Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tom Mangold: Murder in Mayfield (KY)

Murder in Mayfield
by Tom Mangold

Veteran BBC investigative reporter Tom Mangold got an email out of the blue one day from a woman in Mayfield, Kentucky, asking him for help to find the murderers of a teenage girl. Intrigued, he flew out to meet her soon afterwards, and stumbled into an extraordinary story.

As soon as I landed in Paducah, Kentucky, I went straight to the local wine shop and bought a case of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Mayfield, 30 miles from Paducah, is a dry town. One needs to get one's priorities right.

The Mayfield Super 8, the best (and only) accommodation in town is run by a lovely Indian man originally from Wembley, north London. I was greeted like a prince, went to my room, and waited for the phone to ring.

She called just as I had finished unpacking, the voice dark, firm and rather appealing. I asked her to come up, and the moment we met I knew we were going to be fine. Susan Galbreath has a pretty face with smile wrinkles, a head of highlighted blonde and shrewd eyes that miss nothing. She was carrying a huge file of papers and after brief pleasantries, we sat in the work area of the modest room, and started talking.

She was terrified I would think my trip had been a waste. I reassured her it had been my call from the outset. There was no ceremony, we started work almost immediately. I unscrewed the Sauvignon, we filled two plastic toothbrush cups, and she began to brief me. No time to indulge in jet lag. Susan was in a hurry.

It was clear from the very start that Susan, for all her enthusiasm, was failing to distinguish fact from gossip, rumour or supposition. A life spent in journalism had taught me one thing if nothing else - I knew from the start what needed doing first.

I let Susan talk me through every rumour, assumption and piece of half-digested tittle-tattle on how 18-year-old Jessica Currin had met her death, each one more unlikely or unprovable than the last.

At the end of the 10th uncheckable theory of how Jessica had met her death, Susan beamed at me and asked: "What do you think?"

I treated her as brusquely as I had been treated by my first Fleet Street news editor, launching into a lecture on the nature of factual - "that's factual, Susan, hard, double-checked factual" - reporting.

It was the moment we might have parted. I saw a look of hurt and disappointment cross her face, but she didn't stop listening.

Then I went from theory to practice.

"This is the most delicious wine," I told her as we sipped our way through the Sauvignon. "You're right," she said. "It's a great wine."

"How do you know?" I challenged her rudely.

"Er… well you just told me," she answered.

"How do you know I know what I'm talking about?"

"Well, you seem to like your wine, and I assume…"

I stopped her on that one word, "assume". Then, a little more gently this time, I pointed out that assumptions were for academics and warned her never to assume anything while we worked on the case. Everything had to be checked, double-checked, tested and re-tested.

Only then did I explain why our white wine really was great. I told her to read the label; that Sauvignon Blanc is a good wine especially when it comes from New Zealand and even more so when it comes from the Marlborough region. I told her to smell the cork, ensure the label wasn't fake, sip the wine and roll it round the mouth, wait for the tingle, the slightly acidic blush and the hint of gooseberries followed by the confirmation of taste glands seemingly buried at the very base of the tongue. Then, and only then, would she be able to state as a fact that this was a great wine.

Susan got it in one. From that moment on, I never needed to ask her to give me proof of something she stated unequivocally.

Slowly, we began to form an investigative team.

She left all her paperwork. Letters, phone records - the bits and pieces that form a good kick-off to any investigation - and she went home. I fell asleep reading.

The key question - was our chemistry such that we could work together, trust each other and tolerate each other's company - had been answered.

To Read the Rest

No comments: