Amateur Sleuth Solves Murder, Lives Murder, She Wrote Dream


“On the morning of August 1 she was having coffee in the local café and the waitress mentioned that a body had been found in the school playing fields nearby. It was a discovery that would change her life irrevocably.” The case was an unusually horrible one: a young woman had been picked up on her way home by a group of men and women, who abducted, raped and strangled her, before further raping the body, driving it to a field a few days later and setting it on fire.

40-year-old Susan Galbraith of Mayfield, KY, wanted to check the body out for herself, and what she saw appalled her. When the murder of the black teenager was handled with inept indifference, and then virtually dropped, Galbraith sprang into action. She’d seen the investigative reports of British journalist Tom Mangold (who penned the account) and wrote him the challenging note, “You think you’re a hotshot reporter. Come to Mayfield and work with me on a murder case that’s baffled the locals.” He did. They began a cinematic odd-couple partnership that, in the movie version, will obviously blossom into a (signifcantly more youthful) romance.

I taught her basic journalism and how to research; I expanded her vocabulary (at her insistence), showed her how to employ logic, how to kill conspiracy theories even before their fragile shells cracked open; I nagged her on how to check, check and check again every single fact that seemed important and how to ignore barmy blogs and how to be very patient….She in turn taught me attitudes that occasionally transcended normal grubby journalistic ambition.

Folk wisdom is implied. He teaches her about wine and cognac and is comically appalled by the “beyond-parody” trailer-park folk he encounters.

The two “hit the streets” and started talking to underworld figures. The Brit went home, Susan started working unpaid with the detective force and volunteered to wear a wire. When they’d zeroed in the killer, Susan decided it was a good idea to go undercover and stalk him, “Columbo-style.” After years of no results, Susan took it upon herself to create a website in which she listed pictures of people whom she considered “people of interest.” She tracked down a girl whom she found suspicious and was able to exact what amounted to a partial confession. When cops arrested the girl in California, she confessed all and five people were put in jail, the killer for life.

As a result, Susan was formally presented with the first KBI’s Outstanding Citizen Award for her services to justice, is considering becoming a P.I. and, as the author puts it, “found herself.” It’s a story with the best conclusion such a horrible scenario can have, but in many ways worrisome, too. After all, for every Erin Brockovitch or Susan Galbraith there are ten more people who, in such dangerous situations, could get in serious trouble. Susan Galbraith’s tenacity and commitment are praiseworthy, the police’s negligence appalling and surely all too common. It’s going to make a very good Lifetime movie (the only question being: which 90210 alumna has the chops?) but when it’s made, please, please run a disclaimer: despite the wisdom of a hundred years’ worth of multimedia mysteries and thrillers, amateur sleuthing can be highly hazardous to one’s health, and frequently ineffective.

How One Ordinary Woman Solved A Murder [TimesUK]

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