Exec staff was supposed to start at 11am, but as usual our head sales guy was late. As my CEO walked in, he looked my way and said, with an irreverent level of glee, “Wow, we get to be in the presence of a famous person today!” It was all I could do to keep myself from crying. I suspect his reference was to 20/20 and the fact that I was going to be on the show. That was my first and last exec staff meeting since the arrest.
Turns out when a heinous, horrible serial killer is finally arrested, a lot of things start happening. Reporters, questions, memories, dreams. Some of these things are interesting and compelling, others have been difficult and awkward. I’ve had to think about things that aren’t really my core competencies – how do I look? Is this the right sweater? Is my mascara flaking? You want me to wear lipstick? Will Katie approve of my hair (she’s my closet stylist). So when something is actually fun, it’s memorable.
The crew from 20/20 was both – fun and memorable.
I decided to bring my mom along for the adventure. I haven’t said a lot yet about my mom – and I will – you should know, she’s a character. I often tell her she wins on the curve because compared to a lot of 80-year olds, she’s different. I had tried to do a Tumblr just highlighting her special moments, but the challenge was trying to capture the moments of splendor – it seemed I was always just a minute late in realizing we were having another Marge Moment and I’d miss the capture! I got personalized plates for her car: TND2DV8. Nuff said.
For background, you need to know a few things.
- Mom was raised in Sacramento;
- She moved back from Ventura to Sac after all three of her kids left for college (then eventually moved to the central coast to be near me and Katie);
- Mom’s favorite network is ABC;
- Mom watches Scandal and missed the last two minutes of the series finale because it went two minutes past the hour, so TiVo didn’t record the ending; and
- She loves David Muir.
We headed north to Sacramento on a Friday night.
20/20 put us up at The Citizen Hotel. I’m sure they had no idea we’d be thrilled with the place. It appeared to be a former business building with a law-library type bar area that was reminiscent of the old Ventura County Courthouse (the smells, the sounds). We shared a room on the 13th floor and settled in for the evening. Taping was scheduled to begin at 11am on Saturday morning.
The next morning, after fretting over my clothes and make-up, we headed down to the ballroom where the taping was to take place. We were greeted by a happy production crew and the talent, Whit Johnson. The room was fairly dark except for the production lights that created a glow around the two chairs that were placed opposite each other. A squad was huddled around the tech table holding computers, playback monitors and the sound equipment.
Whit was a tenacious interviewer. At one point, I got frustrated because I knew there was something he wanted me to say, but I wasn’t saying it and he didn’t have a different way to ask. The hardest question reporters ask is the one with the least satisfying answer: how did it feel when you learned your father was dead?
This is nearly impossible to answer just on it’s very face. For me, when something huge happens, it is hard to know how I feel. It’s like a tug of war between my rational brain that is trying to put the incongruous news in some sort of context and my irrational brain that is mostly screaming “no” in defiance of the crush of too many emotions. If you want to try this yourself, think about how you felt when the plane hit the Twin Towers. I suspect you’ll recognize you likely did both – tried figuring out something that didn’t make sense – and felt too many emotions – all at once.
That tumult doesn’t make for great soundbites.
The interview took about two hours – the time flew by. I was a little more self-conscious with my mom there. Half the time I wanted to look over at her to confirm an answer. There are times when 38 years means there’s a memory gap. Or because I was young when the murders happen, I remember things differently, without the context an adult might have. Of course, these days my mom’s memory isn’t so hot either. But it’s funny to find out what she does remember!
Jenna, a producer, asked how we planned to spend the afternoon. They had a surprise for me and they wanted to know if we could come back in about 90 minutes. I said sure. We were just planning to go by the DeAngelo house – I had wanted to see it and how close it was to where my dad grew up – and Jenna jumped!
“May we go with you?”, she asked.
“Sure,” I said. And then mom joined the conversation. Marge explained to Jenna that they didn’t need to do all that. We’d be fine. We could find it ourselves and surely they didn’t want to waste their time going all the way out to Citrus Heights with us. I started to interject when I realized Jenna had this. She engaged mom, reassured her this wasn’t a waste of time and they’d really like to tape me going to the house. Poor mom, she might like good TV, but she’s a little slow to realize what makes good TV!
Road trip! Off to Citrus Heights.
We all jumped into Jenna’s rental, two cameramen in the back, mom and then Jenna and I in the front. It became the Jen and Marge show before I knew it. This is when the banter between us is generally like a bad episode of The View. Mom is typically the straight man and I am the snark and we gab away while folks listening can’t stop laughing. Mom was in rare form and asked after all her boyfriends: Peter Jennings, Charlie Gibson and of course, David Muir. The ABC team shared stories with her and assured her that David was worthy of her adoration.
When we got to his street, they dropped me off so I could “walk up” the street and they could videotape my reaction. Here’s the thing: it’s really hard to react to a house. I had wanted to see one thing. I wanted to know if his house looked like a damn crime scene in the same way my dad’s house did. Was there crime tape? Was there a sticker on the door to prevent people from entering? They even put an alarm under the mat at my dad’s house so they would know if someone was trying to enter.
Alas, there was nothing. It was a plain house with a meticulously manicured lawn (I can’t emphasize enough how perfect the lawn was; almost like he used scissors to capture any strays). There was no tape. No sticker. Just a Beware of Dog sign on the gate (but no dog) and several coats on black paint on the trim.
As the crew watched me, a crowd was starting to build. Not huge but enough to be noticeable. I wanted to talk to the neighbors (in the grey house behind the guys). That’s where I heard the story about all the holes in JJD’s backyard. The neighbors think they pulled out a lot of evidence from those holes. Those are the neighbors who also figured out, as we spoke, that it was probably JJD who killed their puppy. One day, she got sick and died. Now they are thinking, maybe their puppy was poisoned. That was a really sad moment.
As I turned around to see what was happening behind me (across the street), I see my mom holding court, talking with neighbors and listening to their stories. It seemed everyone had a story – from the teens who used to ride their bikes in front of his house to the woman whose daughter babysat his kids. There were people there who’d come up from the central valley because they had followed the case and had to see the house.
While we talked, I didn’t realize another crew from 20/20 had arrived until I saw Whit rounding the corner with my surprise: Paul Holes.
The team knew I hadn’t met him yet and he was scheduled for the afternoon interview (why they wanted me back at the hotel). They decided it would be cooler to meet him at the house – the same house he sat outside of and made the important decision to wait and get more evidence before introducing himself to DeAngelo. It was a great surprise and led to one of my favorite photos (until I can get one with Larry Pool from Orange County).
Off to the local affiliate.
The local ABC station found out we were there and asked me to come over to the station for a quick interview. We were running late when Jenna dropped us off at the station. Now, remember how I mentioned mom watches Scandal but missed the last two minutes because her TiVo stopped recording? Yeah. Here’s where we pick up that story. Because we were at ABC, mom asked every person we met if they watched Scandal because she needed to know “what the girls were looking at” in the last shot. Turns out, the weekend team at the station aren’t Scandal fans. This confused the heck out of my mom.
The good news is the whole excursion ended perfectly for mom because she was able to spend a moment with her one true love…