I Was A Suspect In My Dad’s Murder | Part 2

I’m pretty sure I spent thousands of dollars in therapy to get over this. No, it wasn’t just this, but being a suspect – despite how ludicrous it seems now – was really awful. Therapy can be a real pain in the butt as you go through crap from the past that frankly, you want to leave in the past. But I knew if I wanted to be a good parent one day, I had to get my shit together. I always felt so much shame that folks thought I could do something so heinous. It wasn’t until my therapist re-framed it, that I finally got it. “Jen,” she said, “What if you thought about it like this? Could it be your dad treated you so badly it would have made some kind of sense?” Whoa. Me a victim? Not my jam. But taking it in and thinking about it really did make a difference.

[You really should read part one first.]

Deep down inside I was crushed that someone – anyone – would think I was capable of murder. My god. Two people were dead. It was a messy, complex crime scene. It was an act of brutality. At this point, they hadn’t even told us Charlene was raped. I was convinced they thought I was a horrible person who was capable of this kind of thing. It was so inconsistent with who I was that my friends and I started making jokes about it. Now, as an adult, I get the value of dark humor. I understand irony and how being absolutely twisted is a reasonable way to deal with the unreasonable. As that eighteen-year old, it was the only way I could cope.

For a short while, after the murder, I wore a log necklace. It was a little tiny stick that I attached like a charm to a chain. I know. What the hell? My best friend, Kristin, thought it was hilarious. Or at least let me think she did. I wore it around town and to school. I was no longer a student at Buena High School. I had graduated mid-year because I was so over being in high school. I enrolled at Ventura Community College and was attending classes when the murder happened. I don’t think I ever went back. Somewhere I have a report card from that semester. I can’t remember if I finished those classes. Chances are the teachers knew who I was and just gave me a pass.

My sanctuary was Buena high school.

I had been class president for two years, which meant I was in leadership. This was quite possibly one of the best things that ever happened to me. Our advisor, Bob Cousar, was extraordinary. He believed in young people and he taught us how to govern. We had regular cabinet meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order and we made important decisions about what happened at the school. It was amazing. As a member of leadership, I practically lived at the school. I was always working on projects or events and they let us have run of the place. Needless to say, most of the teachers knew who I was. For sure the administrators did. The Dean of Girls, Lois Shaffer, hated me. I’m not sure why exactly, but I bet it’s because I knew she was a fake. She didn’t care about the students the way the other teachers and staff did. She was a bitter, unhappy person.

Mr. Cousar let me come back to Buena – even though I had graduated – and just hang out that spring. It was incredibly kind and probably saved me from getting in a bunch of trouble or being depressed. I found things to do and was able to spend time with my friends. I also wore my log necklace to campus and it caught the attention of one adult. Lois Shaffer. Apparently when she saw what I had on, and yes, you can now say “Jen, you’re such a dumb shit” with me, when she saw the log necklace she called the investigators. They showed up at campus and asked to see me. I met with them in the Student Center and showed them the necklace. They took it. It was put into evidence. That stupid log necklace is sitting in a box somewhere in the bowels of the evidence room thanks to Lois Shaffer. Lois also blocked me from being Girl of the Quarter and Buena Hall of Fame. It was an honor I had earned and to this damn day I’m still bitter I didn’t get those awards because of that hateful woman.

And then we were done.

When the polygraph test was over, and I passed with flying colors, I was relieved. Intellectually I knew taking the test was a bad thing. I had read stories of people who’d been convicted on bogus lie detector information. There’s one article in the Ventura Star Free Press where I was asked about being a suspect. Of course, I can’t find the darn article but in there, I’m quoted as saying the whole thing was “So Dragnet.” As you might imagine, with some locals, I still haven’t lived that down.

This is Mr Cousar. A true hero. He had a huge impact on my life.


This is Lois Shaffer. Nuff said. Don’t let that smile fool you, she was horrible.

