Published Sunday, October 14, 2012
I’m forgoing the usual jokes and banter in this column.
If you’ve seen the front of today’s newspaper, you’ll know this week marks the first anniversary of the disappearance of Blake Tyler Chappell. His body was found two months later in the creek that runs through the SummerGrove subdivision. He was murdered, killed by a gunshot.
I started working here a couple of months prior to Blake’s body being found. And that, coupled with the way he died and where his body was found, made this one a little more personal. Even after a year, there are so many unanswered questions. His memorial service, which I attended, was Dec. 29. It was my 50th birthday; he was 17.
This month also marks the anniversary of another murder; another one hitting close to home. On Oct. 6, 1987, the Little Black Dress lost one of her dearest friends, buddies since the third grade.
Laurie Lee was 22 at the time. She and a co-worker, Michael, were sitting in a car outside a nightclub. Two men approached them, robbed them and put them in the trunk of her car. The two men drove for miles, finally ending up in a grassy field. Once there, they cut the fuel line and then lit newspapers and a blanket on fire as the gas dripped down.
Despite what you see on television, cars don’t just blow up. They burn. The two murderers left, but drove back a little while later to make sure the car was still burning.
Laurie Lee’s and Michael’s bodies were found later that day by police, who were notified of the burned vehicle by a newspaper carrier. The two murderers were captured three days later. It ended a several-month long crime spree by the two that included the rape and assault of a rural Kansas woman; the kidnapping and rape of a Wichita woman; and the robbery and attempted murder of a Tulsa couple.
I will not dignify the murderers by mentioning their names in this column. Nor will I waste time explaining the complete injustice that followed from the judicial branch of the state of Oklahoma. Each murderer was found guilty and sentenced to death in separate trials. Each sentence was overturned. Each murderer was found guilty and sentenced to death in another round of trials.
In one case, appeals continued and it took a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning lower courts that led to the eventual execution of one. It took 25 years.
For the other, despite several competency hearings where jurors found the murderer competent, higher courts overturned those rulings, saying the jurors were wrong. The second murderer remains in prison to this day.
Laura Lee, Michael and Blake did not have to die. They should not have died. Laura Lee and Michael were kicking back after a night working, hanging out with friends. Blake was walking back from his girlfriend’s house after dancing the night away the previous evening at Homecoming.
It is times like these where the unanswerable question of “why?” is raised. My only response is that the world is not right. There is evil. And my only solace is I know our time here is only a glimpse, a shadow of what is to be. Evil will one day be vanquished forever.
There is one other bright beacon in this horrible saga, a woman named Carol. She is Laura Lee’s mom. And if you ever wondered what Grace looks like, look no more. She has refused to become bitter, but rather to live. And she has been a godsend to the Little Black Dress.
We were in Georgia. Carol and the LBD’s mom and dad, suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, were in Oklahoma. It was Carol who made the call to The Dress to say her parents were worse than she thought. It was Carol who walked with The Dress through the entire ordeal. Carol helped plan the moves to nursing homes and decorating their new rooms to planning doctor visits ... and everything. And she was there at both their funerals. She even helped The Dress, in the midst of her grief, select the perfect roses for her daddy’s casket.
The Dress was recently in Tulsa to visit and stay with Carol. And during one conversation it came about how The Dress had lost her mom, and Carol had lost her daughter.
And God, through the midst of all this tragedy, has made sure they have each other.
John A. Winters is a staff writer for The Newnan Times-Herald. His personal blog is at justflipthedog.com . You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .