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Authors: Kathryn Harrison

Tags: #True Crime, #General, #Nonfiction

While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family

BOOK: While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family
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CONTENTS

TITLE PAGE

DEDICATION

PRELUDE

I LEARN ABOUT THE GILLEY FAMILY MURDERS TEN YEARS

I BEFORE

ON THE MORNING OF THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 1984...

THE STORY OF THE GILLEY FAMILY BEGINS WITH AN ILL-ADVISED...

ARTICULATE, POISED, THE THIRTY-SEVEN-YEAR-OLD...

WHILE BILLY AND JODY WERE TALKING IN JODYS BEDROOM...

LAS VEGAS PRESENTED THE NEWLY WEDDED LINDA...

JODY REMEMBERS THAT THE ISSUE OF HER PUNISHMENT...

THE SNAKE RIVER CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION, WHERE...

JODY AND I VISIT MEDFORD IN EARLY AUTUMN, WHEN...

THE EARLIEST RECORDED COMMENTS ON BILLY’S...

“HE SHOULD HAVE GONE TO MACLAREN,” JODY SAYS...

“MR. GILLEY,” DR. MALETZKY REPRISED FROM HIS...

JODY LET HER GO. HALF ASLEEP, SHE DIDN’T TRY TO...

THE PICTURE I’VE LONG CARRIED IN MY MIND, OF...

“CONING MONEY,” BILLY SAYS WHEN I ASK HOW HIS...

IN MEDFORD, JODY GUIDES ME THROUGH HER CHILDHOOD...

IN THE FALL OF 1977, BILLY ENTERED SIXTH GRADE...

I ASK THAD GUYER, THE LEGAL AID ATTORNEY WHO...

SHE WAS AFRAIDSO AFRAID SHE COULDN’T MOVE...

JULY 14, 1978. OCTOBER 9, 1979. APRIL 15, JUNE 23,...

“AS WE EXITED THE HOUSE THAT NIGHT,” JODY STATED...

THE EARLY HOURS OF APRIL 27, 1984, WERE UNUSUALLY...

“HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU RUN AWAY?” I ASK BILLY...

BILLY “PICKED UP SOME CIGARETTES AT A 7-ELEVEN...

“WE GOT THE CALL AT 3:10 IN THE MORNING,” TESTIFIED...

“I’M CONVINCED THE NIGHT OF HER DEATH WAS THE...

II AFTER

“I MET JODY WHEN SHE CAME INTO THE LEGAL AID...

“I REMEMBER BEING SHOCKED WHEN I GOT THE INDICTMENT,”...

UPON HER ARRIVAL AT PROVIDENCE HOSPITAL, BECKY...

A MONTH AFTER MY VISIT TO THE SNAKE RIVER...

IN JAIL FOLLOWING THE MURDERS, IN THOSE MOMENTS...

AFTER THE FUNERAL, THAD GUYER TOOK JODY HOME...

IT WOULD BE HARD TO FIND TWO LESS SIMILAR APPROACHES...

THE COMPLEXITY OF BILLY’S FEELINGS ABOUT HIS...

“WHAT’S MISSING?” I ASK JODY IN AN E-MAIL DATED...

ON WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 1984, BILLY WENT ON...

“WHEN I FIRST ARRIVED IN PRISON, I WANTED NOTHING...

BILLY WON’T TALK ABOUT BECKY, NOT REALLY. SHE’S...

BY THE SUMMER OF 1992, JODY, WHO HAD EARNED...

EARLY IN 2007, JODY E-MAILS ME. SHE’LL BE IN NEW...

FOR A LONG TIME I UNDERSTAND MY PURSUIT OF THE...

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A NOTE FROM JODY ARLINGTON

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ALSO BY KATHRYN HARRISON

COPYRIGHT

For Binky

A
T
2:51
ON THE MORNING OF FRIDAY, APRIL
27, 1984, the communications center for Jackson County, Oregon, took the following emergency call. All such calls are recorded; the excerpt below was transcribed from a recording. At certain points, the communications center operator (911) is speaking with the caller and, on a separate line, with the Oregon State Police (OSP).

