Transcript

342:

How to Rest in Peace
Transcript

Originally aired 11.02.2007

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/342

Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, this is one of those things that you probably have never heard, and then as soon as somebody tells you, you're like, right, of course. You know how murder figures into so much of American pop culture? On crime shows, and thrillers, and video games and all kinds of stuff. Well, if you knew somebody who actually got murdered, it turns out you might not be into that stuff so much.

Rachel Howard

I can't watch Law & Order. Not going to watch Law & Order or play Clue, or go to a murder mystery dinner theater.

Ira Glass

Rachel Howard's dad was killed when she was 10. And as an adult she's met a lot of people whose family members were killed. Though she says that some of them love shows like CSI and Murder She Wrote, any kind of murder show, officially, organizations like the group Parents of Murdered Children, take a stand against murder as entertainment.

Rachel Howard

You know, at the Parents of Murdered Children Conference, they have certain presentations really down to give you a little punch in the gut. And one of them is that they have a whole one on this murder mystery dinners. And the way that they always do it is they say, let's just pretend that you were going to have a rape mystery dinner and you were going to show up and the rule of the game was going to be that someone's been raped, and we're all going to find the rapist. That wouldn't go over. Nobody would do it. Everybody would feel that that was deeply distasteful.

Ira Glass

Yeah, and creepy.

Rachel Howard

Yeah, creepy. Why would you want to put yourself in that role?

Ira Glass

At these conferences for Parents of Murdered Children she says, everybody has a different way of dealing with their loss. Some meet with psychologists, some with crime investigators, some with psychics. But among the families who have a murder that is unsolved, it's common for them to be on a mission to find the killers and get justice. And this is where Rachel is different. A few years ago she wrote a memoir about her family and her dad's murder. The murder was never solved. The book is called The Lost Night, and she was invited to talk about it on a radio show called The Victim's Voice. And the woman who hosts this show, her daughter had been killed, and she was one of those parents who had made it her crusade to track down the killer at any cost.

Rachel Howard

And then she was telling me the whole story about her daughter's murder and how it had been for her to never give up hope. And I have to have you on my show because it'll get the word out there. You never know what's going to come up. Who knows something. Maybe a reward will come through and I have lots of contacts in the local detectives office. And if you want me to talk to someone about your dad's case.

And so we had this very awkward conversation. It was quite a long phone call and at every turn I was kind of saying, I'm not really interested in doing that. I don't really want to do that. I talked to the detectives and if something comes up, great. I'll be happy to know about it. But you know, this isn't really what I'm about. And she just seemed baffled.

I tried to say that I had reached a point where it didn't really matter to me anymore, looking for who killed him. And that what I was doing now, he would rather see me not thinking about it every day and just moving on.

Ira Glass

Rachel did have years where she felt she should be trying to figure out who killed her dad. That if she didn't let it take over her life she was being selfish, it meant she didn't love him enough. And in writing her book she started to work the case. She talked to the police, tracked down leads, made freedom of information requests for documents, tried to convince detectives to release the case file to her. And after poking around like that for a while she asked a crime reporter to look at what she had. And he suggested that she give up.

Rachel Howard

I remember sitting in the living room that day and having that conversation and feeling liberated.

Ira Glass

Why liberated?

Rachel Howard

Because this guy was telling me, look, I've looked at a lot of these cases and it doesn't sound like you have a whole lot here. And my first reaction was, good. I don't have to do this anymore. That's it. This guy just told me it's hopeless. Great. I'm free. I've done everything possible.

Ira Glass

And do you worry about how heartless that might sound?

Rachel Howard

I mean, why does it sound heartless, though? Because it has nothing to do with how much I love my father. You know, why should that sound heartless? If you want to talk me about my father, I love him. I'll tell you all kinds of things about him. But why should it sound heartless to not have to keep looking for who killed him?

Ira Glass

It took her years to get to this point, where she felt so resolved about all this. In the Atlantic Monthly years ago, a writer named Eric Schlosser wrote, "Americans are fascinated by murder and murderers, but not by the families of people who are killed. One might expect that the families of murder victims would be showered with sympathy and support, embraced by their communities. But in reality, they're far more likely to feel isolated, fearful, and ashamed, overwhelmed by grief and guilt."

Rachel says that she first read that when she was in college and she felt for the first time that there were other people like her, going through what she went through. That this wasn't like losing a parent any other way.

Rachel Howard

You know, everyone loses parents. You know, someone tells you, oh, my father died five years ago. Oh, I'm so sorry. That must have been very difficult. But you know that that's what we all have to go through so that person will work through it. It's not that way with murder. There's no guarantee that that person's going to work through it. They could be ruined by it forever.

Ira Glass

This brings us to today's radio show, people doing their damnedest not to get ruined forever by a murder in the family. From WBEZ Chicago it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today, How to Rest in Peace. Our show today in two acts. In act one, a son who knows that there's something wrong with him, something he has to fix when it comes to his mother's murder, and his feelings about it. In act two, a different son immerses himself in the facts of his mother's death, the cold, hard reality of it, starting long before she actually dies. Stay with us.

