcome will hinge on memories that are three decades old and a confession that may or may not hold up in court. And yet my attention is drawn to Martha’s sisters who sit in the front row, sometimes in tears, sometimes huddled together arms around each other seeking comfort as they listen to the horrors of what their little sister went through, as well as the sometimes emotional testimony of other witnesses.
Imagine what they’ve been through all these years. How did they cope with the emptiness and sorrow? Then when the case was reopened, a suspect arrested, so many years later. I intend to talk to them when, and if, they’re ready. I’ve found in all my years of doing this that sometimes these families just want someone to listen to them when they try to explain that their loved one, their sister, their mother or father, their siblings, or children, a friend was not just a court case number or a “victim” of a monster. That they still remember. They still love. They still hold a place for them in their hearts.
It’s not easy covering these cases, it was similar for my book BOGEYMAN: He Was Every Parent’s Nightmare. But part of my hope in writing them is that we understand the effect of violent crime on people like Martha’s sisters, and maybe even say an extra prayer or send a thought of peace for them, tonight.