I Was a Suspect In My Dad’s Murder | Part 1

Probably the one thing about this whole case that caused me the most shame, was being a suspect. I can’t believe it happened and I can’t believe the police thought I could do something so awful. My mom was my alibi that night and she failed to remember I was home. She was in the bean bag chair when I came home that night, watching Soap, and didn’t know I had gone into my room and jumped on the phone with my friend Kathy. Mom had one job and she blew it. I forgave her. I don’t let her forget, but I do forgive.

I realized this was completely my dad’s fault.

Not because he had been murdered, but because he taught be how to be a jackass.

The room was small but looked a lot like the rooms I had seen on television. Three walls and what I could only assume was a two-way mirror on the fourth wall. Behind the glass I imagined there were law enforcement folks and my mom. I didn’t know my mom was in there, but I figured she’d make her way in to watch. In the middle of the room was a table and two chairs. One chair was facing the wall, the other was tucked under the table. On the table was a lie detector. It looked just like the kind you might see on Charlie’s Angels or the Rockford Files. I could see the little drum that fed the paper and the needle that would move back and forth. The machine was off as we got settled.

I was 18 years old. I had a birthday on February 5th and had only been an adult for a little over a month. I knew I should be taking this seriously, but I couldn’t. The very idea that I was responsible for my dad and stepmom’s life was crazy. They had been found a few days earlier, bludgeoned to death. I had always been a voracious reader, grabbing adult books from my dad’s nightstand when he was done. That’s how I learned about blow jobs at age 13. I had grabbed The Godfather and the wedding party scene pretty much clued me in on the things adults do. Probably not the best primer. The point is, I had read a lot and crime was one of my favorite genres. I knew they always looked at family members as suspects, but this was beyond nuts.

Somehow, they thought, I drove my Honda Express moped to my dad’s house. Grabbed a log off the woodpile. Went into his house while they were asleep and bludgeoned them to death. Then I left, went home, climbed into bed and waited for their bodies to be discovered. On Sunday, when we found out they were dead, I then was able to react with surprise and make all the right moves until the lie detector test on Tuesday. I suppose in some upside-down world, I should have been flattered. Or maybe terrified.

Instead, I protected myself by being a jackass.

I was seated in the chair that faced the wall. To my right was the table with the polygraph machine. The tester – a man who probably had a better title than “tester” – told me he was going to hook me up to the machine and that the test would be easy. All I had to do was answer honestly with yes or no answers. Cool. He gently put the two straps around my chest that would read my respirations. The theory was, people who are lying will breath more heavily. The straps were snug and sat above and below my bustline.

The next step was the blood pressure cuff. If I had a rise in my pressure, it was supposedly another signal that I wasn’t being truthful. It wasn’t too tight, and I can barely remember it being on. What I do remember is the little things wrapped around fingers on my right hand designed to measure my galvanic skin response: aka sweat. The theory was if I was sweating, I must be lying. Mind you this was measuring small changes; not giant flop sweat that I was sure was the outcome for people sitting in this chair who were actually guilty.

I was calm. I wasn’t taking any of this seriously. I’m pretty sure that comes from the privilege of being completely innocent and my insane curiosity about what was going to happen next. The examiner handed me a piece of paper and a pen.

“I’d like you to write a number between 1 and 9 on the sheet of paper, please” he said. I wrote a three.

“Good?” I asked.

“Perfect,” he said. He took the sheet of paper I had written on and taped it to the wall in front of me. “Okay,” he continued, “let’s get started.” He turned on the machine and it made a humming noise. He asked me to breathe normally while I’m guessing he calibrated and tested the machine. I stared at the number on the wall. I wasn’t sure how my “three” was relevant, but I sat quietly while the man prepared.

I looked around the room one more time and my eyes landed on the mirror. I figured my mom would be standing in the least optimum place because the investigators would want to watch me. I winked at the far-right corner. Later my mom would ask me how I knew she was standing right there. I told her that it was the only obvious place. She shook her head. I was always driving her nuts. The examiner moved and regained my attention. I wasn’t looking forward.

“Okay Jennifer,” he started, “Let’s see if this is working. We are going to do a test.”