MALE:
Hello? Hello? The neighbor girl from over on—
911:
Address?
MALE:
Eleven thirty-two Rossanley Drive.
911:
Uh-huh.
MALE:
The neighbor girl from over on Ross Lane is here, and she, she thinks that her brother has beaten her parents with a baseball bat.
911:
Can I talk to her?
MALE:
Uh, well, I don’t know if she can talk or not or—
911:
How old is she?
MALE:
Uh, fifteen. Sixteen.
911:
Well, could you tell her this here is the Sheriff’s Office and see if maybe I can talk with her?
MALE:
Yeah, okay. Hang on just a minute.
911:
We got a sixteen-year-old at a neighbor’s house says her brother beat her parents with a baseball bat.
OSP:
Okay, this is one at the dispatch—
911:
Sir?
GIRL:
Hello?
911:
Hi.
GIRL:
Hi.
911:
Can I help you? What’s the matter?
GIRL:
My brother beat my mom and dad and sister to death with a baseball bat.
911:
What’s the address?
GIRL:
Fourteen fifty-two Ross Lane.
911:
When did he do this?
GIRL:
Uh, I don’t know when he did my mom and dad, but he did my sister about thirty minutes ago.
911:
Were you home?
GIRL:
I was upstairs in the bed. (
Crying
) I…
911:
Are you sure they’re dead?
GIRL:
I’m pretty sure they are. I didn’t look at them. I couldn’t.
911:
Okay. What’s your name?
GIRL:
Jody Gilley.
911:
Jody Gilley—G-I-L-L-E-Y?
GIRL:
Yes.
911:
Okay, Jody, what’s your phone number at home?
GIRL:
Don’t call there.
911:
I won’t call there.
GIRL:
Seven seven three—
911:
Uh-huh.
GIRL:
Three three oh eight.
911:
Okay. What’s your middle initial, Jody?
GIRL:
L.
911:
And what’s the phone number there that you’re calling from?
GIRL:
Seven seven nine—
911:
Uh-huh—
GIRL:
Three one oh eight.
911:
What’s your brother’s name?
GIRL:
Billy.
911:
How old is he?
GIRL:
He’s eighteen.
911:
Is his the same last name?
GIRL:
Yes.
911:
Just a minute. (
Inaudible; receiver is covered.
) When did he do your parents? Do you know?
GIRL:
I don’t know. I was just in my bed and my light, my light switch is downstairs and they flipped it on and my brother and sister came up. And he told her to stay there. And then he went down. I didn’t, I’d just woken up, I didn’t know what…
911:
Uh-huh.
GIRL:
…was going on. Then my sister followed him down and I heard her screaming and I heard a pounding (
crying
).
911:
And did you go down?
GIRL:
No. He came up. He had blood all over him and he said they were all dead.
911:
Did he leave?
GIRL:
Well, I was afraid and so I just went along with him and he brought me over here, and we, we were over here and he left.
911:
Does he have a car?
GIRL:
He’s in my dad’s Ranchero.
911:
Ranchero. What color?
GIRL:
It’s blue.
911:
Which way did he go?
GIRL:
I think he—he said he was gonna go get a pack of cigarettes and then go home.
911:
Okay. Just a second, Jody. Hang on, okay?
GIRL:
Okay.
911:
We got a possible homicide—
OSP:
Oh boy.
911:
—at one four five two Ross Lane.
OSP:
Ross Lane?
911:
Want me to tell you what happened. I have a sixteen-year-old girl on the phone and she said she was up sleeping and her brother and sister came upstairs and her brother’s eighteen years old, and he told her sister to stay up there and that he was, something was wrong with the parents, and the sister didn’t stay up there, she followed him downstairs, and the girl that I have on the phone heard her screaming, and a couple minutes later the boy came up and he had blood all over him and he said they were all dead—his mom, his dad, and the sister. And he had blood all over him. He took her over to the neighbor’s house. She’s at one one three two Rossanley right now.
OSP:
Eleven thirty-two Rossanley?
911:
Uh-huh. She said the brother is in a blue Ranchero and he left and said he was gonna go to the store and then he was gonna go back home.
OSP:
Blue Ranchero.
911:
And he’s eighteen years old. His name is Billy Gilley.
OSP:
Billy…
911:
G-I-L-L-E-Y.
OSP:
G-I-L-L-E-Y.
911:
Um-huh.
OSP:
The parents are downstairs, dead, at this time?
911:
Um-huh. And the sister. Do you want us to get Medford Ambulance to go and stand by somewhere close?
OSP:
Yeah, you might. Let me get some patrols going.
911:
Okay.
OSP:
I’m gonna go ahead and have them contact the scene and then I’ll send one over to the—
911:
Jody?
GIRL:
Yeah?
911:
Okay, we have State Police on the way. I want you to stay right there and I’m gonna stay on the phone with you. Okay?
GIRL:
Okay.
911:
Just a second. Your brother lives at home with you?
GIRL:
Yes.
911:
Okay. Do you know what store he might go to?
GIRL:
He’d a probably went to 7-Eleven.
911:
(
With receiver covered
) She said he’d probably gonna go to 7-Eleven.
(
With receiver uncovered
) Okay. How long is this been?
GIRL:
It…it was about five, six minutes. Ten minutes.
911:
(
With receiver covered
) He left about five to ten minutes ago. She said he’d probably go to 7-Eleven and then go home. She said he was gonna go home after he went to the store and got some cigarettes. (
With receiver uncovered
) Okay, Jody?
GIRL:
Yeah.
911:
Does your brother not like your parents or something?
GIRL:
I guess.
911:
Do you know why he would do something like this?
GIRL:
I don’t know. I mean, there’s been a lot…we have had a lot of, um, family problems, but I never think anything bad enough to actually kill ’em.
911:
Okay. Has, has he ever been violent before or anything?
GIRL:
Have they?
911:
Has Billy?
GIRL:
Billy. Oh, well, yeah, he can be.
911:
Was he on any drugs or has he been drinking?
GIRL:
I don’t know if he’s on drugs or not.
911:
Okay.
GIRL:
But there’s guns at home and I’m afraid he’s gonna come over here.
911:
There are guns at home?
GIRL:
Yes. There’s two pistol[s] and a rifle.

