Murder strikes home

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Originally printed on Tuesday, January 29, 1985 ©New Haven Journal-Courier.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometime after 10 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3, 1984, 19-year-old Joyce Stochmal left her home in Seymour, walking, to meet her boyfriend and get a ride to work at the Silver Hill Kennels in Ansonia, about four miles away. Five days later, police told her family that her body had been found in the water of nearby Lake Zoar. Her older sister Marianne, a member of The Jackson Newspapers staff, has written a deeply personal account of those terrible days almost six months ago. An arrest has not yet been made.

Murder strikes home

By Marianne Stochmal

Staff Reporter

joyce headshot

My sister was murdered.

Nothing could ever happen to cause more pain to me. If there at least had been a way to prepare for it, a way to cushion the blow…

It still seems like a nightmare, as if it really didn’t happen, couldn’t possibly have happened.  Then it starts to sink in again, and the pain flares up more intensely than before.

The only comfort is knowing that the rest of the family feels it as well. Not as I feel it, yet in the same capacity. That sense of loss. That emptiness. That unwholeness. The rest of us are together, yet together, we are alone.

I’m still trying to determine what it is I feel. “Murder” is such a horrifying word. But not nearly as much as when it has ripped into your own life. Personally.

Murder is, after all, a personal thing. It tears right into the heart of your being. It interrupts and disrupts your life. It changes you, makes you someone you never were or ever would’ve been. Separates you from the person you are and makes it so that you can never be that person again.

  • Continued on page 8.

You don’t ever truly laugh. You don’t ever truly feel. But you cry. Oh, how you cry. It seems as if the tears will never cease, and your eyes have nothing else to do anyway.

SATURDAY, Aug. 4, 1984

When this whole horrible thing started happening, I felt it alone. This is not precise, when I consider that Joyce’s boyfriend, Dana Gramolini, and Pat and Ed Marin, her bosses from the kennels, also were worried that she was missing. But I say I felt it alone, because all of a sudden this sick feeling started to take root in me, never letting up, even to this day. It only kept growing, taking me over.

I wasn’t worried when Ed called Saturday morning to find out if Joyce was around. My mother wasn’t sure she’d recognize the voice exactly, and so thought nothing of it.

I wasn’t worried when I called the kennels Saturday night to find out if our plans to go out were still in effect, and no one answered the phone.

I left a message on the answering machine, and still I wasn’t worried.

SUNDAY, Aug. 5, 1984

On Sunday, I felt that something was wrong. Dana showed up at our house, minus Joyce. It just didn’t look right. But I never got to talk to him; before I had the chance, he had left.

I called the kennels to talk to Joyce, assuming she was working. It wasn’t unusual for her to spend the entire weekend there, working or baby-sitting or socializing. Pat and Ed were such good friends of ours; it was only natural for her to be there a lot.

I spoke to Pat when I called. The tone of her voice stirred that sick feeling in me again. Joyce had not shown up for work on Saturday morning. Not like Joyce at all, I thought. So did Pat and Ed. And Dana. I pushed the thought of anything bad happening to her right out of my mind. No way. But that left only confusion. Too difficult to sift through, but too obvious to avoid.

My first reaction was to take a walk. Walking always helps me clear my head. Maybe I’d be able to figure out where she night have gone or just how she might be thinking. For all I knew, she could just be angry with Dana. Maybe she had decided to go to a friend’s or somewhere where she could cool off.

The area around where we live is so “country.” We live up the hill from the Housatonic River, and down the hill from a reservoir, with an area we call “the falls” in the woods behind our house and a brook down the road and across the street. I’ve always said that I love where we live and would never want to live anywhere else, because I think it’s perfect. So much of nature all around to grow up in and enjoy. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t conceive of anything shocking happening here.

I walked all the way down to the river first. When I think about it, this was a symbolic action in itself, because whenever I – or Joyce and I – took a walk, it was always up to the reservoir. Just to sit on the bridges, talk or sit and stare. But that feeling inside made me go down the hill first. Looking for something. For her, even. I didn’t even know. It was just a reflex action.

I stared out at the water for a while, getting more upset, as I thought about some of the horrible things that could have happened to her. I refused to believe any of it, but the fear that I felt, just thinking about it, was too real.

After that, I started walking back home, but decided to keep going past the road leading to our house and continue up to the “res.” What the hell, maybe she was there, just sitting, thinking – and waiting for me to come and talk to her. Just maybe. I prayed all the way up that hill.

Once the stone bridges were in sight, and Joyce wasn’t, I stopped praying. Maybe out of shock. Maybe just because I saw it was no use.

I went over to “my” bridge and sat down on it, staring at the low banks of the res. I kept asking myself over and over, “ Where are you, Jerse, where are you?” and I didn’t get a single answer. But I didn’t give up. I kept thinking positive thoughts, just because, somewhere along the line, somebody had told me that it works. Then I went home.

Home. To an empty room. Mine and Joyce’s. I was upset, but I didn’t know what to do. I finally decided to alert my parents to what I knew – that Joyce had never made it to the kennels Friday night.

