This is a sad story.
The tragic, gruesome news of the awful murder in a Lululemon store in Bethesda in March and this piece about the bystander effect, have had me thinking about a past murder…
During college I worked for an art magazine run by a couple who I thought at the time were quite demanding, but who were actually very kind, helpful, and supportive. Their office (seen above) was located next door to a bank in a tiny strip mall in the wealthy suburb of Leawood, Kansas. I worked for them every summer. They were in the long process of moving their office and home from Kansas to New Hampshire, and I often manned the office while they were traveling back and forth. There were other part-time workers off and on, but I was often alone.
Generally, I opened mail, answered phones, scanned images for articles, designed ads, and shipped out back issue orders… on June 18th, 2002, I think I was working on organizing the subscription database. I remember I was doing something dull that day, and I remember that day specifically because about 100 yards away, in broad daylight, a 19-year-old girl was raped and murdered in the maintenance shed of the neighborhood pool.
Of course, I didn’t find out about the murder until I left work in the evening and went home to my parents’ house in the next suburb over. Benjamin Appleby, a convicted felon with a pool cleaning business, had strangled Ali Kemp while I was busy checking addresses on a computer screen in our office across the street from the pool.
I was a 21-year-old college senior. Ali would have been sophomore at KState. We were both diligently working our summer jobs. We didn’t know each other.
For a split second after learning of the murder, I thought, “it could have been me,” but I’m actually strangely defiant when it comes to NOT allowing criminals to scare me or dictate my behavior, so I didn’t actually ever feel scared. Not even when I had to return to the office alone the next day.
I did, and still do, feel guilty. I had never been in that pool in my life and had no reason whatsoever to go into it that day, but what if I had? Could I have prevented the crime? Why couldn’t I have psychically felt a disruption in the force and told the bank security guard to go check things out?
I actually had thoughts like that for a long time… I guess I still do.
It was such a random crime. I don’t have the exact numbers but I would guess that the city of Leawood has less than one murder per decade. It took the police three years to catch Appleby. He was arrested in Connecticut in 2004, and in addition to DNA evidence, I think he eventually confessed. He is in prison.
Perhaps each of us will either knowingly or unknowingly be in close proximity to violent crime at some point in our lives. I was not a true “bystander” during Ali Kemp’s murder. There was no way that I could have known that a crime was being committed. However, if I ever am a witness to violence, you can be sure that I will not stand by. I will take action.