It’s not every day you watch Netflix and see images from your hometown.
There’s the water tower! And a view of the four-way stop! I think I know where that farm is!
The featured news reporter being interviewed on Unsolved Mysteries was in my first youth group. He wasn’t that talkative back then. I’m not sure he smiled once, in fact. He was a shy kid that looked like he’d almost rather be anywhere else than at our youth group meeting. I was only an 18-year-old myself and a below average youth minister -- who could blame him? I knew he was bright, and I knew he would become something someday.
There he is, on the TV in my living room in Katy, Texas.
I think that sheriff being interviewed married someone from my class?
I’ve been gone a long time. While Facebook and The Salem News help me keep in touch, along with long phone calls back home, I didn’t know any of the people involved in the Missing Witness episode of Netflix’s re-boot of the 1990s hit show. I only had a faint memory of such a case even transpiring. In the 2000s, when all the nefarious activity was going down, I was having kids and starting my career and doing my best to survive my 20s as a young pastor, a husband, a dad. I was in Saint Louis largely minding my own business.
I didn’t and don’t know anyone involved in the case of the disappearance of Lena Chapin or Gary McCullough. When the former vanished I was in Saint Louis. When the latter disappeared in 1999 I was finishing up my senior year. He was from Cassville or someplace down around there, and I wasn’t thinking about anything near Cassville as I mourned the loss of all that I knew as familiar that spring.
Still, as faces flashed across my screen everyone looked familiar. I don’t think I’d ever met any of the family being investigated, but in places like Salem if you wear camo and have a beard and speak with the same country accent, you do start to sort of look alike. Albert the scorned brother and second husband of the alleged would blend in just fine at a Benton Family reunion out near Cook Station.
Speaking of Cook Station, my understanding is that there’s a railroad system that used to connect old towns like that. Another such town is Sligo, where the antagonist of the Missing Witness episode kept a place. It’s definitely not every day you hear the town (if you can still call it that) of Sligo mentioned on your television. But there it was, a place my dad recently went to church and where old pictures of farms and mills still dance around in my head. My buddy James lived there growing up. We played Nintendo at his house all night. I plucked thistles off of Fern Hanson’s farm not far from there, too. I know it’s not for the best reason, of course, but way to go, Sligo. You had a little moment there.
As I watched, my fascination with all the familiarity was only outweighed by my sadness. This was not a made-up story I was watching. That is a real family and those are real tears and there is a real missing person and an alleged killer still on the loose.
Of course, if you’re from the area you are not at all surprised. Crime happens, even in small places like Salem. My grandpa talked of Salem as a rough place in the middle part of the last century. The kind of place you didn’t visit just for fun.
There’s a code, too, in little burgs like ours. You mind your own business, you don’t get mixed up with the wrong people, and for the most part you keep your mouth shut. Essentially surrounded by heavy forests and at least a half hour from everywhere else, Salem proves to be a good place to hide if you need to. Lots of people have done it and are doing it, though certainly for many lesser reasons than a criminal may choose.
From time to time, though, in this digital age, the whole secret to our privacy is busted open by a film crew that finds our seclusion a little too enticing to pass up. If only this busting open would lead to a break in the case and give those left in the wake of all that pain some answers. Some comfort.
Something besides a Netflix episode.