Their reaction was initially one of anger. Understandable. They assumed she was pulling some kind of stubborn stunt.

MONDAY, Aug. 6, 1984.

The anger turned to fear Monday morning. My mom came into my room to look for Joyce, hoping she had come in during the night. Seeing the empty bed, mom decided to call the Seymour police. The next thing I knew she was on her way downtown to file a missing person report. I was frantic.

Again, I felt compelled to take another walk, in search of anything. I was hoping I could find some clue, but I was also scared to death of finding her in a state I know I couldn’t have borne.

When I got back home again, I did not know what to do. Dana had taken off from work to look for her, to no avail. Pat and Ed went looking after they closed the kennel for the day. Nothing. All along I kept “talking” to Joyce, telling her to give me some idea of where she was. And I kept saying to her, “I know you’re all right, I know you’re somewhere, I just have to find you. You just have to help me find you.” I couldn’t imagine her any way but alive. It was inconceivable to me that she could be anything else.

One by one, everyone came home from work and asked if there had been any word. My brother Paul called the Seymour cops again to see what they’d been doing, what progress they’d made.

When he hung up, he asked me for a recent photograph of Joyce, so he could bring it down to the station. I remember mom saying that the police had told her earlier they hadn’t heard anything yet – and that was a good sign she was still alive. I remember thinking the exact opposite. If she were alive, she’d call me.

I ran up to our room and checked through every photo album I have, looking for a recent picture. The best I could find in such a hurry was a picture I had taken of Joyce at Bungay Field last summer when we’d gone to a softball game. It was one of three I’d taken – she wouldn’t look at me the first time I snapped it, so I got a nice picture of the back of her head. Then she turned and made a goofy face. Finally, she let me take it. It’s one of my favorite pictures of her.

bungay dodge dart

Paulie brought the photo down to the station. The rest of us went about our regular duties, waiting for some word. I kept expecting the phone to ring, with Joyce on the other end, saying, “Mare, come pick me up.” Just as she’d done so many times. I guess that was wishful thinking.

TUESDAY, Aug. 7,1984.

Tuesday was even worse. By this time my father was too upset to go to work. I couldn’t stand to be around anyone – seeing that kind of pain in someone you love is unbearable – so I went outside and sat on our front steps. And waited. And cried. Even though we didn’t know anything at this point, I cried. I thought about so much – so many good times and so many plans we had made. It wasn’t possible to me that we weren’t going to have the chance to fulfill those dreams.

I didn’t want to leave the yard, just in case. I felt helpless. I felt as if Joyce needed me, even then, and I wanted to be ready. Then I saw my father starting to walk down the hill. I ran after him to see where he was going. We decided to go together, to walk the route Joyce had taken, to see if we could find anything.

We picked up every scrap of paper, looked through the weeds and brush – and found nothing familiar. We walked all the way to the Texaco station, about three miles from our house and not far from the kennels. We finally decided to call mom to pick us up. The walk back would’ve been too difficult, not because of the distance but because of the load we were bearing.

One thing I remember clearly, from the beginning when we first had reason to be afraid, is my father saying, so many times, in such a worried-out-of-his-mind tone, “Where is she?” and then, as if he were pleading to her, “Joyce. Where are you?”

I can still hear that in my mind, and it still hurts to hear him say it.

I’d lost my appetite from the beginning, and by Tuesday afternoon I’d gone to our room and was just crying on our bed (Joyce and I shared everything, our clothes, our room, and the double bed – we weren’t just close sisters, we were best friends.) I was begging for her to be somewhere, when my dad came in. He told me to calm down and come downstairs – there were policemen who wanted to speak to us all. I looked out our bedroom window and saw an unfamiliar car and a town police car.

I tried to compose myself, washed my face and slowly walked downstairs. Seymour police Sgt. Jimmie Steelman and two state troopers – Detective Shaun Byrne and a woman – were in our living room. I can’t remember if they introduced themselves; I imagine they did. They asked me to describe what Joyce was wearing the night she disappeared.

This I was able to do easily because I’d taken my own inventory (anticipating its importance) Monday, I think.

I described her outfit – two different pairs of jeans were possible, since I couldn’t find two of hers – and listed whatever else I thought was a possibility. I told them she’d had on a light green tube top, with a white crinkle blouse over it. To my embarrassment, Detective Byrne asked me to put on a tube top, so they could see how it was worn. Wanting to be of as much help as I could, I did so, although I put my bikini top on underneath it. Joyce hardly wore her tube tops that way. She had always been more carefree than I.

I also told the detectives positively that Joyce always wore her rings. I remember she had told me once, joking, that she felt naked without them.

After the detectives had finished asking questions, they dropped the bomb. They told us that a body had been found in Lake Zoar. Detective Byrne said it was that of a young woman in her late teens or early 20s, about 5 feet 6 or so, but that the body was “bloated beyond recognition.”

None of us said a word, except mom. She pointed out Joyce’s high school picture on the mantle and asked Detective Byrne if he thought the body looked like Joyce. He answered that he wouldn’t say so. That didn’t make us feel any better.

