39 | Kill Your Darlings

In writing, you must kill all your darlings. William Faulkner

Q: How do you feel about the case being reopened? Do you think it’s a good thing that – we’re trying to solve your mother’s death or do you think it’s something that should be left alone?

A: I –you know, right off the top of my head, it’s not something I’m really interested in doing. You know, I haven’t given it much thought since it just happened. So, you know, it’s not something –

Q: Can you tell me why you – um, what your reasons for not being interested in doing –is it for your mental health or –

A: You know, the family’s pretty much come to grips with what we had to deal with with our mother’s death. And going through it again doesn’t seem like a fun idea. You know, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be helpful to anybody.

*  *  *

Q: When you saw your dad that day, do you remember what type of clothing he was wearing?

A; Dark colored clothes. But that is about the best I can do.

Q: How about any injury? Physical injury?

A: He had a scrape or something. I remember he had a band-aid on his forehead. I believe. He had some sort of scrape.

Q: Is that something you brought to his attention and asked him about or what makes you remember that?

A: Because it was – as time went on, that was – anything that was unusual was burned into my brain. So that was kind of burned into my brain because that was unusual.

*  *  *

Q: Is there anything about the case that I haven’t asked you about or you hadn’t told the authorities at some point?

A: I really don’t have any information about the case other than that my father was a suspect. And that was it. If there are other suspects I’d be interested because I never heard about it.

Q: Well, I think I can tell you that I don’t think there are any other suspects. That the only suspect is your father. And right now the sheriffs office – it’s believed that your father is responsible for your mother’s death.

A: So somehow I see my dad getting arrested here?

Interview of Doug Frye by ACSO Investigator Rick Sheets, September 10, 2006

In 1973, the grand jury summoned Doug twice. To every question, including our address, whether he taught karate and if he resided in Boulder, he said I wish to speak to my attorney. He left the courtroom to confer with Duane’s lawyer two dozen times. When he eventually did answer, it was only the most basic questions and in the same robotic cadence, unapologetically telling the frustrated grand jurors that he was 19 years old.

In 2006, Doug was more open and forthright. He told the investigators he had bipolar disorder. Unlike his sister Jan, he remembered the day Betty was murdered, Duane’s strange trip to Boulder, and the events surrounding his mother’s death. He even drew the layout of the laundry room and the passageway to the garage. The interview was audiotaped. For much of it, Doug’s cadence is robotic and halting. But at the end, when he asks about other suspects and if his dad will be arrested, he sounds interested. To my ear, he even sounds relieved.

The detectives asked Doug about a trip he’d taken to Florida in 1981. Doug claimed it had nothing to do with the murder; in his third year of med school he’d been in a suicidal depression and had gone to see Duane for help. But Duane told the investigators Doug wanted to talk about Betty’s death. In any case, Doug wasn’t in Florida for long. He was a superb swimmer, but

Duane was so afraid he’d commit suicide by jumping off a sea wall that after two days he flew him to Philadelphia and committed him to a psychiatric facility.

This is how I remember it.  

Over Christmas break in 1980, we visited my folks in Brooklyn. Doug’s sister Lynn lived near Philadelphia, and while we were there he told me he wanted to talk to her about Betty. This was the first time he’d said he wanted to talk to one of his siblings about his mother’s death. He took the bus to Philly. When he returned he was shattered. She couldn’t believe I had doubts, he told me. She always knew dad killed mom.

Back in Boulder, Doug could barely drag himself to class. His advisor told him to take the quarter off. He started coming with me to my law school classes and began seeing a shrink. One snowy day he took an overdose of pills and was hospitalized. He swore he wouldn’t do it again and was released. Then he flew to Florida. The note he left on the kitchen table said he had to talk to his dad.

Duane called and said Barb got a message Doug was coming. Do I have to be there? he said. For three days there was radio silence. Then my mom called. Doug had phoned her from Philly. Duane had flown him to a clinic at the University of Pennsylvania and left him there. Could she give his shrinks my number? That night they called me. What can you tell us about Doug? they said. We didn’t even know he was married. The only thing his dad said was Doug has some crazy fantasy his dad was involved in his mom’s death.

Every night Doug phoned—tortured, apologetic, drugged. He came home to an in-patient clinic in Boulder. Duane flew to Colorado. At the clinic there was an altercation and he was told not to return. Who are they to tell me I can’t see my son? he ranted. When mom visited, she saw something new in Doug. Anger—rage.

Slowly Doug reemerged. He finished med school but nothing was the same. He was harder, cold. One day he went hiking with a law school classmate of mine. They saw a baby bird which had fallen from its nest. Doug knelt beside it on the trail. He picked up a rock and bashed its brains out. An act of mercy, he said.

A writer’s darlings are characters, plot lines, even phrases, you love most. You kill them because they serve no purpose in your story.

What darlings have you killed?

I welcome your feedback and will respond privately.