Transcript of Interviews conducted by Louella Harper 4/30/80 - 5/11/1980
Louella: No thank you.
(The clink of cup and saucer is audible on tape)
Louella: Can you tell me what happened?
Hannah: Well, we were sitting in our pew and then Lester shot Will Baxter. That’s about all I know.
Louella: Was there any indication beforehand that Lester might take matters into his own hands?
Hannah: Well, he was sad of course, but he certainly never said anything about it to me. I was as surprised as anyone. Are you sure you won’t have a cup?
Louella: Did you know Lester Woods was going to shoot Reverend Baxter at the funeral?
Tisdale: If I had known, I would have told the police.
Louella: It’s strange. Your eulogy was more about the Reverend than it was about the girl.
Tisdale: I wanted to celebrate Lucy’s short life and mourn her death, but in my mind, funerals are for the living. They are about offering comfort and, in this case, soothing angry spirits. I knew people would be angry. People get angry when someone close to them dies, especially a young person. Some lash out. I’d heard rumors over the years (about the Reverend). I knew he was being blamed. It did not take a genius to realize that someone might be tempted to seek retribution.
Louella: That’s why you picked the story of Cain and Abel?
Tisdale: It seemed appropriate. Unfortunately, it did no good.
Louella: At the funeral, Cassandra was very upset. I heard she tried to crawl into the casket. I was wondering, though, why you escorted her out of the chapel instead of back to her pew.
Jan: If you knew Cassandra, you would know she wasn’t going to stop screaming and moaning any time soon, not while there was an audience. I figured it was just better for everyone.
Louella: By moving her, you may have saved her life. She was taken out of the line of fire.
Jan: Lester never would have hurt Cassandra.
Louella: So, in a way, you removed the last obstacle, allowing Lester to kill the Reverend.
Jan (shaking her head): The woman was crying. Her daughter had just died and she was in hysterics. I used my best judgement. What would you have done?
Louella: I don’t know. I might have felt like murdering Reverend Baxter.
Jan: Lester wasn’t acting. He can be a very emotional man, especially since the war. He just got carried away in the moment.
Louella: He brought a gun to the funeral home.
Jan: That doesn’t prove anything.
Laverne: Do I need my lawyer?
Louella: I’m a writer, not a prosecutor. I just want to know the truth about what happened. My readers will want to know the truth about what happened.
Laverne: I don’t know what happened.
Louella: I thought from your vantage point—right beside Lester—you might have seen something.
Laverne: I don’t remember.
Louella: Did you know Lester brought the gun to the funeral home.
Laverne: I’m done answering questions.
Once again, Louella found herself in the passenger seat of “the mystery machine,” as Jim had begun referring to his van. She spoke of the difficulty of getting people to tell the truth due to the fear of prosecution.
“Sometimes I can’t tell if people are playing dumb, or if they’re just plain dumb.”
“Maybe a little of both,” Jim said.
“Who am I to judge, though? I am, admittedly, the person who wants to blab all the gory details to the world. I don’t suppose I can blame them for wanting to protect themselves.”
“You suspect a conspiracy?” Jim asked.
“I don’t know whether or not a group of people met and discussed a specific plan, but I do think there was an understanding that someone had to stop the Reverend before he wiped out the rest of the family. If that’s the truth, I think society or my readers at least could be made to understand that they did what they thought they had to do. But I can’t make anyone understand anything if I don’t know the whole truth.”
“What about this next interview?” Jim asked. They were on the way to the law offices of Davis and Campbell in Dadeville, about thirty minutes outside of Jackson City. After weeks of playing phone tag, Louella would finally be allowed to interview Lester via a phone call that would be closely monitored by his lawyers.
“He’s already been to trial. In the eyes of everyone, justice has been meted out. I hope that means he will engage me in meaningful discussion.”
“You think he’s going to suddenly open up and tell you exactly how he planned and executed a man in front of 300 witnesses?”
“It may take more than one meeting,” Louella said.
That sat for a moment in silence. Jim watched the road while Louella looked out her window at the buildings and parking lots flashing by her window.
“Do you think,” Jim began, “that they did it in the chapel to send a warning to Ernie Smith? You know, “This is what happens when you keep messing with us.” I mean, you can only push people so far before they break, and from what I can tell, he’s cleaned up his act since that day. He’s focusing on his one legitimate business, the funeral home.”
“Whether it was intended or not, they certainly sent him a powerful message,” Louella said.
