tagged murder

Last year, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with a woman by the name of Kay Weden. In 1993, she was a school teacher in Salisbury, North Carolina who was simply living her life, going to work and raising a teenage son, Jason, on her own. She was very close with her mother, who she regularly visited and you would think her life would be fairly straight forward. In December of 1993, her life veered off into a direction she would take decades to straighten out.

Earlier in 1993, Kay had been dating a local police officer, L.C. Underwood, who was introduced to her by a neighbor. When their relationship fell apart, he became enraged to the degree that he constantly stalked Kay and threatened her well-being. He let her know if she tried to tell anyone about it, no one would believe her because he was a cop. The level of intimidation and manipulation was hard to bear. Then, on December 9th, 1993, L.C. Underwood killed Kay's mother in cold blood. What Kay didn't realize at the time, was L.C. Underwood had also killed her current boyfriend, Viktor Gunnarson, a Swedish national who had moved to the area. It would take months to locate Viktor's body and in the meantime, L.C. Underwood engaged in a terror campaign against Kay and Jason Weden that changed their view of life permanently.

For whatever kismet there is in the world, I happened to contact Kay just after L.C. Underwood died in prison of cancer. To his dying day, he was unrelenting in his threats against Kay and Jason and unapologetic for his crimes. He even tried to engage conspiracy theorists to believe Viktor Gunnarson was responsible for the crimes. The responsibility rested firmly with L.C. Underwood and retired police chief, Paula May, knows that for a fact. She recently wrote a book about the story, First Degree Rage: https://wildbluepress.com/first-degree-rage-paula-may-true-crime/. Her amazing work and Kay and Jason's incredible resilience are a credit to the survival of the human spirit.

I had the privilege of speaking with Paula, Kay and Jason during interviews for the series Dead of Winter on Investigation Discovery: https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/tv-shows/dead-of-winter/full-episodes/cold-blue. At the time Kay and Jason were estranged - he blamed her for dating men who basically ruined their lives. It was only when L.C. Underwood was dead and the two of them could unite for the production, that each relaxed and looked at their situation with clarity. Kay was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. If it wasn't Kay who was in L.C. Underwood's sites, some other naive and loving woman would have paid the price. If anything, this was a lesson in not ignoring red flags and listening to your gut when you know someone is behaving badly. Sadly, love can be blind for all of us in those situations.

This story went straight for my heart and I felt a great amount of compassion for everyone involved. I kept in touch with Kay and learned during last year, Jason and his wife - after almost 20 years together - decided to start a family. They now have a lovely little girl, Olivia, who is the light of their lives. Today the Wedens have some sense of peace - the peace they deserved all along.

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.