Gerry here, and I didn’t expect to be writing this, not now, maybe not ever.
I’m talking about the missing toddler Ayla Reynolds, reported missing by her father December 17. But you know that. Everybody knows that, from Matt Lauer to Nancy Grace, from the Morning Sentinel to the Boston Globe. In fact, the story has been going for so long that it had become routine. The troubled mother, Trista Reynolds, on national TV. The stoical dad, Justin DiPietro. Websites. Vigils. Candles. Balloons. Reporters and editors scratching for a new angle. Pleas for the person or persons who took the child to please give her back.
This week things turned from bad to worse. First it was the Maine State Police saying the people in the house—DiPietro, his girlfriend, his sister—are lying. That get your attention? It should have. Steve McCausland, the spokesman, may have phrased it more politely. Like they’re withholding information. Not being entirely forthcoming. A lie is a lie, no matter what you call it. And the police don’t say that lightly, not in an ongoing investigation.
Then came the report that the little girl’s blood was found in the basement of the Waterville house. When I read that one I felt sick. Cancel the next vigil. Balloons may not be much help.
I wrote about this case here a couple of weeks ago. The hook was that there were eery similarities between my last book and the Ayla Reynolds case. Missing baby. Frantic search. The mother was a drug addict. She and the father were estranged. The child just disappeared, up in smoke. My search goes on for 300 pages but by comparison that was child’s play. Now things have taken a wrong turn.
There are some things I can’t stomach, not in real life or in fiction–mine or anyone else’s. Molesting a child? Can’t write it or read it. Murdering a child? Can’t read about it, much less invent it. So for the past six weeks I’ve clung to a theory, like a lot of other people, that a relative of mom or dad whisked Ayla Reynolds away for longterm safekeeping. While the police were beating the bushes, the FBI was dispatched to Maine, the little girl was hidden but happy. And one day the person would realize that the gig was up, bring Ayla back, throw themselves on the mercy of the authorities. But we were only thinking of Ayla! We’re so sorry. It just got out of control.
I hope I’m wrong but don’t think that anymore.
It’s right here that, for me, crime fiction and true crime diverge. In a dozen books I’ve killed off a bunch of people. I’ve had innocent victims murdered by loathsome villains. I’ve had people shot, bludgeoned, stabbed. But that’s nothing like this.
In fact, it’s cases like this that make me think maybe I’ll switch to “novel novels.” Maybe I’ll write books about nice people. No one will die. There won’t be a murder. Every single character will live happily ever after.
But here’s the weird thing, or at least I think it’s weird. You can tell me what you think. After I swear I’m only going to write Hallmark cards, I find myself longing for a way to escape the reality of the newspaper stories, the stark reality of the situation. Cops say people are lying. The blood is the little girl’s.
And what is my escape? Tonight it’s going to be crawling into bed with a good book. The book is The Complaints by Ian Rankin, the Scottish writer. It’s a mystery. The hero is an internal affairs cop. I’m sure there are murders. I know they’ll be solved.
An odd sanctuary? Maybe. But it you read the work of the writers on this blog, you understand.
I hear you, Gerry. My “escape” the last few nights is reading Patricia Cornwell’s investigation of Jack the Ripper.
I tend to escape by reading non-mysteries, too, but I am riveted by this case.
Funny where one’s mind goes when reading about this. I immediately asked whether anyone knew if the cadaver dogs had been in the house on day one. Whether they’d hit on anything, since the scent of decamp can be detected very soon after death. Then, as the searchers went back to dive in the Kennebec, I asked whether such a small body, if weighted down in very cold water, would give off enough scent for the cadaver dogs to detect it. And I’ve desperately wanted to sit beside someone who is good at statement analysis and watch Jason with them. Because it’s hard to imagine anyone with less affect.
So now we wait to see who will break first, or whether these are people totally without consciences. Where is the community scorn here? Do these people–Jason, his sister, his girlfriend, and that piece of work of a mother (Jason’s mother) all go about without people looking at them funny? Is there not hissing and buzzing and actual public confrontation? Yes, Gerry, like you, for a long time, I wanted to hope that someone had just taken her away for safekeeping, but there’s been way too much concentration on looking in water for that tiny body. How monstrous, if this is what happened, that the other people in that house can live with themselves if they cover it up.
Yes, extraordinary in many ways. If the adults in the house are culpable, how can they keep their stories straight? Tough enough for one person, never mind three. And CID and FBI have seen every sort of lie before.
Interesting that you mention community scorn. They may be living part of the sentence without being charged.
In the end, though, I hope we’re all wrong and life, in this case, imitates art. At least my version of it.