62 | How Should the Story End?

Justice: The constant and perpetual disposition to render every man his due.

Black’s Law Dictionary, Revised Fourth Edition

closure 7:  an often comforting or satisfying sense of finality. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

I would like those kids—at least one of them—to actually admit, yeah my dad did it. None of the kids ever said, “Why aren’t you out there looking for the person who killed my mother?” Instead it was, “Why do you even care anymore?” Marv Brandt, May 10, 2011 at Avalanche Bar & Grill

The word closure is an insult to the families of victims. Howard Morton, founder of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons (FOHVAMP), February 6, 2019

Given the unlikelihood of Duane ever being prosecuted, in May 2011 when I met with cold case cops Isaacson and Brandt, I asked what they’d like to see happen. Brandt was outraged that none of Betty’s kids cared enough about their mother to stand up for her. Isaacson was bitter about the DA’s office dumping the case for the second time; out of twenty senior DAs in the room when the decision was made, he said Tomsic was the only one who stood up and said going to trial was the right thing to do. Tomsic thinks the biggest mistake after she left the case was not putting Cherrie back on the stand in front of the new judge, Pratt.

Tomsic herself has never understood Duane’s children. If she could ask one witness one question with the promise of a true answer, it would be what did those kids know. One thing she finds fascinating about cold cases is their effect on survivors’ lives. She mentioned a case where a young woman’s roommate was found raped and strangled in the bedroom after a party at their apartment. Two weeks later, a male guest at the same party was murdered. Both cases remain unsolved. Decades later, the woman told Tomsic she’d spent her life trying to fly under the radar; she described her life as having been very small. Tomsic thinks people need to feel safe, or at least understand what happened. Without closure, there’s no sense of personal security.

Since there was no formal justice for Betty, what did the cold case accomplish?

Howard Morton founded FOHVAMP because his eldest son, Guy, had been murdered in Arizona in 1975. Guy’s murder is still unsolved. In 2005, after Cherrie told Jean that Duane had confessed, Jean called Morton (who’d previously been in contact with her about Betty’s case). Morton brought Duane’s confession to Isaacson.

In February 2019, I contacted Morton through LinkedIn. He remembered Betty’s murder and Quiet Time. The next day we talked by phone.

Morton wanted to know what happened to the case. Wasn’t Duane’s wife sick? he asked. Several FOHVAMP cases involved men who dominated their wives to the extent of making them physically ill. Morton had never heard of the Right Man syndrome, but he was describing it.

Under Morton, FOHVAMP had a simple criterion for choosing its cases: Was the family interested in finding justice? Over the years, he ran into one or two that didn’t want a case reopened. In those cases, he suspected the families had something to do with it. If not, why wouldn’t you want to know?

He’d also been on my website and read this blog. I’d always felt responsible for Betty’s murder—that by entering her family I’d lit a fuse. What right did I have to write about it? Morton understood why I wrote Quiet Time and my connection to Betty’s case. Until we spoke, I hadn’t realized how much that mattered. Morton validated my right to care.

Morton told me what the families of cold case victims really want. Not closure—the very word is an insult because the wound never heals. Bringing a killer to justice? For most that’s an impossible dream. They want something simpler and more profound: to know what happened and why.

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