My editor approved the time and expense that my investigation would entail and thought it could be presented as a weekly “human interest” story.
I didn’t look closely at the list. I just did a quick scan and randomly put a check-mark beside five names.
I didn’t know what I was going to find but what I expected to find was normal everyday people, living normal everyday lives, cut short by a tragic event.
It was going to be a long, tedious procedure and in order to obtain information, some of it long ago tucked away in the archives of the courthouse, I was prepared to use any means available. That’s what a good reporter does.
Those tactics could range anywhere from pretending to be a “newby” cub reporter to wooing everybody with my innocent and irresistible Southern boy-like charm.
When I was just a “pup,” my daddy said “son, don’t just be nice to the pretty ones. Be nice to the ugly ones, too. They’re so desperate for attention, they’ll give you anything you want. They’ll even break rules if you make them feel special.”
He was right and although I didn’t necessarily echo his particular sentiments, I did find his advice to be helpful. I quickly discovered which employees would succumb to a wink and a toothy smile and I knew which ones would fall for any form of hollow flattery.
Armed with time, an expense account, a notepad, a pen and the house wine of the South, I began pouring over documents. Day after day after day, I scoured the catacombs of microfiche, yellowed with age and the warped and torn pages of heavy, dusty binders.
“My five,” as I came to call them, had lives and stories and I was going to tell them. I was still questioning the “whys” and I constantly reminded myself of Reverend Smythes’ belief that “we all leave a mark. We all leave a legacy.”
Whether remarkable or insignificant, these people had once lived and had left a mark.
These are their stories.
The first name on my list was Joshua Beacham, a 31-year-old man from Hickory, North Carolina.
Mr. Beacham had recently left his home town of Hickory and settled in Goose Neck Hollow, Kentucky. Why he was going to Las Vegas is anybody’s guess.
Tax records showed that he drifted from job to job, mostly involving manual labor. I could find no evidence of him ever having been married, divorced or siring any children, however I did find an arrest record from just one year earlier.
Most of it had been redacted, with the exception of the date, city and state of the infraction and the final verdict, which stated the charges had been dismissed. I checked the microfiche of the local newspaper in Hickory and found that days’ edition of the newspaper.
Sometimes, you regret looking too closely into somebodys’ past and this was one of those times. What I discovered, literally made my blood run cold.
According to reports, Mr. Beacham had savagely raped and murdered an eight-year-old girl from his neighborhood. He had been seen following her home from school in his car and was the prime suspect when she disappeared.
They found her broken little body in the woods adjacent to his house and a manhunt ensued. When he was stopped by the police, they found her clothes and bloody underwear in the truck of his car.
While on trial, his attorney brought forth the fact that the arresting officers had not asked permission to open the trunk, which constituted illegal search and seizure. Therefore, the evidence was inadmissible. Without that evidence, there was not enough to convict. The judge reluctantly concurred and the case was dismissed.
Mr. Beacham smiled at her parents as he walked out of the courtroom, a free man.
•As a reporter, I am supposed to be unbiased. I am never supposed to vocalize an opinion but I found myself struggling with wanting to end this segment of the story by applying a disgraceful epithet to this monsters’ name and delighting in the fact that his body had been justifiably torn apart.•
Matt Perkins was a 37-year-old man who hailed from Nashville, Tennessee. He was the top salesman for The Royal Typewriter Company. He was on his way to Las Vegas to promote the newest model called the “Royal Skylark.” He had snagged an audience with the publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, probably hoping to persuade him to equip the newsroom with the newest electric typewriters.
He was married and had three daughters, aged 10, 12 and 14. By all accounts, he was a regular Joe. He paid his taxes, was an attentive husband and father and enjoyed his work. He was highly thought of around his hometown and was liked by his friends and colleagues.
I ran across an anecdote quoted in his hometown paper, as told by his boss at the funeral.
“Matt Perkins was beyond excited about the new Royal Skylark. It had some weight to it and apparently not realizing this, he dropped the prototype he was to take to Las Vegas and broke it into several pieces.”
“A quick call to the company guaranteed another one would be waiting for him at his hotel.” His boss’ voice cracked when he said “before he left for the airport, I told him it was a good thing he wasn’t going to be carrying the typewriter on the plane with him. You might drop it and make the plane crash.”
If his boss felt somehow responsible, he didn’t voice that belief nor did anybody else. Still, that phrase “you might drop it and make the plane crash” had to weigh heavy on his mind.
•I’m sure Reverend Smythe would dismiss any feelings of responsibility and offer a platitude along the lines of “it was just his time to be called home.”
And he would say that it wasn’t up to me to question why God would take a loving husband and father away from his family. He would say that but I could not justify to any degree, the death of this obviously good man.•
To be continued________________