When I wrote Darkness on the Edge of Town, I incorporated some of my own childhood and young adulthood years in the story. I tapped into the memory of the somnolent farms along the Rillito River. (Now gone, replaced by a complex of medical buildings, banks, and shops.)
I tapped into another time and brought it into the present.
I also resurrected a homegrown loser named Charles Schmid—the boogeyman of Tucson.
Schmid might as well have been born with the word LOSER stamped on his forehead. He thought he was hell with the ladies, but he was insecure, too. He slipped smashed-flat beer cans into his caballero boots to make him seem taller.
Schmid decided he wanted to kill girls to see what it was like. And stupid is as stupid does: he targeted girls he knew.
He killed three teenaged girls.
A few years later, I met the surviving family of two of the victims and their youngest girl. This was at Cottonwood Farm where we both had riding lessons. And there they were, this family that had lost two daughters, carrying on, moving forward, loving and appreciating the daughter they had.
My mother wrote. She kept clippings on Schmid’s tragic crime spree and prepared to write about it, but ultimately, she couldn’t. I remember the chill it gave all parents, who kept their kids indoors or watched us with an eagle eye in the aftermath of the murders.
As I was preparing to write Darkness on the Edge of Town, I took a look at my mom’s clippings—and another puzzle piece clicked in to the story I was writing.
Old stories, unearthed and dusted off. And changed.
I was, and still am, haunted by the yellowed clippings about Charles Schmid, the preening loser who managed to destroy the lives of good people. I have always felt that homicide cops—the good ones—try to make some sense of the death if they can for the families. People are meaning-making machines and they need something to hang their hat on, no matter how tenuous. Some comfort, no matter how inadequate, for the stunned and bleeding families.
Like DPS detective Laura Cardinal in Darkness on the Edge of Town, they can’t fix the insult to injury, the deep injury. All they can do is catch the guy—
And make him pay.