Because of the type of person I am (a true crime buff), I followed the disappearance closely when it first happened. A woman (we'll call her S) went missing at the beginning of December, 2013. She had been in Cottage Grove (my hometown) for Thanksgiving to visit friends and family and then had planned to return home to Beaverton. Sometime between Thanksgiving and December 2, she disappeared. Her family reported her missing, scared for her safety due to her health problems.
I remember November and December 2013 very clearly: I was working at a job I hated, totally miserable; and those two months were two of the coldest I can remember in a long time. It was in the negatives every single night and barely got above freezing during the day. Those kind of temperatures are abnormal for Oregon.
When they found S, she was discovered not far from where I live, on a piece of BLM property. She had been shot. Not long after, an ex-boyfriend who she had visited in Cottage Grove was arrested. For a long time, that was the last I read about the case. It seemed pretty simple, an open-and-shut, sadly way too common kind of case.
Fast forward a few months. I had started a new job, it was early Summer, and as I walked into the office, I glanced at the newspaper on the front counter. Staring back at me wasn't just any face: it was a face I recognized.
It was the ex-boyfriend who killed S. Where on Earth have I seen him before? I read his name over and over again, but I just couldn't remember. His face was so familiar. I was sure I knew him, but I couldn't place him. It was the worst feeling.
I went about my day and read up on the case. I read about the trial, about how the ex-boyfriend's ex-girlfriend testified about his behavior after their break up (this also rang as very familiar, but I couldn't place it), about how he had been found guilty, about how he had tried to claim self-defense, about how he had hid S's body in his house for weeks thanks to the abnormal temperature and how the cops even visited his house while she was still there.
As I drove home, I kept thinking about it.
Then, it hit me.
Figaro's Pizza. I had worked with him at Figaro's Pizza.
We'll call him M. The minute I remembered, the minute my mind connected him to Figaro's, it all came back to me. I knew his ex-girlfriend who testified at the trial. I knew M. I had worked with him, hours and hours and hours, in high school. We had talked hundreds of hours, complained about the same things, laughed at the same jokes.
I immediately texted Danny. "That's crazy," he replied. What an unsatisfactory answer.
The true crime lover in me (I do listen to My Favorite Murder, Casefile, and In Sight an embarrassing amount) was thrilled I had worked with someone connected to a murder case; however, another part of me felt really, really repulsed.
It's strange to look back at part of my life and see it in a totally different light. There was no way for me to know, at the age of 17, that one of my coworkers, a grown adult, in his 40s then, was going to go on to murder a defenseless woman. But for whatever reason, that knowledge now changes how I see everything during my life at that first job.
Working with M was not like working with the boogeyman. I would easily describe him as strange, as a little off, but then, I am a little weird myself. Who am I to judge? He also seemed very kind and, to be quite honest, a little slow. Sometimes, he showed up to work in a really strange mood, talking strangely. My coworkers and I chalked this up to drug use, but we could never really be sure.
I shiver now thinking about the number of times I closed the pizza place with him. We would lock the doors at 10:30 pm and walk to our cars in the dark. I am terrified of the dark--it's one of my biggest fears--and so, this walk was often the worst part of my day. Looking back, I feel like my memory of the fear is amplified now that I know what I know.
Sometimes, as a true crime buff, it's easy to mentally distance myself from things that happen: these are just stories, I think, and it can be easy to dehumanize, to not remember that behind these stories are real people--with friends, family, children, dreams, and paths they no longer get to pursue. It can be challenging to remember the reality: that both sides, victim and perpetrator, had and have lives away from the crime.
I found myself, for a while, feeling guilty for feeling sympathy for M: I felt like a line in the sand had been drawn and that I had to accept that the person I knew was not the person I thought I knew. But the truth is, it's possible to feel both: it's possible to simultaneously be horrified by something someone did and to remember them as a decent human. Good people can do terrible things and it's ok to miss them, to feel sympathy for them, to question why they did it.
I'm turning this over to you. Have you ever had something like this happen to you?