Killing the “closure” myth
I grew up on the edge of a World Heritage region. It’s a twisted irony that these rainforests proved an ideal place for criminals to hide their activities. Where better to dump a dead body than in a remote wilderness?
This horrible truth was discovered by two little girls, who 40 years ago found the decomposed remains of a child in the bush. Vicki Barton was an eight-year-old local, snatched from the steps of a Blue Mountains shop in 1970.
Like murdered Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe, there was a massive hunt to find the kidnapped girl. Grim-faced police spoke to us at school, well before the phrase ‘stranger-danger’ existed. Vicki’s body remained hidden for 18 months until the two girls, about Vicki’s age, made their gruesome discovery.
I recently met with one of those girls. Some 40 years on, she was still clearly haunted by the events. “Closure” is not a word that should ever be associated with murder.
We had coffee the same week Daniel Morcombe’s alleged killer was arrested. The news sent her into a spin. It strikes me that “closure” is an appropriate term for resolving the fight you had with your aunt last Christmas. “Closure” is when you find your lost dog. “Closure” is not the right word to use when talking about homicide.
I was reminded of this when Daniel Morcombe’s parents gave a painful press conference recently at the gates of their home to comment on the arrest of the alleged murderer of their son. Many of the journalists present have followed the case for years and know the Morcombes well. But one reporter; a female, more intent on scoring an easy headline-type question bluntly asked:
“So does this arrest bring some closure?”. Denise Morcombe grimaced at the word, yet politely answered: “That’s not a term we feel comfortable using”.
“Closure” is a lazy question from a reporter that’s got more training from TV shows like CSI than actually dealing with victims of crime.
As a TV news producer I covered the horrific fatal shooting of a young woman by her former boyfriend. The girl’s family prefer that I do not mention their names. The effect on the girl’s family and her surviving sister has been so devastating they have on many levels withered as human beings.
Everything about the murdered girl’s family - their views of the world, the way they walk, talk and the way they’ve campaigned for victims’ rights - has all been shaped by the brutal act of a dumped boyfriend.
On the flip-side the perpetrator’s family initially stood by their son, whose failed suicide immediately after killing his former girlfriend left him permanently injured, but his actions could never be undone. His parents, so I’m told, died broken people.
I caught up with the perpetrator about five years ago, his prison term served. He lives in secret. I wanted to do a story on him and although he declined, we spoke at length through the security wire of his front door, until he stepped out of the darkness up the the wire and finally admitted who he was.
I entered his residence, and we had small talk trying to find some common ground. We both liked David Bowie and we listened to “Wild is the Wind” as he spoke of the ‘incident’ when he shot his girlfriend at point blank range in the head.
I was hoping there might be some remorse, that he might do his best to put things right for those he’d hurt. But his eyes reflected black pools of anger for the victim and her family. I actually found myself perversely concerned for him.
As promised I haven’t revealed his past to his mates, nor have I told the girl’s family of his whereabouts. But on all counts, this killing still has all parties spiralling emotionally 20 years on. It’s been gut wrenching to witness. Zero closure for anyone concerned.
Years ago I was allowed into prison (filming with the convicted) and also spent time with many different victims of crime. Their stories, their lives and circumstances almost always seem so unfair, so random and part of the unpredictable chaos of life.
The strength of Daniel Morcombe’s parents Bruce and Denise can never be measured in normal terms. The Morcombes are giants walking among us, now educating kids about what to do when “trouble finds you”.
When I think of that reporter’s question about “closure” and how impossibly abrasive that must have been to the Morcombes, I think there is a better way to describe the grief for those left.
A victim of crime, whose partner had his throat cut, told me once that “grief is like a river; if you swim against it, fight it, you’ll get exhausted and drown. If you let grief sweep you away you’ll be overcome, but if you learn to swim with it and let it carry you along, that’s the best you can hope for.”
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