Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Death in Harlan County, Kentucky

In 1969 there was a girl’s decomposing body discovered on Pine Mountain in Harlan County, Kentucky. A man picking wildflowers for his wife stumbled upon her. She was young, possibly late teens, 5 foot 3 inches tall, very petite, with strawberry blond hair. She had been beaten and stabbed. The body was so decomposed they couldn’t tell if she’d been raped but she was nude, and had been punched hard enough that some of her teeth rested in her throat.. It was believed she’d been murdered elsewhere and dumped about fifty feet off the Little Shepherd’s Trail. A receipt from a restaurant in Cincinatti, Ohio, a blouse, and a man’s sweater rested near her.

I was thirteen at the time of her death. At that time domestic violence was a thing swept under the rug by family members, endured by the parties involved, and certainly not put in the paper or discussed in the neighborhood. And discussions of rape were taboo. But this young girl’s death brought all those thoughts to the forefront of every mind in the small community of Harlan, Kentucky. Every parent who had a teenage daughter had been slapped with the possibility that by the grace of God, it could be them facing the death of a child.

My family physician, Dr. Phillip Begley was the coroner at that time. Which made it feel like I had a connection to this girl. He was in a sense her doctor, too. I’m sure he was asked by several of his patients for every gory detail. He must have kept the information about the case to himself, as he should have, because rumors and speculation became the next best thing to truth.

The funeral home who prepared the body for burial held a wake and despite the decomposition had an open casket in the hopes that someone in the community could identify her. That was certainly a social event and a circus all rolled up into one.

What made the girls death even more tragic was that she remained unidentified. At that time there were no databases of missing persons. No DNA profiles to send out. No computerized dental records to access. Authorities from outlying states did come to view the body in the hopes of identifying her, but no one did.

Despite all the curiosity and gossip, the community of Harlan embraced the dead child as one of their own and buried her in a local cemetery in a donated burial plot in a casket paid for by the city. The fire department acted as her pallbearers.

This nameless, girl who had died at the hands of a killer, still at large, became a legend in our community. She’s still talked about. Her death still speculated about. And she’s still mourned by the community who buried her. She touched every person old enough to understand how terrible it was that she had no family to claim her or to push for justice.

Recently I read an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader about a new nationwide database created to stockpile information about unidentified bodies discovered in each state. It’s been titled NamUs. I had great hopes that someone had entered her information in the database and went there myself to see if they had. She’s not there.

I know that it will probably take years to upload the information for every unidentified person discovered in our state, but time is running out for this girl. After 40 years of waiting, those who loved her are 40 years older. They may be sick or dead. But the desire to find her family is still alive in those of us who remember her. After 40 years of waiting, she deserves to go home. And her family deserves closure for their loss.

The chances of the killer being apprehended, if he’s still alive, are nil. I hope he’s been haunted every day of the 40 years that have passed by what he did. And if he hasn’t, he’ll have to take that up with his maker whenever he comes face to face with him. I hope it’s as painful for him as it’s probably been for her family all these years.

In the meantime, I’ll be checking back at the NamUs site to see if she’s been entered into their database. With all of today’s technology her features could still be reconstructed using FACE software from photographs taken 40 years ago, if they still exist. Her DNA could still be viable if her casket was properly buried. There are still roads not traveled to find her family. I hope the state of Kentucky decides to pursue them.

Though nothing can bring her back, I still want her to rest close to those who knew and loved her best.

If you’d like more information about NamUS you can go to their site at and use the drop down menus to enter the parameters of any unidentified case and the state and find out about it.

Write on,
Teresa Reasor

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Parasite Archetype

The Parasite Archetype.

The Parasite is always dissatisfied with his own life and wants to live someone else’s, and he/she doesn’t care what they have to do to make it happen.

When I first started thinking about this archetype, I was surprised at how many examples leapt to mind. The first being The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). The movie is based on a novel written in 1955 by author Patricia Highsmith.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is working a part time job as a piano player at a party in a borrowed Princeton jacket when he is approached by Herbert Greenleaf. Ripley leads Herbert to believe he’s a graduate of the university and a friend of his son, Dickie. Herbert Greenleaf hires Ripley to travel to Italy and convince his son to return home to help run the family business. Thus the man gives Ripley a taste of the life he’s never known and a hunger for more.

Ripley arrives in Italy, contacts Dickie Greenleaf, and wastes no time ingratiating himself into his life. Throughout their relationship, in both the movie and the book, the reader/viewer becomes aware of the sexual attraction Ripley feels toward Greenleaf and how he covets, the man’s wealth, attention, and charm. But his feelings go deeper than that. He wants to BE Dickie. He immolates the man in every way and becomes desperate to maintain the lifestyle to which he’s become addicted.

Ripley ends up killing the focus of his affection and takes on Dickie’s identity in an attempt to cover up the murder. But when a friend of Dickie’s comes to visit and grows suspicious, Ripley’s parasite persona once more turns to murder to cover up the horrible truth.

He later writes a suicide note to explain Dickie’s death. Herbert Greenleaf pays Ripley off to keep his son’s past indiscretions secret, unknowingly allowing Ripley to avoid prosecution for his murder.

In the end, a chance run in with a woman who knows him only as Dickie forces Ripley to kill his lover, Peter Smith-Kingsley, to hide the secret once again and Ripley realizes the life he wanted has cost him everyone to whom he’s become close.

Similar but less dark is the second example of the Parasite Archetype that came to mind.

