Some of the stories I cover, since I’ve been working the true crime beat for so long, have interesting coincidences. Earlier in my career, I also did some stringing work for the national news shows and one of those cases I’ll never forget.
I had been widowed just over a year before and was raising 3 children on my own. My kids were 22, 18 and 7, so were mainly able to care for themselves, in addition to a caregiver we had to take care of my 7-year old who has autism. The first production I went back onto in September of 2010 was My Strange Addiction for TLC, but one of the next assignments I got one dark, cold, snowy evening was from Good Morning America.
They wanted me to drive out to the small town of Hartford, Michigan from where I lived in Chicago to cover the story of a mother who was missing from her home where she had two small children. Her husband, James, had sounded alarm bells that resonated with the national media and soon Hartford would be overwhelmed with satellite trucks and hungry producers. But I was the first person to arrive on the scene at 10pm.
Driving through Michigan was death-defying: they grit their roads instead of salting them, so the ice doesn’t melt, it simply has more traction. Skidding all the way into town, I found myself driving in Hartford on gravel roads. The first location I went to was a neighbor. Her house was nicely apportioned and we talked over the kitchen table. She had no idea how her neighbor had disappeared. I asked if drugs were involved, since I knew a lot of small towns in the Midwest had issues with methamphetamine. You can usually tell by the quality of someone’s hair and teeth if they are using heavily (not to mention they seem insane…). That wasn’t an issue. This was a dedicated mother – all the more scary she hadn’t been home to pick up her young children from the school bus the day before. Good Morning America wanted to cover the story early the next morning, so I got as many details as I could and tried to get to sleep at a local hotel.
It was impossible. My phone kept ringing all night long. Both ABC in New York and Los Angeles wanted constant communication about what was going to be possible with the father and two children the next morning. When I finally headed to the family’s house at 7am, my head hurt.
When I arrived, other members of the media were already there and talking with the husband, James. My phone continued ringing: get an interview with him and the kids. They wanted a scoop. They were willing to pay. I looked at the photos of this family in happier times and saw the bereft husband in front of me and my heart stood still. I was reeling from the pain of my own loss and the thought that this man was going through something similar made me extremely cautious. I got to experience my craziest days in private. This family was being outed in public. I knew from experience that trying to mitigate the pain of a child losing a parent is almost impossible, especially when it’s fresh. As many calls as I got from ABC, I could not bring myself to ask the man to interview his children. I had no idea how the story was going to end up – I could not be sure she didn’t leave voluntarily – but through all of my experiences, things were not going to end well.
I left Hartford after receiving an email from ABC saying that CBS had gotten the scoop. They were furious. I asked if they wanted anything else and they said we were good to go. So I drove back to Chicago without knowing how things resolved.
That night, I read that the mother of these two young children had been kidnapped by the father’s cousin and taken into the woods, where she was shot mercilessly. Having been at her house, having seen her during happier times, after seeing her husband’s distress, I got what people in our field call vicarious trauma. I didn’t know them personally, but I related to them so much, it was as if I was suffering their loss.
Fast forward 8 years and I’m at my desk receiving an assignment from a production company I work for. It's the case of murderer Junior Beebe, Jr and his victim, Amy Henslee. I live in New York. I’m a world away from my life as a widowed, single mother. I’m remarried and settled. But I remember the names and the story like yesterday. So I call Amy's husband, James Henslee and let him know what he couldn’t have 8 years before: that I had been widowed and he was my first stringing assignment after my husband died. I related to him and his family and wanted to know how everyone was doing.
Eight years later almost to the day, James arrived in New York with his girlfriend for an on-camera interview with me. His young sons are now in high school and college. He has twin boys with his girlfriend. I was so happy for him and for me: we made it through the storm alive and sane.
Over two days we talked about what really happened. I read the police reports and saw the crime scene photos. What a catastrophe.
The man responsible, Junior Beebe, Jr. was sent to jail for the rest of his life. James and his sons will never be the same. Since the perpetrator was a cousin, James’ entire family had to do some major soul-searching. His late wife’s family is forever grieving the loss. The community will never forget it. Murder is a cruel, cruel thing on every level.