The Empty Nursery: The Disappearance of Haley Hardwick by Jaclyn Weldon White. (Mercer University Press, 2001)
The day before Independence Day, 1992, a 7-month-old child went missing. The case was suspicious from the start. Kenny Hardwick, the father of Haley, claimed that he stopped to help two men having car trouble on a bridge overlooking the Yellow River in Gwinnett County, Georgia. After he got their car started, he claimed he went back to his truck and found the baby missing. Hardwick assumed the men had taken Haley. He said he tried to pursue them but his old truck was too slow and they disappeared.
Instead of calling police, Hardwick called his wife Kathy who was manager of a local Pizza Hut. She rushed to the scene of the alleged abduction while a co-worker called 911. So began an investigation that lasted for nearly a year.
The Empty Nursery focuses on Kathy Hardwick’s gradual realization that her husband is lying and that he murdered their daughter. It also delves deeply into the investigation and follows cops through the eventual conclusion of the case. Unlike most books published by university presses, The Empty Nursery is an easy read.
There are lots of things to like about this book. It doesn’t let back-story intrude—-the book starts at the beginning and goes to the end. This is a simple but effective tool when writing a story or book. Unfortunately, some true crime writers try to complicate things by switching from scene to unrelated scene, then back and forth until the reader becomes confused. Of course, back-story is necessary, but it should be squeezed out in small segments. Ms. White does a fine job of keeping the flow of the story intact without unnecessary distractions.
Unlike some authors, Ms. White also respects her subject. While there are good guys and bad guys and in-betweeners, she tells the story as it is without editorializing. That brings me to a well-reviewed book that I hated. In fact, I closed The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer long before the final page and never re-opened it. The simple fact is that Mailer hated Mormons and kept intruding into the story with asides and obvious references to the supposed vagaries of their religion. Had I wanted to read an expose’ of the Mormons, I would have bought a book on the subject. In his desire to use an ax on the Mormon religion, he attempted to turn a psychopathic killer into an anti-hero. The best thing that ever happened to society was when four bullets plowed into Gary Gilmore’s chest. Ms. White could have slammed Southerners (always a good ploy for a great New York Times review) but she didn’t. She respected her audience enough to simply tell the story.
Ann Rule once stated that she only writes a book after the trial of the suspect has been held. That’s a wise choice, and one that Ms. White followed. We learn at the end of the book that Kenny Hardwick was sentenced to life in prison. So many modern true crime books, written to capitalize on a sensational murder or series of murders, leave out one important element of the case: the final denouement. It’s like reporting on a football game in the third quarter. My respect for an author goes into the toilet after learning that I read three hundred pages for nothing.
The Empty Nursery deserves a place in all true crime libraries. Jaclyn Weldon White is currently working on another true crime book and I can’t wait to read it.