12 June 2007

First Murder in Fifteen Years

Yesterday morning, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, before most of the town was even awake, Reverend Esther Dozier was murdered in her bed. The last murder here was the 1992 shooting of two Simon's Rock college students by Wayne Lo, another student, one of the first school shootings in what soon became a national epidemic.

Esther Dozier was a pastor and very active in the community. Several years ago she worked closely with a good friend of mine and my one of my younger brothers to create a memorial to the civil rights leader W. E. B. DuBois, who was born in Great Barrington in 1868. In fact she worked tirelessly for recognition and community tributes to DuBois before and after I met her. Her husband has been arrested and charged with her murder.

There a lot of things that are strange about this for me. Aside from the fact that it's just shocking when an upstanding member of a small community is stabbed to death in her bed, I am strangely fascinated by murder and the reasons why some people do the bad things that they do.

Yesterday's murder holds many mysteries, most of which lead me to believe that her husband may be suffering from some form of mental illness. But of course I am no expert.

According to an article in today's Berkshire Eagle, at 4:50 am Henry Dozier, Sr. was in a minor car accident a few miles from his house. The police found him wandering away from the scene of the accident and took him home. Why was he wandering? He called his son and asked him to come over around 6 or 6:30. The son came, and when he arrived, passed his father in the front hall. When the son went upstairs he found his dead mother in her bed. Why did he call his son and then leave? About an hour later the police found the husband sitting in his car in a parking lot a few towns over. He told them he had ingested poison and he was taken to the hospital. Poison? At his arraignment yesterday afternoon, he was still wearing the gown he had been given at the hospital.

What happened in that house? What happened to that family? Esther Dozier was a really nice and loving person according to members of her congregation and friends who worked with her in the community, and so was her husband. How do you kill the woman that you loved and lived with and were married to for over thirty years? How did no one see that this was even a possibility?

It makes me sad, but it also fascinates me. I want so badly to understand what happened, to travel inside his head, inside their marriage, adding up the moments that led to yesterday morning. I know it's not nice to stare, but it is human. There is a need to know what others are doing, a self-conscious urge to model our behavior based on that of the people around us, to define ourselves by what we do and by what we do not do. For writers, or at least for me, this urge translates also into a need to understand not only what people do, but why.

About two years ago, Jan Stackhouse, a woman from Brooklyn, was visiting a friend of hers who lived a couple of miles from our house (in a neighboring town). The last day of her visit, a few hours before she was going to head home, she went for a walk and was found on the side of the tiny dirt road with her throat slit. The police never figured out who did it. Five months after her murder I traced her steps and wrote an article about the experience. It was creepy, but not in the way that I expected.

I always wonder about people's motivations, try to figure them out: Why did that woman cut me off? Is she rushing someone to the hospital? Driving while sobbing? Just a bitch? -- Tracing the steps of a murder victim seemed like a way to get close to an experience that I hope to never actually have.

Do you think that I, and anyone else who is not a muderer, can ever really understand what it means to take the life of another person? To understand, really understand, the thoughts and feeling that preceed an act like that? I'm not sure that we can, and maybe that's why it's so hard to help people who do terrible things and hurt other people, and why it's so hard to prevent something like this, why no one saw it coming.

Reverand Dozier will be deeply missed in our community, and although I did not know her well, I will hold her in my thoughts.


palindrome said...

i can't find words... i'm so upset and saddened by this news.

Jen said...

Do you ever read anything by Ann Rule? She writes about true crime. Her books are kind of trash reading but she goes into some of why people do what they do so they can be kind of interesting.

Queen Heather said...

That is such a sad story.

Jennifer Playgroupie said...

What a sad, yet interesting story. I truly get what you mean that you wish you could get inside his head.

My high school chemistry teacher murdered his wife and two kids. He was aquitted, but everyone knows he's guilty. I've always wondered the cicumstances that led to the murder.

thordora said...

In a way I can understand. I've felt some towering rages in my time where I clearly thought 'I can kill right now" I would have been remorseful after, I would have begged for forgiveness, but I have no doubt I could do it in those moments.

It's a terrible thing to see in yourself.

I can relate to the urge-what I can't understand is acting on it.