The detective told us that the body would have to be identified through dental records and that they wouldn’t know positively until the next day at about noon. But they did want to come back and talk to us again later that night. They left at about 8:30, and came back a couple of hours later.

They questioned all of us individually – first mom, then dad, my oldest brother Charlie, all of us. And Dana. They kept trying to learn the circumstances that led Joyce to walking that night.

It’s so hard to explain it and make people understand. You’d have to know her, know all of us, and know the area in which we live.

We’ve walked the roads around our neighborhood since we were small children. We used to deliver newspapers – sometimes even at night. The thought of this kind of thing never entered our minds. None of us was ever afraid of anything like that. It was an absurd impossibility.

Joyce decided to walk that night by choice. But she hadn’t meant to walk the entire distance to the kennels. I feel I can speak for her in saying that she intended to begin walking up the hill and meet Dana as he was on his way down to pick her up. When we figured out the timing later, it seemed that Dana had been only minutes, maybe seconds, late.

That Tuesday night was the longest night of my life. Probably in all of our lives. I honestly don’t know how the days were passing – we were eating, we weren’t sleeping. It seemed as if we didn’t do anything.

No one went to work Wednesday. Some of our cousins came over and waited with us. Waiting to know for sure if the body was Joyce was pure agony. I cried. I prayed. I talked to her. I talked to God. I reasoned that she had too much to do yet – she hadn’t even gotten her driver’s license. She was going to be a veterinarian. We were going to go cross-country – to Colorado. It wasn’t right. She should have the chance. And I didn’t want the chance without her.

Two state policemen pulled up at about 1 p.m. – but they said nothing. They asked me to go with them to see if a pocketbook they’d found alongside the road could be hers. They described it, and I recognized it without even seeing it – but not as Joyce’s. It was one dad and I had seen on our walk. I went for the ride anyway, just to be sure.

All the time in the car, I was dying to know the results. I was scared to death to ask though, and even more scared to hear if it was Joyce.

They brought me home after I assured them that the purse wasn’t Joyce’s. Then they left again. It was hard to tell how much more waiting we could do. I felt that I was going to burst.

I went to my room and started rummaging through some of her things and found a basket filled with little mementos and personal items that Joyce had apparently put away. I became frozen with fear when, one by one, I found her three rings.

Since the detectives had told us that the body had been found with no jewelry, I had been able to keep a positive attitude. Joyce wore earrings regularly, and Joyce wore her rings. I couldn’t hold in the moans and cries when I found her high school ring last. It seemed like a definite and final sign. That ring had been my last defense against the horrible possibility. I won’t say my last hope, though, because I never gave up hope.

The same two detectives came back late that afternoon. Our whole family, including cousins, was scattered both inside and outside the house. If the previous night ad this day had seemed long, these final few moments were intolerably so. Paulie was standing on the sidewalk to the house, so he was the first the detectives met up with. It bothered me that they didn’t come straight into the house to my parents. My father and I stood at the front door, waiting, but no one dared to ask. And they seemed to waiting for just that, for us to ask. I heard them quietly as how our parents were “holding up.”

What can you say?

Finally, my father said, “It’s Joyce, isn’t it?” And immediately he answered his own question. “It’s Joyce.”

Detective Byrne looked over at us, nodded and said, “Yes. It’s Joyce.”

After that, it seemed we all headed off in our own directions. I heard cries and yells and moans and a loud crash like somebody punching a wall, but it didn’t seem real. It seemed as if it were all coming from a different place. Someplace far away.

I suppose none of us knew what to do. Some of us had already been preparing ourselves for it, all day, believing that it was inevitable. But I had refused to believe that someone with so much to offer, someone with such a fabulous future ahead, would be taken away from all that now. I could not believe that I would be forced to do without her for the rest of my life.

I asked the detectives if there could be some mistake. I asked how they were so sure.

“Dental records” was their proof-positive.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the relatives and friends phoning and coming to visit after the news got out. The disbelief at seeing Joyce’s picture and name splashed all over the newspapers and the television screen was intense. It was good, I suppose, to have so many people around to help us get through it. But after a while, we all seemed to feel that we just wanted to be left to deal with it on our own, together.

It’s taken some time for the numbness to go away. I’m not even sure it’s completely gone. I don’t think it can ever be completely gone.

When I think that, at the base of the whole thing, was Joyce’s sense of responsibility and her consideration for the family and for Dana, it hurts even more. She would be sure she was at work that Saturday morning, for 6 o’clock. By staying overnight at the kennels, she would not have to awaken anyone to drive her so early.

Looking back at the whole ordeal, there are so many “ifs” … if she hadn’t decided to walk that Friday night… if Dana had been able to arrive earlier… if she hadn’t promised to be at work so early.. .It almost seems that what happened was “supposed” to happen and that nothing could have stopped it. It was uncontrollable.

Now all the ifs and maybes mean nothing.

Now my family and I are trying to pick up the pieces. My youngest brother, Joe, in trying to comfort me, has said, “Mare, we’ve gotta stick together. We all have to stick together.” It’s difficult, and it’s still hard to believe. But we’re trying to go forward.

