Tombstone, AZ

By Katherine Yocum

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The last body was found on the parched banks of the San Pedro River. Bloated, bulging, barren. Like a circus balloon holding onto its last bit of helium, floating aimlessly between abandoned rides and forgotten stands. This was Jane Doe number eight. The community had let the panic seep into their skin by number two.

By this point, the aptly named historical town of Tombstone, Arizona, was balanced, precariously, on the tip of an arrow. A move slightly forward, and they’d be thrust into a scorching spotlight, a move slightly backward, and they’d be escorted firmly back into kitschy obscurity.

The Tombstone Deputy Marshals, of which there are six, had little experience with murder, save for the Wild West reenactments and the replica gallows that made their town famous. For a place woven, inextricably, with murder, the presence of evil could not have been more unexpected. Marshal James Brown, not to be confused with the decorated performer, had written off the murders as “a problem for another department.” He found, though, after the middle finger of victim number three had been placed delicately, intentionally on the “L” of his home’s “Welcome” mat, that he should take this killer seriously.

I’d been following the case since I’d caught wind of the second victim. I traveled from Tucson to Tombstone every day, back and forth, back and forth. A small-town double murder is attractive in and of itself, but as the case sprouted from the earth, its roots and limbs growing longer and more complex, I couldn’t untangle myself from the affair.

I crowned him the Tomb Raider. The town despised this. Naming him gives him power, they’d tell me. This makes him real. I disagreed. The name fit him like braces, though I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate the tongue-in-cheek allusion. His MO was unlike anything I’d ever studied. Digging through the soil, dis-entombing the dead, desecrating the bodies. After a time, he evolved, became more confident, and set his sights on the living.

But, the Tomb Raider never struck again after body number eight. I assumed he fled for freedom, knowing if he faded away, he might never face the lifelong ramifications of his offenses. He relished playing God, particularly in a helpless, hapless town. I believe, like a moth, he is in metamorphosis. He will reemerge as a re-imagined, renewed killer. He had a relentless grip on the throat of Tombstone. It was incredible. And I’d help him do it again.

(Bio: Katherine Yocum is a writer and graduate student studying creative writing. Her work has been published in Inkspot Magazine and Input Magazine. She lives in a small town in the mid-west where she spends her time reading graphic novels, drinking coffee, and listening to true crime podcasts. She is passionate about diversity, justice, inclusion, wellness, and the arts. You can find her at her website Here.)

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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