Category Archives: Approaching Neverland


“Peggy, get out of there now!” Patrick yelled at me through the phone.

My heart raced. I’d never heard Patrick’s voice raised with anything but hilarity. But he wasn’t being funny. Laughs had been hard to come by since Joan’s murder the week before.

“Why?” I asked, gripping the phone as I wrapped my arm tightly around my waist.

“Sue and I just talked to a psychic. Peg — please just do it. You need to get out of your house now. Call me from somewhere else.”

“Okay.” Never one to question my brother Patrick’s wisdom, I fumbled to put the phone back on its receiver, grabbed my purse and ran down the stairs from my condo to the carport. I looked around — no one was there. I flung open my car door and drove to a phone booth a few miles away in front of a supermarket. People were walking to and from their cars. Had anyone followed me?

I quickly dialed Pat’s number. “Peg?” Pat asked as he picked up.

“It’s me. What in the world did the psychic say?”

“Honey — I’m sorry to scare you but I didn’t want to take any chances. We brought Joan’s necklace to this woman that had been recommended to Sue in Oakland. She described Joan without us telling her anything. She nailed everything — her house, her dogs… she even knew where Joan was killed and how. Honey I don’t want to scare you but she said it’s going to happen again. She described a wooden second story unit with a sliding glass door and deck. She mentioned a big tree…”

Holy shit — the oak tree in front of of my condo!

“…and Peg — she said the next victim would look just like Joan.”

Desert Bag

The last time I remember viewing that sage brush-dotted terrain was 37 years ago when Joan picked me up from the Reno airport and we drove to Susanville where, only a few months before, she’d traded UC Berkeley classes for those at Mt Lassen Junior College.

I had flown only once before on my Senior trip to Disneyland. Exhilarated by independence and oblivious to protocol, I grabbed my suitcase from baggage claim and threw it in Joan’s trunk. The desert scenery flew by as we talked nonstop for the next 2 hours.

Always the good hostess and big sister, Joan carried my bag into the guest room and plopped it on the bed. “Make yourself at home” she said, obviously proud that she had a home, however small, to share.
When we decided to go for a hike, I went to my suitcase for my tennis shoes and discovered a lock that I’d never seen before.

“You grabbed the wrong suitcase, you doe doe!” Joan said with exasperation.

I hung my head in shame. After years of being the coddled youngest child, I’d flubbed my first attempt at self sufficient travel.

Joan called the airline. “My sister picked up the wrong bag on her flight from Oakland.”

“You need to return the bag back to the airport immediately,” they demanded.

“I’m not driving back to the airport,” Joan said flatly. “You need to put my sister’s bag on a bus to Susanville and I will send this bag back to you.”

“That’s not acceptable. That could take a couple of days,” they responded.

My guilt overflowed. “I’ll drive your car back, Joan. They shouldn’t have to wait for their bag because of my stupid mistake.”

But Joan ignored me as she spoke into the phone. “If you want the bag, you’re going to have to wait for it.” That was that. Joan had a way with situations: her way.

As guilty as I felt for having taken that poor person’s bag, I marveled at my 21 year old sister’s control of the situation. Maybe one day I’d learn to be the same way. Even at that time, I doubted it.

Let’s Go Back

Let’s go back to when Joan and I were 12 and 9, halfway to ten. A boy from school — kind of a thug who was bigger than the rest of the boys in Joan’s class because he’d been held back — had a crush on her and followed her home from school. Although Joan could hold her own around girls, exhibiting a devil-may-care attitude that made them envious, boys — especially big boys with loud voices like this one — made Joan watchful and quiet.

I watched from the living room window as Joan avoided the boy around the spherical juniper bush until he grabbed her sleeve and pulled her close to kiss her. When she screamed, I dashed out the front door and rammed head first into the boy’s side.

He turned, enraged. “Who do you think you are, you little twit?” he asked derisively. Joan wiped away a tear.

“Leave my sister alone!” I screamed, face flushed, taking s step back as I raised my fists. Joan laughed.

“You’re both crazy like your mom,” he sneered before spitting into the juniper and sauntering away.

Although Joan put her hand over her mouth as we walked toward the front porch, I could see the smile beneath it.

Now let’s move forward.

Why Now?

Joan at my wedding

Why, 30 years after Joan’s murder, have I decided that it’s time to step up and see if I can figure out who killed her?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Could be that the grueling emotional dive of writing my family’s story, Approaching Neverland, prepared me to plumb deeper into scarier waters. Or maybe sharing our story has tied all the sadness and joy, shame and exhilaration of being in our family into a more manageable package that can be tucked neatly under my arm as I descend into the quiet darkness.
It’s cooler down here. Come with me if you like. I’ll take your hand. Let me know if you see something that I don’t. It’s time now.

She would have done it for me

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I know it’s the first step on a very rocky path. But the encouragement and insights provided by some of the amazing new friends that I’ve met over the past few months through book clubs in discussions of Approaching Neverland is spurring me on. Those of you who have read Approaching Neverland know that my sister Joan was murdered thirty one years ago this month. Her killer still hasn’t been found. So I’ve decided to blog my way into figuring out what happened. Your comments, thoughts and insights will help me see what happened to Joan in a different light, which I believe will be crucial in solving her murder. I have to admit I’m scared of where this might take me. But she would have done it for me.