Act One. Dry Eyes And Videotape.

Ira Glass

Act one. Well, we begin with this story in which a man tries to solve his problems using, among other things, videotape. Our reporter for this story is Brett Martin.

Brett Martin

One day in March of 2005, a documentary film crew showed up at the house of a woman named Sumter Adolf in Westchester County, New York.

Jason Minter

Well, should we-- I don't know. Should we sit down and talk? What's best in this situation?

Sumter Adolf

You're the director.

Jason Minter

Well, we really wanted to talk to you about sort of your experiences in the house. I don't know.

Brett Martin

Mrs. Adolf had lived in the house for 21 years. It's an ordinary enough suburban home at the end of a long driveway with grey aluminum siding, patches of woods on either side, and an open field out back. She and her family love the house, but at some point they began noticing strange occurrences. They'd hear moaning and sighing. Sometimes the dishwasher would start by itself.

Sumter Adolf

I wouldn't even say I was cognizant of things until my daughter-- I'm going to say five or six years ago-- woke up screaming in the night. Mommy, Mommy, come, come, come. There's someone in my room. There's someone in my room. Turn on the light, there's somebody in my room. And she was under the covers terrified. I mean I've never--

Jason Minter

And she was 11 or 12?

Sumter Adolf

She must have been.

Brett Martin

On the couch, sitting across from Mrs. Adolf in her living room is 35 year old Jason Minter, the director of this documentary. Next to Jason is his younger sister, Maggie.

27 years ago, Jason and Maggie's mother was murdered while visiting the house, along with another mom, the woman who then lived here. Jason and Maggie, then age six and three, were listening in the next room.

Sumter Adolf

I didn't really start to relate it all until we spoke.

Jason Minter

Yeah, I mean.

Sumter Adolf

But a friend told me to bring a candle from church home. That a friend of his had had somebody living in their house and they burned a candle and said, go to the light. You know, it's OK. And so, as I do these things, I say, I am a mother and I understand your frustration, your anguish of leaving your kids. So it's OK. And I would try to reassure whichever mom is here. I know, I feel the same way. I'm sorry.

Brett Martin

Eventually, Jason and Maggie venture upstairs to the room where the murders took place.

Maggie

I don't remember this half of the house.

Jason Minter

I remember this. I remember going up those stairs, of course.

Brett Martin

The last time they were here, the room was a dark-paneled boys room, but now it's clearly the room of a teen girl. A border of lavender flowers runs around the walls, there's a horse figurine, and a boom box. And next to the door hangs an enormous collection of prize ribbons. The room is filled with sunlight.

Maggie

I remember them coming to the door and the next thing I remember is sitting up on the bed.

Jason Minter

You remember that?

Maggie

And I remember them putting the gun to your head.

Jason Minter

Yes, I remember that as well. You remember the running from the house and so on?

Maggie

I remember following you to the bedroom.

Jason Minter

And you remember-- yeah. You still have those memories? Is this too difficult?

Brett Martin

The weird thing in this scene is that while it's Maggie who starts to cry, it's Jason who you can't take your eyes off of. He's stiff and awkward, unsure of how to stand or where to look. If he's not breaking down, it doesn't seem to be because he's bearing up manfully under the strain. It's that he seems altogether distant feeling nothing, but clearly trying to.

Jason Minter

Does the house trigger things, being in the house or no?

Maggie

It's all a little weird.

Jason Minter

We've never talked about it before, ever, even amongst ourselves. That's a whole nother-- because we grew up really not discussing this at all. You know, we didn't discuss with my family because our family just wanted to get over it.

Sumter Adolf

That's why you have to do this now.

Jason Minter

I've always thought that if I could understand everything and see everything with my own eyes again, and so on, and see how things really are and look at everything that I would feel much better. I'd feel like, you know what? I've confronted it. I can put it behind me now. Is that where you're coming from too, or no?

Maggie

Well, I don't know that I feel like I need to confront it as much as you do.

Jason Minter

I had no idea whether I would break down when I walked into that bedroom or I'd feel nothing, and I didn't feel a lot. That's for sure.

Brett Martin

It's two years after the footage of Maggie and Jason's trip to the house was shot and we're in the apartment Jason shares with his wife in Inwood, at the very top of Manhattan.

Jason Minter

It seems like my sister has a much better handle on how to sort of deal with this than I do, or she seems to be dealing with it in a more-- what's the word? In a more natural way, I guess, than I have dealt with it. I think that's a better--

Brett Martin

What does that mean?

Jason Minter

My sister seemed to in a way, cry on cue. I mean she seemed to react where she presumably should react when she did. She broke down and I did not.

Brett Martin

Did you ever cry?

Jason Minter

Over my mother's death, or just in general?

Brett Martin

Yeah over your mother's death.

Jason Minter

No, I don't I ever have. I can't recall ever. No.

Brett Martin

This has bothered Jason for almost 30 years, that he never had the emotions he should have had. That he never really mourned his mother's death. That's why he revisited the house and why he's filming the documentary. Making the film has become a quest in which he's resolved to revisit and catalog every aspect of the day she died.

Surely something, some detail, or person, or location, when looked at head on, even relived, will trigger the feelings he craves. The logic of this approach becomes clear when you realize that, for many years, he revisited nothing about the murder. All he knew was what he remembered from that day. And let's start there. A warning: this gets kind of violent.

Back in 1977, the Minters were friends with another family in the neighborhood with kids the same age, a boy who was six and a girl who was three. On that afternoon, March 2, Jason had the boy over to play while Maggie went to the neighbors. It was getting late, time for the friend to go home, and for Jason's mom to pick up Maggie.

Jason Minter

So we got in the car and we drove up to the house and there was a blue van sitting in the driveway. I think I remember my mother asking the boy if there was an electrician or plumber maybe at the house. It looked like sort of a utility vehicle. My mother and the boy walked into the house and I sat in the car alone until a guy came outside and I just remember a guy wearing like a ski cap and started letting the air out of the tires while I was sitting in the car and I thought, well, is he-- maybe this van is related to some sort of auto mechanic or something and he's doing something to the car. And then he snatched my mother's purse out of the front seat and said, hey, kid, your mother wants you. And I followed him up into the house. We walked in and the house looked like a hurricane had hit the inside of it. It was completely destroyed.

The guy took me up the stairs and into a room where my mother and the other woman were sitting on a bed. My sister was sitting on a bed with her friend and my friend was also sitting there as well. The little girls were crying and the boy was trying to calm them down. I remember one of the guys calling my mother or the other woman a bitch. I was silent for a while and then I couldn't hold it in any longer. I just became more and more alarmed. I started to talk. What's going on? What is this? Who are you? And one of the guys took a, I guess it was a 22 caliber pistol and cocked the trigger and pressed the gun against my nose and said, "Shut the [BLEEP] up." And then I was quiet.

And then I remember the men looking in, brushing a shower curtain aside with a pistol, like looking into the tub. And they went through an adjoining bathroom into another bedroom with the women. They closed the door and the next thing I knew-- I thought I heard only four shots. Of course, now I realize I was 14 or something. But we heard these shots and then we heard the van screech away and then knew that these guys were gone. Went into the room and saw-- I went in first. I told everyone to stay there and saw the two women who were both-- well, my mother was lying face down. I guess the other one was on her side. And there was blood I recall, but not a lot. It was clear to me that they had been shot in the head, or at least my mother had. But it wasn't clear that she was dead. I remember the other boy coming in, lifting his mother's arm up, and it just dropping. And that's when I ran from the house.

Brett Martin

Jason ran through the woods to the closest neighbor's house. At first, the family there didn't believe him. Then the other kids came running up behind and the police were called. Two days later, three men would be arrested in what would turn out to be a burglary gone terribly wrong.

The night of the murders, Jason and his father slept together in a room at the neighbor's while police cars came and went next door. In the night, he listened while his father wept. Nobody ever actually told Jason that his mother was dead. In fact, when he'd asked the cop at the scene of the crime if she was OK, the cop said, sure. Jason wasn't taken to the burial. Finally, he got the idea that she would never be coming back. And that's pretty much where his information stopped for the next dozen years.

I should say at the outset that in the years following the murder, Jason was sent to the parade of therapists you'd expect. His father seems to have tried to do everything he could do, given the fact that he was going through a devastating trauma of his own. But none of it gave Jason what he was looking for, a way to grieve his mother's death. So when he was 19, he took a train to White Plains where the killers had been tried. At the courthouse he'd photocopied the police reports and then he sat and devoured them on the way back to Grand Central. For the first time, he learned the names of his mother's killers.

He learned that only two of the men had participated in the murders, while the third man, James Walls, who Jason had seen letting the air out of his mother's tires, had waited in the van, not knowing what was going on. He also learned more disturbing details. Both his mother and the other woman had been raped before being killed. His mother had been shot three times. The first was to the head and likely killed her instantly. The other woman, not as lucky, had been shot some 11 times.

While all of this was horrifying for Jason, it was also, oddly satisfying. For the first time, he felt like he was getting a grasp on the murder. And this is where the idea of the documentary came to him. Under the pretense of shooting the film, he could accomplish what time hadn't and what therapy hadn't. He would continue to work his way through the case bit by bit, like a brass rubbing, until finally the picture was complete and he could move on.

Jason Minter

All right. I don't know. I don't see any semblance of any-- well, here's a number.

