Late last week we received our author’s copies of our book: The Murder of Maggie Hume – Cold Case in Battle Creek. The timing of the release of the book, which came out last week, was something my co-author and I noted – it was related to the anniversary of her murder.
When you are a true crime author, the anniversary of a murder you have written about has special meaning to you. It is a date that sticks in your head – it nags at you like an ache in your joints. You can’t let it pass without recognition of some sort.
As a writer, you like to delude yourself that you “know” the victim after writing about them, but in reality you only scratch the surface about the person and their personality. The victim’s family and friends knew them and the best you can get is stories and fading memories of events from survivors. As an author, you find yourself just chronicling facts with that desire to tell more about the person. You want to give the victim a voice in your work, and you try to do that, but it is often just your perception of that person. Time and a violent act separate us permanently from those we write about. Authors are left to document a crime and the reaction to it, and try as we might, we never get to fully know the victim on the level we desire. With this case that was even more important. Lost in decades of political turmoil and positioning is the victim herself.
As to the anniversary, it was on this date, in 1982, that Margaret “Maggie” Hume’s body was discovered in the closet of her apartment in Battle Creek MI. The discovery of her body was the start of an investigation that continues to this day.
We know a few things about her last few hours on August 17, 1982. Along with a friend, she consoled a co-worker who had been terminated that day. She met up with her boyfriend Virgil “Jay” Carter at the Ritzee in Urbandale. The two of them went back to her apartment.. Her roommate called her and told Maggie that she would not be back until late morning from picking up her sister at the airport. Maggie received a call from a friend (a former boyfriend) about a beer delivery for an upcoming birthday party. Maggie pretended to not know who was calling, apparently to avoid her boyfriend from having a jealous reaction. We know her phone was off the hook sometime after 11:00pm. At some point we know Maggie went to bed for the night. We have her boyfriend’s account of the evening in detail, but much of that has to be called into question.
The evidence tells us fragments of what happened after that. We also know that someone climbed up onto her balcony that night and entered through the door into the apartment. They went down the hall directly to her room and attacked her. There was a scream heard by the neighbors at 2:00am (August 18), which was assumed to be the time she confronted her killer. She was sexually assaulted and strangled with a ligature. Her murderer picked up her body and placed it in the closet, then covered it up with a “Snuggie” sack and blanket in an attempt to conceal the body. The murderer went out the way he came in, via the door on the balcony.
Those are the things we know for sure. Everything else, and there’s a great deal more, is open to debate.
After that horrific crime her body would not be discovered until the afternoon, and then only after her roommate, Margaret Van Winkle, insisted a more thorough search of the apartment. “I don’t want to open a closet door or find a body under a bed or behind a couch.” The Battle Creek Police Department took this crime seriously – Maggie’s father was a prominent local football coach and revered in the community, but their initial walk-thru of the apartment was cursory at best. In fairness, Jay Carter and Maggie’s brother John had searched the apartment and had not discovered her too. Mistakes were made in the investigation, almost from the beginning. Crime scene investigation has come a long way since 1982. When they did a more detailed search they discovered the victim’s body they had overlooked before.
What followed was three decades of determined but sometimes misdirected investigation. This was a case that would pit the Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office against the Battle Creek Police Department in a bitter contest of wills, egos, and the law. Even today, the case stirs passion in the former investigators. The legal wrangling intertwined with a confession by a convicted murderer wrecked havoc on all parties involved. One thing I can say with some assurance, we didn’t talk to a single officer today that doesn’t want justice served. Investigators are like that. What varies between them is their thoughts as to who actually killed Maggie.
But tonight isn’t about our book. It’s not about small-town politics and infighting. It isn’t about theories. It IS about not forgetting the victim – Maggie Hume. For one night, we have to remember what happened in 1982. Letting this crime slip from our collective memories would be an injustice – an injustice in a case that has already suffered enough with that stigma. In a newspaper interview before his death, Maggie’s father said, “I just don’t want people to forget.” Tonight we honor her by not forgetting what happened in that waning summer of 1982.
In researching our book on this case, we spoke to a lot of people tied to the victim and many were supportive of our digging, our probing at what went wrong in the investigation. The anniversary of this crime should strengthen our collective resolve to bring her justice. A good friend of mine, David Schock – an expert on Michigan cold cases, told me, “Somebody always knows something,” a quote he borrowed from retired detective Jim Fairbanks. It’s just a matter of the right people coming forward. As an author, I believe this mantra. Someone does know what happened to Maggie that night, or saw something and never pieced it all together as part of the crime. The killer talked – they often do, confiding in a friend or lover what they did. Karma is a patient stalking beast…and the killer should fear the retribution that karma and time can bring.
Maggie Hume should not be remembered for her death, but for the lives she touched when she was still alive. We should not be caught in our personal opinions or egos, but strive to resolve this case. We must respect the family who lost a loved one – and her dear friends who lost a beloved companion. For them this anniversary is a painful injury that recurs every year, a nagging reminder of what was lost.
Most importantly…we should not rest until justice can be delivered.