‘Lost’ pieces of ‘The Darkest Night’

Tomorrow, THE DARKEST NIGHT celebrates eight years since it was first published in paperback. Almost immediately it became a bestseller and readers continue to find it in great numbers today. It’s not because I am an extraordinary storyteller, but because this powerful story of two girls’ terror moves anyone who hears it to want to pass it along.

But pieces of it were lost along the way. Purposely. The publisher of the original hardcover version (titled FALL) intentionally deleted some segments to make the story more appealing to filmmakers, TV producers, and magazine editors. Why? She reckoned they’d pay more handsomely for the rights to re-tell a harrowing story if they believed it had been overlooked by other media. I was appalled by the subterfuge, but my protests went unheeded. When St. Martin’s picked up the paperback rights, I hoped they’d restore the deleted parts, but they were contractually forbidden from adding to the book.

So eight years later, I am sharing a brief, deleted segment. It describes how the two victims’ mother wrote a heartbreaking account of her ordeal for a supermarket magazine. (The other was a deeper exploration of an abortive film project about the case by one of Hollywood’s most respected producers). Both offered a glimpse into the hearts of victims’ families. Here is one, for the first time ever made public:

In 1993, less than a year after Becky’s death, a first-person account by Toni Case about the crime and its devastating echoes appeared in a checkout-stand tabloid called “Women First.” 

While some of her details are inexact, a mother’s poignant grief virtually spills off the page.  Under the headline, “Our whole world shattered,” she recalls those events that would be seared into a mother’s heart, from her memories of sandcastles on a Texas beach to the sight of Amy’s broken body in the morgue. 

Among her memories, which she admits are shock-fogged and vague, is that during Becky’s trial testimony, Ron Kennedy drew his finger across his throat inconspicuously, still terrorizing her though she was finally beyond his sinister grasp.

Becky’s life after the crime was full of disappointment, she recounts.  A failed marriage, single motherhood, drug and alcohol dependency, a series of jobs.  She was barely afloat for nineteen years.  But two things weighed her down, sucked her under completely: The fear that Kennedy and Jenkins would be freed and somehow finish the job they botched on Fremont Canyon Bridge in 1973, and her intense guilt that she survived while Amy died.

On the night she died a second time, her mother believes Becky, emboldened by a cocktail of booze and prescription pills, was either testing Fate or testing herself.

“Yet I don’t believe in Fate,” Toni wrote in the article.  “I don’t believe the way it ended for Becky — up there on the bridge — was the way it was meant to be.  I don’t know …

“What brought Becky to the bridge that night was a weakness.  (We) always wished she’d had a harder shell, but who could survive such a trauma and go on and live as if nothing had happened?  Behind the laughter and all her joking, she was lost, looking for answers to questions that would never be answered.”  

But the question still unanswered, even now, for Becky’s mother is whether her final fall was a tragic accident — or her last important decision in a troubled life where too many bad decisions had been made for her.

Still, Becky was dead. 

Whatever superhuman survival instinct had driven Becky to survive her fall from Fremont Canyon Bridge, to endure the chilling ordeal in the canyon on a black night, to point a finger at her accusers and send them to prison forever, to face the life to which she’d  clung … it had dissipated in those nineteen years since the crime.  Whether she revisited Fremont Canyon Bridge to curse the ghosts or to join them, whether she lost her balance or lost her will to live, it doesn’t matter.

Her presence at that place at that moment was a surrender.  She had defeated the odds on a September night in 1973.  Her heroic survival instinct had served her well.

But nobody, not even her mother, knew it had faded away, like memory, like youth, like light at the end of the day.

Only scars remain.