Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss - Larry Edwards

I called out to Gary. “Does Dad want these cans tossed out?”

Gary sneered. “No, we’re going to hang them on the lifelines for decoration.”

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Excerpt  . . .

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Dare I Call It Murder? - A Memoir of Violent Loss - by Larry M Edwards

Monday, February 27, 1978, 5:30 a.m.

The taxi wound through narrow, tree-lined lanes, a bucolic setting that belied the purpose of my mission. The driver didn’t speak English; I spoke only a few words of French. I didn’t know if he was taking me to the right hospital, but he seemed confident of our destination, L’hôpital de Mamao in Papeete, Tahiti’s largest town. I re­as­sured myself that Kerry would be there, along with . . . I tried not to think about it, but my mind conjured up images of bodies lying in caskets.

What will happen now?

As the youngest, Kerry had always been Daddy’s little girl. We older children had resented her for it. That underlying tension resurfaced aboard the Spellbound. We fell into familiar patterns as we sailed down the coast to San Diego—small problems magnified by the childhood baggage we still carried. Even so, Kerry and I had been on good terms and shared a few laughs at our parents’ expense.

Until Gary arrived.

The prospect of seeing him again worried me most. As boys, we shared a bedroom and argued over territory, at times using a measuring tape to define our boundaries. A seam in the floor tiles became our Maginot Line. Still, when we were young we generally got along and played together in the woods surrounding our home.

By high school, however, we’d become competitors. Gary tried besting me athletically as well as academically. He rarely succeeded. To compensate, he exaggerated his own accomplishments while putting others down, me in particular. I went on to college and became a schoolteacher, he into the army. We saw little of each other over the ensuing decade. When Gary joined the boat in San Diego, nothing had changed—he found fault in every­one and everything around him.

By comparison, he and Kerry got along well, at times flirting like school kids, although even she fell victim to his barbed tongue. One evening, while fixing hamburgers for dinner, these alleged adults got into a shouting match over how to slice cheese. It ended with Gary declaring, “See, I was right.” Kerry pouted the rest of the evening.

But he reserved most of his venom for me. One afternoon, a man from a nearby boat asked if we had any trash to go ashore. There were two near-empty paint cans on deck. I didn’t know if our penny-pinching father, who squeezed every molecule from a toothpaste tube, wanted to keep them.

I called out to Gary. “Does Dad want these cans tossed out?”

Gary sneered. “No, we’re going to hang them on the lifelines for decoration.”

“A simple ‘yes’ would have sufficed.”

“You ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer.”

A few days later, we were alone on the boat, stowing supplies in the galley. He made a comment I didn’t understand, and I asked him to clarify it.

“Can’t you even understand plain English?” he said.

I glared at him for a moment before saying, “You know, I’ve had enough of your horseshit.”

He flashed his patented smirk. “What are you going to do, just stand there like a big gorilla?”

Years of Gary’s sarcasm and put-downs spilled into my mind. In the weeks and months to come, it would only get worse—emotions amplified by the cramped space and lack of privacy aboard the boat. At that moment I knew I could not go on the trip. My parents wanted, and deserved, a pleasant voyage, not a running battle between bickering children. One of us had to leave. Gary would not go voluntarily, and Dad would not—could not—choose between his sons. That left me to make the sacrifice. Bile rose in my throat as anger seared within.

I lunged at Gary. Grabbed a handful of shirt. Slammed him against a bulkhead, fist cocked. “What do you have to say now, smart-ass?”

He flinched, his eyes wide with fear. I scoffed, recalling his boasts of being a karate expert as he peacocked in his gi. After savoring his cower for a moment, I let him go—just as I had done when we fought as boys. But my decision had been made.

I gazed through the taxi’s window at Tahiti’s verdant foliage, which seemed to mock my parents’ fate. Gary and I needed to make our peace for the sake of family unity, not to mention our individual sanity. Dad’s grand plan hadn’t worked out. But in the wake of his and Mom’s deaths, perhaps that goal of uniting our family could be achieved, at least in part, as we children gave each other the emotional support we needed.

I vowed to make it happen.

The driver broke my reverie as the taxi lurched to a stop at the hospital. My spirits flagged at the sight of the aging, run-down building. What kind of care could this place provide? Inside, a dim light suffused sleepy corridors. A lone janitor mopped the floor. Not a medical professional in sight.

“Kerry Edwards? American?” I inquired.

The aging Tahitian’s sad eyes directed me down the hall. I peeked through open doors into the rooms I passed, hoping for a glimpse of my sister. Dark-skinned women, half-dozing in chairs, shot me menacing looks. The church-run facility served the poor and itinerant.

I found Kerry asleep in the end room and tiptoed inside. The space stretched long and narrow, with four beds placed evenly like piers in a dockyard. Kerry lay in the first bed; she had a bandage above her right eye. Lori Oskam lay fully clothed atop the bed next to Kerry’s. The other two beds sat empty. A bathroom cubicle occupied a corner at the exterior wall. Thick air hung heavy with institutional distaste, the room’s walls coated with the apparently universal green pastel.

At the far end of the room, a door to a patio and garden stood ajar. Through the adjacent window I saw bright-colored birds flit among broad green leaves of plants I’d seen only in pictures. The birds’ piercing scolds mimicked my mood. A Tahitian woman cradling a child in her arms stepped into view, then retreated. Like the birds, she paid us no mind.

Lori’s eyes fluttered open. As recognition sank in, she sat up and I moved toward her. She wrapped her arms around my neck, pulling me close in a desperate embrace. “I’m so glad to see you,” she said. “It’s been an unbe­liev­able nightmare.”

“I know. Now we need to get you two safely home.”

She stood and I stepped back to examine her. She’d always been thin, but she had acquired an almost emaciated look. A tank-top drooped from boney shoulders, her long hair and ankle-length skirt accentuating the effect. She looked more than exhausted; she looked frightened. “How are you doing?” I asked.

Her eyes misted over. “Not too good.”

We sat on the bed and I extended an arm across her shoulders. “Are you hurt, too?”

“No, I’m here to help with Kerry. There aren’t enough nurses.”

“How’s she doing?”

Lori stared at Kerry before answering. “She has a fractured skull.”

An ache formed in my own head. “Shit.”

Lori told me they only learned of the fractured left temple from X-rays taken at the hospital. On the boat, Kerry had complained about the wound, but Mom thought the cut over her eye was more serious because it had bled so much. The doctors wanted to operate, but Kerry had said no. She’d wait until she got home.

From the looks of the hospital, I didn’t blame her. But was it safe to travel?

“The doctor says it’s OK,” Lori said. “I talked to my dad last night, and he’s getting tickets for us to fly home on Wednesday.”

I glanced at Kerry. An IV tube snaked like a power cord from her forearm, but its infusion of energy appeared minimal. Her chest rose almost imper­ceptibly under the loose-fitting hospital gown.

Lori explained that Gary had stayed with the boat at Rangiroa, an island northeast of Tahiti. The Spellbound had been directed there after the crew of an airplane spotted the boat adrift north of the island.

Despite keeping our voices at a whisper, Kerry’s eyes opened, fearful and disoriented. They softened as they fastened on Lori, then me. I leaned over to hug her, but she held up a restraining hand.

“I want to,” she said, “but—” She gestured at her head.

I squeezed her hands instead and neither of us spoke for a moment. Her blondish hair, in need of a wash, splayed across pillows that propped her into a half-sitting position. Her blue eyes were sunken and dull. She, too, looked thinner than I remembered. From the tray next to the bed, she picked up a glass and sipped some water.

“These past few days have been hell for you,” I said.

She nodded, dabbing her eyes.

“Are you sure you want to go home right away? Head injuries are nothing to fool around with.”

She nodded. “I don’t want to leave here like Frankenstein’s monster.”

Jody Edwards christens the Spellbound

Jody Edwards christens the Spellbound.

I stifled a laugh. Her skull might be cracked, but it had not softened her tongue. “I’m going out front to see if anyone has showed up for work yet,” I said. “I need to make arrangements for Mom and Dad’s bodies.”

Kerry and Lori glanced at each other. Kerry swallowed.

“What?” I asked.

“They’re not here,” Kerry said.

“Aunt Vivian told me . . .”

She turned her head toward the window. “They were buried at sea.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Gary said that was the best thing to do. That the bodies were decom­posing.”

I stared at her as my mind wedged this new piece of information into the expanding puzzle of my parents’ demise.

Kerry’s face reddened. “Gary took care of it. He wouldn’t let us look at them. He said it would be too shocking. So Lori and I stayed in the cabin. It was hotter than hell, and we were lost, and we didn’t know how long it would be before we got to an island.”

“And that was it?” I asked, my voice rising. “He just tossed them over the side like bags of garbage?”

Kerry covered her face with her hands. “Don’t yell at me, Larry. There was nothing we could do.”

I took a deep breath, then spoke in a calmer tone. “Did you catch the tail end of that typhoon?”

Kerry shook her head, wiping away more tears. “No, there wasn’t much wind. That’s why we were motoring. Dad wanted to get to Tahiti as fast as possible so he could fly home and see Grandpa Edwards.”

“Then how’d you get hit by the boom?”

“I didn’t.”

“But Gary said—”

“I know, but that’s not what happened.”

“Then what—”

Kerry lowered her voice to a whisper. “I don’t remember. I must have gotten up to get some water, then fallen and hit my head on the corner of a cabinet or something. All I remember is laying down on the settee to go to sleep and then waking up with my head hurting like hell and I couldn’t breathe.”

“You were knocked unconscious?”

“I think so, but I don’t know for how long.” She said no one else had seen or heard anything. It had been dark and everyone but Gary was asleep. “He was outside steering the boat. And you know how loud that engine is.”

