We’re very pleased to welcome Camille Kimball to the ball today. She is an Emmy winning investigative journalist, and a veteran of television, radio and print. She lived through the Year of the Serial Shooter and was astonished and grateful when it came to an end. A Sudden Shot: the Phoenix Serial Shooter is her first book. She is digging through more files, working on her second.
Thanks to the Debs for inviting me. The theme for this week is What I Did Last Year. While they were snapping on pearls and trussing up the taffeta, I was tripping across far less genteel dance floors.
At the end of the summer in 2008 I was pulling open the swing doors of the main police headquarters in Phoenix, squishing myself through the standing room only crowd of the lobby, and veering left across scuffed and unlovely linoleum. I took a number and waited for my chance to talk to a busy clerk behind glass. Doing this over and over, I obtained a large office’s worth of obscure police records.
These files were like real-time time capsules: a 911 call, a patrol car, a pool of blood, screams of agony, confusion. Crimes as they happened, as they were discovered, in their full chaos and mystery. A shot man mistaken for a drunken one. A midnight door pounding, on the stoop a woman with blood streaming down her head. A family watching movies hears a bang, rushes outside to find a young girl crumpling to the sidewalk. An African refugee stumbles into a fine hotel lobby, dripping blood on to the marble floor.
None of these crimes were connected at first. Phoenix did not know it yet, but we were being hunted by a serial killer. In these remote files I collected over months, I noticed a name that appeared again and again, a name I began to associate with thoroughness and acuity. I saw him crawling into black widow ridden storage sheds and fencing with the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) and sidling up to hospital bedsides.
I found that a great hero had emerged in the midst of the evil and I had the responsibility to tell his story.
It has been a privilege to feature Homicide Detective Cliff Jewell in my book A Sudden Shot: the Phoenix Serial Shooter.
But Detective Jewell, I discovered, while mostly working alone, was not actually alone. Some names appeared only once but their impact was dramatic: a father cradling a dying girl whose own adored father had no idea she was not dreaming sweetly in her bed, a mechanic who used his car to block oncoming traffic from a paralyzed girl in the road screaming for her sister, a patrol officer grabbing a tennis shoe to stop the blood shooting from a Viet Nam vet’s neck.
And then there were the heroes I got to know over time. A mother’s constant vigil saving her adult son from various medical crises even though he was surrounded by trained hands; a family of siblings quietly attending to justice for a fallen brother; a man limping to the center of the courtroom to describe the pain of a lung collapsing and waving his cane in the air to attract help because he could not yell; a mother sending every relative, friend or acquaintance she could muster to search out clues to solve her son’s murder.
I found that my book became a rallying point for many of them. The courtroom and the daily news had made the killers loom large, their names and faces familiar to the public. But the heroes were lost in the great wave of criminal justice and daily news. In A Sudden Shot: the Phoenix Serial Shooter, I found a purpose and a passion.
I could make their stories count.
When I brought the first copy of the freshly printed book to a man whose skull had been cut in half and removed in an attempt to save him from the shotgun blast he’d received, he used his one semi-functioning hand to draw it to his lips. He kissed the book. Then he smiled wide and held it high.
I look forward to my Debutante year, which begins Tuesday Sep 1, when the whole country will get to know this man whose story is told in my pages and Detective Cliff Jewell whose story is also there and Claudia and Robin and Rebecca and Mary and Marci so many more. Trust me, these are people worth knowing.
There was no taffeta in my 2008-2009 year, no pearls–just scruffy linoleum and bloodstained sidewalks. But what I found there was a sparkling and multi-faceted thing. Shining lustrous, both ancient and fresh, I found the human triumph over evil.