Joyce was no quitter. One thing we’d always tried to do was to get the most out of life. Our time together was brief, but we’re all thankful for the memories. She’s alive, every day, in our hearts and minds. She always will be.

 

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Turning back the clock

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The year was 1984. “When Doves Cry” by Prince was the #1 song in the U.S. and Ronald Reagan was President. My sister Joyce and I had both just graduated from college only a couple of months earlier – Joyce from a two-year school in Leicester, Massachusetts – then known as Becker Junior College – and I from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

The game plan was straightforward: Joyce, with her veterinary assistant’s degree finished, was moving on to Southern in the Fall to finish a bachelor’s degree and get on to the ‘dream’ stuff – veterinary school, potentially at Tufts University once she completed SCSU. She was taking it all systematically, one diploma at a time. I had my journalism degree and was done, for the time being, with formal education.

Joyce’s goal was to become a veterinarian. That was no surprise to anyone who knew her, since Joyce had loved animals from the start.

feeding time Joyce with pets.jpg

I, on the other hand, was relatively clueless. All I knew was that I wanted to write. Whatever job that might mean, I was just going to have to figure it out as I went.

Who doesn’t remember what it feels like to be 19 and 21, in the beginning stages of seeing your future path start to take shape? Even if it wasn’t clear what you were going to be, you knew that adulthood offered all sorts of possibilities – travel, new relationships, independence, fun. A different kind of freedom.

That’s where Joyce and I were at, in the summer of 1984. Feeling like we had climbed a pretty big mountain in graduating from our respective colleges, and looking ahead to what amazing things were coming up next.

We had this big dream to drive cross country — a sisters adventure that we had little idea on how we would achieve it, but gigantic excitement that it was a trip we would take on our terms, in our own way. That was the reward for our hard work as college students, to see the beautiful United States from one end to the other before we settled in to our careers, settled down with our life loves, had our families, and raised them next door to each other.

It was so simple. Whatever would fill in the gaps of those life markers, we didn’t care. We had laid the foundation for Life, and our plans were entwined and mapped out as much as they needed to be at that moment in time.

Looking back now, we were so innocent. Growing up in smalltown Seymour, Connecticut, why wouldn’t we be?

watermelon

We lived in a community where you made friends through the local sports programs of Little League baseball, Pop Warner football; your church, where you volunteered at the annual parish picnic, your cousins sang in the choir and your brothers were altar boys… the connections formed in those early days of our childhood were permanent ones. The older I get, the more I see it: those are relationships that never fade. Those are friends from whom you draw your strength, rekindle your hope and remind you of the richness you enjoyed — not marked by dollars in the bank but by the sweet relishing of the simple things.

As kids, we spent our summers playing wiffle ball, swimming in the brook or in our backyard pool, and playing with our best friends – the neighborhood kids.  Joyce and I were outnumbered by five brothers, so we stuck together. That closeness grew over the years from childhood, to the amazing bond we enjoyed as teenagers right up until the day she was taken from us.

Joyce and John towel-4

Our cross-country trip is still just a dream. Well, a broken dream, I guess. I’ll never take that trip with Joyce. A killer made sure of that.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll share my story – the first published story I ever wrote about what happened to my sister Joyce. It ran on Page 1 of the defunct New Haven Journal-Courier newspaper, the place where I started my professional writing career and in some ways, the job that saved me. That’s a story for another time. 

I’ll share it, in serial form, as that is the way I wrote it all those years ago, even though it appeared in the paper all at once. The story came out of notes I began to take on my evening shift at the newspaper, in between work, getting out the raw emotions I was wrestling with every minute of every day. Then, one day, something compelled me to share a bit of it with one of my colleagues — and the response was encouraging. No, it was more than that. He told me it was a story that should be told.

Somehow, I found the words. When I think about it, maybe the words found me. When my story was mocked up for publishing, I was stunned to see that not only did it appear on the front page, but it filled a full page inside the paper as well.

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For a rookie journalist whose job at the time amounted to nightly police checks and writing the weather box at the bottom of the front page, it was prime real estate, and I don’t think I even got that, at the time. All I cared about was making sure Joyce was not forgotten. How do you make that happen? For me, writing was the only way I knew.

So, beginning here on Walking Distance tomorrow, Part 1 of “Murder strikes home.” See you then.

 

 

It’s coming, and we can’t stop it.

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The dread begins just after the 4th of July, I’d say.

That would make it just shy of a month before the day my family hates, fears, fights, and ultimately, gets crushed by. The holiday ushers in the period of knowing what’s around the corner on the calendar, the date of the year that brings the reliving of immense grief. When we lose a loved one, the day of their death becomes a day of mourning, no matter how much time has passed.

For my family, one of those days is August 3rd.

The day the world stopped. At least, for us. It was the day in 1984 that Joyce Theresa Stochmal took her last breath. The day her fearless innocence met with the evil personified by a man named David Weinberg.