We went to a district attorney's office, which one I'm not allowed to say. I wasn't supposed to do this at all, but they were sort of cutting me a break. But anyway, I went to a district attorney's office and looked through, I think there were six or nine banker's boxes full of evidence. Everything from the police reports to crime scene photos, to autopsy photos, and so on. And methodically, I went through them one by one.

Oh, this is Shirley Abraham's testimony. Very interesting.

Brett Martin

In the boxes were many letters. Letters from one of the murderers, Willie Profit, nicknamed "Scrap," to his girlfriend at the time. And there was a letter from James Walls, the guy who had stayed in the van to the same woman, whose name was Shirley. In its, Walls pleads with Shirley to corroborate his story that he didn't commit any of the violence that day. He also narrates the murders from his perspective. Another warning: here it gets more graphic.

Jason Minter

A few seconds, I heard a woman's voice say, it must be the furniture people or something. I heard Scraps say, hold it, bitch. And I saw another little boy in the lady's car. I then told the boy his mother wanted him. He got out of the car and went inside. I then went and picked the lady's pocketbook off the front seat and put it in the van.

I waited in the van about 10 minutes, then got out. I walked in the front of van thinking that Scrap and Sammy were tying the two ladies up. I'm still in front of the van and that's when I hear the shots. Then I was about to jump in the van and drive away. As I was about to do so, Scrap and Sammy came running out of the house, hopped in the van, Scrap said to me he's going to drive, so he did. He was laughing and acting like a madman, and so was Sammy. I asked them, did you guys really shoot those ladies? And they both said, yes. I said to them, why? I think Scraps said, because the lady saw their faces. And then Sammy said to me, D, I don't know that little black had a long black [BLEEP]. And then Scraps said, boy, I [BLEEP] out of that bitch, D. And I said, what? And Sammy said, yeah, D. He [BLEEP] out of her. And then Sammy says, he [BLEEP] the fat bitch.

And then I said to myself, these guys are made man-- madmen. And Shirley, keep in mind that these are the facts and the truth, and the only words of truth. Because remember, I was at the scene of the crime. Be cool and keep your head up, D.D. Walls.

That's quite a letter. I feel like I should have a round of applause or something for reading that.

Brett Martin

Jason continues going through boxes, avoiding the folder of crime scene photos until his friend who's behind the camera prods him along.

Cameraman

Look at the pictures.

Jason Minter

You, what are you, Oprah? Going to make me look at something. I mean, look, I'm getting to horrible stuff now. Photo exhibits.

Oh, Jesus. Well, I guess we had to get to it sometime.

This, I believe, is my mother and this is what I saw that day. And I think I mentioned that I thought she was still alive. I mean, as you can see the wounds are from a small caliber gun. To a kid that didn't look like a really big deal. I don't find it all that disturbing. No, I really don't.

I mean, first of all I'm not seeing my mother's face in these pictures. She's lying face down. I don't know. I'm not getting that-- Jesus, what is this? What the hell is this stuff now? They turn the bodies over?

Brett Martin

So how did Jason get here? How did he stay numb for so long that he needs to stare at pictures of his mother's corpse to try to provoke a reaction? Not only was his mother's death never discussed while he was growing up, neither was her life.

Soon after the murders, Jason's father remarried, to a woman who, for motives that seem to be a mix of well intentioned and kind of crazy, set about erasing all the physical evidence that Jason's mother had ever existed. Jason doesn't even know how many letters and photos and other personal items his new stepmother threw out. But he knows that all the gifts his mother had given him disappeared. His father divorced his second wife and married a third.

Jason developed a severe case of separation anxiety. The fear that he was going to lose his father too. He also decided that it was up to him to see that nothing like the crime ever happened again.

Jason Minter

Like sort of security obsession where I built locks for doors and windows in our house, and drilled holes in things, and built weapons, and did all sorts of things to protect the home, protect the family. I built weapons and I hid them all over the property and all over the house.

Brett Martin

What kind of weapons did you build?

Jason Minter

I had all sorts of things. I had bats with nails sticking out of them, to makeshift morning stars, to swords, to spears, to clubs. I had an arsenal of BB gun and pellet guns.

Brett Martin

And these were spread out around your house?

Jason Minter

Well, yes. Yes, they were. When I got a little older I set up a really primitive closed circuit TV in my room. I had a card table and an old black and white television sitting on it. Then I had probably one of the first affordable consumer video cameras to ever come out, it was sitting in the hallway just pointing at the stairs. And I would just sit there staring at the stairs with a bunch of BB guns on the table.

Brett Martin

You would spend hours doing that?

Jason Minter

I would spend hours staring at it, waiting for somebody to just come-- basically-- make my day.

At one point, I was building-- I had seen Ben or Willard on television and I thought that I could raise rats and train them to sort of protect me and the family, and sort of do my bidding. So I had this plan to go to the pet store and buy some rats. And I started building a pen down in one of the old stables and my father caught me hauling a big door down. He said, what are you doing? And I said, I'm going to set up a pen to raise rats. And he just looked at me and said, no you're not.