What happened next wasn’t a plan. It really wasn’t. It was me being a jackass. A smarty pants. I had always been one. I was the kid who never took no for an answer. I could argue anything. I saw through adults and that had been a problem my whole life. I knew when they were full of shit. Someone told me once I am an old soul. That might explain it. Whatever “it” was, “it” kicked in and I did something I honestly did not plan to do.

I lied.

Oh yes I did. I wanted to see if I could beat the machine.

“Here’s what I’d like you to do,” he said. “When I ask you a question, I want you to simply answer yes or no. You can’t shake your head or say anything else. It must be a yes or no answer. Do you understand?” This was a trick. I knew how to answer.

“Yes,” I said. Nailed it.

“Did I ask you to write a number on a sheet of paper?” he began.


“Did you write a five?” he asked. Oh, trying to trick me.

“No,” I answered. And then, in my head, I said to myself. I wrote an eight.

“Did you write a seven?”

“No,” it’s an eight I thought.

“Did you write a three?”


“Let me repeat that,” he said, “did you write a three?” I could feel him looking at me.

“No,” I repeated, and again said to myself, it’s an eight. I looked over at the examiner, I was so excited. “Did I beat the machine!?” I asked with probably way too much enthusiasm. He didn’t confirm or deny but he was not happy with me. I looked at the paper moving across the drum of the lie detector. I had watched enough episodes of Streets of San Francisco to know there was no movement indicating a lie. I flashed one more smile at my mom. She must be so proud (um, yeah, she wasn’t).

“Fine,” the examiner said, “let’s get going.” What happened next isn’t all that clear in my memory. I remember them asking me questions about both my dad and Charlene. He asked if my last time at their house was on the Thursday – the week before the murder. He asked if had been at their house the weekend of their murder. And then he asked the big questions.

“Did you kill Lyman?”


“Did you kill Charlene?”

“No.” I didn’t mess around with the real questions. I answered honestly and directly.

[Read part two.]

Someone Get Me a Xanax, It’s Finals Time

Look closely at that photo: On Friday she was barfing her guts out with the 24 hour flu; the bucket’s still there but now it appears papers are what’s been barfed out. What a way to study! 

I think the greatest testament to the first year of high school is the fact that I haven’t blogged about it since November 1st.

This year went by at times painfully slow and on whole, remarkably fast. Today is the first day of finals (first semester finals were a joke but that’s for another blog), so today is the first “real” final for biology. And I am a wreck.

I know it’s not about me. 

I don’t have to take the darn test. But the Herculean effort I have put in to helping this kid learn how to learn all year long is coming down to two days: today and tomorrow. And this morning’s breakfast is still a rock in my stomach until 12:20 when I see Katie to hand her her yearbook (that she forgot this morning) and look at her face to see if she survived – oh, and maybe got a passing grade (because seriously, I do NOT want to do this over again).

Oh there’s so much to share about freshman year and now that it’s coming to a close, I think I will have time to reflect, record and release (you knew I had to find another “r” word because school is all about the three “r’s” isn’t it?).

So for now, this blog will serve as my faux Xanax as I wait for word and get ready for tomorrow’s second mad dash to her math final (thankfully English isn’t having one – first time that horrible teacher has done something good!).

And then I will start a list of blog topics: How I Survived Her Freshman Year. 

UPDATE: I got an excited text from her that she got 100% on her lab book – her choice to focus on that last night was a good one – and she thought the final wasn’t that bad. She’s off the lunch with friends before sweating the math final tomorrow. Whew. One down, one to go!

Just Got Off the Bus in Times Square

You can’t have her, she’s alllll mine….

A good friend of mine remembers his adolescence amazingly well.

As I described to him the changes going on with my 14 year old daughter, a freshman in high school, he said, “It’s like she just got off the bus in the middle of Times Square. She is so overwhelmed having to adapt to these new surroundings – learning the language, how to dress, what music to listen to, where to go, how to be, noticing what the older kids are doing – her brain is over flowing.”

His recollection and description truly helped me. Before he explained this to me, I really couldn’t grasp how she could sit down to eat and keep forgetting to get a fork. Seriously – she’s been eating since – well forever! The fork is now a hard thing to remember? Yes, he helped me understand. But it doesn’t change the fact that I feel like Jekyll and Hyde living in two very opposite emotional states of mind.

I want to shoot her.

She has been brain dead at home. Worst grades ever. No ability to string two thoughts together. If I ask, “What’s your plan?” she looks at me like I am speaking French – no wait, something far less interesting – like I am speaking whale. Or like those teachers on Charlie Brown.

“Mom, I want to live in the moment,” she says clarifying as she heads back to her bathroom to make yet another cosmetic adjustment. Fifty-year-olds don’t spend this much time on their faces. My god.

“That’s fine honey when they are all your moments, but in this case, you need me to drive, get food and frankly put my life on hold while you figure things out,” I say while I am often picking up another pair of her shoes (not co-located) or moving her crap off the table an into a single location.

And thus the battle begins. No matter how hard I try to eliminate any challenges, just simple communication seems to be impossible. And she’s explained to me it’s perfectly normal: all her friends hate their parents. Gee, awesome. Let me run right out and get the special yogurt you want.

I am missing the crap out of her. 

My friends theorize since I am a single mom, it’s probably harder for me than most. But I don’t think that’s it. I’ve busy and fairly fulfilled – I’ve been working like crazy and I am blessed to have a fantastic, diverse group of friends.

No, I think it’s because she and I actually got along really well and liked each other’s company. I always counted my blessings I got a kid that liked to do what I liked to do (wasn’t the case with me and my mom – she was an orange and I was an apple…well, actually she was more of a banana). I miss the time I would spend with her getting into mischief – even if her friends were along for the ride.

Just keep swimming.

So here we are.I’m 90% sure I haven’t changed on iota since September 1st. Yet little miss NYC is caught in the swirl of emerging adulthood and is fifty shades of different: excited and overwhelmed in the middle of Times Square. Please tell me I’m not just a pigeon on the sidewalk trying to avoid all those feet.

This too shall pass. Right?

Wow – Just Changed the Blog Title to “It’s High School”

First day and last day of middle school. Damn.

Hard to believe the time has come.

Middle school graduation was last week – I can’t believe how much this kid changed in one year. Who knew eighth grade would mark such significant developments. For a kid who really had one friend in middle school, she ended with a posse! In fact, her great milestone, a zillion signatures in her yearbook – compared to last year which only had signatures on one page.

Katie considers this to be her greatest 8th grade achievement. I can’t say she’s wrong. She did great academically but thankfully that’s never been that hard for her. But making new friends, that’s proven to be much more of a challenge. She likes kids who are savvy and interesting and willing to try new things. She’s not interested in stoners or followers or people who have no imagination.
She’s off and running and I find that I am the one left facing a bit of “development.”

When I brought Katie home from the hospital, swear to God, the very first week, I cried like a fool telling everyone that she was going to leave me and go to college. I’ll be damned, I was right! But the leaving is starting now. All this time I wanted her to have friends but I didn’t realize that meant I would be back on my own again.

Oh sure, I see her sometimes, but even as I write this she’s in her room, on the phone or texting. She has been out all day on a bike ride (and an early dinner – what 13 year old says that? “Hey mom, we are heading out for an ‘early dinner’ on the wharf!”). I have been home working and then cooked (well, burned) myself dinner and dove into a Stephen King book (Under the Dome – why did I think I could read 1074 pages before the series starts this week?).

Anyway, this early empty nest thing isn’t going so well for me. I am truly having a hard time. I know I’m in the final countdown. Four years of high school is going to fly by. I’m clear. It’s time I get back to having a life, doing things with my friends, maybe watch a movie. The feeling is so uncomfortable and lonely. I miss that wonderful pre-teen who used to hang out with me.

But I’m proud of her too. This is what’s she’s supposed to be doing right? Growing up. Being independent. Taking responsibility for her own life.

So we begin. The last four years. This is high school.