True Crime by Hilarie Pozesky

*Featured Image: “Home is Not Always Sweet” by Barbara Carter

True crime television has always troubled me, though I’ve never been quite sure why. But after watching a reconstruction of a friend’s murder, I understand.

Melissa and I reconnected on Facebook six years ago. I couldn’t place the beautiful, fit blond when she first friended me, but I accepted her request as she lived near my tiny hometown. We’d attended the same high school for a bit in the late ‘80s. She dove in, liking pictures of my kids, commenting on my posts. Like me, both her kids and art were as important to her as food, water, and shelter. She was a well-read painter who once brought home a red drum set found by the road to make tables for her art studio.

One day, a year into our Facebook friendship, I realized I hadn’t heard from her in a while. Struck, I pulled up her Facebook timeline and saw:

            “You will be so missed.”

            “I’m so sorry.”

And then:

I am Melissa’s father. Melissa was murdered in the town of Viola. A lot of you have asked…”

I Googled her. The week before, Melissa was found by her young children in their yard, unconscious. Someone had bludgeoned her with a crowbar. The children ran to a neighbor for help. She was airlifted to a metro medical center where she lingered for a day and died. The cause of death was multiple skull fractures. It took years, but her estranged husband was eventually convicted of her murder.

Melissa was killed six years ago. A couple years after, I learned a TV show was to feature her story. I felt compelled to watch it.

The show opened with the disclaimer: This is a dramatization of true events. I assumed that meant playing with details, collapsing a timeline here or there, or inserting police lingo.

That’s how it started. The producers glommed onto the timing of her death, playing up a Halloween angle with shots of ghostly decorations. The narrator used a spooky voice. The actress playing Melissa’s daughter inexplicably wore a fancy dress as she meandered down a sidewalk decoratively lined with plastic shrunken heads. They then cut to a neighbor making popcorn in her darkened kitchen. She jumped at a knock at the door. She tentatively walked to answer it. Then the child forcefully smacked her bloody palm up against the glass.

The writers surprised me by adding two suspects besides her estranged husband. I scoured Melissa’s Facebook page after her death, trying to make sense of it. I learned she had a restraining order against her husband. She’d written in terror she had no place to hide from him. The show knew this; instead, they insinuated that she was having an affair with a neighbor.

The truth is that those who knew Melissa solely suspected her husband. After her death, he whined to the news about the unfairness of the suspicion. Never mind that it took a judge’s intervention to halt his plans to commandeer her body and bury her, one assumes, before an autopsy could take place.

The autopsy scene opened with a shot of Melissa lying on a metal table, bare feet and shoulders exposed. I shivered at the close-up of a deep gash on her forehead. The actress resembled Melissa enough to make me think I was seeing real gore. Though impossible, as blood doesn’t flow in the dead, blood trickled out of the laceration.

I felt raw seeing Melissa’s life played around in like a sandbox. I was also mesmerized. The writers morphed my friend’s brutal and tragic death into a well-tread whodunit, consequently stripping her of uniqueness and humanity. By dramatizing her story, they made her less real.

That’s why these shows dot the local cable lineup. This fictionalization allows them to make murder a formulaic tale, thus bypassing the real issue of domestic violence. If it’s just a story, there is no need for facts, like that one in five women will be victims of violence by an intimate in their lifetime or that 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide daily.

Let’s own it, we all have a bit of voyeur inside. There’s something darkly intriguing about violence and crime, as long as it’s kept at bay. That’s what this show did. It kept the real story far away. But Melissa was real to me. Her sweet soul, her beaming aura, and the travesty of her murder got lost in the show, even to me. Melissa died a useless death twice. That’s the true crime.


*A version of this was previously published in the Baltimore Sun.*

[su_note]Need Help? Know Someone Who Does?
There are many ways we can prevent intimate partner violence. Learn how with strategies and approaches from CDC. You can also check out National Center Against Domestic Violence’s (NCADV) Take a Stand Toolkit.[/su_note]
[su_note]Intimate Partner Violence Is Common. 
Data from CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) show: About 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported at least one impact of the violence (like being concerned for their safety). Over 43 million women and about 38 million men experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. When IPV occurs in adolescence, it is called teen dating violence (TDV). About 11 million women and 5 million men who reported experiencing contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime said that they first experienced these forms of violence before the age of 18.[/su_note]


Hilarie Pitman Pozesky is a writer of personal essays. She crafts pieces about how knowing yourself leads to fulfillment. She is also working on a memoir about the lessons to be learned from being a middle-aged mom. She has an undergraduate degree in communications and an MA in public affairs reporting from Columbia College in Chicago, where she lives with her husband, two goofy sons, and her dogs/muses, Ruby and Bowie.

Her work has been published on/in Scary Mommy, The Baltimore Sun, Kveller, The Writing CooperativeBeliefnet and The Wisdom Daily.

Barbara is a visual artist and writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada, who follows her inner voice. Her art images and writing has been published in numerous magazines. Barbara is the author of three published memoirs: “Floating in Saltwater”, “Balancing Act” and "Loose Gravel", and an art/poetry collection: "SAD Girl, BAD Girl, and I ." Her focus is on healing and self-empowerment. You may view more of her artwork and read her fascinating story here:

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