The undying cry of the void falling living beginning to be something
That no one has ever been and lived through screaming without enough air. James Dickey, “Falling.”
The first pages of Fall: The Rape and Murder of Innocence in a Small Town reminded me of the James Dickey poem about a stewardess who was sucked out of an airliner at 30,000 feet.
In 1973, in Casper, Wyoming, two local thugs kidnapped 18-year-old Becky Thompson and her sister, 11-year-old Amy Burridge. They were driven to the Fremont Canyon Bridge, 110 feet above the North Platte River. The men threw Amy off the bridge, then proceeded to rape Becky. When it was over, Becky was forced to the bridge and also thrown overboard. The book begins with Becky plummeting down.
The author was a neighbor and friend of the two girls. After writing two highly-acclaimed novels, Ron Franscell wrote this book as part-memoir, part-exorcism, part-true crime story. Amy died in the fall. Becky somehow survived. The two thugs were convicted and sentenced to death. But, of course, we all know that a death sentence rarely means death. Eventually, the sentences were reversed and the murderers were re-sentenced to life in prison.
Maybe this book affected me so much because for many years I had a recurring nightmare. I would be running across a rickety, wood-plank bridge, chased by monsters. At some point, I would have to make a decision: do I stand and fight a fight I know I can’t win, or do I jump into the unknown darkness? I would always jump and wake up in a chilling sweat just before I hit the water.
Maybe Fall appealed to me because it is true to the traditions of true crime. Unlike many modern books, the victims are innocent. The assailants are useless. The investigators are competent. The case is open and shut, but confronts important issues such as the effects that violent crime has on victims and indeed, a whole community.
Unfortunately, Becky’s life after the rape and murder was a disaster. Her family and community didn’t know how to help her and she didn’t know how to ask. Even though she tried to live a normal life, the events of that one horrible night festered in her soul. Exactly twenty years later, she drove out to the same bridge and jumped. An illustrator for a local newspaper sketched the perfect obituary. On a tombstone, he wrote: “Becky Thompson: Born – 1956; Murdered – 1973; Died – 1992.”
Having interviewed dozens of victims of violent crimes for my own books, I know how hard it is to recover from the trauma of brutality. The virus of fear infects, haunts, suffocates feeling. The past is always lurking, always pursuing, like the monsters on my bridge. The very fact that Becky Thompson survived for two decades after what she endured is amazing.
I highly recommend this book. In correspondence with the author, he stated that he probably will not write another true crime book. That’s a shame. Ron Franscell and true crime are a perfect fit.