On the last day of 2014, a man named Bill Gerow wrote this comment on my only story in this blog to date, “Pima Jane Doe and the Flower Girl“:
My name is Bill Gerow and the picture of the girl is my sister Brenda, she is from NH and we have been looking for her since 1980, I was contacted by a Det Mark O Dell 2 weeks ago and informed about this recent development ,I had no idea that Brenda was found murdered in Arizona 34 years ago, we are deeply saddened by this recent news to say the least,I am going to post this on all social media that I can so that we can prosecute (Jack) and keep this animal behind bars till he is dead Jack left NH with my sister in 1980 and that was the last we saw of him or her it is with great sadness that we learned of her murder recently,if you need moreback ground on her or Jack please contact me…
Untold attempts at trolling me through the years and the general chicanery that can accompany blogging about crime made me reflexively skeptical of Bill’s comment, even though in hindsight I can see why I shouldn’t have been. I did email him, though, because there was a note of sorrow in his comment that seemed too profound to be totally insincere.
Bill’s first reply to me erased most of my skepticism. A portion of the email:
[Her] full name is Brenda Marie Gerow. Her Birthday is Feb, 18 1960 the last time I heard from her was July 20 1980, and yes Jack left NH as a wanted criminal, that is why he fled with my sister. She contacted me 3 months after she left my parents home with Jack, I have looked extensively looked for her since, I believe there was no missing person report filed at the time she left, she was 20 and of legal age at the time, I was 16 when she left He did go by the name Jack at that time (…)
I was unsure as to what to do. It felt like a major scoop. But it also seemed like there must be a reason police weren’t releasing such a solid lead. I assumed they were working to build a solid case against Kalhauser. And maybe I just wasn’t ready to dive into it, for whatever reason. So after another exchange with Bill, I left it alone. And I left this blog alone, even though it seemed like a pretty good idea.
It’s almost October, nearly 10 months after Bill Gerow left his comment. The story has been confirmed. From Boston’s NBC affiliate, WHDH:
Pima County Sheriff’s detectives now have her name, who she was with before her death, and where she lived.
“We’ve been able to identify Jane Doe as Brenda Gerow. She was born and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire,” says Pima County Detective Mark O’Dell. “She was about the age of 20 when she left Nashua with John Kalhauser.”
So—from a journalistic perspective, I had the story almost a year ago and I blew it. I sat on it, in part out of respect for Bill Gerow, whose subsequent emails to me made it clear he was in the throes of a deeply emotional struggle. In part out of a hesitance to dive even deeper because it felt like a vastly depressing labyrinth.
That’s the eternal challenge in these kinds of crime stories. They have, as they’ve lingered over the years, developed layers of sorrow that are hard to fathom from the comfort of your living room, typing in a blog edit box.
And I think about, too, the possibilities with a psychopath like Kalhauser. He said something to one of his exes that upon re-reading tonight I found doubly chilling, given his history of dead, anonymous or completely hidden victims:”‘While I was in high school,’ (Janet) Renk said, ‘he told me he was going to take me to some woods in New Hampshire and tie me to a tree and leave me there to starve.'”
“[Woods] in New Hampshire” made me think of the still-unsolved mystery of the Allenstown girls. An adult woman and 3 girls, all unknown, found wrapped in plastic inside barrels near a trailer park. It seemed like a lot of work, even for Kalhauser—but who knows, at this point?
That’s the kind of rabbit hole I’ve been down before when covering crime. It can challenge sanity. I wasn’t sure I was ready a year ago. Maybe no one is ever ready.
At least it’s official. At least Brenda Gerow has her name back. At least her brother can bring her bones home, finally, to this green country, so far from the desert where she was found.
- This post was originally published at coldpapers.blogspot.com.