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Kindle edition: 2.99 - or, FREE on KU (Kindle Unlimited) Paperback edition: 11.95
Inspired by a true crime in Phoenix, Arizona some years ago. A young actress and mother is brutally murdered, her body left in the desert and undiscovered for six weeks...her body further ravaged by the summer heat and the denizens of the environment. The young lady was a friend of Bailey Crane, a cop with the Phoenix PD and man about town. Bailey thinks he knows the killer and his investigation leads him down some dangerous paths and even down the hallowed halls of the US Congress. Attempts are made on his life, but, in the end with the help of his lady police partner, he gets his man...
An Arizona Tragedy
The year was 1967. There was exciting news on radio, television, and in the daily papers. Some of the news was reasonably good, some very bad.
Vladimir Komarov, a Russian cosmonaut, died as his descending spacecraft got entangled in its parachute cords.
Congress was fighting about taxes … okay, not so tantalizing!
In May of 1967, the United States Marines took 'Hill 881' (the 'forbidding twin peaks') just below the DMZ in Vietnam, and there were many casualties.
A huge segment of the world's population was all atwitter with the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Elvis Presley were on their honeymoon in Palm Springs, California.
Joey Bishop was trying very hard to make it on late night television.
There was a national deficit of some twenty-four billion dollars … could this year have been part of 'the good old days?'
A. J. Foyt continued to sell a lot of STP by winning his third Indianapolis Five Hundred race.
Bacon was sixty-nine cents a pound.
Ice cream was fifty-nine cents per half-gallon.
Peanut Butter was eighty-nine cents for a two and one-half pound jar.
Instant coffee was eighty-nine cents for a ten-ounce can.
Mass murderer Richard Speck was sentenced to death row for the July, 1966 murders of eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. This very ugly man broke into their townhouse dormitory on the evening of July 13 and methodically, systematically tortured, stabbed and/or strangled his victims, one by one. He also raped his final victim before strangling her. A ninth student nurse, spending the night with her eight friends, managed to hide under a bed during one of the killings. She stayed hidden until dawn, then crawled out of a window onto a roof ledge, screaming: “They're all dead! All my friends are dead!”
Carl Sandburg, poetic voice of the Midwest, died on July 22, 1967.
Basil Rathbone died at age seventy-five in August of that year.
There were riots in Detroit.
In Selmer, Tennessee, on August 12, Sheriff Buford Prusser was ambushed and wounded. His wife was killed.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, Frank Sinatra was at the Sands Hotel, became angry and threw some chips in the face of Carl Cohen, age fifty-four. Mr. Cohen retaliated, giving the world famous crooner a hardy haymaker.
On May 24 in Washington, D. C. a young and lovely twenty-five year old secretary was found beaten beyond recognition. The coroner stated in his report that the young lady had died as a result of multiple blows of force to the head and face, and, strangulation.
On July 19, 1967, after midnight, a young and lovely twenty-six year old secretary and model disappeared in Phoenix, Arizona. Her body was found on August 12, 1967, in the desert northeast of Phoenix. The young divorcee, mother of two children, died of multiple rock blows to the head and face.
There are so many beautiful spots on this earth of ours. A person who has traveled extensively, or, not so extensively, can no doubt tell us her/his most idyllic piece of geography. Some will describe for us a coastline of white sand, soft blue waters, and rock-wall cliffs. Some will tell us of an alpine region to the north where the rich colored flowers, the green leaves of summer, and the mountain valleys capture the trophy for 'most beautiful spot.' Others will describe a desert at sunset where the colors on the sand and gravel become a surreal mauve color, where the space can overwhelm the senses.
It is, of course, a subjective point of view that each of us bring when describing the most beautiful spot on this earth. We can tease our minds with the thought that one day, perhaps, Star Trek's 'beam up' machinery will be available to transport us at any time to the beauty of our choice.
Just east of downtown Phoenix, Arizona, between Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, Jason and Murphy Brightman were enjoying their most 'beautiful spot,' the ageless and serene desert. The two young men were enjoying their favorite hobby, gathering rocks. They didn't mind the heat. They had their water canteens, along with their canvas rock-collection sacks.
Still in their teens, Jason and Murphy knew the desert, understood its 'old western' lore and its potential dangers. They knew how to dress for their rock gathering, with their thick socks and high above-ankle boots. They wore their baseball caps, their colorful short-sleeve shirts, deep pocket shorts, and, in those pockets, each carried his knife of many blades. They were handsome lads, each with the same slender stature, same unruly sandy hair, each with smooth and unblemished faces.
This day was to be a scorcher, and the boys stopped occasionally to drink and to water down some rags for placement under their baseball caps. They were alert for the desert's most notable resident, the rattlesnake, perhaps seeking shade under one of the rocks they might overturn. They moved cautiously among the cacti and brush, skirting the ironwood and palo verde trees. They moved along the arroyos where they normally found some distinctive rocks for their collection. Their shirts were already sticking to their skins, and they decided not to stay out as long as previously planned.
The desert seemed always to yield a splendid assortment of quartz, granite, and sandstone in various shapes, sizes, and colors. While they wandered about looking for their special rocks they chatted about their girlfriends, their sports activities, the sense of freedom they felt when out in this incredible expanse. Far off in all directions could be seen burnt-brown rock mountains rising in majestic and primal beauty, their silhouetted peaks and valleys shimmering in the bright sun. While feeling the torrid heat, Jason and Murphy were energized and captivated by the beauty around them. They were quickly filling their canvas sacks with the geological bounty.