Brett Martin

I mean, I'm curious that you say-- it sounds like your sense of your dad's response to all this was that he was annoyed by it.

Jason Minter

He was annoyed by it. And you know, I don't remember the specific incident. I mean, I think I was putting maybe a new lock on the basement door or something and drilling holes. And he came home from work and caught me doing this. I said, well, how can you not be afraid? How can you not be nervous? And he said, because lightning doesn't strike the same place twice. And that annoyed me because I just didn't buy that at all.

Brett Martin

For all the confusion and trauma of his youth, Jason did manage to graduate from high school, go to film school, get married, and basically take care of himself. In fact, it's impossible to tell Jason's story without at least mentioning what he does for a living.

For the past nine years or so, he's worked for the TV show The Sopranos. First as a location manager, essentially driving through suburban neighborhoods looking for houses where he could stage murders. And then as an associate producer and assistant to the show's creator, David Chase. I'm not the first person to have drawn a connection between his childhood experiences and the fact that he wound up spending almost a decade helping to recreate graphic, often random and senseless violence on screen. I'm also not the first person to have Jason shut me down. Jason says it has nothing to do with his childhood. He didn't create the series. He didn't write the series. Sometimes a good job is just a good job.

So on and off for years, Jason was doing one of the few things you can do to get over a trauma. He returned to the details of what happened. He immersed himself in them, filming all sorts of people and locations. And when it failed to deliver the emotional catharsis he was looking for, he became gripped by a different goal. He doesn't just want to revisit his mother's murder, he also wants to re-solve it. Never mind that the police solved it years ago and that the three men involved were all serving sentences of 25 years to life. Jason's totally serious about this and spent probably a third of our interview on the subject.

For a long time, he's had the suspicion that maybe the murders weren't entirely random. That the killers didn't just happen upon that house by accident, but were sent there to kill a particular person. He even has a theory about who and why, a theory I can't actually repeat on the radio because it's probably libelous.

He talks about interviewing up to 30 more people. From assistant DAs to distant relatives of the killers, almost all of them to help make his case. And when the Department of Corrections agreed to set up a meeting in the medium security wing of Attica with James Walls, the guy who had stayed in the van, Jason had visions of finding some kind of new clue to support his theory.

Jason Minter

Would you be Mr. Walls? Mr. Walls, I'm Jason Minter. How are you?

James Walls

I'm fine.

Jason Minter

Last time you saw me I had hair. So did you for that matter.

James Walls

Yes I did.

Brett Martin

For the record, yes, the last time they saw each other was the day of the murders. This joke should give you a sense of the tenor of the conversation, which is held in an empty prison cafeteria. Jason's all business.

Walls is a middle-aged black man with a neat moustache and oversized round wire glasses. He slides back and forth between expressing regret for his involvement in the crime and self pity over the unfortunate coincidence-- almost 30 years ago-- of running into the murderers as they were on their way to what they said would be a simple breaking and entering.

Meanwhile, Jason has his gumshoe hat on and hammers away at the point he's most interested in. Did the other two men know where they were going, or did they choose a random home?

Jason Minter

What did they say? Do you remember specifically? Did they say they were going on a B&E, or was it something else? Did somebody tell them about--

James Walls

No, they was conversing about a breaking and entering, but they didn't know where they was going as far as what I understood.

Jason Minter

So there's no chance of them knowing, there was no chance of them targeting any of these houses, do you think? They couldn't have known about this, any of these houses?

James Walls

I don't think so.

Jason Minter

You don't think so?

James Walls

No. Because the way they was acting inside the van when they were-- they was talking more or less like pick and choose.

Jason Minter

So you really don't think they knew where they were going?

James Walls

No. Because like I was saying. after they made an approach to one house and the woman came to the door and the dog was barking, they sort of like backed up. Because when they saw the big dog, like I said, they sort of backed up and jumped right back into the van and took off. And they was talking [BLEEP] about, yeah, man, you see that big ass [BLEEP] dog, man. I ain't [BLEEP] going in. It was one of those things where, let's go over here.

Brett Martin

None of this could have come as a surprise to Jason because everyone tells him his theory is almost certainly false. Including the cops who investigated the case who Jason interviewed. When pressed, even Jason admits there's not much evidence to back him up. Still, it's easy to understand the allure of the idea that the crimes weren't just a random incident. Imagine going through life not just knowing, but really knowing that your life can implode in the worst possible way at any moment. Imagine internalizing the notion that every little decision, like driving over to the neighbor's house to drop off a friend, could put you in the path of disaster.

If that sense of a random universe were gone, it might allow Jason to stand down his defenses. And not just metaphorically. Jason's apartment features a level of security that's excessive even by New York standards. Three dead bolts and a heavy burglar bar are on the door. Jason says he'd own a gun if New York state didn't make it such a pain to get a license. Instead, scattered about are a collection of swords, including a samurai number that Jason keeps by the bed. There's also a sai, then an ax that Jason insists are antiques rather than weapons, but look like they'd probably do in a pinch.

