Monday, July 20, 2009


He murdered her, I guess. The evidence was overwhelming and I'm sure he was tried and convincted. It was too close to the Lacey Peterson thing for the whole country not to be one big raw nerve when another young wife went missing. It was a huge story, breaking through even the usual local Los Angeles coverage of gang wars and movie premieres.

They found her pretty fast, stuffed in a dumpster under a mattress, I think. I'm not sure he even tried to lie about it. The dead girl's mother was on Oprah within a couple of weeks. I couldn't watch. I don't know if she was bitter or angry or eerily composed. But I knew they would talk about him and I knew it wouldn't be good. He deserved whatever they said.

But his mother didn't and I was afraid my heart would break for her, for every person that thought he wasn't raised right, for everyone who wondered who could birth such a monster.

He was Janet's kid. And Janet was my friend.

She was my customer first. She looked like she'd be one of the rich, snooty ladies that often shopped with us, but she was beautiful, warm and kind. Every year she came in around Christmas and picked up expensive sweaters for her daughters and daughter-in-laws. She came in for their birthdays, too. I must have sold her a sweater that went to the daughter-in-law that died.

At first she was my favorite customer because she was sweet and always good for a sale. But then I just liked her, so I recruited her to come work for us. She was shocked because she didn't think she could do it. Deep underneath her perfect hair and make up, she lacked confidence. No way could she sell, she thought. Who would buy from her?

Turns out, everyone. She was twice the age of anyone on the floor and twice the salesperson. Better than me, even. She loved helping the customers, took genuine delight in helping them find the outfits they needed. She became their favorite, too.

I think pride in herself drove her to excel. I can do this, she would say in amazement when another happy client left. And she'd hustle even harder. She certainly didn't need the money that she got for her few shifts a week. Her husband was a pediatrician, my pediatrician's partner, in fact. A cold man, her husband, for being married to a woman so warm. I never liked him.

But Janet. . . was everything good. She had a thoughtful word for everyone and when I became a mother, struggling financially, she brought me large flats of formula samples from her husband's office to help. That was Janet, a bone deep nurturer who had sacrificed much in her life for others. Especially her kids.

I never met the son who did it, who took hs wife's life because he was afraid she would unravel the web of lies he'd spun around himself. Or maybe I did. Her kids stopped in some times. But I would know a murderer if I'd looked him in the eye, wouldn't I?

We probably all think that.

When the news broke, I panicked. I was hundreds of miles away now, no longer working with my sweet friend. I hadn't for two or three years. But I knew she was devastated, her heart breaking for the girl who died and the child who killed her. She took her kids' failures to heart when I knew her, wondering if there was something she could have done better; something more than sacrificing to support her husband through medical school, living in a modest home while they paid back loans and long after, doing without little luxuries for herself so her kids could have every music and sports lesson they wanted because she never had them as a child. Something more than love and worry about them, something more than pray for them fervently in heart, something more than have taught them the gospel.


I didn't know if the people around her embraced her or shunned her, but I wanted to help, to remind her of the wonderful woman she was and not as I feared she saw herself: the mother of a monster. She was the mother of six children who each had their agency. Five exercised it wisely. She was a bright face in my day during difficult and challenging months, and a sweet and gentle spirit always.

I had no contact information for her but I knew enough to dig around and find an address. Then I wrote a letter, poured out my hope for her, and my love and gratitude and my prayers.

I mailed it. I don't know if it was lost in a shuffle of other letters, maybe some not so kind. But I hope not. I hope that she opened it and read it and knew in that moment a small but tender mercy.


Kinglear said...

Wow. That poor woman. At a certain point the parents of adult children need to be left out of the suspicions. I am glad you were her friend. You and your tender heart.

Kazzy said...

Sorry, my boy hadn't signed himself out. Me, above.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, you're a good friend for reaching out. It's so crucial to remember that everyone is someone's child.

Powerfully written, too.

Becca said...

Beautiful, heartbreaking, true.

Josi said...

How horrible. I really hope she got the letter. What an aweful thing to live through. She was a member of the church, then?

Debbie said...

I can't even begin to imagine the horror she is feeling. You are a good person to reach out to her. I bet many people shun her.

LisAway said...

Oh wow. What a sad story. I really hope she read your letter.

Kristina P. said...

The Hacking story really, really affected me. I was pretty newly married and it totally freaked me out!

I don't think that people shunned his family, but realize that they lost a child that day too.

I still drive by that mattress store sometimes and think of her.

Annette Lyon said...

I've read enough about sociopaths like Mark to know that parenting has nothing to do with it--there's NOTHING (of course) Janet could or could not have done to prevent this. He was who he was.

What a touching post. I hope she got your letter and read it and reread it.

Emily said...

Melanie, Janet was working at Allyses Bridal when this happened. I owned a sister store to Allyses in Dallas at the time. Hours after the daughter-in-law went "missing" I got a phone call from the store in Utah telling me that we needed to pull our resources together to help find her. I think Allyse spend around $30,000 in putting together search teams, billboards, etc. It wasn't but a few weeks later that Mark confessed.

I went to high school with Mark. His younger brother and sister are good friends of mine. In fact, my best friend almost married his younger brother. Believe it or not, I am also related to Janet. It's very shocking when something this awful happens this close to home.

Janet is beautiful inside and out. She is always looking out for others (remember when she gave you cash instead of a baby gift because she "felt" like she should and then you cried because it was an answer to your prayers and a testimony builder about tithing?).