Murphy was the first to notice the body under a palo verde tree, at a bend in the wash. The skull was crushed, the body ravaged by denizens of the desert.
A rattlesnake bite might have been easier for the boys to handle, for etched in their minds forever would be the crudely splayed form of a woman with her head bashed in. A nearby rock of some size appeared to have brownish streaks on its porous surface. Jason would remember previously noticing back down the wash from the body other large rocks, similar in their brownish streaks.
The young men were shocked, repulsed, and frightened. They hurried from the scene to notify the Scottsdale police. The boys knew that the woman had been savagely murdered. The scene would never be erased from their memories. Each desert rock hunt in the future would be strangely parenthetical in its enjoyment.
The police came, roped off a large area with yellow police tape, followed the usual forensic procedures, delivered the body to the coroner, searched the area all the way back to Shea Boulevard to the south and in a wide three hundred sixty degree arc from the murder site.
Dental records would provide the means for identification of the dead woman. Her name was Catherine Gibbs, age 26, divorced mother of two, legal secretary and model, resident of Phoenix, Arizona.
It was Saturday, August 12, 1967. I was thirty-four and living a loose and lunatic life of soft labor, leisure, and modest dissipation --- 'having fun' was the vernacular. Catherine Gibbs death brought some abrupt changes to my life.
Tuesday, July 18, 1967
Running late, Cathy gave her daughter and son a kiss goodbye, embraced her mom, and hurried out the door of the apartment. She dropped her purse while fumbling for keys and mumbled a mild obscenity under her breath. She finally made it to the car and headed for work.
Going west on Osborn Road she passed the northern boundary of the Phoenix Country Club. The golf course was hidden by a long row of eucalyptus trees but early morning golfers could be seen through a break in the hedgerow. Later, when the heat reached the one hundred plus mark, there would be very few players on the course.
The temperature was already in the early nineties and promised to reach one hundred ten degrees by mid-afternoon. This was the norm for Phoenix in July. The cloudless sky was sapphire deep and wide, with a slight shimmering haze on the far off western horizon.
People either hated Phoenix or they loved it. There seemed to be no middle ground opinions. For Catherine Gibbs, Phoenix and the desert was her Shangri-La. She did not mind the heat. She loved the constancy of sun and clear skies, found the daily regimen strangely soothing and somnolent. The Southwest climate better suited her senses than the dreary days of clouds, rain, and snow that came to the plains of Kansas. Besides, there were memories she would just as soon forget. As she looked at the hot earth and the various types of cacti, she felt close to some subtle and mysterious awareness of life. The saguaro, cholla, ocotillo, barrel, all the spiny plants of this arid mini-world held a fascination for her, somehow speaking to her in some arcane way of some nebulous truths that she might one day know…
Cathy had been driving this route to work for many months and smiled as she considered there was never a sameness to the drive. It was always a new experience … She was pleased with the thought.
She turned south on Central Avenue to reach the downtown high-rises. She reflected momentarily on the new building taking place along the North Central corridor. The city was growing. Here was her future.
It was Tuesday, and she felt wonderfully alive as she thought of the good things happening in her life. She loved her boss at the law offices and the people she met. She was not so fond of the tedious 'wherewith, therefore' legal briefs and documents she had to type and the little nitty-gritty things she was expected to do. All in all, though, the work was satisfying and enjoyable.
She had a modeling audition coming up next week. Still modeling, television commercials, acting, all were such a fun secondary part of her life. She faced no delusions regarding her 'acting hobby.' What she ultimately wanted was a good home, a good husband, 'picket fence' stuff. She was young, just twenty-six, and she had made a few mistakes…a sadly failed marriage, a few worthless flings, and some bad money decisions, but she had great kids and a loving mom. She had lots of time. The world, her world, was her proverbial oyster.
Cathy thought of Steve Langford, a nice warm thought which made her cheeks turn happy pink. He had what she felt was important for a man in her life to have: a solid career position, money, ambition, and good looks. He was a mover and a shaker, and she was in love with him.
God! She felt so great, and the weekend was still several days away but tantalizingly near in her mind. She and Steve were going to Sedona and would stay at one of those beautiful cabins along the creek. It was only three days from becoming reality.
Cathy was surprised that she was the first to arrive at the law offices. She started the coffee. She readied the files she knew Barry Bergman would need for the mergers on which he was working. She turned on all the lights, the machines, the copiers, the computers, the scanners, and the music system.
From Barry's private office in the eighth floor suite, Cathy paused to look out over downtown Phoenix. It was a spectacular view from northwest to northeast. There came a proprietary feeling as she sought out and found the Wrigley Mansion to the northeast and Squaw Peak just beyond. Farther to the east was her favorite, Camelback Mountain, with its 'praying Monk.' Just a few months back she had worked for Martin and Randall up on the twentieth floor. The view from there had been even more awesome. Her brow wrinkled as she remembered her leaving Martin and Randall. But it was too nice a day to harbor such thoughts and she pushed them aside. What a wonderful city! What a wonderful day! What a wonderful life!
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I'm a young man in an old body, trying to catch up to myself, trying to find pieces of me I left back in a disconnected youth and the early years of manhood. I'm a stereotype of many in my generation who can play the 'blame game', yell 'foul', and 'let's start over'. But, we are what we are, the sum of all the scary kid-emotions we experienced, the gin mills and piano bars that became our sandboxes of pleasure - lotus eaters of the best (or, worst) kind, the love affairs that did not quite settle us down, the sad poetry and songs written in bars and motels along the way... A Dreamer! A Wanderlust! The world needs such fools as we to write our books, our poetry, our songs, to offset the madness that plagues the soul.