by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
On April 14th, my uncle and his wife—both quite elderly—were brutally murdered in their bed. The killer, 15 at the time of the slaying, was finally caught months later. His first preliminary hearing was held last week, and the gruesome details emerged. My cousins were there to hear the young man confess to slaughtering their father and his wife.
A few of the heinous details: Each victim was tortured and stabbed more than 60 times. The killer cut them open and left objects—a drinking glass and a cell phone—inside their bodies. Three months after the assaults when they arrested him, the killer still had bits of the victims’ blood and tissue in his long hair. His parents sat in the courtroom and listened to him confess.
I wasn’t close to my uncle, but people I care about—my cousins and aunt—were devastated. My aunt had a heart attack after discovering the bodies. Fortunately, she recovered. The police suspected and questioned a family member (my second cousin) at great length, causing him (an innocent) and his parents unbearable distress. That whole family will never be the same.
Why am I telling you all this?
One of my cousins asked me to write about the crime, as a way of bringing some closure —a way of making sense of it. She meant in the form of fiction—and that’s what crime fiction does. It tries to make sense of, and find justice for, the violence around us. But I can’t make sense of this. There is no motive to explore, no complexities or connections to unravel. A young psychopath picked two random strangers and killed them for fun. He planned to kill more—with a baseball bat next—but the police arrested him just in time.
I wish I could help my cousins process their grief and pain by writing a novel that would do justice to their experience, but I can’t. So I had one of those moments today where I questioned what I do for a living. And whether I contribute anything meaningful or just add to the problem.
Our culture is so violent and murder so commonplace that this horrific crime wasn’t even prominent enough to make anything but the local news. But for the people affected, it was earth shattering.
To add to my fear and frustration, I read another news story about a Portland couple who were stabbed as they left a soccer game. A mentally ill man chose random strangers to stick a knife into, and the man died. His girlfriend is still in critical condition.
It’s a wonder that any of us can sleep at night. But we do. And we go out in public and live our lives. And many of us write crime fiction as entertainment. Someday soon, I will do more than that with my life. I will advocate for more mental health screening, more mental health funding. Wouldn't this country be a much safer place if yearly mental health screenings were mandatory for everyone between 10 and 40?
I'm determined to make a difference someday. And maybe lives will be spared.