Saturday, October 01, 2011

Daily Reminder # 488 - An Unwelcome Anniversary

Late in the evening on October 2nd , 1988, I received a phone call from my father. My mother had been sick for a very long time and I thought he was going to tell me that she had taken a turn for the worse or that she had died. Instead he said, "Carole's dead."  My beautiful older sister had been putting groceries into her car on a rainy Sunday evening when a 16-year-old boy ran up and stabbed her 6 times.  I've been thinking about that boy - a man now - a lot of late. There have been lots of debates about the death penalty at Huffington post, what with the recent rash of executions of innocent people. I oppose the death penalty, always have, always will.  I was very grateful that it wasn't an option when my sister was killed. That said, Walter Anderson - who is now near 40 - comes up for parole in two years.  I don't really want to think of him out on the street again. But then I wonder. Has he learned anything in prison? Does he regret what he did? Has he any idea of the harm he did, not just to my sister whose life he took, but to her three children, to me, to my parents whose lives were already filled with pain and loss, to the people who found her and held her hand as she died?  Does he ever think about us? Does he ever think about what he did?  And what of me? Do I believe the things I preach when it isn't about MY pain and m loss? If (which I doubt) Walter Anderson has undergone a prison rebirth, do have the courage to forgive him? I don't know. I have just been wondering about these things.  

Usually, I write about my sister on this day. I try to make it a day that celebrates life, not death and ugliness. My sister was better than ugliness. She was kind and passionate, as good a mother to me as she was to her three awesome children. She deserves to be celebrated, not mourned. 

But for whatever reason - and I don't know why - it seems very important to me to share the letters I wrote right after her death, then after the trial, and then a six years later.  The first was written to Walter Anderson himself, the second to the judge, the third to the Parole Board. Walter's sentence was 25-life. He comes up for parole in 2013. 

 November 11, 1988

Walter Anderson, Jr.
Duchess County Jail
Poughkeepsie, New York

Dear Walter Anderson:
Forty-one days ago, for reasons I suspect even you do not understand, you stabbed my sister to death in a grocery store parking lot.  She was my big sister, part of my universe since the day I was born.  I am the person that I am at least in part because of things she taught me and shared with me and did with me.  I loved her very much and I wish you had not killed her.
I wish you could have known Carole, because she was a very kind and giving person.  She cared about the world and the people in it and she did what she could to make it a better place.  And it is a better place for her having lived.  She was the kind of person who would have hated what you've done, but she would not have hated you.  She was better than hate.  She was about love and life and being.  She wasn't a saint and she wasn't perfect.  She was just a good and kind person.  She was worthy of a better death.
It's hard for me to understand what the world can have done to you that you would take a life under any circumstances, but especially for no reason at all.  I mourn for my sister and I worry about and grieve for the pain her death has brought her husband and children, my parents, my brother and myself.  It hurts more than I ever imagined was possible.
But I want you to know, Walter, that I grieve for you too.  Not with the sharp, bleeding pain I feel about my sister.  But it makes me so very sad to think that you can be alive and yet have a heart that is so apparently dead.  Whatever life did to you to put you in such darkness is, on some level, the responsibility of every living soul.  We have failed you and you have failed us.  A piece of everyone dies in such a death.
So, I want you to know that I pray for you.  I hate what you did and I doubt that I would like you very much if I were to meet you.  But maybe, if my sister's death is to have some meaning, perhaps it will bring some light into your soul.  Perhaps Carole's death was her final generosity; her life to redeem something in yours.  That's an extraordinary gift.  I hope you don't waste it.

The second letter was written to the judge who presided over the trial in response advice from the lawyers.

June 20, 1989

The Hon. John R. King
Court House, Room 44
10 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, New York 12607