I
LEARN ABOUT THE GILLEY FAMILY MURDERS TEN
years before I contact Jody. A friend of mine tells me about the case. She doesn’t say much, only that Jody’s brother killed the rest of their family while they were sleeping; that he did it because he loved Jody and hoped or believed or maybe just wished that afterward the two of them would run away together—to Reno, Nevada, my friend thinks it was. They were going to take the family car, leave their childhood home, and never return.

That’s all my friend says, that’s all she knows, and for ten years I ponder those few things: the murders, the crazy brother, the failed escape. I forget them sometimes, but never for long, and over time the story of the Gilley family, the little I know about it, resolves into what’s more of a picture than an unfolding drama. I never embellish the scene. I don’t know how, or I can’t. The magnitude of the crime, of a tragedy that belongs to other people, not to me, makes it sacrosanct; it prevents me from taking license with what I’ve been told. Instead, my preoccupation wears it down to an essence, just as years of handling might erase details from the profile on a coin. I don’t have a face for the boy or the girl. I don’t see the house or the bodies within, the blood. All I see is the lateness of the hour and the silhouetted heads of two teenagers in a car, leaving the dead behind.

Sometimes I imagine headlights shining into the dark in front of them, but the two beams reveal only blackness. I—they—can’t see what’s ahead. What I have is just the barest idea, like a single frame taken from a film, of two teenagers—children, really, sixteen, eighteen—driving away into the night. Driving away from what most people consider impossible, an impossibly violent crime. And one that is, of course, not possible to leave behind.

Is the scene sexual? It feels that way. Not overtly, but even if the brother and sister aren’t lovers, even if one never touches the other, still, when I linger at this scene, one assembled from fragments of another woman’s past—alleged fragments at that, gossip, unsubstantiated—when I linger, I find it has a forbidden, sexual charge. Because my friend used the word
love
? Because she said that’s why Jody’s brother did it, out of his love for her?

Yes. Because love, murder, and running away together do imply sex. They do suggest an illicit erotic fixation.

 

We all read these stories, don’t we? In the tabloids, on the Internet, in books of “true crime”? Drawn to what we don’t understand, to examine lives darker and more desperate than our own. I’m worse than most, I imagine. A bad habit, reading about murder—this is how I explain it to myself—but it starts innocently enough. It’s 1986, and my not-yet husband brings home a copy of a magazine,
Startling Detective.
We’re graduate students studying creative writing in the Midwest. Practicing being artful, crafting good sentences, refining our ability to parse the human heart and reveal subtleties of emotion. It will amuse me, he thinks, the artlessness of the magazine.