Nothing Jason has done has gotten him any closer to getting rid of those weapons, let alone moving past his mother's death. And lately, he's slowed down his investigation of the murder night. He has permission from the prison system to go see the two killers themselves, but he hasn't been able to bring himself to pay a visit.

Brett Martin

Are you at all afraid that you're going to some day know everything and not feel any better?

Jason Minter

Yeah, certainly. I wouldn't be any worse off than I am now for that matter. I mean I'm certainly a functional adult. Well, a functional immature adult.

Brett Martin

You seem quite functional. I mean, as far as I can tell. As far as certainly on the scale of external problems you could have. You are married. You've held a job for a long time. You're starting a business. You have a nice house, two cats. You are capable of social interaction. I mean, these are all things-- so what is your problem?

Jason Minter

Well, are you asking what I hope to accomplish by--

Brett Martin

Well what is missing? What is the drive? Is this for you or is it for your mother?

Jason Minter

My hope is that I'm able to stop or to cease to obsess over that day. I hope to not think about the murder 26 times a day. Maybe once a day or once every two days. To stop sort of obsessing about it.

Brett Martin

And here, three hours into our interview, an interview that began with him declaring that if he just knew everything about the murder night he could move on, we get to this--

Jason Minter

You know, I looked at crime scene photos, I went back into that room. I talked to one of the guys and where did it get me? I just feel like I haven't accomplished the task yet.

Brett Martin

Has it occurred to you that maybe it's not that you haven't done enough, but that the exercise is flawed?

Jason Minter

That has occurred to me. Absolutely. Now I feel like I wonder whether I should just, really just intensely try to focus on my mother and forget-- not forget about the crime, obviously. But try to stay away from that as much as possible, mentally and to just not make the rest of the film.

Brett Martin

About a year ago, Jason found a box of old cookbooks that belonged to his mother in his father's garage. Somehow they'd been overlooked by his first stepmother when she was purging the house of Bonnie Minter's things.

Jason Minter

You know, yeah, I found old recipes that were stuffed into these pages that weren't looked at that she stuffed in there 30 years ago. That's when it occurred to me that you've never really thought of your mother as a real person. She's just been this event or this horrible thing that happened to you. Not that she was a horrible thing, but she was a victim of this horrible thing that, in some ways, has defined my whole life.

Yeah, that wall is OK. Most of it's going to come down. It's just a big garage here. But you can see the potential.

Brett Martin

When The Sopranos ended, Jason decided to get out of television and open a restaurant. He leased a corner storefront not far from his apartment and negotiated a good deal to buy the tables, chairs, and service ware of Vesuvius, the Soprano's fictional Italian joint.

One clear memory Jason has of his mother is of her in the kitchen. He remembers long strands of fresh pasta slung between chairs throughout the house. And finding the cookbooks made him think that cooking could be a way to connect with her memory.

Jason Minter

There will be a big, wine, beer bar over here. Sort of an open kitchen.

Brett Martin

Right now the space is raw and empty, but it's a beautiful spot looking out on a green stretch of trees and park. Jason and his wife have put a huge Halloween display in one window for the neighborhood kids. It would be glib to say that the restaurant is the opposite of the documentary. That one looks back and the other forward. One focuses on what's lost, the other on building something new. That one's about death and the other life. It's just too simple to be true. But standing there in the space, listening to Jason describe his vision for a homey neighborhood hangout, seeing people stop by to ask when he'll finally open, it does seem a little true.

As he's locking up, a boy and his father come walking out of the park. The kid runs up to the door, tries to push his way in. Not quite yet, Jason says hopefully. Soon.

Ira Glass

Brett Martin, he's a correspondent for GQ magazine.

In the two years since we first broadcast this story, Jason has opened his restaurant, Indian Road Cafe. It's thriving. His mom's murderer agreed to be interviewed for Jason's movie, but with the restaurant so busy, the film's on hold for now.

[MUSIC- "IT'S ALL RIGHT TO CRY" BY MOUFETTE]

Coming up, your mom calls you up and says, I want to rehearse my own suicide. And you're a good kid, you want your mom to be happy, and you get in your car and you go help her. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. The Good Son.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme and bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, "How to Rest in Peace."

Well, so far today, we've heard from people who have had a really hard time getting over the violent death of a parent. Now in act two, we turn to somebody who's actually kind of at peace with his mother's death, which when you hear how she died, is kind of amazing.

Edward

Her plan was to take the whole bottle of pills sitting in her bed with a plastic bag ready and a scarf ready to wrap around her neck to seal the bag. And that she would take the pills, put the plastic bag on, put the scarf around, and lie down. And that's what she did.