A few minutes later, they entered the law offices of Davis and Campbell. A receptionist ushered them into a conference room, where three men in business suits were already sitting on one side of the longest glass table Louella had ever seen.
The men stood and greeted them cordially. One of the partners, Lee Davis, a stocky man in a white suit with a head full of straw blonde hair, introduced himself as well as two younger men: an associate and a paralegal. Mr. Davis apologized that his partner, Steve Campbell, was off on a fishing trip.
“And what about Melvin Little?” Jim asked. “My understanding was that he was one of Mr. Woods’s lead attorneys.”
“I did speak to Melvin, and invited him to attend this meeting, but unfortunately he had other business today. You have to understand, however, that this was merely a courtesy. Although Melvin represented Mr. Woods at trial, he is primarily a criminal attorney. Here at Davis and Campbell, we have other specialties.”
“Such as?” Louella asked. The fact that Melvin was absent indicated to her that she would not be receiving good news. The little weasel tended to appear only when there was an opportunity to take credit or glory.
“We offer an array of specialties here at Davis and Campbell from personal injury to estate planning,” Davis said, “but recently we have begun a shift into contracts and entertainment.”
“Uh oh,” Jim said, “Here it comes.”
“And in what capacity are you representing Mr. Woods?” Louella asked.
“Excellent,” Davis said. “We’ll get right to business. As you know, recent events have transformed Mr. Woods into something of a local celebrity. We intend to see that he is able to monetize his fame to the maximum extent possible.”
“How have you done that so far?” Louella asked.
“Well, we are still in the beginning stages, but we have had a lot of interest coming from local businessmen wanting him to be a spokesman for their companies. Just yesterday we heard from a business that specializes in home defense and from several gun and pawn brokers.”
“Let me get this straight,” Jim said. “You’re going to put him in TV commercials?”
“Television is certainly one aspect of it, yes, but I’m talking about various media campaigns, including print ads and, of course, personal appearances, grand openings and so forth.”
Louella put her elbow on the table and rested her chin on her fist. “And how do you think we fit into all this?”
“Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. We understand you wish to talk to our client, that in fact you need him to give you his side of the story, or else you don’t have a book. We’re here to discuss the terms of that deal.”
“There seems to have been some sort of miscommunication,” Louella said. “My understanding was that I would be allowed to speak to Mr. Woods today.”
“Oh, you will. You will,” Davis said. “Just as soon as we have come to a satisfactory arrangement. My client feels fifty thousand dollars is an appropriate amount of remuneration for his full cooperation.”
Louella looked at Jim, who could only shake his head. “Mr. Davis,” Louella said. “I don’t pay people for information.”
“I can assure you that Mr. Woods is willing to offer his full cooperation. And this, I might add, comes at much personal risk and against the advice of his attorneys. My understanding is that double jeopardy may not apply in this case.”
“Let me be perfectly clear,” Louella said in a much louder voice. “I do not pay for information.”
“Ms. Harper, you stand to make millions from this book. I don’t think it’s unfair…”
“I stand to make millions or I stand to make nothing, but what I certainly don’t stand for is going around paying people for stories that may or may not be true. If I start doing that, then I don’t stand for anything. Now, I think our business has concluded. Thank you for your time.” She stood up, flung her purse over her shoulder, and was walking out the door before Jim realized what was happening. He raced to catch up with her.
So did Lee Davis, who left his flunkies at the table staring at each other. “Wait,” he called. “I’m sure we can work something out.”
Louella wheeled around on him so fast he almost ran into her. “I don’t want some paid-for, lawyer-approved version of the truth, Mr. Davis. The truth is not something I am willing to pay for at any price. That’s not how this is going to work. If your client doesn’t wish to speak to me freely and without payment, then his side of the story will not be told. Now, you tell your client that I am still willing to hear him out, but my business with your office is done. I hope never to see you again. Good day.”
Jim ran ahead to push open the door for her, and she walked out, leaving Davis in the lobby, speechless for the first time in his life.
Transcript of Interview conducted by Louella Harper 5/13/1980
Mary Alice Waverly (Friend of the Family)
Mary Alice: I almost went to that funeral. I thought they were going to kill him at the cemetery.
Go to Chapter 27
About This Novel; Chapter 1Chapter 2; Chapter 3Chapter 4; Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7; Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11; Chapter 12; Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16; Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20 Chapter 21; Blood Cries at the Half-Way PointChapter 22; Chapter 23Chapter 24; Chapter 25