This post has nothing to do with Stampin' Up! but everything to do with my family and who we are because of today's subject. Please bear with me. If you are not interested in hearing about a life event from 1987, then come back tomorrow and I will have new cards for you to view.
Yesterday our family received word via Facebook that a murderer had been executed in Texas. This fact brings both relief and closure for a chapter in our lives that left an indelible mark on our family.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1987, I received a call from a friend, checking to see if I was interested in babysitting for a young family she knew were looking for a sitter for their little boy. I was a SAHM with 4 young children at the time: a daughter in kindergarten, a daughter in 3rd grade, a 4 year-old son, and a 6 month-old baby girl. After affirming that, yes, I was interested in babysitting, I received a call from the couple. In less than 30 minutes we were meeting Keith and Elaine Dardeen and their adorable little boy Pete.
My husband and I took an instant liking to both Keith & Elaine, and Pete fell instantly into hero worship of our 4 year-old son, Troy. After visiting with the family and working out the details of their needs and my availability, we all knew this was going to be a great "fit" for all of us.
Elaine was working part-time, so Pete never grew tired of coming to our house. He was a very intelligent, articulate child. If he ever objected to anything he was asked to do or not do, all I had to say was "Troy wants you to . . " and he was with the program!
The next 6 months were an enjoyable interlude for our families. I cared for Pete while his mother worked, and sometimes more often than not when Keith came to pick him up they would take Troy home "just to play" for a few hours.
When Pete turned 3 during the summer our family was invited to his birthday party. During the party it was announced that Pete would be a big brother in January. Everyone was excited.
As the fall drew to a close, Elaine told me they were looking into the possibility of having an older woman come to their house to care for Pete and the new baby after the birth. In mid-November she told me they were planning to have a lady come to the house soon to start getting Pete used to her. We were saddened to have this chapter of our lives come to a close, but knew we would still be friends.
Late in the morning of November 18, 1987 I received a puzzling phone call from Keith's supervisor at his work. Keith had not shown up for work, which was unusual, as Keith was a very loyal and punctual employee. In the early afternoon I received another phone call, this time from Keith's mother. She had received an identical phone call from Keith's supervisor, and asked if I knew anything about their whereabouts. I assured her that although I had thought I was going to babysit Pete that day, when they did not drop him off and I didn't hear from them I had assumed they were trying out the new babysitter.
I tried calling their home as well, but the phone just rang and rang. I then called a family friend who worked for the State Police. I asked him what could be done to find a missing family. His advice was that there really wasn't anything to be done "if someone wants to disappear, they can".
Early in the evening I received another call from Keith's mom, asking me to please meet the Jefferson County Sherriff's deputys at the trailer. She wanted them to know where the key to the trailer was hidden.
When I arrived at the home, there were several police cars in the drive and in the yard. I pulled in, told them who I was, and why I was there. I was asked to pull in further and would I mind speaking with a Detective? I agreed, and spent the next hour with a Detective in his car in the driveway. The trailer was dark, but I could see that there were flashlights moving around inside.
After asking me many questions about Keith & Elaine, their relationship, and my impressions of them as a couple, the Detective gently informed me that Elaine and Pete were inside the trailer. He never expressly told me they were dead, but I knew.
No other details were imparted to me at that time, other than they were looking for Keith, as his car was missing. At that moment Keith was the prime suspect. I told the detective I did not believe it could ever be Keith to have done such a thing. I trusted Keith and Elaine. They were fellow believers in Christ, and I had trusted my children to play at their home many times, apart from the babysitting I did for them.
The subsequent news that not only were Elaine and Pete murdered, but Elaine's unborn baby, later named Casey by close family members, had been born during the attack and killed as well, and that Keith had been found murdered just a few miles away stunned and horrified my husband & I.
How to explain to our children, aged 9, 6, & 5 (our baby-girl was only 13 months at the time) that their little playmate was dead? As carefully as we could we told them that the family had died. Of course there were a million questions over the next months. We tried to keep the gory details from them as much as we could, but it was especially hard for our oldest as she heard all kinds of wild stories at school. She and our son, Troy, were hit the hardest.
When we attended the visitation for the family we were advised by some very wise people to not expect to "get over" this horrifying incident quickly. We were told that it would take at least a year, maybe more, before we would start to heal.
They were right. Not a day went by for more than an year that I didn't think and grieve for them. During that time I was approached by several newspapers and t.v. stations for an interview, but I just couldn't. I was too scared for my family's safety. I didn't want anyone to know that I had been "the babysitter". I didn't want whoever was still out there to think I might know something about the case. Our church family and community were also supportive, refusing to reveal to the press who "the babysitter" was. We were grateful for that.
Jessica had trouble going to sleep at night for years. She experienced separation-anxiety any time she was away from us, even if it was only to drop her off at school in the evening for a basketball game. She was afraid her parents were going to be murdered while she was away from us. She is in her thirties now, with children of her own. When she heard the news that the murderer had been executed, she noted that one of her two daughters is now 8, almost the same age she was when this tragedy occurred.
Troy, of course, didn't know as much as Jessica did, but he thought about and missed his little "shadow" greatly. Several times he expressed a desire to be able to help capture the person who had hurt his friend.
The F.B.I. came to our home a few weeks after the murders to ask Troy and I a few questions. It was very surreal when two men in suits sat down with us, showed us a few photos, asked us a few brief but pointed questions, and then left with no additional comment. We never knew if our responses helped the case at all.
Our family lived in fear for a very long time. My husband started blocking our door with a steel bar at night. It was several years before we felt safe enough to put the steel bar aside.
So a generation has passed since November 1987. My children are all grown, with lives and families of their own. But for me Pete is still the same adorable little boy who followed Troy around. Pete and his sister could have had families of their own by now. Keith and Elaine could have known the joy Mark & I find in being grandparents.
In spite of it all, I'm thankful for the time we were allowed to know Keith, Elaine, and Peter. Thankful for the friendship my son enjoyed with Pete. Thankful for the faith in God that carried us through even when we were too devastated to ask for His help.
And lastly, I'm thankful for the state of Texas for finally ending this story for us.
Until tomorrow . .