In Six Degrees of Separation, (1993) Paul (Will Smith) is a gay con artist. He shows up at Flan and Ouisa Kittridge’s (Stockard Channing and Donald Southerland) door asking for help. He claims to have been mugged in Central park but his lies don’t stop there. He also says he’s friends of their son and daughter at Harvard and Sidney Poitier’s son. This last outrageous lie doesn’t set off the alarms that it should. The couple take him in for the night and are completely charmed by him. But when they investigate Paul’s life later, they learn the truth. They’ve taken a stranger into their midst on face value and been conned. The truth makes them look at the insular existence they lead and turns their perception of it on its ear.

The third example of the Parasite Archetype is DJay ( Terrence Howard) in Hustle and Flow (2005). DJay is a drug dealer and a pimp. A Parasite of the worse kind. He doesn’t just prey on his customers, but lives off the women in his stable while he tries to pursue his dream as a Rapper.

In his quest for his big break, DJay hustles a way into a party where he attempts to give a successful rapper, Skinny Black, a demo tape he’s created. The rapper destroys the tape and DJay assaults him and shoots one of the man’s entourage.

While in prison, DJay learns that one of his prostitutes and business partner, Nola, has succeeded in getting his demo played on the radio. But “Everybody’s gotta have a dream.” No matter what the cost. Right?

The Fourth example of the Parasite Archetype is Jullian Kaye (Richard Geer) in
American Gigolo (1980). Julian is a male prostitute in Los Angeles. He’s handsome and polished and works hard to maintain both his outward appearance and his lifestyle. He even takes some pride in being able to please his clients. But he’s a Parasite.

When he meets a politician’s wife, Michelle Stratton (Lauren Hutton), he becomes more involved emotionally than he’s ever been tempted to do before. But he continues to work as a Gigolo.

His pimp sends him to a house of a wealthy businessman who wants him to abuse and copulate with his wife while he watches. Julian’s heart isn’t into the abuse, the one thing that saves him from being completely unsympathetic. But he does perform, though the experience gives him a bad feeling.

A few days later, the woman he was with that night is killed and the police hone in on Julian as the main suspect. He was with another woman the night of the murder, but she won’t give him the alibi he needs to prove his innocence.

His life spirals downward as he realizes he’s built his existence on a house of cards that could have crumbled at any time. He’s not important to anyone. He’s viewed as the Parasite that he is.

He turns to the one person he thinks may view him as a valuable commodity, his pimp, and learns he’s the man responsible for his being framed for the murder. They get into an altercation and the man falls over his apartment balcony to his death.

With the only person who can clear him dead, Julian ends up in jail. He’s humbled by the experience, accepting of his fate, and perhaps even feels that he deserves some punishment for the life he’s led. When Michelle shows up, he’s surprised. She’s laid her reputation on the line to give him an alibi and cleared him with the police.

Out of all the Parasites thus far, I’ve found Julian the most sympathetic because he learns from his mistake and you feel as though he will make an effort to change once he’s set free.

My last example of the Parasite Archetype isn’t human at all, but grew from the imagination of one of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton. Crichton died earlier this year, a real loss to the human, writing and television community (he was the creator of the hit show ER.) His numerous books have always fascinated me because he was able to take the unusual things he discovered about technology and put a wonderful spin on it and make it completely spell binding. He’s the author of such blockbusters as Jurassic Park, Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, Rising Sun, Congo, The Sphere, Airframe, Disclosure, The Terminal Man, and several others. Most of his books have been made into movies. But I suggest you read them for each one has a warning in it as well as an unusual way of making the technology he’s focused on a character unto itself.

Jack Forman is an out of work software programmer and house husband who’s having trouble finding another job. Because he sought to blow the whistle on an illegal operation at his last job, other companies are wary of hiring him. In the high-tech world of software it doesn’t pay to be honest.

Because Jack has been a house husband for so long, his self-image and his confidence have taken a nose dive. Thus when he grows suspicious that his wife may be having an affair, he’s almost numb about it. Julia has grown increasingly distant and distracted, but also acts almost manic when she’s at the house.

Concerned for her and their children, Jack accepts a job with his old company to iron out problems their having with a computer code he wrote for a game. They’ve subcontracted with his wife’s company, so he’ll be working at the same facility as she and he may be able to figure out what’s going on with her.

When he arrives at the facility in the middle of the desert, he grows increasingly suspicious and concerned. The members of his team,(people he’s worked with before), act both glad to see him and wary. Everyone speaks in double-speak but no one wants to come straight out and tell him what the code problem is.

He learns that his wife’s company, Zymos, has been contracted by the Defense Department to use the nanotechnology they have created as an internal imaging tool as a spy and reconnaissance weapon. The nanobots have been released into the desert and have begun to evolve and learn on their own. In fact they have become a swarm who Prey on any living creatures they come across in the desert.

Crichton’s nanobots evolve to the point they become Parasites using living hosts, their creators, to carry out their agenda, to reproduce and conceal themselves in plan sight within the general population. They learn to take the form of the humans they come into contact with and represent a global threat.

To tell you the ending of the story would be a spoiler. You need to read the book and discover what happens. But these small microscopic computers represent one of the most vicious Parasite Archetypes I’ve ever read about.

What makes Crichton’s books remarkable is that they always hold a grain of truth and that makes their impact thought provoking and a little scary.

Thank you for reading my blog on the Parasite Archetypes. What Parasites have you run across in other books and movies, or in real life. Let me know.

Write on,
Teresa Reasor