River of Dreams
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Building Multiculturalism
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Another Side of the Story
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Hiking How-To
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Underground Silver City
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Editor's Note
Desert Diary

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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   November 2009

Another Side of the Story

Page: 2

We sat in the front pews, too close to the four closed, cold metallic caskets. My mother cried softly and intermittently, clutching a white handkerchief embroidered by Grandma Clutter. Herbert's surviving daughters, my cousins Beverly and Eveanna, were supported on either side by the men who loved them. Vigilant policemen sat and stood among us, as did plainclothes detectives from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Although the minister, Rev. Leonard Cowan, knew the family well, his task was difficult. How could God have allowed this to happen? "The good purposes of God have been thwarted by sin and evil from the beginning of historical record," Cowan preached. He likened Jesus on the cross to Herbert and Bonnie, Kenyon and Nancy at the hands of their killers. He assured us that the family's unquestioning faith sustained them in their time of extremity. His words made no impression on me.

Afterwards, the great line of cars that had followed the hearses to the cemetery slowly returned to town. My aunts and uncles and other cousins came to the potluck dinner at the church. People ate, talked with one another, traded stories and memories; some even laughed. I knew few townspeople and was glad to be invisible. When someone did speak to me, I tried to find something "normal" to say, though I wasn't sure what normal might be. Beverly and Eveanna seemed at ease, visiting with friends and family they had known from birth. Herbert's family was rooted in community; we were not.

My sense of unreality deepened as my Kansas aunts, practical as always, decided we should go to Herbert's house, clean and get things Beverly would need to set up housekeeping when she got married.

I will never forget being in that house, at that time. The home that had always meant life, love and security was now a house of death.

In Nancy's room, my mother looked through her closet and drawers. I don't think we should be doing this. Nancy would not want her aunts looking through her things. I sat in a chair against the wall and gripped the seat. I know we should not be here. At any moment I was afraid I'd start screaming. Stuck to the wall above Nancy's bed was a fragment of flesh and dried blood, overlooked by whoever did the first cleaning, and now overlooked by my mother. She was focused, like a detective looking for clues. In triumph, she found Nancy's watch in a shoe in the closet — proof to her that the killers were strangers, burglars.

Was it a robbery? Apparently all that was missing was $40 and a transistor radio from Kenyon's room. Nancy's $2 for Sunday school remained in a church envelope on her bedside table as her attacker tied and gagged her. The rumored wealth that Uncle Herbert supposedly kept in a safe did not exist; his tortured death yielded nothing. Aunt Bonnie was a housewife, rich only in family and community.

The intruders did gain something: the power of life and death. And they wielded it with savage carelessness.

Three days after the funeral, Beverly and Vere were married. The wedding had been planned for Christmas, but the family was already gathered and Beverly had no place to come home to on school vacation.

The church seemed different this time, decorated for a celebration, though again filled with family friends and relatives. Beverly came down the aisle on the arms of her mother's brother, radiant in her long white gown. Waiting at the altar was Vere, handsome and strong. When they exchanged vows, love shone on their faces and brought light into the shadows. It was a fairy-tale wedding in the middle of a nightmare.

We drove back to Florida and I returned to school, shy and in turmoil. It felt wrong to take part in Homecoming — I was part of the "royalty" — as though nothing had happened. I asked my English teacher. She said I shouldn't disappoint others or myself by missing this honor. And so, a week after the funeral, I wore my ice-blue taffeta formal gown, sat on the back of a convertible and rode down Lemon Street in the parade, waving to onlookers as though I were still a real person. By that time, nothing felt real or right. No one spoke with me about what had happened — not at school, not at home.

Twenty-five years after the deaths, I began to face the past, hoping that doing so would help me heal from that trauma and other losses. For the first time, I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I was angry and disappointed. The Clutters became cardboard figures, hardly more than a backdrop for Capote's sympathetic depiction of the killers. I felt powerless to correct his version of the truth. In the face of Capote's fame, I would have been as invisible as I was in Kansas in 1959.

Nonetheless, for me, Uncle Herbert and Aunt Bonnie, Kenyon and Nancy, continue to live, both in memory and in the strengths they engendered in us.

Diana Selsor Edwards is a cultural anthropologist and a mental health
counselor (LPCC) in Silver City. She recently gave workshops in Santa Fe
on adoption issues, and grief and loss.

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