One of America’s most famous and popular horror writers was alleged to have been semi-embroiled in an honest-to-gosh murder mystery. Edgar Allen Poe gained fame while still a relatively young man for his poetry and short stories. We know him best for his stories of the macabre, a style which didn’t manifest itself in him until later in his writing career. It’s been written that Edgar was involved in a heated love triangle and the result of this was the mysterious and untimely death of the woman with whom he was infatuated. She was found drowned in a local pond. Foul play was not necessarily ruled out though no one in particular was accused of any crime. Today, I dare say an autopsy and thorough investigation may have resulted in charges being brought against someone.
It was supposedly after this unhappy chapter in Poe’s life that his writing morphed into the writing style he is most famous for and the one we’ve come to love. Some have suggested that he became obsessed with unnatural death because of the unnatural death of his love interest. Others have suggested the possibility he became so obsessed because he had some intimate involvement in the woman’s demise. As he was obviously a man with a brilliant mind theories abound as to how he became inspired to write such bleak and anguished tales that became his trademark. It’s interesting to note that several of his stories did deal with the increasingly tortured minds of otherwise ordinary people who through unfortunate circumstances and moments of emotional weakness became murderers. This will always be a matter of speculation. In any event, his life ended nearly as tragically as the young woman he pined for.
I recount this tale not to demonstrate that I’ve read Poe, but to point out in a very round-about way that young women of the 1800s were probably no safer from predators in society than they are today. Then too, I’d suggest that not every “murderer” fits a mold and that people you know and trust, or have known and trusted can become that which you most fear!
I wouldn’t opine that women today are safer or in greater danger, but I will maintain that they have always been and shall always be a target for a thankfully small segment of society who views them as nothing more than physical property, or trash to be used and discarded. The dynamic reality of such crime has changed for us because we are now bombarded by so many similar stories today, while in the past they were either only locally reported or under-reported, kept suppressed or quickly forgotten.
As I was driving to work one morning while considering this book, there were two homicides being reported in the St. Louis, Missouri local news. In one instance a woman was found beaten to death in a vehicle parked in a public parking area. In the second instance, a woman was found shot to death in her home. Previous to these to homicides, but during the same time frame, a young woman was abducted from the parking lot of the store where she worked in Texas and was found shot to death along a highway. Not too many months prior there was a highly publicized event which occurred in Florida where a young woman was abducted from behind a car wash and murdered. The latter two kidnapping events I’ve mentioned were chillingly captured on surveillance video.
I cite these examples as only that; examples of what has become an all-too- familiar refrain. Pick up a paper today, or browse the internet news sites and you will undoubtedly be able to find similar stories on a near daily basis. This has gone on unabated for so long that it seems there is a special open hunting season on the more helpless members of our society, young women and older women and let’s not forget our children.
When we hear such reports, those of us who live in quiet, intimate communities that don’t have a history of such violence, tend to thank our lucky stars that we are able to isolate ourselves and our families from that environment. Unfortunately, a large portion of the population cannot isolate themselves from these risks. Those who consider themselves relatively isolated should not be too smug since the young woman abducted from the parking lot of the store where she worked, was actually taken in a modestly sized town that was understandably shocked to have experienced such a violent and senseless crime where none had occurred before.
Too many of us confuse the terms “isolated” with “insulated.” Therein lays one of our greatest vulnerabilities to criminal activity! Being isolated from random violence and crime merely means that the incidence of that type of activity is so infrequent that we do not expect to hear about it. This gives us a sense of security that actual circumstances belie. While the incidence of such crime is smaller in small towns, there is no reason for anyone to assume each of our communities is immune to it. To emotionally or intellectually deny a vulnerability to such a risk, only serves to increase its potential. Victims become victims, because of a series of circumstances that could often be easily avoided, if the potential victim was aware of particular behaviors which increased their individual vulnerabilities and acted to diminish those behaviors. Notice I didn’t say diminish the vulnerabilities? Everyone is vulnerable. Our behavior; however, is the greatest single factor in adapting to our vulnerabilities.
Small and intimate communities have never been totally free of random acts of violence. We expect to read about such acts occurring in Chicago or St. Louis or Los Angeles, but we are startled when they occur in small-town America. However, almost every episode of true crime television has examples of small town violence and mysteriously unsolved murders. Why do such programs so often focus on small town America? Perhaps they want to remind us that we who live in similar communities should not be so smug and self-satisfied, or have an unreasonable expectation of safety because this type of violence is so rare. Such reminders leave us unsettled when we ponder the likelihood of something similar happening in our own community, much less happening to us or people we know.
What these episodes should serve to remind us of, is that no one is “insulated” from such potential crimes or violence. People become victims of violent crime or personal crime somewhere every day, in large towns or rural communities; in suburban settings or isolated farm houses.
Angel Maturino Resendiz traveled on railroad boxcars across much of Middle America, and he was linked to approximately fifteen murders which occurred in several states. The only connection he had to his victims was that they lived near railroad tracks. Two such victims lived in a small house near some tracks just outside the little Illinois village of Gorham off Illinois Route #3. It’s a nice little home with a pond nestled in a depression between the tracks and the highway. I pass it frequently while driving to one of my favorite outdoor destinations in the Shawnee National Forest. Passing that house serves as a constant reminder to me how fragile our actual bubble of safety and security is. Every day people who never expected to meet a monster; who never believed it would happen to them, come face to face with a devil in human form. All too often these victims end up just like the examples I listed in the preceding paragraphs. But they don’t have to!
Of course, people don’t make a conscious decision to become a victim of crime or violence. They become victims most often because they have made “no” conscious decisions regarding their personal safety or security. Many people who manage to avoid victimization do so because of blind luck. Then, there are those infrequently identified individuals who manage to avoid victimization because they have made conscious decisions not to become a victim! Why are they infrequently identified? Because while their numbers may actually exceed the numbers of reported victims, by the very nature of their successfully having avoided victim-hood, no one ever knows their names.
Let me give you an example of a person I encountered recently who made no conscious decisions concerning her potential for being a crime victim. At the time, I was sitting in my truck in a parking lot waiting for a pet-supply store to open. My vehicle was the only vehicle present in the lot. Another car entered the lot and while there were literally hundreds of empty spaces the driver could choose from, the driver chose to park exactly in front of my car, probably because it was the 2nd closest space to the building’s entrance. I was immediately struck by four things that I would like to share in illustration of this point.
Number one: The driver of the other car was a young woman driving alone.
Number two: I was plainly visible sitting alone behind the wheel of my truck.
Number three: By parking directly in front of me with the front of her vehicle now blocked by mine, the young woman had voluntarily forfeited the option of making a rapid exit had I been inclined to jump out of my car and accost her.
Number four: I was literally amazed that none of these things had occurred to her!
What should she have done? Well for one, she should have recognized that there was a lone male sitting in a vehicle in the parking lot and while that isn’t necessarily threatening, it could imply the potential for danger and she should act accordingly. She should have given herself some space between her vehicle and mine for both visibility and reaction time. Then, she should have parked in a spot that allowed her to put her car in drive and escape, rather than having to first back up.
I ask you, is it unreasonable for me to suggest that any of those actions should have been a matter of common sense? Would it have been inconvenient for her to do any of those three things? Adopting an attitude that reduced her potential for victimization would have been as simple as deciding what she was going to wear that morning. As it turned out, she was not a victim only because I was not a predator, but nothing she did that morning had any impact whatsoever on whether or not she became a victim. So, she was already a victim who escaped victimization through plain, dumb luck. Had I been the monster we all fear, she would be another statistic. Can anything be more sobering than that?
Of course, there is no way to know if failing to adopt a security mindset will result in victimization or if adopting such mindsets will offer enough protection all the time. So you might ask, is it worth all the effort? What effort? The most important thing I can pass on to you is that it’s practically effortless!
More to come.
If you like my writing style, you might check out my novel: “The Long-Shooters.”