Ira Glass

We'll call this guy Edward. And when his mother killed herself at 79, she wasn't depressed, she wasn't sick with some terrible illness. No, she was lively, funny, social, able to take care of herself. But she planned for her own death for decades ever since she saw what happened to her mom when her mom got old. Her mother suffered from dementia, became confused and incoherent. Edward's mom had a hard time even visiting her mom during those years.

Also, she hated doctors. Hated them. Hated hospitals too.

Edward

It was a strong, gut feeling on her part that this was terrible. She couldn't stand the thought of seeing people in hospitals with tubes coming out of them. And she was determined never to be in that environment if she could possibly help it. And she and my father-- but really at her initiation-- promised each other that they would help each other. That they would not let each other suffer in old age. And they bought the book, Final Exit, by Derek Humphrey, which talked about this. They were counting on each other.

Ira Glass

And at some point she gets you involved in this, right?

Edward

She got me most involved when my father died. What she asked me to do was to basically, to play the part that my father would have done for her. But he was dead. And I felt it was an obligation to do this for her.

Ira Glass

Did she say it so flatly as, I want you to do what your father would have done?

Edward

I forget how she phrased it. She was really asking me not to interfere, not to oppose, to support her in this. She didn't want me to help her. She was very concerned about something happening to me. She didn't want me to be in trouble. She didn't even want me to be embarrassed. She said, the ambulance is going to come and the police will come and the neighbors will see. It'll be bad for your reputation. How can I do this?

So I was in the rather odd position of having to reassure her that she could do this without embarrassing me. So I was in this double situation of not wanting to encourage her, but also wanting to comfort her so that she doesn't feel anxious about the consequences for me or anybody else.

Ira Glass

But that's the thing that I was wondering, is it seems like you're in a very delicate position because you don't want to be encouraging her, I assume, to kill herself.

Edward

That's correct. I didn't want to encourage her, but I didn't want to refuse to discuss it with her, to help her emotionally go through the process of talking about it and dealing with the preparation for it.

Ira Glass

It's interesting. I think a lot of people are so uncomfortable talking about death with someone else. Was it hard for you?

Edward

It wasn't that hard, and I got used to it. I had a lot of preparation. This was nothing new. And she was very focused on this end for well over 20 years. It was just an established fact. This is what she wanted. This is the way I could love her. This is what she really asked me for. She didn't ask me for anything. This is what she asked me for.

She used to say that she did not want to live to be very old. She said 80. That's far enough. Why do I have to live past 80? She would go into this stuff.

Ira Glass

Why live past 80?

Edward

Right. I don't want to get so old. Why do people want to live so long? What's the point?

Ira Glass

Did she have the experience of observing herself getting more forgetful and feeling more confused and she knew that she was experiencing dementia, the early stages of it, and she remembered her mom?

Edward

I observed for the last 10 years, a slow deterioration. She had been always a big cook and taking cooking lessons, and Chinese, and all sorts of things. And at the very end, about a month before she died, she had asked my wife to come down and she said she couldn't make a cup of coffee. She just couldn't make a decent cup of coffee. She was really frustrated she had to go out for coffee. And so she asked my wife to come down and show her what was going wrong. And my wife spent about an hour trying to explain the process of using a French press, which is what she was using. Which is about as simple a way to make coffee as you can have.

Ira Glass

Right. You take the grounds, you put it in, you pour the water on top. You wait, and then you push the thing down.

Edward

Exactly. It was a real struggle for her to get that. And I think that's the kind of thing that she did all the time. These kinds of things could all of a sudden become an incredible burden to her.

Ira Glass

Now one of the things I wanted to ask you about that I know you went through is that your mom would rehearse. Like she would run through scenarios and drag you into this?

Edward

Well, she did a test. She knew that she had to get some sleeping pills. So she basically went to two different doctors and lied and said that she couldn't sleep and needed it. She took a couple of these and I was there. She wanted to see what would happen. And she took two of these and she was out in a matter of a couple of a couple of minutes. She started rehearsing because she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to do it. Or she wouldn't remember to do it. Or she wouldn't remember what to do. So she would ask me to come down and watch her while she did this.

Ira Glass

And so what was it like?

Edward

It was weird. It was definitely weird.

Ira Glass

And so, wait. So you'd be at home and she'd call you up and she'd say, like, can you come on over tonight, I want to rehearse the thing.

Edward

I want to practice.

Ira Glass

Really? That's it?

Edward

Exactly. There would be some joking about it and that kind of stuff. And she was not somber. She wasn't depressed.

Ira Glass

And so you would like order in some Chinese and go over to your mom's house.

Edward

Maybe she invited me for dinner. She would make the dinner and she would invite me for dinner, and then she would do the practice.

And she also wrote out a note to be prepared. She wanted to be prepared, so she wrote out a note explaining what she was doing in a more lucid moment when she could do that. And she got her things that she wanted to use. You know, the scarf, and the bag, and the note, and she actually put together the books, like the Final Exit book and I think she had some other books. She placed it all out, so that anybody coming, and the police, I had to call the police. And when they came, this was all laid out.

