The isolation of the dimly lit parking lot behind my Seattle apartment building had always seemed bleak and foreboding. It loomed at the bottom of a hill bordering a marshy area of Portage Bay, too far from the street for anyone to hear a call for help late at night when I usually arrived home from work.
I didn’t know Janice Ott well. She was a relatively new employee, a juvenile probation caseworker at the King County Juvenile Court in Seattle. She was 23 years old, five-one and a hundred pounds. She had long blond hair and an effervescent smile. I worked in detention on the opposite side of the court system, but we both encountered some pretty tough kids. Many of the employees, including me, had received death threats at one time or another, threats from people who were more than capable of doing the job. Janice’s disappearance left many of us wondering if one of the juvenile offenders had killed her.
As I got out of the car all I could hear was water lapping the shore and a breeze agitating the cattails. I hurried across the parking lot and opened the basement door. Before me, masked in shadows, was a long, windowless hallway with another door at the far end. Every step I took hiked the needling tension on the nape of my neck. As I opened the second door, I heard the first slam shut. Somebody was following me.
I ran. Up the stairs. Kept running until I was inside my apartment. My back pressed against the locked door as my heart slammed against my ribs. It wasn’t until my pulse slowed and my mind cleared that I realized I hadn’t heard footsteps behind me, only the door slamming. That’s when I realized it was not a killer stalking me but the wind sucking the first door closed. I felt like a complete wuss.
|Composite sketch of "Ted"|
On September 7, 1974, two months after her disappearance, the skeletal remains of Janice, Denise and another victim were found in a wooded area approximately two miles from Lake Sammamish. After that a more potent fear replaced the first, because a serial killer was hunting young women who looked a lot like me in places I had often visited. For a long time after that, every man driving a VW Beetle was suspect. Every set of footsteps, echoing behind me late at night seemed sinister. I became less inclined to help strangers or even engage with them in conversation.
All these years after Janice’s murder, I still think about her, can still envision her walking down the hallway of the court with a bounce in her step and a sweet smile on her face. And I still wonder if Ted Bundy had approached me on the beach that day with a cast on his arm and a disarming smile, asking me to help him load a boat onto his car, would I have gone with him? I’d like to think I would have been the one who said no, but I can’t be sure and that will haunt me for the rest of my days.
On Monday, May 31st, I was again reminded of the tragedy of Janice’s death when Elliot Rodger, another disturbed young man, went on a rampage, murdering several young people near Santa Barbara, California. I thought of the obvious victims of this mass murder, those who died, those devastated family members and close friends left to wonder how this could have happened and why nobody had the power to stop it from happening. But there will be others, as well, those who knew the victims, perhaps not well, but well enough to forever be haunted by the events of that horrible day, those left to wonder how it was that they walked away alive.
As a writer, I also think about these events in relation to the characters I create. What wounds from my character's past make up the fears and expectations of the fictional present? As Sidley Lumet once said: “All good work requires self-revelation.” If true, I have more than enough material to fill several more books.