I cannot tell you Joyce’s story without the unimaginable ending being the beginning of it. I’m sorry that it isn’t a happy story. I’m sorry that it’s true. But I’m not sorry to share it, because my sister Joyce was precious to me, and reminding people that she once was here, with a laugh that touched your heart and blue eyes that warmed your soul.

den rockerThis week, much as I don’t want to dwell in the horror of Aug. 3, 1984, I’ve decided to grab this gruesome monster of a story by the balls and share what I am able to muster.

I do this for a few reasons. Because cherished sisters, daughters, friends who are taken from us too soon should never be forgotten or allowed to be diminished by the events that come long after they have returned to the earth.

Because Joyce was a fighter, so I can be no less than one myself.

Because I don’t know what to do with all this nervous anxiety this week but to keep my fingers busy tapping these damn keys.

So this week, if you care to take this heavy journey with me, I’ll take you back 34 years to a time that went from sweet blissful innocence to harsh and searing reality.

Look, there’s no avoiding it. The monster is coming. We aren’t running. Come and get us.

 

A quiet introduction, a powerful message

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I made it to Palm Sunday mass last weekend, seeking the familiarity of my faith because it brings comfort, strength, and a chance to thank God.

That last part actually should have come first. I guess when you are caught up in the challenges of life, it is common to ask for things before you remember to be grateful for something you’ve been given.

I’m not gonna lie. I’ve asked for a lot in my life. Some of the things I’ve asked for have been silly: “Please make that boy like me.” “Please help me pass my driver’s test.”

Then there have been the big things.

“Please help my mother recuperate from this illness.”

“Please let my brother regain the use of his legs.”

There is no shame in the asking. We look to our faith to get us through the tough stuff. We don’t always understand the timing when things get fixed or changed or given, but holding tight to that faith puts us in a position of strength. We can handle anything. We only have to trust.

Today, I’m sharing the exchange I had yesterday at church that reminds me of the power of faith. The kind of faith that lifts you up, just when you think you are down for the count. Just when you think, that’s it, I cannot try anymore. I quit.

I had parked myself in my usual church pew and said my prayers before mass. As I finished and sat back in my seat, the woman who always sits on the other end of the pew slid over.

“Excuse me,” she said. Pointing to my pocketbook, she said, “May I ask, who is Joyce?”

She wanted to know about the Justice for Joyce button pinned to a bandana on my red pocketbook. I had brought Joyce to church with me. I bring her everywhere with me, really, as the button that bears her beautiful face and name is always pinned to my purse.

justice for joyce palm sunday

With only a few minutes before mass was about to begin, I quickly told her about Joyce.

Believe it or not, it is possible to tell a tragic story of murder and injustice in just a few sentences. I guess I’ve been telling this story a lot. The talking points are my life, and the life of my family.

I told the woman that my family is hoping that something good can come from Joyce’s horrible death. By helping to inform the public about the criminal justice system and the injustices we experienced – and still endure today – we hope that reform will come. We hope that other people can be spared the grief of such a tragedy.

“How old was your sister?” the woman asked.

“She was 19,” I said, adding, “a college student.”

The woman asked me my name, and we introduced ourselves. Funny how we have been sitting next to each other in that pew on Sunday mornings for years now, and the way we met was through my sister, Joyce.

“I’ll pray for your sister,” the woman said, before sliding back over to her side of the pew.

I can’t describe the feeling that settled in me, at the moment, but I can tell you the thought that sprang to my mind. That’s my little sister, always in the middle of stirring up goodness.

You don’t believe in the power of God? Then, how about angels?

©2018 By Marianne V. Heffernan

A Lesson from the OJ Interview

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Many people won’t know this, but sadly, too many will. When you are a family member of a loved one who has been murdered, you live with an “inside knowledge” you can never shake. No matter how much you want to.

No one wants to be an expert “victim.” But lately, that’s what it feels like we have become. My family was branded in 1984, when a man with a knife saw my beautiful teenaged sister walking on a dark country road. His state of mind was impaired by alcohol and anger, because his live-in girlfriend had left him that day. She rented a U-Haul, packed up her belongings, and drove off to stay with relatives who lived more than 200 miles away.

I guess that’s enough to drive a violent, sick individual to kill a stranger.

Some excuse, huh?

It is hard not to draw comparisons to news stories of this nature, especially when one of the stories that continues to smack you in the face is the one that comes from “The Trial of the Century,” the OJ Simpson case.

The airing the other night on Fox of “The Lost Interview” with OJ Simpson brought up a lot of familiar details for my family. Aside from the obvious -– the horrific stabbing deaths of the two victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman -– the program delivered several moments in which I caught myself talking out loud to the television. Well, not talking. Reacting, you might say.

A few takeaways, in my opinion:

  • The guilty always return to the scene of the crime.
  • The guilty blame the victims for what happened.
  • The guilty hide from testifying at trial, but think they can manipulate a different opportunity to “tell” their version of the story.

We experienced this in our case, the case of David Weinberg killing Joyce Stochmal in 1984. I wonder how many other victims’ families have noticed these trends, when they hear about a national news story of murder, and relate it to their own experiences.

