Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why I Write Mysteries

When a writer friend recently asked why I write mysteries rather than other types of fiction, I realized for the first time that the reason has more to do with a young murder victim named Deborah Sue Williamson than the fictional girl detective Nancy Drew.

Like many, my initial encounter with the mystery genre occurred at a young age when I discovered the adventures of Nancy Drew and the thrill of being able to solve challenging puzzles along with her.

But after carefully contemplating my writer friend's question, I know now that it was my first real murder mystery that had a far greater impact.

I was a young police beat reporter at a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas, when beautiful blonde newlywed Deborah Sue Williamson was brutally stabbed 17 times on Aug. 24, 1975, and left to die in the carport of her new home. Her husband found her body when he returned from working at the pizza restaurant he managed. Her wedding dress lay on the guestroom bed and her purse was missing, along with their wedding album.

She was only 18 years old.

The murder, which remains unsolved today, shocked the West Texas city of 225,000. My editor proclaimed that the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal would carry a front-page story every day until her killer was found. By the time he gave up almost four months later, I knew more about Deborah Sue Williamson than anyone had a right to beyond her immediate family.

For more than 35 years, her murder has haunted me. When a crazy drifter named Henry Lee Lucas confessed in the 1980s to her slaying and over 500 more – crimes he later recanted – I knew it wasn’t him. Her parents did, too, and even sold their home to finance an investigation to prove it so police would continue looking for the real killer.

And it is a grave injustice and an unspeakable tragedy that her murderer still walks free today.

I think about this whenever I write a mystery story or work on my novel. I’ve used pieces of Deborah Sue’s story in my fiction. I imagine the terror she felt and remember how desperate her parents were to see the crime solved, sharing everything possible with the police and a reporter in the hope it would lead to her killer.

Journalists must steel themselves against emotional involvement in order to try to report the news in an unbiased manner and as a police beat reporter, this was sometimes especially necessary to maintain my sanity because I saw the worst of humanity like law enforcement officers do every day.

I have been a far too frequent witness, professionally and personally, to the devastating aftermath of crime, including the murders of Deborah Sue and other people dying in horrible ways. These tragedies never leave me. Incorporating them into my writing sometimes makes it easier to try to understand and deal with them.

Fiction also offers a wonderful opportunity to right great wrongs. There, I can make sure the killer is caught and there is justice for the victim.

I only wish someone had been able to do the same for Deborah Sue Williamson and her family.


Paula Butturini said...

GREAT blogspot today, Pat. Thanks for that!

Dwayne Cox said...

You'll recall I took up the Williamson mantle after you moved on, not nearly as effectively as you did, and your post jolted me back 34 years and made the time come back alive. I mostly remember the courage you showed going to the cop shop every day with a front-page story to write and their growing resistance to you doing your job. Somehow, you always got the story. great stuff.
Dwayne Cox

PatRemick said...

You are most kind, Mr. Cox.
That was a weird time, wasn't it?