The show Cold Case sometimes makes me uncomfortable. Living in the same area that the show was set sometimes makes the stories a little too real. Things became a little more real recently, when I discovered a personal connection with a real-life cold case, one that was quite close to my childhood home.
Through a Facebook group, I was reminded of a tragedy from my youth. A girl I went to grade school with was brutally murdered when we were in high school. Though we were close friends in our younger years, by that time, we had fallen out of touch. She left our Catholic elementary school after a considerable amount of bullying and went to the public school.
Sharon and I had some things in common. We were both on the quiet side and though I cannot be certain, I believe that is where some of the bullying came from. I know it is why I didn’t come to her defense. I never thought of her as unattractive, but some of the kids implied that they did, calling her “a dog” (the ultimate insult at the time) on a regular basis. As is typical with kids who are bullied, she tried to shake it off.
Things came to a head one day playing Red Rover on the playground. For those unfamiliar with the game, two teams line up facing each other, with all players on a team holding hands. One team would pick someone from the other team to challenge our hand-holding ability and try to break through the line. Failing attempts meant the player was adding to the winning team’s side; those who could break through picked a player and returned to their team.
Sharon and I were on opposite teams at this point and one of the boys leaned in and suggested we call Rover. Oblivious as I was, I had no idea who he was talking about. So we chanted “Red Rover, Red Rover, we want Rover over.” Sharon turned red, yet she answered the call, fiercely. This time she was angry. I don’t recall whether she was successful in her attempt, but I remember the shame I felt in taking part in humiliating her. We were friends; she had spent time at my home. I should have protested, or at the very least, refused to participate. In hindsight, we all would have benefitted from the sort of bullying awareness and prevention programming that goes on in schools today.
Coincidentally, her mother was our gym teacher at the time. I believe it was the very next gym day that she exploded at us. With her thick accent, she demanded to know why we thought it was funny to call her daughter this “Grover” name. Some of the kids laughed, but she wasn’t backing down. In no uncertain terms she made it clear that what we did was unacceptable. Within the month, Sharon and her mom had left the school.
Being around 10 or so years old, I went on with my life and didn’t think much about her until one day my mom picked me up from my job and mentioned her name, asking if I knew her. I replied yes and that she did as well. I reminded her that Sharon had been to our house several times and the details around her leaving the school. Then my mom dropped the news: Sharon had been found in the woods behind a local restaurant. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death with a cinderblock and a 2 by 4.
At 16, I was shaken. I had no real experience with death aside from family pets and this happened not too far from my home. Things like this didn’t happen in the suburbs and in those days, we had only five channels, so there was not the constant inundation of violence on TV to numb us to this sort of reality. The early 80s crime shows consisted of things like Charlie’s Angels, ChiPs and Hart to Hart. In hindsight, I wish I had contacted her family or gone to her funeral, but these were things outside my experience at that time of my life. I didn’t know how very much such a gesture could mean to a grieving family.
Time went on and we moved out of the neighborhood. Since I didn’t attend the public school, I had little contact with others who had known Sharon, and I only rarely thought about her. Recently another classmate brought her up in a Facebook discussion. The case was never solved In 2009, there were new leads that reopened the investigation, but it seems nothing came of that lead. After 35 years, I suspect we may never get an answer.
19 of #52essays2017