I was glad to see, in the reporting about this OJ interview program, that it was pointed out that Simpson did not testify during his murder trial.

For all his fame, his experience as a sports star, movie star, and commercial pitch man, Simpson did not take the stand in his own defense during his trial. It seemed to go against everything he was about, being in the spotlight, having all eyes, all attention on him.

We all know that Simpson was acquitted of murder in the criminal trial. He was found liable, however, in a civil trial. The difference, to most people, may be hard to understand. The system is complicated, and at times, grossly unfair.

Obviously, our judicial system does not require an accused person to testify during a trial. The burden is on the state to prove guilt, not on the accused to prove innocence. But don’t tell me there are not a lot of people out there who interpret that failure to speak for oneself as being just a bit hard to comprehend. Innocent people will say they are innocent, or one would think.

In our case, convicted murderer David Weinberg also did not testify. He never told state police he did not kill my sister, Joyce. They asked him. He said nothing. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

 

And then, the unthinkable happened. He got out. Last year, the Connecticut judicial system freed Weinberg as a convicted murderer still guilty. They put no restrictions on him. He can live where he chooses. He has no requirements to report to any legal authority. He is the killer of record of 19-year-old Joyce Stochmal, and he is a free man who served 26 years of a life sentence for his crime.

Weinberg told a different version of his “story” when he willingly chose to testify in a habeas corpus civil claim in 1997. He lost that habeas attempt to get out of prison, but he filed another one. Because that is what our system currently allows – limitless habeas claims if you can come up with a different angle for suggesting you have been “illegally” incarcerated.

Just like OJ Simpson, Weinberg, it seems, offered his own take on the case of my sister’s vicious murder. It seems now, after three-plus decades, he thinks he can proclaim innocence.

And just like OJ Simpson, he is not believable.

For more information on the Joyce Stochmal murder case and her family’s efforts to effect reform of Connecticut’s criminal justice system, follow Justice for Joyce on Facebook, and Mare Heffernan on Twitter.

©️2018 By Marianne Heffernan

The Why of This

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I swear to you I did not wake up one morning and say to myself, “You are going to begin making pierogi until you have fed the entire northern hemisphere.”

Yet, almost magically, the pierogi is changing my life.

It is energizing my days, as I get home from my day job and change into my pierogi-making uniform (usually a t-shirt and yoga pants) to begin to make the dough. I get two batches of dough going at a time, so it has had time to get ready for the rolling. It is a kind of zen thing. The dough and I are one, joined by the rolling pin, encouraged by the music I have on in the background.

But why on earth am I doing this?

the golden circle

I have a full-time job. I also am in the last gasp of finishing my doctoral dissertation, the thing that should be consuming my every waking moment outside of the employment that helps keep our household in good stead.

I have a family –- including a rambunctious pup in need of training –- and a house that needs the usual routine cleaning. I also do enjoy regular sleep. What is this pierogi gig that is driving me to organize my time even more, so I can get back to the dough and the fillings that become such a hot commodity for those who truly know what a good pierogi tastes like?

The “Why” is a great question. It needs to be tended.

Simon Sinek is an author and inspirational speaker who most people recognize by his intriguing concept of getting to the “Why” of what we do. He suggests the concept of the Golden Circle, that has an outer layer of “What.” The What is the easiest to identify, and for some of us, it is the automatic thing that constructs our days.

What do we do?

I am a writer. I write. It happens that my writing (the one I make my living from, currently) is twisted into editing, strategizing, creating and supporting the creation of “writing” that promotes the company I work for and its products.

But I keep it simple, I write.

Some people teach. Some care for others as nurses, doctors, therapists, whatever. Some build houses or sell cars or clean buildings. You get the idea. What do we do? That’s the first question to start scratching the surface.

Yet, that doesn’t help me with the ‘Why of Pierogi,’ so I looked at Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle again. The next layer asks me another question: How? How do I do what I do?

That’s a question for another time, but ponder that one if you wish. For me, “how” includes a keen awareness of the full experience including who is part of it, how do I feel in it, what are the difficulties and the payoffs. It’s not just the mechanics, though that is the point of the How circle.

The goal is to get to the Why. That innermost circle that is the most revealing, and some would say, the most important.

Why? Why do you do what you do? What is your purpose?

Maybe I am just easily persuaded. I hate to say that, because it makes me sound like a pushover. And I’m pretty sure there are at least a handful of people who would challenge that statement, knowing how stubborn I am by nature.

But when it comes to trying new things or testing my abilities, I don’t blink. I go.

The beauty of that is, I am usually surprised by the experience and all that it reveals about myself, what I don’t know, what else there is to embrace in this life.

So why? Why am I making pierogi like the world will go hungry without them?

starting 3

I think I need to keep going to figure it out.

Recently, I read an article that challenged Sinek’s theory that “the Why” is the most important thing. It suggested we should get to “the Who” first.

Who are we? Do you know who you are?

To use an Oprah phrase, it was an “aha moment” for me. I may have answered this question though, when I answered the “What do you do?” question. I write. Hence, I am a writer.

