The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing.

~~~ Albert Einstein

Friday, June 19, 2009

No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder

Guest blogger: Angela Dove, author of No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder (Berkley/Penguin 2009).

I was on the phone when the world dropped out from under my feet. Twice.

The first time was when my father called me in 1988 to say my stepmother was dead. He didn’t use the word murder; he talked around it. Someone had killed Debi, and it was not an accident.

During the next few hours, I learned that I had been the last to see Debi alive; she had been killed in our Modesto, California home, with one of our knives, only a couple of hours after I left for spring break. My 3-year-old sister slept through the attack only a few feet away. And that person I had heard breathing in the back bedroom was not my father after all.

Fast forward twenty years. Debi’s mother had asked me to write her story, and I was honored.

Jacqueline “Jacque” MacDonald had channeled her grief over Debi’s death into a one-woman crusade to find Debi’s killer. It took her nine years, but she did it. And in the meantime, she started helping other survivors through her local television and radio show, “The Victim’s Voice.” (The show is now broadcast to millions of homes throughout California’s Central Valley). As a columnist, I am always drawn to stories that can bring hope and inspiration to others, and I couldn’t think of a better story for my first book. Of course Debi’s death had been devastating, and

I didn’t really want to revisit that pain, but I knew it would be worth it.

In order to talk about how Jacque had supplemented the detectives’ efforts, I had to get educated about the investigation. Criminal court procedures and documents vary from state to state, and as a North Carolina resident, I needed to learn more about those variations. So I cold-called a criminal defense firm in Modesto, and, as luck would have it, a harried senior partner

answered the phone.

“I don’t want to take up much of your time,” I explained. “I’m an out of state journalist doing some research on an old murder case out there, and I just needed to ask some procedural questions. Is there a secretary or legal assistant I can talk to?”

“Now, hold on a minute,” the guy answered, intrigued. “Tell me which case you’re looking into.”

“The Debi Whitlock murder. You probably don’t remember it—“

“Of course I do!” he exclaimed, and he started listing facts from the case. “She was killed in her house. Throat cut. No sign of forced entry. No sign of struggle. Had a little girl who slept through

the whole thing.”

I was impressed, and I told him so.

“Well, don’t be,” he replied. “That was our most famous case up until Laci Petersen.” He paused for a moment, then continued in a confidential tone. “You know, the police always knew Debi Whitlock’s husband had killed her. It just took them years to arrest him.”

That was the moment, right there. This man was right about so many aspects of the case—how could he be so wrong about my father? I wanted to think this attorney was simply mistaken. Dad had never been arrested to my knowledge, and was certainly deceased now (as opposed to serving time for Debi’s murder). But somehow, I knew there was truth in what this attorney was telling me. All of the anger, and the sadness, and , well, the guilt I had sensed in my father during his final years. . . . Somehow I knew I was going to get answers to questions I had never thought to ask.

What I uncovered during my research was horrible. I grew to see the investigation through the eyes of the lead detectives, and the community, and to realize how clear was the portrait of my father’s guilt. He had motive and opportunity. He made bad decisions. He had horrible luck. Things kept happening that contributed to the plausible reality of his guilt. And what I finally came to understand was that I couldn’t blame people for suspecting him. However, I could use this book to say, “In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, my father was not involved in his wife’s murder.”

Most importantly, I realized that when Jacque MacDonald, the avenging mother and hero of my story, finally found justice for her daughter, she had also cleared my father’s name. I didn’t need another reason to admire this woman, but there it was.

My book, No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder, was published by Penguin in March 2009. It has received solid reviews, but the praise that means the most to me is that from readers. Every day, people contact me through my website at to tell me their stories, and how they were touch by ours. I’ve heard from first responders and detectives who appreciate how I represented the strong bonds they forge with bereaved and victimized families. I’ve spoken to groups of advocates and law enforcement officers, sharing our story and applauding the work they perform on the job, and the way they frequently take it home with them at night. But mostly I hear from those who are still seeking answers. The world is telling them to give up, to move on. Through my book, Jacque MacDonald is telling them the same thing that sustained her throughout her quest for justice: “You can die with your loved one, or you can choose to live. And where there is life, there is always hope.”

No Room for Doubt is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon at