The Hardest Rite of Passage

by hellorousseau

Heads up: This post is not about body positivity. Sometimes I do things for school. This is one of those things.

I got in trouble when I was in grade 4 for telling the girls at my school about a van. More specifically, a white van that was called (brace yourself) ‘The white van that steals kids”.

I had watched a piece on America’s Most Wanted about a suspect that had molested several children, stolen a white van, and was making his way up to Canada- so obviously I needed to warn my friends.

I essentially thought I was Wonder Woman.

Fuelled with some stories from my fellow grade-school girls, and an incident that had taken place at my school a few years prior (I believe a man stripped naked while sprinting across the school-yard…), ‘The white van that steals kids’ was soon a popular playground topic.

It was around this time that the murder of JonBenét Ramsey began to bubble up again with media attention.

6-year-old Ramsey had been found murdered in her Boulder, Colorado home in 1996, but no one had been arrested for her death. Law enforcement in Colorado initially suspected the brother and parents, but in 2003, around the time of ‘The white van that steals kids’ incident, certain family members were exonerated when DNA taken from Ramsey’s clothes suggested they were not involved.

That evening, the media splashed her face across my television screen again and again.

I had seen dozens of images of others victims face’s on the news from other unrelated cases, but nothing played up as much as JonBenét Ramsey. Compared to her, they were anonymous.

Her fair blonde hair was curled delicately under a crown of paper-white daisies, her green eyes soft at the edges from a little, crooked smile. I was confused as to why no one had been caught for her murder yet, and I desperately wondered why someone would want to hurt her. She was so young, so small, and when CNN played her home videos on a loop, I had a hard time watching as she danced about the stage, smiling and laughing.

After all, I went to school with girls who were her around her age. Girls with fair blonde hair and soft green eyes and crooked smiles. Girls who trusted their mothers and fathers and brothers and neighbours. Girls who liked rock climbing and took violin lessons just like she did.

Girls who wanted to grow up and be something.

When I first read about Latonya Kim Wallace in Homicide, I had a hard time getting past the first few pages. Right away, the innocence behind the description of her body was hard for me to stomach-

“Above her right arm is a blue cloth satchel, set upright on the pavement and crammed with library books, some papers, a cheap camera and a cosmetic case containing make-up in bright reds, blue and purple- exaggerated, girlish colors that suggest amusement more than allure.

She is eleven years old.” (59)

The first chapter of Homicide paints murder victims on the streets of Baltimore as a dime-a-dozen thing. Even when reading about the cases, the names blend together, as some have similar details to others. Simon talks about the detective’s inspecting bodies like it’s a routine, that homicide has a common set of rules, and that detectives have a ‘Holy Trinity’, “which states that three things solve crimes,
Physical evidence.
Confessions.” (73)

Chapter two is a dramatic change in tone for me. In chapter one, while Landsman cracks wise and torments transvestites, “‘Look at this pretty motherfucker,’ says Landsman. ‘Let’s pull over and fuck with him.'” (7), in the second chapter, he takes on much more of an authoritative role, “Landsman was not only loud and aggressive, but supremely confident as well, and when he worked a case, he tended to become its center, drawing other detectives toward him by centripetal force.” (100)

With the discovery of Wallace’s body, the homicide routine becomes skewed. Cases are pushed back. Other victim’s faces are blurred and forgotten. Wallace takes the spotlight, her final moments being recounted again and again in newspapers and TV broadcasts. Her interests and passions mentioned as side notes for ‘colour’.

Reading the second chapter of Homicide reminded me a lot of JonBenét Ramsey, and showed me that there’s a routine that happens when innocence is taken in such a public, horrific way.

There’s a panic, then a demand for justice. People want answers immediately, and those investigating are put under extreme pressure to ‘catch the monster’ and ‘make it right’. There are newspaper articles printed and cameramen deployed, “A television cameraman, one of several hovering around Newington Avenue this morning, watches the exchange and wanders across the alley. ‘What was that?'” (83). There will be suspects and suspicions, theories and arrests, but in the end, there is nothing.

Simon has shown me through the second chapter of Homicide that media coverage and the post-murder routine of an innocent girl has not changed in the last 30 years. For me, it’s interesting to see how the detectives looking for the bad guys deal with the pressure, and their own insecurities as they struggle to put together the pieces of the case.

I can only assume it was the same for those investigating Ramsey’s murder when they found her body on Christmas Day, 8 years after Wallace was found in her little red raincoat.