Maybe this Pierogi Adventure is giving me a two-fer, two W’s for the price of one. My Why and my Who are blended into a perfect combination of who I am and why I would offer to make potentially a thousand pierogi for anyone who raised their hand at the offer.

Okay, a thousand pierogi might be an inflated number. It will feel like a thousand by the time I finish but it is all worth it. The sincere appreciation and enthusiasm I am receiving is priceless, for making something that it meaningful to me and my family. It is connected to so many beautiful memories, that this experience now becomes a part of all that.

All I can say is “Wow.”

Next up: Don’t Call Them Customers

©2018 By Marianne V. Heffernan

The Shipping Challenge (or, How To Make Pierogi Fly)

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For small business owners, the issue of shipping your product has got to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to success. You have no control over what items cost to ship, or how they are handled when they leave your care. You have no control over the temperature of the delivery vehicles (plane, truck), and no control over the weather where the items are headed. There can be lost shipments, truck breakdowns, delayed flights, misread addresses… a gamut of miscues that can land your precious product in Oz.

You really have no way of guaranteeing your carefully crafted, beautiful pierogi will arrive at its eager new owner’s home in one piece and as delicious as it was intended to be.

It’s enough to drive a control freak insane.

I don’t suggest that I have any real business acumen to speak of, or that this pierogi adventure I’m on is going to amount to anything more than a fun experiment in which my rolling-pin muscles become leaner and better defined, from my arms to my abs. I am literally making this up as I go. I have a great product, but had no idea that I would get order inquiries from at least five different states.

This is a bonafide dilemma.

In case you didn’t know, I don’t like to disappoint and I don’t back away from a challenge. I grab it by, well, whatever I can grab, and I squarely look it over until I have figured out how to solve it. So with this mindset, I set out to research my shipping options.

My trip to the UPS store in town could have been an episode of “Candid Camera.” Sorry that I didn’t get the name of the two comedians behind the counter. For purposes of furthering our story along, I’ll call them Larry and Moe.

Let me set the scene. It is Saturday morning during the Christmas season, and the main drag of my little hometown is crammed with cars – even moreso than usual. I assertively navigate Main Street like a Super Mario Brother and fly into the shopping plaza parking lot, where I abruptly pull into a spot right in front of the UPS store. I am a yogi on a mission.ups

I hustle into the UPS store, where “Larry” sees me coming. He tries to back-peddle to the back of the store. But I am too quick.

“Hi there!” My friendly smile is a bit exaggerated, as I’m thinking this is a pierogi novice who may not understand the infinite value of the delivery problem I am bringing to him. I need to get this guy in my pierogi corner.

“What can I do ya for?” Larry says, not returning my smile but eying me like I’m wearing a fuzzy pink robe and hair curlers.

I look myself over. I am not.

“I need to fast-ship a specialty food item,” I say. “What’s my best option?”

Larry doesn’t miss a beat. “Well that depends. Where are you sending it to? How much does it weigh? How big is it?”

Listen pal, I’ll ask the questions here.

“Oh Larry, such details,” I say to myself. “Here, have a pierogi.”

Larry estimates it will cost me “one million dollars” to have him and Moe correctly package up my Pierogi Yogi™ orders to get them through the Dry Ice Shipping Police and to the far corners of the world in time for Christmas.

“Lighten up, Larry,” I mutter under my breath. If Santa Claus can get it done by Christmas morning, so can I.

I scribble a few notes in my handy notebook, as Moe tells Larry that I’d best be sure to drop off my packages late in the day so they won’t be sitting around the UPS shipping area like a wallflower on prom night.

I walked out of UPS Downer Land, undeterred. I have friends at the Post Office.

Next up: The Why of This

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

A Jumbo-Sized Task

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This morning as I ride the bus to work I find myself Googling the question, “How do you eat an elephant?”

It’s been a little over a week since I put out my virtual “Pierogi-R-Us” sign on Facebook, and I am up to my elbows in flour a lot more often than I thought would have been possible. Somehow, magically, I’m finding the time to get this done, but I need to know that there is a finish line.

elephant

As I look over my spreadsheet of orders to get a handle on which ones are up for delivery this weekend, I am doing the math in my head for how many more hours I need, to get this all done before Christmas.

Since I don’t like to do math in my head,

I call my friend Google. As I mentioned the other day, Google and I are buds, and whenever I have a random question, I dial up “G” (my cute little nickname for him) and ask him. Or, I just start typing what I think I want to know, and magically, G picks up the rest and answers me before I have a chance to finish the question.

Now that’s a close relationship. Finishing each other’s sentences is something I only do with one other person these days (my husband), but G and I are allowed to be friendly. In fact, my husband encourages it, and even leans on my good friend G himself from time to time.

Anyhoo, my question. “How do you eat an elephant?” surprisingly brings up a fun variety of responses from Google. I’m pondering this question, in case you didn’t make the connection, because of the gi-normous amount of pierogi I am in the midst of making for over 30 of my closest Facebook pierogi fans.

As I noted in a previous post, I’ve been known, from time to time, to bite off more than I can chew. There, I said it.

I am wildly ambitious about embracing this life for all it has to offer.