Dear Judge King:
It hardly seems possible that it is almost two weeks since the guilty verdict came in on Walter Anderson -- and at the same time it seems impossible that that is all the time which has elapsed.  The almost nine months since my sister, Carole, was killed have been a sort of time warp anyway, full of temporal distortions and emotional quicksand.  The violence and senselessness of her dying retain a kind of unreality for me still.  They are so out of keeping with the life she lived and the person who she was.  They are so far outside my own experience of reality.
I am grateful that I was able to be present at the court proceedings trying Walter Anderson.  It was another step in the process of really coming to terms with the loss of my sister.  Because of the way she died, the family, at least those of us geographically distant, lost something of the intimacy of our grief.  Carole became public property, her funeral a rite of passage for a community, to many of whom she was only "the victim," someone who could have been them, who could have been their wives or daughters.  It wasn't my sister who was eulogized -- it was of course -- but on some level we were robbed of who she was to us and became players in a grand tragedy.  I don't mean that as a criticism -- people were wonderfully kind to us -- but I think that kind of loss is inevitable to such a situation.  And even the facts of her death belonged not to the family, but to the police and to the lawyers.  So the trial for me was the beginning of a kind of emotional repossession of my sister.  And even there, my sister, the vital, intelligent, funny, loving person who I knew was irrelevant; she was "the lady," and "the victim," not Carole.  So I was glad that her husband and children and I could be there, even if nobody knew who we were, to say that she was more than just a name.
I hope you know that I don't intend any of the above as a criticism of either Carole's funeral or her trial.  Mr. O'Neil and Mr. Chase and the people in the DA's office were extraordinarily kind and helpful to me and to my sister's family.  They prepared us as best they could for what was to come, combining compassion for us with dedication to proving their case.  You and the people on your staff, too, were kind and helpful without ever violating the proprieties of Mr. Anderson's rights.  That too made a difficult experience easier to get through.
I was impressed also with the careful and diligent police work done by the detectives involved in the case.  I listened with great care to all the testimony and to the taped confession, and I have no doubt that the right person has been convicted.  It doesn't bring my sister back, but there is some measure of comfort in knowing that the person who killed her will not be free to hurt anyone else for a long time.
Over the past nine months I have waited patiently for the great upsurge of anger and hate which almost everyone tells me I should feel towards Walter Anderson.  I watched him carefully during the weeks of the trial, hoping to see some visible sign of the malevolence which would cause someone to murder a total stranger with no provocation and no reason.  But I didn't see malevolence.  What I saw was something more tragic and more terrible.  What I saw was a kind of soul-less indifference.  I have the depressing feeling that there is noone inside Walter Anderson to hate, nor, I suspect, to redeem.  I have little doubt that Walter Anderson would kill again, with no more compunction than he showed in killing my sister.  I don't think he understands yet what all the fuss is about.  And that is truly frightening.
I did not mean to be so long-winded.  I know you are busy.  I watched the seemingly endless stream of people who were brought before you, many of them so very young.  I don't know how you and the people in the DA's office can endure the tragic and ugly stories which are part of your daily existence.  I'm glad that you are there to deal with it, but I do not envy you your jobs.
And I have strayed from my purpose.  I guess the purpose of this letter, aside from saying, "thank you," is to ask you to seriously consider imposing the maximum sentence on Walter Anderson.  I don't think this is vengefulness on my part.  I hope not.  It is simply that from everything I have heard, seen, and been told about Walter Anderson, I don't think there is much likelihood that he will be rehabilitated.  I think he doesn't understand the value of life and therefore would spend it again as cheaply as he spent my sister's.  I would hate to have anyone else grieve as my parents, my brother and I and as Carole's husband and children have been doing and continue to do.
Thank you for your patience in reading these thoughts.

and the last is on record with the parole board....  They are sort of repetitive, but for whatever reason, I feel compelled to share them tonight. My little voice demands it.  My apologies for the appearance/spacing of the letters... I couldn't make it work better.

October 13, 1995
Mark F. Bombard, FPO II
NYS Division of Parole
Clinton Correctional Facility
Post Office Box 768
Dannemora, New York 12929
 DIN: 89 B 2051
NYSID: 6242599M
 IND: # 118/88

Dear Mr. Bombard:
Marjorie J. Smith, Chief of the Felony Bureau, District Attorney's Office of Duchess County, kindly shared a copy of her letter to you regarding Walter Anderson, along with a copy of your notification form about the 2013 parole hearing.    Carole Kantor, the victim in this case, was my older sister.   I miss her more than I can say.

It has been interesting as the OJ Simpson trial has gone on to hear people talk about the victims being forgotten.  I can't help but think that that is the nature of the beast.  Murder trials are not really about the victims.  They are not about the grief of families or the shattered psyches of children who are suddenly without a mother.  Murder trials are about the defendant and about bodies and facts.  It was not unique to OJ's trial.  It was certainly part of my experience.  Who Carole Kantor was no longer mattered.  Carole Kantor was dead and what mattered was "justice."  
But what justice is there for the taking of a life?  Nothing can bring my sister back.   No matter how many years Mr. Anderson spends in prison, my sister will still be dead and I will not have a sister and her children will not have a mother and her grandchildren (when they come) will never know their grandmother.  What has been done cannot be undone.   The despair of my parents' final years of life cannot be erased.  The pain and grief of the rest of us cannot be taken away.  Life, of course, does go on, but it will never be the same and although I may be gluing the pieces of my shattered reality back together, there will always be something in me which remains broken.  
Unlike Mr. O'Neil, I do not believe in the death penalty.  I don't think one killing undoes another, nor do I think killing can ever deter killing.  I think life in prison is a much crueler and more just punishment.  And then I think I sound so cruel.  And much to my dismay, I feel cruel.  I am surprised by the venom in my own words.  It makes me sad.  I am, by and large, a kind person who believes in forgiveness, but I find it hard to forgive Walter Anderson for what he has done.  I find that I want him to suffer and that is another side-effect of the poison of what he has done. 
He has hurt so many people.  I remember thinking during the trial as I listened to the witnesses -- the two ladies who held my sister's hand as she died and the young man who reached her first and was briefly a suspect -- that their lives would never be the same either.  They are also victims of this crime and perhaps their thoughts should be solicited as well for this parole hearing.