Because there’s nothing subtle about
Startling Detective.
It’s sordid and pandering, with gruesome photographs. It cultivates voyeurism, unapologetic in its mission to exploit personal tragedy for mass-market entertainment. I’m fascinated, and he buys me more. They’re all the same, yet I don’t tire of them. In that way, they’re like pornography. In other ways, too. They reveal a need I only half understand, one that finds no answer in my waking life.

Although my dreams are often bloody: I happen on the aftermath of a crime, find signs of struggle in a ransacked room. I discover myself in the role of murderer, careless about the clues I’ve left, sure to be caught and punished. I’m the decapitated victim, dead but somehow conscious, observing how life goes on without me.

By the time the magazine folds, I’m the mother of two young children, living in New York, working hard, without much time for guilty pursuits. Still, I haven’t grown out of my taste for pulpy accounts of murder. My husband isn’t sure what to make of this—my sustained interest. Whatever it means, it’s not something he wants to encourage, so I end up browsing at our local bookstore, flipping through the true crime paperbacks, their covers splashed red and promising “16 Pages of Shocking Photos!” Even when I don’t buy a book, I study the photo insert, as predictable, and mesmerizing, as the text. First come the baby pictures, then the graduation pictures, maybe a wedding scene, a mug shot of the killer or, if he wasn’t caught, a composite drawing. And of course there are forensic photographs of the dead body, the spilled blood black where it soaked into the carpet or spread across the pavement.

It’s an addiction, true crime, easy to satisfy. There’s an endless supply of these books, just as there is of murder itself. Reading one on the subway, I make sure strangers can’t see its cover and presume my choice of diversion reveals something about me, as it undoubtedly does.

The thing about the car, the two teenagers in the car in the middle of the night, is that it doesn’t go anywhere. The situation is dire and demands flight, but I never see the car moving. I can’t. I can’t picture it—them—in motion. The headlights shine onto the road. I can make myself see the surface of the asphalt, its texture, a dashed yellow line, but the car won’t move.

It can’t, because the lives of the people in the car, the life of the girl and the life of the boy, have been stopped. There is all that came before the murders, enough presumably to provoke them, and there is after. And those two parts, before and after, how can they be put back together? They can’t, not really. So that night—the night of the murders—is separate, isolated in time. It isn’t continuous with the life that came before or what will come after. It’s the point of rupture, of division.

I know about this moment in a life. It’s something I’ve thought about: the way some lives have to be begun again.

In my own case, it wasn’t murder but a small and usually innocuous transaction between two people. What happened to me took place in public, and no one noticed. Jody knows of this moment in my life and its aftermath. I’ve written about it, and I imagine my friend mentions this when she goes to Jody on my behalf, to ask if she’s willing to talk to me. In my first e-mail to Jody, when I introduce myself to her, I identify what I assume is a connection between us, this sense of having—living—a life divided into a before and after, as part of what drives my curiosity about her and her family, and the history they shared.

 

My life stopped the week I turned twenty. It stopped when my father, whom I’d seen only twice when I was a child, suddenly reappeared. His absence had defined my girlhood. Around it I’d constructed twenty years of fantasies. I was an unworldly twenty, with little sexual experience, and I’d never escaped, or resolved, my tortured relationship with my mother, whom I loved and distrusted. I was an only child, raised by my mother’s elderly parents, because my mother insisted on living alone. I was anorexic, or I was bulimic; when I wasn’t one, I was the other. I struggled with depression, although I wasn’t sufficiently self-aware to perceive this and had never willingly seen a therapist. To offset despair, I used amphetamines.

My father, not yet forty, was a prepossessing figure, intelligent, handsome, charismatic. He was also arrogant and grandiose, and acknowledged people only insofar as they capitulated to his demands. But I didn’t see this. How could I when I refused to admit that my father had any flaws at all? Captive to my childhood fantasies, I believed they’d come true: Here he was at last, the father I’d invented for myself. The one who knew exactly what to say—that he’d loved and missed me from the moment he and my mother separated, so much that it had nearly killed him.

Immediately, and without reservation, with neither the sense nor the means to protect myself from someone who believed he existed outside the laws that bound other mortals, I fell in love with this man, this father whom I had never known. For a week we were both guests in my mother’s apartment, and at the end of this week my father kissed me good-bye, not chastely. I understood—part of me did—the future such a kiss anticipated. But I couldn’t articulate it for myself, not at twenty. I didn’t have words for what I knew, right away, when my father took my head in his hands and pushed his tongue in my mouth. That he had, in that moment, declared me his object, his property. That he’d taken me for himself and would demand my submission to whatever he wanted. That what he wanted would include sex.

 

Later, when my father insisted he couldn’t share me, that I had to choose between him and my mother, I chose him. When he forced me to choose between him and the grandparents who raised me, I betrayed them as well. When he disapproved of my boyfriend, I let the boyfriend go. Whatever my father asked of me, I did. When I dropped out of school because I couldn’t get myself to class, couldn’t think straight enough to take notes or exams, my father was not worried but pleased. Perhaps it was an unconscious wish we shared, that I could become the child he’d lost so long before, stripped of all I’d acquired growing up apart from him.

Or maybe that’s as romantic as it sounds, a conceit, and it was never about retrieving what had been taken from us. Our anger dovetailed—was that it?—and we found ourselves allied against my mother, intent on wounding her by destroying me.

I’ve struggled to figure it—myself—out. There isn’t any other subject I’ve examined with such perseverance. No interpretation, however, changes what happened.

I resisted his sexual advances. I did for as long as I could. But by then it was too late. I had no one, only him, and he wore me down.

It took four years to deliver me to the place where I saw that the person I used to call myself was gone. And all of it, all that transpired, was foretold by that first, single kiss in the Los Angeles International Airport. We were alone there, as my mother hadn’t accompanied us; she hadn’t wanted to see him off. “You’ll miss your flight,” I said when he didn’t react to a second boarding call. Instead of picking up his bag, my father moved a step closer to me and took my head in both his hands. He held me so that I couldn’t turn away, and he filled my mouth with his tongue, but he didn’t hurt me, not physically. Still, I was immediately disabled, too shocked to push his big body away from mine, too shocked to struggle, or to think, to make the words follow one another inside my head. Around us, people walked, they waved and called out to one another. Airline personnel announced delays and departures. Planes took off and landed, the high-pitched whine of their engines penetrating walls and windows. Inside myself, though, I had fallen silent.

After, when my father withdrew from me and boarded his plane, I didn’t move. His flight left, then another took off, and another. Eventually I was alone at the gate, standing where he’d left me, my hand still covering my mouth, the feel of his tongue, its muscular, wet force, still with me.

Now, remembering that girl, I wonder that she didn’t think to rinse out her mouth. To do something—anything. Would it have mattered? Perhaps. Not because what her father did could have been washed away, but had she been able to think of taking herself to the women’s room and turning on a tap, had she been able to think of anything at all, to respond in any way, then she might have been all right, she might have been strong enough to refuse her father.

Instead, she stood motionless among the travelers, everyone hurrying forward into his or her life. Everyone except for her.

 

Jody and I exchange e-mails and agree upon a time to meet, 7
P.M.
, and a restaurant where we can talk. She knows what I want from her: to see into her family’s history; to see into her brother and the people he killed; and into her. I want to know how much she has kept of her sixteen-year-old self, to learn enough about her past that I can visualize a person who no longer exists, a girl whose brother beat their family to death with a baseball bat and who wanted, then, to run away with her.

I know that the adult Jody, now thirty-seven, educated at Georgetown University and at ease among the power elite on Capitol Hill, a communications strategist who has worked with such cultural behemoths as the Kennedy Center, the American Film Institute, and Sundance Institute, must have either buried or silenced or lost the girl she was. I know this not because Jody has told me so, but her continued success in the sophisticated world she’s chosen for herself must depend on the erasure of her past, the disappearing of the girl she was at sixteen. She can be one or the other Jody, but she cannot be both. I don’t see how she can be both.

“I’m trying to understand your story,” I write in my first e-mail to Jody. “To get some kind of hold on what happened to you, and how it is that you continued in your life, when that life was violently interrupted and had to be begun again. There must be many of us whose lives have been divided into a before and after, with an accident, a death, a crime, a crisis, some moment or year or relationship that came between and changed everything. I want to see how your life moved forward from that point of division.”

BOOK: While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family
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