“Don’t I though,” I said. “How’d you get back to the settee?”

“I guess I crawled back and just don’t remember it. The doctor said I have a concussion.”

My skin tingled in alarm. “So Dad was still OK at that point?”

“Yeah, he got hurt a little later when he fell.”

“He wasn’t hit by the boom, either?”

She shook her head, then uttered a soft moan.

“Were there big seas?”

“I only know what Gary told me. I was in the cabin, and Mom was with me, and Lori was asleep. He said Dad was stepping up onto the deck and then lost his balance and fell over backward.”

“Why didn’t Gary say that in the first place?”

“You’ll have to ask him.”

I looked away. Outside, a gust of wind rustled the wide leaves of what looked like a banana tree; rain spattered the window. Lori stood and walked to the bathroom.

I asked Kerry, “What happened to Mom?”

She swallowed again, hesitating before responding. “She . . . she killed herself.”

“But Gary said . . .”

I gazed unseeing at the wall behind the beds, conscious of my shallow breathing and pounding heartbeat. I had pictured a battered and wind-blown Spellbound pitching and rolling in heavy seas, the decks awash, the main boom swinging out of control, as they all fought for their lives. But as I heard a story so different, my mind raced to catch up, to assemble the jumble of pieces into a coherent picture.

“It doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“For the second time, her husband had been killed in an accident.”

“Still . . . with you hurt. Was she despondent? Did she leave a note?”

“No note, and she seemed all right, under the circumstances. She told me and Lori that everything would be OK. That we’d get to Tahiti and sell the boat and fly home.”

“Something changed.”

She spoke without inflection, like an actor in a B movie. “Obviously she was upset about Dad, and having his body—”

“Did she overdose on painkillers?” I asked.

Kerry gazed out the window. “Gun.”

“She shot herself?”

Still looking away from me, Kerry nodded.

“Where?”

“In the head, where do you think?”

“I mean where on the boat?”

“In the cockpit. She was steering.”

“Not in their cabin?”

“I just said she was in the cockpit, didn’t I?”

“Where were you?”

“I was laying on the settee, and Lori was in the galley,” Kerry said. “Gary was on deck, reading or something. I heard a gunshot, and I jumped up and looked out the window. Mom’s face was covered in blood. Gary said he found the gun next to her.”

“The shotgun?”

“His pistol.”

I stared at her, incredulous. “How’d she get hold of that?”

“I don’t know! Why are you picking on me? You’re acting like I did some­thing wrong.”

“I’m just trying to make sense of it. First you, then Dad, then Mom . . .”

I paced the length of the room. At the rear door, I stepped outside and gulped the moist air. The smattering of rain had turned into a downpour and drummed a battle march on broad leaves.

After a moment, I returned to the room as Lori stepped out of the bath­room. “This is unbelievable,” I said. “There’s no way Mom killed herself, especially with a gun.”

“She had told me she might leave the boat when it reached Papeete,” Lori said.

“What?”

“Because of Gary.”

Hands clenched, I started to swing a fist at the wall, then spotted a small wastebasket and kicked it instead. The scapegoat arced toward the interior doorway, then smacked to the floor as three uniformed men entered the room. Two were middle-aged and appeared to be of European descent, the third a young, tawny-skinned Tahitian. Scenes of Casablanca flickered through my mind. The lead man looked at the wastebasket, then at me, his lips pursed. He issued a command in French.

I shrugged and shook my head. Frenchy repeated his command to the Tahitian, who translated it into English. He identified the speaker as Lieutenant Something-or-other and interpreted the ensuing exchange:

“You must leave,” the lieutenant said.

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

“Who are you?”

“Larry Edwards, Kerry’s brother.”

“We must talk to Kerry—alone,” he said and turned to Lori. “You are Lori Oskam?”

She nodded.

“You must leave also.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“It is an investigation. It will be explained later.” When I didn’t move, he raised his voice and waved toward the door. “Go! Report to the Gendarmerie at four o’clock.”

I glared at the man for a moment, then said to Kerry, “We’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Tears moistened her eyes; fear incised her face.

Lori and I left the room. In the corridor, she leaned against the wall and sobbed. “I’m so scared,” she said.

I put a hand on her shoulder. “All you have to do is tell the truth.”


Read other excerpts from the book:
Author's Note
Chapter 1 excerpt
Chapter 2 excerpt
Chapter 2 excerpt (continued)
Chapter 3 excerpt
Chapter 4 excerpt
Chapter 16 excerpt
Chapter 28 excerpt
Chapter 32 excerpt


Release date
July 9, 2013

Marking the 35th anniversary year
of the deaths of Loren and Jody Edwards

The book will be available for purchase at Amazon.com,
Barnes & Noble, and other retail outlets.

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If you want an autographed copy and/or advance copy,
visit the Buy the Book page for details.

    Copyright © 2012-, Larry M Edwards