I am going to use a draft of my Chapter 1 as my blog post this time around. It references the Prologue in parts, so if you’re interested, you can scroll down to look at the Prologue which I entered as a post weeks ago. Besides my writing critique group, I haven’t shown anyone my chapters yet.
January 2, 2016
Today I found the death certificate for Patricia Vance. June 4th, 1980. This is public information and can be found on the internet quite easily. This was what I needed to pin down the exact date, so I could ferret out some details about her murder. This document was the first domino in my document search. I imagined there was an article published in one, if not both, of the two major newspapers at the time. I pictured her face splashed across the front page of The Chronicle just as the photograph of the Galileo student got a prominent spot on page one in our high school newspaper. After searching every corner of the internet, I was unable to find what I was looking for. There is a California digital newspaper collection, but only recent and current copies are available in that format. Considering how far technology has come, I was a bit surprised that I would likely have to resort to the old-school technique of combing through microfiche.
January 14, 2016
I facebooked Harold Vance, Patricia Vance’s brother on a whim. I wanted to find out if a family member was advocating for his sister. In his picture, he was astride a black Harley, the handlebars framing the photograph like a set of hands cradling him. He was the spitting image of his father as I remembered him. That no-hair-out-of-place, glint-in-his-eye golden boy who was attached to his baseball bat at all times was hardly recognizable. In this picture he was a middle-aged, barrel-chested man appearing to grip the handlebars on his bike as he once gripped that bat — like his life depended on it. I sent him a friend request.
In addition to Facebook, I tried reaching out to him on the website Ancestry where I found he had posted a family tree. Are you the brother of Patricia Vance? I wrote and hit send.
January 29, 2016
I set off for the San Francisco public library at ten in the morning. It is twenty odd blocks from where my parents live on Nob Hill to the civic center, an easy down-hill plod the entire way. I crashed on their couch overnight to make my job easier; I was priced out of the living in the city long ago and lived miles north in a one-post-office town. I arrived at the library in under an hour, eyes watering and cheeks scalding from wind burn. Homeless people were huddled en masse in the door wells. I slid through a crowd of four, giving the door a yank. No go. A man with a beaded Native American belt, a long braid and flinty eyes tapped the face of his wrist watch.
“It doesn’t open until noon,” he said.
Check your notes once in a while, I reminded myself. Earlier that week I’d scrawled the library hours on a Post-it to avoid this very scenario, me milling around with nothing to do.
I wandered along Larkin to Turk Street. I backtracked the other direction and headed towards downtown. I killed time in the tourist shops on Market Street fingering stacks of I heart SF t-shirts and shaking cable car snow globes as I wandered aimlessly up and down the aisles. I bought nothing. I’d never feel like a tourist here despite that San Francisco is not the same city I grew up in. I headed in the direction of the waterfront, nearly colliding with a stream of millennials streaming out from the Twitter building, their eyes locked on their smart phones.
There were minutes to spare when I took my place by the front of the library again. The heavy doors swung open precisely at noon. The early-bird squatters filed into the rest rooms, the rest of us into the myriad rooms. I approached the librarian and she pointed upstairs to where I’d find the microfiche stacks.
I half walked, half ran up three flights of a staircase where I finally spotted the shelves I was looking for. I plucked a box from the shelf, wiping a thin coat of yellow dust from a box marked The San Francisco Chronicle June 1980-December 1980. I pulled up a concrete-hard chair at a bank of microfiche machines. After a few stabs, sliding the film into the requisite slats, I wheeled through, looking for obituaries or articles detailing homicides on June 4th or thereabouts. I found myself getting sidetracked, distracted by the advertising. I’d slow down after glancing a picture of, say, a furniture salesman whizzing by. I’d stop to size up the fashion, the shoulder-grazing, feathery hair, the wide lapels, sideburns like bacon slabs. I spent more time than I’d like to admit shifting around in that hard chair, skimming articles and editorials, gawking at photographs, generally reminiscing about life back then. I struggled to remain focused and finally after an hour had gone by, and one of my feet began to go numb, I told myself I needed to get back to my task.
The only article that ran in the newspaper on that date was headed Three Murders in S.F. Within Eight Day’s Span. It was buried on page three. The name was wrong, the age was wrong. This couldn’t be her, I thought. Then, why is she sharing space with two other homicides? Isn’t she front-page news?
Early Wednesday night a 21-year-old woman was found
strangled under a freeway on ramp near the waterfront. Police
said that the body of Patricia Mann, who had a record of
prostitution, was found at 10:29 p.m. by a taxi driver. The
coroner’s office said she had been strangled an hour before she
was found. Police have no suspects in custody and few clues.
My next step would be to call the police. Surely, I thought, they must be able to tell me something.
March 8, 2016
I contacted Gianrico Pierucci, a cold case detective for the San Francisco Police Department to see if he could fill me in on at least a few details. The call ended after he explained her file was stored in a basement facility across town and he wasn’t authorized to yank it as it was still an open case. I’d have to contact Legal first. Legal gave my request a big thumbs down. If any details of the case leaked out, it could jeopardize solving the case at some future date.