When I explain to people that I’m writing a memoir about trying get my friend Patty Vance’s cold case dusted off, the responses I get range wildly. My mother couldn’t understand why I would want to write about a subject that would surely be “difficult and painful.” A teacher of mine, a poet I showed the first iteration of the story to, raved about it, calling it “powerful.” In my writing critique group, my peers refer to my first person narrator in the third person, so I receive comments like this one: “I don’t think she would procrastinate so much. She’s determined. She should be pushing the police harder. She shouldn’t wait two months to call the detective on the case.” When I am feeling discouraged, I get my resolve back after hearing comments like that one, comments that remind me to try harder somehow.
Then there were the responses to my wanting to rattle SFPD’s cage to take another look at the case. My father couldn’t understand why I didn’t just “forget about it.” My cousin said “there’s a slim chance that this case will ever be solved.”
In my dealings with law enforcement, the responses weren’t quite so all over the map. On the contrary, I was inundated almost exclusively with supportive advice. Kenneth Mains, the president of the American Association of Cold Case Investigators, reassured me that of course I had to pursue my friend’s cold case. “You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning,” he said to me the first time we met. The subtext was that if you’re a good person, you just have to do the right thing. Regardless. And I have to give a shout out again to Kris Barbrich of the SF Medical Examiner’s office who gave me the most surprising tip: “If you don’t get the detective you’ve talked to to help you, go to his supervisor. And if that person doesn’t help you, go to the top if you have to. Keep trying until someone helps you.” I haven’t had to go up the ladder yet. In fact, someone from SFPD called me personally back in September to assure me Patty Vance’s file (over eight inches thick now I was told) is being looked at once again. More about that phone call later.