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Why Dana Clair? And a few notes re: how the story came together


The very first comment posted to this week’s cover story about the unsolved murder of Dana Clair Edwards was, sadly, expected.

“On 10/7/2009 10:39:10 AM, Anonymous said: Who gives a f*ck? This gets cover story just because the chick was an ’09er? Please. There have been other unsolved murders in the city and none of them make the front page of the Current. For the first time, I’m disappointed in you guys. For all we know the woman may have been charitable, hard-working, etc. But that doesn't take away the fact that she may have been a heinous bitch either way.”

You can tell which direction it’s going in as soon as you get to “the chick.” (Presumably it was written by “a dick.”) We’re not just looking at the usual prejudice and lack of empathy between different socioeconomic groups; it’s loaded with straight-up misogyny. The concluding sentence is beyond depressing, because the unmistakeable implication is that maybe she deserved it.

A later post ditched the hardcore sexism, but kept the racism:

“On 10/8/2009 1:53:46 PM, Anonymous said: Despite the sexist nonsense, the first comment has a good point: Is Ms. Clair's murder more ‘tragic’ because she was a wealthy, white, conventionally attractive 09er? Shame on the Current for focusing on this story in lieu of exploring the many unsolved murders of women of color who hail from poorer neighborhoods and perhaps had less sparkling reputations. This reminds me of the fuss over the professional, white Central Park jogger who was assaulted the same week that several never mentioned poor women of color were assaulted AND murdered in NYC.”

(Digression: Note this comment softens what happened to Trisha Meili — who was violently raped and beaten nearly to death by Matias Reyes — into “assaulted,” and trivializes the public response as a “fuss.” Meili was originally expected to die or remain in a coma. She had no memory of the attack, and five black youths served prison terms for the crime. Following Reyes’s 2002 confession, which was backed up by DNA testing, their convictions were vacated. It’s a complicated case, but check it out: Here it’s reduced to just another example of white women getting favorable press treatment.)

Although the second comment is marginally less appalling, it’s rationale is still fundamentally inhuman: Dana Clair’s murder is undeserving of coverage simply because she’s white and from an upper-class background. Not only that, we should be “ashamed” of covering it.

People sort information like this all the time: Who’s deserving of our attention and emotion and who’s just some bitch who deserved what she got? In my more charitable moments I think this is just a hardwired defensive response — it’s hard to care about an injustice, because then we feel a responsibility to do something about it, and the world is filled with wrongs that need righting; we can’t possibly become emotionally invested in all of them, so we come up with reasons to pretend that some of them aren’t, in fact, real injustices. In my less-charitable moments I just think we’re small-hearted assholes.

All murders are tragedies. Choosing to cover Dana Clair’s murder is neither an indication that I think other victims are less deserving, or that her death is more “tragic” than anyone else’s, just that there are elements that are noteworthy and unusual. A comment posted on a Facebook thread identifies yet another reason Dana Clair’s story is relevant: “What I feel someone who did not know her can take away from her story is that you may think you are strong and not a victim, but it can happen to the strongest of people.” It’s a cautionary tale that every woman must heed, especially while we’re still “chicks” and “heinous bitches” to some of our fellow humans.

And Dana Clair was a particularly strong woman: She overcame painful and serious injuries that forced her to abandon her plans to become a doctor, and she returned home to be close to her father when he was diagnosed with cancer — a decision I know many Current readers can identify with.

I was also moved by Grit’s death, because I’m a dog lover and because it is, to say the least, disturbing. Why would the murderer kill Dana Clair’s cute terrier, too? Even if Grit was trying to protect Dana Clair, he wasn’t that large — look at him up in that tree in the photo here: I’m sure he was fierce when challenged, but c’mon. And no gun was involved in this crime, as far as we know, so it took extra time and effort to kill Grit, and to transport him to the Olmos Dam area, dead or alive.

But the very first time Dana Clair’s story came to my attention was through the grapevine. I know people who knew both Dana Clair and her ex-boyfriend — although I didn’t know the Edwards before I researched this story, and still don’t know the ex-boyfriend or his family, who have communicated only through attorneys. One weekend I heard a bit of gossip: Security-camera footage from a bank drive-thru might implicate someone in a local murder. Which murder? I asked, because I’d missed the original news reports back in January. As I started poking around a little, I began to realize the extent to which her murder and the ongoing investigation had created social tension and anxiety among a tightly connected community that prides itself on being the kind of place this explicitly does not happen. I discussed the case with a former crime reporter, who immediately googled up the message board that is referenced in the story — confirmation of the vibe I was picking up in the conversations I’d had — and emailed it to me. I was hooked.

This story obviously relies on a number of unnamed sources, which should always pique a readers’ curiosity and skepticism. When a source requests anonymity, they have a reason for doing so, and readers are right to ask what that is. In this case, the main reason sources would want to remain anonymous is fairly obvious: Whoever killed Dana Clair is still walking free. On-the-record sources included Dana Clair’s parents, Darrell and Deborah, her friend Melissa Federspill, the lead homicide detective on the case, attorneys representing the ex-boyfriend and the ex-boyfriend’s family, and the Police Department’s public information officers. In all cases, the story’s unnamed sources are known to the Current — no Deep Throats here — and any factual information that was given to me by an off-the-record or unattributed source that I used in the story was confirmed by either another unnamed or off-the-record source, or by one of the named sources in the story. I attempted to contact Dana Clair’s ex-boyfriend directly via email and by calling a family member when I couldn’t locate a number for him (the latter resulted in the attorneys’ phone calls). I also contacted individuals whom I was told were close friends of his, but they declined to speak with me.

The police have additional evidence and information regarding Dana Clair’s murder and Grit’s killing that they are not making public. This gives them a pool of details with which only the killer should be familiar, allowing them to confirm or weed out suspects or identify false confessions. Although they have confirmed the existence of the video footage from the bank, for instance, they have not said who or what appears to be on that tape. They have mentioned DNA matching, but not said anything specific enough to add to this story.

In working on Dana Clair's story, I’ve tried not to step on the investigation’s toes, or to unfairly represent any individuals involved in this tragedy. I’m happy to try to answer any questions readers may have, so please ask them here via the comments section, or email me directly at: ewolff@sacurrent.com.

Please, if you have any information that could help identify Dana Clair’s or anyone’s murderer, call the police: (210) 207-7635. And if there is a specific murder case you want to call to the Current's attention, please email ewolff@sacurrent.com or call (210) 388-0625.

As always, thanks for reading.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 10/8/2009 7:09:27 PM
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