She is so wonderful. She is managing a new Allyses Bridal location in American Fork. She was the best sales woman we've ever had. You know she kicks BUTT! :)

I felt the same way about her cold husband. She would tell me such sad stories of the indifferent way he would treat her. But guess what?
That's changed.

I visited her last summer when I was living in Utah, right before I had Dallin. She told me that this horrible murder had changed her husband. Brought him to his knees. Made him kinder. Softer. More humble. It has changed their relationship for the better. It made Doug (her hubby) re-asses what's important, and when crap hits the fan, families either break apart, or it solidifies them.

She talked about how Mark's actions affected the whole family. The case was incredibly famous, and not one child has come away unscathed. Fortunately, all the children were married by the time the murder happened. Can you imagine trying to get married after? The scarlet letter on your family? (Hi, my brother murdered his wife. It made national news. Want to date me? This doesn't sound good!) One of her sons (the one who was in medical school) was worried about getting a Fellowship for his medical specialty. He was able to secure one, but he was really worried. Your brother may not be your keeper, but his actions could affect you forever.

I'm glad you took a chance on Janet 10+ years ago. Hiring her gave her the confidence she needed to believe in herself.

She is loved by many.

Fortunately, her family has been embraced during this atrocity instead of shunned.

Kimberly said...

Oh Melanie, what a lesson for us all. Watching the news in our detached way, thinking ourselves permitted to make snap judgments. How little we can know or understand the depths of the people involved.

This post was absolutely beautiful.

Jami said...

You've moved me to tears.

Brillig said...

I'm betting she read it. And read it again. And she's probably laminated it and she reads it every time she needs it, which may be as often as daily.

You're a wonderful friend, and this is a gorgeous post.

Anonymous said...

Okay. So I thought this was the opening chapter of your next novel. It is a superb start. Grabbed my attention for sure. It is well written, and we learn a lot about the POV character (you) through all this.

Now that I read the comments, I find out its real life. You really should change this a little and use it for your next novel. This could be an amazing story. And if you don't write it, I will.

Good luck.

Erin said...

I'm moved to tears too. My husband and I talked about how his family was probably responding, and how others were responding to them. (My husband being a psychologist and all, he knows a little bit about mental type stuff.)

That was a beautiful post. Thank you for writing it.

L.T. Elliot said...

Melanie--I haven't the words to express the wealth of gratitude I feel towards you. Your kind heart, your loving nature--they are appreciated. Thank God for you, Melanie for seeing good first and extending friendship always.

L.T. Elliot said...

[I hope you know that I'm just speaking for how you've affected me. I don't know the family but I am absolutely certain that they are grateful, Janet especially. God Bless.]

Anonymous said...

Emily and I must have gone to the same high school. I didn't realize I knew Mark's brother until he was quoted in an interview around the time of the conviction. Or I should say I knew *of* his brother--he was in one of my classes and I had a little crush on him.

I also hadn't made the pediatrician connection, although my friend's dad has shared office space with him for years (and I live very close by.)

I'm afraid I've seen how when they get into addictions, lies, and secrets, people in your own family can become strangers to you. I certainly want to do everything I can to prevent my kids getting into those kinds of paths, but once they choose to go those directions (which can start with small decisions) it can be so hard to get turned back around that even the best love and parenting might not have much influence any more.

In my town there was also a big happy family with really nice parents who had a son who got into some bad things and ended up participating in an armed robbery where at least one person was killed. He wasn't the shooter, but he did get life in prison. In prison he changed dramatically--got religion, I guess is how to put it--but he ended up being murdered there. I think in some ways his family felt, though they were of course grieved, that in a way it was a tender mercy for him to be released from life at that point.

Dedee said...

Well done. My heart hurts for her. I hope that she is alright. Thank you for being willing to write the letter.

Amber Lynae said...

Melanie, that was very beautifully written. Janet is obviously a wonderful woman. I am certain her heart still breaks for all that was lost. I hope she has realized that there was nothing more she could have done to change the events. And I pray that she is recieved with love by all those around her. It breaks my heart.

April said...

You are a "true" friend. They are hard to come by.

Lara said...

I wish more people were like you. Fortunately, I believe that in Janet's case, there were many like you who did not blame her for her son's actions, although there were probably just as many who did.

Having grown up in the same town as the Hackings, I followed this story closely. It really affected me deeply, because it involved people I knew.

DeNae said...

I read a fictional accounting of the meeting between Mary, the mother of Christ, and the anonymous mother of Judas Iscariot. It taught me a lesson in compassion for the "other" family.

And this is the best writing you've ever done on this blog, Melanie.

Heather of the EO said...

This really got me thinking. It just pays to truly know someone, especially before drawing negative conclusions. You have such an amazing heart. I love it.

Thank you for sharing this.

Janette Rallison said...

What an intense blog. I knew right away which story you were talking about. I can't even imagine going through that as either family--but who knows what my children will or won't do in their lives. I heard a saying once that I've always remembered: To have children is to have your heart walking around outside of your body.

Jessica G. said...

At first I thought you were sharing the first chapter in your novel! Then I remembered this on the news...
I'd like to think she did get the letter, that it was the one bright moment in a dark stack of letters telling her how she'd gone wrong. I bet she still has it, too.

wonder woman said...

This happened just after I moved to Provo myself. I was pregnant with my firstborn and remember it so clearly.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for offering this overlooked perspective.

Alison Wonderland said...