I do not like to miss opportunities to try new things, to learn, to do things for others, to have fun, and yes, to accomplish things and be successful. That’s just my way.

So putting out the offer to craft the famously popular Polish pierogi as a side gig, to see what it would be like to put on the cap of “business owner” was really nothing outrageous for me. When I go in, I go all in. I know that when I decide to do something, I figure it out and I get it done.

So, the answer to the question, in case you didn’t get it, “How do you eat an elephant?”

One bite at a time.

Next up: The Shipping Challenge

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

The First Batch

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Thank God for music. How else would we get energized to tackle the big jobs?

It’s nice to know that the hardest decision I had to make the other day when I started up the Heffernan Pierogi Factory was what music channel to tune into while I worked.

I went to my go-to decade, 70s music, figuring I would need the kind of tunes that got me moving but did not distract me to the point of wanting to look up at the TV screen to see the flashback photos of artists that I may or may not recognize. 

Let it be said that I ever let good music go undanced to.

This may well be the only exception to my aversion to multitasking. Dancing while making hundreds of pierogi is absolutely acceptable. In fact, I encourage it. With the dog, even.

All the usual 70s music kept on rolling as I kneaded dough, filled the dough circle cut-outs and moved the precious pierogi through my one-woman assembly line. But it was the Staple Singers that made it a party.

staple singers

Even Beans had to get up on two paws for that one.

By the time I wrapped up my pierogi-thon last weekend, I had made 12 1/2 dozen. A drop in the pierogi bucket, really, but nonetheless, a decent tally for starters. I had to donate a handful of the fresh treasures to my official Taste Tester, since my little side gig means he isn’t getting any home-baked goods while I’m on Pierogi Duty (as he likes to call it).

Somehow, I think he’s okay with that. For now.

tastetester

Next up: A Jumbo-Sized Task

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

The Side Hustle

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Going into the pierogi business was a flirtation in social media for me. I innocently tapped into my Facebook network to ask who would be interested in homemade pierogi.

That’s like asking a busload of school children, “Who wants ice cream and not to go to school today?”

Now, business-minded people might have sat down to calculate all possible expenses, shipping options, volume and scale, and the simple question of, Where will I put all these dumplings after I’ve made them and packaged them, but won’t be delivering them instantly? They would have drawn up a business plan and carefully considered the idea from a variety of angles, to determine if the concept is a sound one as well as executable.

That isn’t what I did. No. I pulled a Lucy.

This is what it means when you make a spontaneous, wacky decision to jump in with both feet to do something that you want to do, because it seems like a good idea at the time.

You know, like Lucy Ricardo in the 1950s popular television program, “I Love Lucy.” Lucy was married to bandleader, Ricky Ricardo, who apparently had the patience of a saint when it came to forgiving his wife when she did crazy things, like getting a loving cup stuck on her head, or deciding to raise chickens.

lucy chickens

Photo credit to LucyFan.com, http://www.lucyfan.com/photoweek122.html

When people starting posting their orders to my Facebook query, I wasn’t sure they were legit. Sure, people get excited at the idea of getting homemade pierogi. But did all of these people sincerely intend to put their money where their mouths were, to support me in my entrée into the pierogi business?

In a word, yes.

I started an Excel spreadsheet and began populating it. I needed to see this for what it appeared to be turning into.

spreadsheet

Potato & cheese are apparently the most popular of the three varieties I offered (the other two being cheese, or sauerkraut). The order list grew. Soon, I had friends in Florida asking if I would ship. The out-of-state requests extended to New Hampshire, Minnesota, Arizona and Alaska. Now I was in deep. How do I do this?

I had no idea. Lucky for me, I am friends with Google. I did some quick research, looking up ‘how to ship food items’ and small business tips.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 8.24.42 AM

Silly me, I had offered free delivery. My intention was to deliver the goods to my Facebook customers who were within driving distance, since most of them are local, and if they aren’t, I figure they are worth the drive.

Side note: It is on my 2018 Year Goals to transform my Facebook friendships into more personalized connections, meaning I hope to connect in person with each of them to explore what that is like. This technology-hijacked world we live in doesn’t encourage that, but I am thinking it’s time to shake that up, for myself. So hey, two birds, one stone, and I’m getting a jump on it!

Two days later, on my way home from work, I hit the grocery store. I would be diving into my self-inflicted pierogi-mania the next day and wanted fresh ingredients.

I decided on how I would package them, and prepared copies of the ingredients and recommended cooking instructions, so that my new “customers” would have guidance in case they were pierogi newbies.

Before I could start cooking, I needed shipping guidance. With all the holiday shoppers out and about on Saturday morning a few weeks before Christmas, my mission was not to hunt for Christmas gifts but to get the best possible deal on fast shipping for my out-of-state pierogi fans.

Note to self: There are no best possible deals for out-of-state shipping of a frozen Polish food delicacy. I would have to figure this out. This Pierogi Thing was happening, and it was picking up steam.

In the meantime, paid orders started hitting my mailbox. I needed to get to it.

starting

Next up: The First Batch

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan