During my 53 years as a journalist, I've covered a lot of stories and been involved in even more as an editor. Many were happy stories, and those are the best kind. But many were sad, and they tug at your heart-strings.
During my 53 years as a journalist, Iíve covered a lot of stories and been involved in even more as an editor. Many were happy stories, and those are the best kind. But many were sad, and they tug at your heart-strings.
The most difficult of all, though, are those that have gone unfinished.
Most Americans alive today have grown accustomed to television as an integral part of our culture, and weíre used to watching dramas wrapped up in a neat package, often in less than an hour. We find thatís not the way it is in real life, and we learn to deal with it as best we can.
Three of the stories that frustrated me the most over the years are murder cases, and Iím sure those cases were all far more difficult for the families of the victims and for the law enforcement officers who tried to solve them. I know that because Iíve experienced such a case from the side of the family ó my own sister having been murdered in 1976, a crime for which justice was never done.
During my first 10 years as managing editor of the Batesville Guard, starting in 1975, I did a lot of reporting, covering police and courts, as well as city government. After that, the news staff having grown along with the editorís duties, I had to reduce my reporting.
For The Courier at Russellville and The Sun, my responsibilities have been limited to management of the news staffs and editorial writing.
But one of the most troubling stories happened only 19 days into my tenure at the Guard. A Concord real estate agent, Troy Martin, was found shot to death on June 19, 1975, near his home on the Jamestown Mountain. My assistant editor and I drove to the scene, where we found a sheriffís deputy and a guy in shirt sleeves and jeans with sunglasses.
That was my introduction to Bob Reynolds, a colorful State Police investigator who had been assigned to the case. In those days local law enforcement agencies were severely restricted in resources, manpower and expertise, so it was routine for the State Police Criminal Investigation Division to be called in on major cases.
Indeed, the deputy assigned to the case wrote a report that was illegible and incoherent.
Reynolds looked like a brother of Lee Marvin or James Coburn, with a similar voice, and he already had quite a reputation as a crime-fighter. I would deal with him quite a few times over the next few years, and we developed a mutual respect.
But I got off to a bad start that first day by writing a story not only about what he told me but also what I saw, including one detail he hadnít wanted to make public.
The Martin murder would be the big story of my first year, and I talked with Reynolds many times about it. Agonized by the case, he had his theories about who committed the crime but was never able to solve the case.
The second unfinished story bothers me even more, especially because it had some similarities to my sisterís case. In May 1980 the body of Cindy Malott, 23, was found on the living room floor of her trailer in east Batesville. She had been stabbed to death. Her 3-month-old baby was found safe, sleeping in an adjacent room.
I was called to the scene because the Guard customarily provided evidentiary photography for the authorities in criminal investigations, since we had the equipment, the expertise and the darkroom.
That had advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, we knew immediately when something big happened. But some photos we took were much too gruesome to publish, and we also might wind up having to testify about them.
On this day, though, the first problem was between the sheriffís chief investigator and the city police chief. I waited while they argued about who had jurisdiction and worried that the argument would escalate.
Cindy Malottís murder has never been solved. A grand jury investigated one possible suspect but brought no indictment. Later two men, including serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, were accused of the crime, but the charges were dropped. Lucas claimed to have committed murders all over the country and managed to postpone his execution for years as he led law enforcement officers into his grim fantasies.
Another unfinished story started near the end of my tenure as Guard editor. A 72-year-old widow, Della Harding, went missing, along with her car, from her west Batesville home in June 1988. Foul play was suspected from the beginning, but the chief law enforcement official refused for a couple of days to make public any information about her vehicle, which was an older model and therefore distinctive.
After about three days her body was found dumped under a White River relief bridge near Newark. She had been strangled. Later that weekend her car was found abandoned in front of a Newport night club.
A suspect was questioned and maybe charged but never brought to trial.
This is one case where withholding details might have kept the case from being solved. Someone must have seen that car en route from Batesville to Newport.
Over the years Iíve covered many other murder cases, but those three stand out because we never got a chance to finish the stories, as we did with the others. Of course, that could still change. From time to time someone stirs up some interest in my sisterís case, and it raises our hopes a bit.
Iím sure the families of Troy Martin, Cindy Malott and Della Harding feel the same way.
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Roy Ockert Jr. is editor of The Jonesboro Sun and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.