Friday, February 28, 2014

The Flames of Injustice, or Tragedy in my Backwoods Utopia

In the realm of “I live in the woods; it’s utopia” kind of posts, I’m taking to this here blog today to muse on a sad subject that’s rocked my backwoods area as of late and shook it to its serene core.
Here in Tyler County, it’s the typical “everyone knows everyone (and everyone’s business)” kinda setup.
A little over a month ago, a young couple was taken out in front of a church, not far from where I live. I’m not writing this to point fingers at anyone or anything like that. I haven’t the least bit of interest in doing so. I’m just an observer musing on the frailty of life and the tenuous bond of family. That’s the most tragic thing here, in all of this: two people obviously in the physical prime of their lives, gone; a family ruined.
Here are the brief particulars on the case: The victims were a couple of recently married thirtysomethings, Nathan Maddox and his wife, Krystal (nee Humphus) Maddox. Years ago, I’d see Nathan and his brother Josh at parties here and there, but never really knew either of them. I knew Krystal from grade school and would hang out with her when she sat up at the gas station, passing time as her mom worked. She seemed like an interesting girl even then. In retrospect, I think we were thought of as two of the “weird kids” in our grade. Can’t recall as to why. Krystal moved away after a couple of years in Colmesneil. I saw her here and there years later, but can’t remember the circumstances.
Last time I saw Nathan out and about, years ago when I was working in Woodville, he was engaged to be married to an old friend of mine, Kristen. Now, again, I don’t write this to criticize or point the finger of negativity at anyone, but from what I’ve seen and gathered, there have been many who have done so on Facebook and other social media outlets. It’s not hard, given the narrative, to see what kind of conclusions people have drawn, but it also shows just how serene this neck of the woods normally is: nothing like this happens around here (thankfully so) yet when it does, everyone seems to know who did it. It’s a mix of naiveté and righteous anger; completely understandable. As I wrote, everyone (at least seemingly) knows everyone else in these parts, and the husband and wife each represented a great many things to a great many people here. It’s the same case wherever, whenever this sort of thing happens, but it seems so much larger in scope inside our blanket of loblolly pine, light years away from the interstates and urban decay.
At the root of this tragedy, a custody battle is cited as the motive for whoever did the heinous deed, an ongoing, messy struggle over an innocent young girl, the product of Nathan and Kristen’s union. I’m not going to reiterate the details here, but it’s not hard to find them, if one is interested in learning about the case. What I do want to posit here is this: divorce is messy; lives are shifted around in the mire and our most innocent, vulnerable society members all too often wind up rudderless as a result. The children are our future movers, shakers and doers and it is beyond tragic to have the hands of injustice touch them. When families are split apart, foster situations are put into place and accusations from opposing sides are tossed about like so much garbage, it doesn't bode well for the future of children who are the innocent victims of such situations.
I don’t have all the specifics everyone else seems to have about the fate of Nathan and Krystal, nor do I have one iota of knowledge as to the ongoing investigation and what the authorities are uncovering, but I hope that whoever is responsible (at least) loses their freedom and whatever earthly pleasures/treasures have been afforded them. I have discovered that a suspect has been taken into custody. Again, I won’t go into details here, but that information is readily available. Hopefully, it leads the investigation closer to a conclusion. A conclusion meaning a serving of “justice”, but despite whatever a court may rule and whatever sentence may be meted out to whomever, it still won’t resurrect the ties and lives from the wreckage. Not in this existence.
In thinking about this, the ruination factor looms large for me. A great deal of what I write about and sing about is an attempt to reconcile the present with the past, or parts of it that seem so serene, so green and bright. Sometimes I succeed, and in those moments, my existential angst is temporarily lifted. I’ve never known tragedy of such a scale, but I can relate in some ways. When it boils down to it, everything is relative.
There are connections everywhere you look, in every living or inanimate thing. A few years ago, I began research for a book I planned to write on the case of a rising Dallas minister who was accused of trying to murder his wife. Those events happened way back in 1987, before the Internet and our 24/7 news cycle. If such a thing happened now, every nook and cranny would be broadcast all day, every day. The case of Walker Railey was the OJ Simpson-type case of its day. The story itself, tragic as it struck me, seemed like something Flannery O’Connor might write about. There was certainly a Southern Gothic air about it, and a little bit of detective-novel intrigue thrown in, as well. Although my book never got past the proposal stage, the sadness of how so many lives were ruined never left me, and colored my manuscript outline.
My motivation for writing about the case was twofold: I was shocked that there’d not been a worthwhile book written on the case and the injustice dealt by the culprit and the legal system drove me to write. Railey was young, charismatic and a rising star in the Methodist church. Prior to the murder attempt on his pretty and talented wife, Peggy, everyone seemed to love Walker, whether they were of the Methodist faith or not. Even when circumstantial evidence kept mounting and it seemed to be a forgone conclusion to a great many that he was the one who tried to strangle his wife, many people still supported him. In all my research, I rarely came across a story from that time period, covering his criminal trial, where the focus was on the victim or her family.
Here we sit well into 2014, and I doubt anyone on the street would recall the name Walker Railey, if asked. Maybe some in the Dallas area might have a bell rung, or someone interested in powerful religious leaders of the 1980s and their tabloid-worthy downfalls (e.g. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, et. al). Many of the people involved in the case are now gone, including Peggy Railey herself, freed from the barely conscious bondage that held her mind hostage over twenty years. I was thinking of her and Nicole Brown Simpson when I wrote my song “Teetering” many years ago. It’s a paean to victims of injustice, another driving force behind my work. Said book will likely never be completed; I doubt anyone would be interested at this point, but for Peggy Railey, Nicole Brown Simpson, little Caylee Anthony, Nathan and Krystal Maddox and any victims of injustice anywhere whose lives have been ended or ruined by circumstances you could not control, may you never be forgotten. That is all.

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