Karen felt the shock waves of the gunshots in her legs. She wasn’t hit. But she was that close. And the sound was that loud. She was just a girl, her small legs churning as she ran to her best friend’s house when the gun fired.
Her best friend’s mom lay dead. Her husband ran out of the house drunk and fell face first in the street. The kids followed, screaming. They all spent the night together – an unforgettable spend-the-night party – all of them still in shock.
Karen has never really gotten over that day. The shock waves are still with her. “Why do you keep talking about it?” a boyfriend asked. People don’t seem to understand.
I spent decades way, way too close to murders, not dozens but hundreds of them. Murder is the stock in trade of local TV news, the marketable commodity of network magazine shows, the product to be sold on streaming services and podcasts. Wanna start a show? Wanna get picked up? Murder seems to be a safe bet. The American audience seems to generate an endless demand for blood.
Most murders are private tragedies, not even low-brow entertainment but a predictable cliche. Angry husband + booze + gun. Jittery robber + desperation + gun. Jilted lover + jealousy + gun. The vast majority of murders are overlooked. There’s just too many. A vast sameness.
Of course, if there’s money or fame or sex or beauty or some kinky twist, then call out the camera crews. Fire up the podcasters. I find it obscene. I’m so over it.
I wanted to talk to Karen because the murder she witnessed had such a profound impact on her and because it is typical of the murders I encountered in more than three decades of showing up at crime scenes and following killers through courts, interviewing them in cramped cells and bland institutional prisons.
Karen is a middle-aged woman now. The murder is just part of her story but it’s an inflection point, the fulcrum on which the bulk of her adult life rests. If you want to understand Karen, really get to know her, you have to take in the story of the murder.
Karen has done a lot of heavy emotional lifting to become the strong, together person she is today. She helps a lot of friends – me included – by sharing her story. That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t benefit from more therapy. It just means she’s come a long way.
The Karen before the murder, the innocent child pictured in the snapshot, that Karen is gone. There’s no bringing her back. But the new Karen has lived on to find new hopes and to heal wounds – and not just her own.
KAREN’S STORY AIRS THURSDAY @MANLISTENING THE PODCAST. IT’S NOT WHAT YOU’D CALL TRUE CRIME.