Ira Glass

It's interesting. It isn't just her rehearsing herself, it's almost like she was rehearsing you too, so you could go through your feelings when it would finally happen.

Edward

I think so.

Ira Glass

Now legally, could she call you and say OK, I'm doing it today and have you know?

Edward

Everybody knew. The family came. She did this at the end of August and over the summer her sister and brothers came, my cousins came, and friends came to pay a visit. And I was calling people and explaining that she's planning to do this and it's not going to be that long, and maybe you would like to come and visit her. And people did come. With her brother, who was the last one, she played a total game with him. He was opposed to her doing it. He thought she was depressed. And he thought that she just needed to get out. So he wanted to invite her down to New York City. They'd go into the city and do things that she used to like to do. And go to the museums and go out and so he was trying to encourage her to do that thinking that she must be depressed. And she said, sure. And they made plans for her to go down to the city the next week. And when he left she called me and said she's going to do it now.

She said that if I don't do it now, I will not be able to do it.

Ira Glass

Did she do it right after the brother was there because she realized that she was weakening? That she could weaken? She could just--

Edward

I don't think so. I think she played a total game with him. She would not want to hurt his feelings while he was there. She would just play along. He's telling her these things and she would say, oh, sure. That sounds lovely. But she would know inside of herself, this isn't at all what she wants. And I think that she knew that she was really losing her ability to organize her thoughts enough to be able to carry this out.

Ira Glass

And so then you have to hang up the phone, and then you're sitting in your house and you know that she's in her house and she's doing this thing right then?

Edward

No, I went down. She asked me to come down.

Ira Glass

Oh, she did?

Edward

Yeah. So I went down. And we talked about it. And she was determined to do it. And she got all her stuff ready and we said goodbye, and I left. And it was very odd, me leaving knowing what she's doing.

Ira Glass

Where'd you go?

Edward

I just drove around. I went shopping. I went to the supermarket. I didn't know what to do. I mean I didn't sit there wringing my hands. It was somewhat surreal, the experience.

Ira Glass

It just seems so sad that she has to be alone at that moment.

Edward

It was terrible.

Ira Glass

It seems like that's the moment where of all moments she would want somebody with her to hold her hand and comfort her.

Edward

Right. That was probably the worst part of it, that she had to do it alone. Me and her other family members could not be there because we live in a society that does not respect people's desire to control the end of their life.

Ira Glass

So you go back into the house. Was there a part of you where you thought, well, maybe she didn't do it?

Edward

My fear was that she didn't die. That I would go in and should be still alive. She had taken this overdose of medication and somehow she was still alive and what was I going to do then? I mean the worst thing, the last thing she would want me to do is to call an ambulance and take her to the emergency room. I mean, that would be the last thing she would want. She did me a great favor by being successful.

Ira Glass

It just seems so terrible. You walk in and it seems so-- the fact that she's there with a bag over her head.

Edward

Yes. It was odd. And it was an image that stays with me. I honestly didn't sit in the room for a long time. It wasn't something that I wanted to have imprinted on me any more than it had to be. And it was very emotional, obviously, to see her dead. And I sat down and I cried at that moment as I am now. Then I had to walk down to the police and tell them that she had done it and they came.

And they took it seriously. I told them the whole story. I told them that the relatives had all come and talked about it. Everybody knew what was going on. And they took evidence. They took the glass that she had used. And they took her note and got fingerprints and all that kind of stuff. But she had handled everything. She had done it all.

Ira Glass

Do you have a sense that your mother tamed death? That she made it less frightening for herself by going into the details and thinking it through to this degree?

Edward

I think she did. I think that would be accurate. I think that she had the normal fear of death. Fear of unknown, fear of also losing life. And I think by talking about it is the way that she convinced herself.

Ira Glass

I've got to say it seems very rare for somebody to get to that point and to come to grips with death in such a thoughtful way.

Edward

I think it is. You don't hear about it frequently. People who are involved in assisted suicide are usually people who have objectively certifiable problems.

Ira Glass

What's interesting talking to you about it is how at peace you are with it. How there's no ambiguity that it was the right thing.

Edward

I think I'm expressing the determination that she had. She was her own unique person. This is what she wanted. This is the way she thought about life. My son had children just a few years after she died and she would have very much like to have seen that. But that year, I think within six months of her death, her sister was killed in an automobile accident, and I think that she would have been devastated by that. So who can say what she should have done or not done?

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Sarah Koenig and myself with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, John Jeter, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from Bruce Wallace and Aaron Scott. Seth Lind's our production manager. Emily Condon's our office manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Music help from Jessica Hopper.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia, who's come up with a new scheme to solve his personnel problems. All the employees that he's unhappy with, all of us who don't do what he wants, he's lining up some replacements.

Jason Minter

And I thought that I could raise rats and train them to sort of do my bidding.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of this American life.

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.