Monday, February 22, 2010

Missing wives, murdering husbands

Mark and Lori Hacking had gone to high school together. They had married, and when Lori was 27 she was pregnant. Mark and Lori were moving to North Carolina so Mark could continue his post-graduate studies. They were a loving, ideal couple. That is, right up to the moment in July, 2004 that Mark put a .22 rifle to Lori's sleeping head and killed her.

Mark made it look like Lori had gone for a run in a nearby park. He had put her car there. A search was called. Mark was doing something he did very well. He lied.

Mark was not accepted to the medical college in North Carolina. Lori had found that out on Friday afternoon when she called them to inquire about student housing and was told Mark was not enrolled, had never applied for enrollment. Why were they moving? Why had he told her such a story?

As the public found out over a period of time, Mark had told a lot of stories. He told his family he had graduated from the University of Utah but he was a college dropout. He even faked term papers. He didn't do a lot of things he said he did, and oddly enough, either no one ever found out the truth about Mark or he had never gotten himself in a position where someone had called him on his lies, like Lori did that July night in Salt Lake City, Utah.

A few days later Mark's brothers got him to confess that he had murdered his wife, put her body in a dumpster, and then told everyone she was missing. Five months later parts of her remains were found in the local landfill.

It was a tragedy, and totally senseless. According to Mark's defense attorney, Mark had confessed all his lies to Lori and she was in extreme emotional distress. After she went to sleep he saw his gun and shot her to "put her out of her pain." Then he had to cover up what he had done by making up the story of Lori going missing.

A couple of years before the Lori Hacking murder the Scott and Laci Peterson case had been constantly on the national news. Laci, a young pregnant wife, disappeared two days before Christmas.

Both she and her fetus floated to shore after being in San Francisco Bay. Peterson, who was having affairs, was later convicted of his wife's murder.

In somewhat similar circumstances, a young Utah mom, Susan Powell, went missing on December 7, 2009. Her husband, Josh, has refused to speak to police, or anyone else for that matter.

There are some parallels to Scott Peterson because Joshua got his house emptied and ready for sale, then moved with his two small sons to his parents' home in Washington state. As one observer put it, "They acted as if they are just moving on with their lives." The common thing to hear from someone talking of the case, "He knows she isn't coming home."

The Powell family, as well as Joshua Powell's sister and brother-in-law, but not Josh, were on the Dr. Phil show last week. The family has been outstanding at keeping Susan's case and face before the public, even competing with the news cover of the earthquake in Haiti and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Every day there are people in this country who go missing, and very few of them make the national news. There is something about the Powell case that has given it national interest.

It may be because Susan is an attractive person, and her smiling portrait is very affecting. It probably has something to do with her being the mother of two sons under five years.

It also has to do with her husband's incredible alibi (and I mean the word "incredible" in its original meaning, lacking credibility). Joshua Powell claims he took his young sons camping at midnight, on a night where the temperature was below freezing, miles away at a campsite in the snow, then returned the next evening to find his wife gone. Susan had not called into her work, nor had Josh. The boys had not shown up at pre-school. People who knew the family were concerned. When police arrived at the Powell house in West Valley City, Utah, there were two fans drying a wet spot on the carpet. Joshua spoke to them once, as he did once to TV cameras. His stammering and vague answers to questions sounded strange, and immediately raised suspicions.

The public consensus is that Josh killed his wife in a fit of anger, wrapped her up, put her in his van, gathered up his boys and took them to the desert where he disposed of his wife, then returned home late the next day. The questions were asked on Dr. Phil: did the boys see anything that could help police? No one knows, because like their father, the boys don't speak to anyone in authority.

When Josh came back to Utah to load his van with his possessions the police were waiting. They impounded the van and searched it, then gave it back. It's the second time they have done that. If police have found any evidence they are keeping it close to the vest. Police may be waiting for winter to be over and snow to melt, then do a more intensive search of the area Joshua says he and his sons camped on that frigid December night. If they have evidence they may be gathering more so their case will be stronger. If a "person of interest" won't speak to the police, and Powell has every right under the Constitution not to speak to police, then there is nothing the police can do but go about gathering information and evidence the old-fashioned way, with shoe leather and determination.

Years ago I worked with a man the public was convinced had killed his wife; the so-called circumstantial evidence against him was a lot weaker than the case against Josh Powell, but the police were convinced he was the killer. Some years after his wife's disappearance, and discovery of her decomposed body buried in the desert, another man confessed to killing her. He kidnapped her from her job in a junior high school. He had already killed two junior high girls, but the police didn't put the two incidents together until he said he did it. The husband, according to another coworker, claimed that being under that sort of suspicion had ruined his life. The man who killed his wife died in prison.

Men do murder their wives. They do try to cover up. It wasn't unnatural for the police to look to my coworker, but his behavior after his wife went missing was of a man actively helping search for his wife, not that of Peterson and Powell, who went on with their lives as if their wives didn't exist.

Hacking and Peterson are serving prison sentences, my former coworker was exonerated, and Powell walks free. He walks free for now, anyway.


Anonymous said...

You sound like you have no doubts...?

El Postino said...

I don't have omnipotent powers to know anything for a certainty.

Maybe the missing young woman will come back home after spending two months in Las Vegas with a boyfriend. But from everything the public has seen so far (and that's only what has been shown to us by the media and not the police, obviously) there are better than even odds that something bad happened the night this wife and mom went missing.