I think part of what makes me so angry is that I never sensed during the whole trial, even a hint of remorse from Walter Anderson.  I did not miss a single minute of the proceedings.  I was there for everything, from the jury selection to the sentencing and I had the distinct feeling that he wondered what the fuss was about.  I listened to the confession tape and heard him say he was sorry, but it seemed to me more like he was sorry that he got caught than that he killed someone.  I never had the courage to speak to him face to face, so maybe I'm being unfair, but this is what I felt and it is what I find hardest to forgive. 
When the parole board hearing comes up, I would like permission to be present if that is possible, both to confront someone who did so much harm to me and the people I most love, and, to hear from his own lips, what he has to say about what he did.  To be frank, I find it unlikely, but I know it is always possible that people change.  If he has, I will know.  If he hasn't, I will know that too.  
As it now stands, however, barring a miracle of rather grand proportions, I cannot imagine any justification for releasing Walter Anderson on parole in 2013 or at any time in the imaginable future.

Thank you for consideration of these thoughts.  I have also enclosed two letters: one was written to Mr. Anderson shortly after he killed my sister and the other to Judge King at the end of the trial.   If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to contact me.  And again, I would very much like to be present for the parole hearing when it takes place.
Katherine E. Rabenau

Of course some things have changed since the writing of these letters. Two amazing grand children - now 10 and 7 - will never know their amazing grandmother, nor she them.  I am now home bound. Even if I wanted to and the state allowed it (they do not), I could not attend the parole hearing).  Carole's children have grown up into amazing adults and have created happy fulfilling lives for themselves. She would be so proud and delighted by them. I'm sure she IS on some other plane of existence.  Time marches on and grief mellows, yet at the same time it continues to lurk in quiet corners, in the shattered places of the spirit that will never be restored.

I am grateful that I had such a sister. I would probably not have survived my childhood without her. I would probably never have survived the time after her death without the joy and wonder of her magnificent children.  The wound of her death opened the door to the healing of other, older wounds. For that too I am grateful.  But I miss her.  Always, even as she lives always in my heart.

Some things I'm grateful for today: (Items in red are pre-gratitude, an attempt to persuade the Creative Forces of the Universe that I am worthy of lavish generosity on their part and to remind them of some of the many things I desire.)

  • My late sister, Carole
  • her three children and  two grandchildren
  • their families
  • that they are happy, healthy and successful
  • Angel and Tara Grace
  • my home
  • an abundance of water for drinking and bathing
  • photographs
  • my computer
  • the internet
  • email
  • electricity
  • my Tibetan salt lamps
  • my fuzzy robe (yep, it's that cold)
  • my camera
  • my microwave
  • my TV
  • the remote control
  • the mute button
  • coconut oil
  • cat toys
  • strawberry/banana yogurt smoothies
  • chocolate soy silk
  • music
  • ear phones
  • Pandora radio
  • computer games
  • bananas
  • Sam-e
  • Omega3
  • IP-6
  • Vitamin D-3
  • my new grabber
  • my chair/walker
  • my cane
  • that my legs still get me from room to room with help
  • my lovely mattress
  • blankets
  • a clothes dryer
  • more flowers in the back yard
  • a sun room on the back of the house
  • zero balance on my credit cards
  • a paid off mortgage
  • $5,000/week for life from PCH
  • freshly painted living and bedroom walls
  • a truckload of money (big bills)
  • new curtains
  • blinds for the front window
  • a ceiling fan in the bedroom
  • Nintendo
  • a reading and healing with Nancy DuTertre
  • winning lottery numbers
  • seeing the red list turn to black
  • reiki
  • angels
  • miracles
  • the life of the late Simon Kitty who gave my niece love and joy
  • Dennis Puffett
  • Dr. Jim
  • therapy
  • the many people who have seen me through my grief
  • the justice system
  • the capacity for healing
  • time
  • happy memories
  • sight
  • hearing
  • taste
  • touch
  • smell
  • beauty
  • my rock collection
  • autumn colors
  • resilience
  • determination
  • imagination
  • words
  • poetry
  • the ability to read and write
  • the ability to type
  • the capacity to change
  • creativity
  • generosity
  • compassion
  • love
  • laughter
  • hope
  • life






Argent said...

I found this post of yours very moving. I've been fortunate in that I've never lost anyone in such tragic circumstances. I think your letters would leave a very deep impression on anyone reading them and i hope the one to the parole board makes them think long and hard before realeasing such a broken thing as Anderson clearly is back into the world. It is heartening that Carole's children have thrived in spite of what happened to their mum.

I wish you peace this day.

The Bug said...

Those letters were (and are) amazing - that you could write so articulately & compassionately after your tragedy. I'm so sorry for your loss, and happy to hear about some of the healing.

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