Do you remember when you were a kid, and for the first time, you heard about something really awful happening to someone close to your age? There are two stories I remember from childhood. Maybe because they were never solved.
The first was the disappearance of Beth Miller. She lived in the pretty Colorado mountain town of Idaho Springs. She vanished one day while jogging. In 1994, she was legally declared dead. She’s been missing more than 20 years, now. I remember when we would drive through the mountains, I would look up, searching the caves from my vantage point in the car, and I would try to see if she was in one of them — a cold hand, carelessly flung over a ridge, revealing her resting place; a shock of white-blond hair riffled by a breeze. Because, you see, I was sure she was dead. About 10 years ago, a Florida woman claimed to be Beth Miller, but it was a hoax. A few months ago, investigators announced their intention to test mitochondrial DNA from a hair sample taken from decomposed remains and determine if they belong to Miller.
The other case that I think of every now and then — the one that terrified me most as a child — was the murder of the Bennett family. That happened in my hometown, Aurora, Colorado. It is believed the family were bludgeoned to death with a hammer. The mother, Debra, and older daughter, Melissa, were raped as well. The lone survivor was three-year-old Vanessa, who still lives in Colorado and (thankfully) has no memory of the attack. It was an awful crime. It was hard to feel safe after that. It happened so close to home. It’s kind of morbid, but I have rarely picked up a hammer without thinking about this crime. It is still unsolved, though with the advent of DNA analysis, they may one day be able to match the killer with samples taken from the crime scene.
These two crimes created ghosts in my childhood — an awareness that the world can be very dangerous, and bad guys are not always caught. But the ray of hope is that science has found a way. I wonder how many ghosts like these DNA will finally put to rest.