Advertisement
News

The Mystery of Susan Harrison

At first, those who mourned Susan Hurley Harrison could not bring themselves to say the word without wincing. They had few illusions -- virtually everyone believed Susan was dead, and was convinced of this fact within days of her disappearance on Aug. 6, 1994. But the word itself was so stark and inanimate, so cold and flat.

Body. They were looking for a body.

Advertisement

The word was always there, in the back and front of their minds. It was all they thought about -- Susan's siblings, her sons, her first husband. The police agreed with them: Susan was probably dead. Only her second husband, Jim Harrison, clung to the idea she had run away, without a word to anyone and without any apparent financial support.

Weeks passed, with little progress to report. The family began to realize it might be some time before they found Susan's body. Or that they might never find Susan's body. And they began to realize that, without it, justice would remain elusive. In Maryland, prosecutors seldom pursue homicide cases until someone is officially declared dead. That's hard to do without an eyewitness -- or a body.

Advertisement

No body, no death. No death, no homicide. No homicide, no arrest. No arrest, no justice.

In Boston, brother Bill found it difficult to concentrate on his bond business, and brother John felt as if he were trapped in a bell jar -- everything sounded so far away. In Athens, Ga., sister Molly worried, well aware of the absurdity, that Susan was cold, exposed to the elements in nothing but the Bermuda shorts and sleeveless shirt she was wearing when she disappeared. At Cornell University's School of Law, son Jonathan stared blindly at his books, wondering if a hunter might stumble upon his mother in the now wintry landscape.

"Literally and figuratively, you see the time pass," Jonathan says. "Once it starts to freeze and the leaves start to fall, you've lost an opportunity."

Winter gave way to spring. Now it's summer again, the season of Susan's disappearance. And the bitter fact is that, for all their effort -- the private detectives, the endless conferences with Baltimore County police, the pleas to the media, the methodical searches along Baltimore's highways, the psychics who volunteered their services, the $6,000 reward -- the family has no new evidence in the presumed death of Susan Hurley Harrison.

Their grief has stalled along with the case. They need someone -- something -- to bury in the Massachusetts cemetery, alongside their parents and the headstone with five shamrocks, one for each of the Hurley children.

"I was downtown and saw a casket being carried in for a funeral," Molly confides, sitting in her office at the University of Georgia, where she teaches English. "I found myself crying in envy for this family that had a dead body. It was perverted.

"And now the horror is we can't even say 'the body.' We have to say 'the remains.' My sister is something called remains."

*

Advertisement

In the shorthand beloved by the media, Susan Hurley Harrison became, upon her disappearance, the missing Ruxton woman. "Ruxton" carries a lot of weight in two syllables. Read: "privileged." Read: "wealthy." Read: "Not your typical homicide victim."

Susan Harrison was all of those things, but she was only recently a Ruxton woman, and not by design. She had moved into a small cottage there after literally running from her second marriage in late 1993, shoeless and coatless into the frigid night.

Allegations of violence had been part of the relationship with James J. "Jim" Harrison Jr. almost as soon as it began, a decade earlier. The story has a numbing familiarity, cliche by now, but no less true for its banality. She called police. She recanted. She filed charges, and usually dropped them. The one time Jim Harrison was tried for battery, he was acquitted.

And if Susan had stayed in this rut, running away from him and then running back, her problems might have remained private. Instead, Susan is missing, Jim is the last person to have seen her alive, and their marriage has been laid bare for public scrutiny.

His explanation for her disappearance is the same as his explanation for Susan's bruises and broken bones over the years. Susan was manic-depressive, Jim says, an alcoholic who injured herself, then blamed him. Now she's gone -- again, he says, her illness may be at work here -- and he is being blamed again. Not publicly, of course. Officially, police say only that Susan probably is dead, at the hands of someone who knew her. But Jim knows he is considered a suspect.

As for Susan's family, they find themselves in the grip of two mysteries: her death and her life. They don't deny Susan drank, or that she had emotional problems, but disagree with Jim over the precise diagnosis. They also think the most abusive thing Susan ever did to herself was get involved with Jim.

Advertisement

"The equation should have come out much differently," says younger brother Bob Hurley, an investment adviser, instinctively reaching for the metaphor of his business. "How did she get into this position? Why did she allow this to happen? None of the explanations I've heard have satisfied me."

For at least 40 of her 52 years, Susan had moved safely and carefully along the path expected of the second child and oldest daughter of William T. Hurley Jr., an executive with a Massachusetts silverware manufacturer, and Mary Lynch Hurley, a homemaker. Boarding school, college, a few years on her own in Boston, marriage at age 25. Her groom, law student Tom Owsley, knew her brother Bill from their undergraduate days at Harvard, and meshed easily with the close-knit Irish Catholic family. Tom and Susan's first date was to Bill's annual bash on Cape Cod. Before the summer ended, they knew they wanted to marry.

Their summer of love was also the Summer of Love, but Tom and Susan were as far from the upheavals of the 1960s as Cape Cod was from Haight-Ashbury. Susan belonged to the last generation of women who assumed family would come before career, who never thought about "choosing" motherhood.

A gifted artist, Susan found her medium in homemaking. If she admired something, her instinct was to re-create it -- a stenciled lamp shade, a Tyrolean sweater, a set of needlepoint seat covers. She was Martha Stewart before anyone had heard of Martha Stewart.

By the 1970s, the Owsleys had settled in Reston, Va., and started their family -- Jonathan was born in 1970, Nicholas in 1975. The glass cookie jar in Susan's kitchen brimmed with cookies appropriate to the season. Iced hearts for Valentine's Day, green shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day, smiling jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween.

The cookie baking of the first 11 months paled alongside the elaborate creations produced in December. Above all, Susan gloried in Christmas, wrapping evergreen boughs around the banister, playing carols constantly on the stereo, making her own ornaments and decorations. Her sons grew to tease her about the fetish she made of the holiday, but they secretly loved it.

Advertisement

Externally, things looked perfect. Tom Owsley's law career was moving up and onward at a steady pace. The family had moved from apartment to townhouse, from townhouse to house, from a Colonial to a Colonial on 3 acres. Their sons were healthy and handsome.

Did it have to change? This question nags at everyone involved -- her first husband, their sons, her siblings. Was Susan fated to meet Jim Harrison, or someone else? Was her itch specific, or a generic dissatisfaction bred in 15 years of marriage? Perhaps not even Susan knew the answer.

There are facts, dates and certainties. They met in 1979 in Charlottesville, Va., at a meeting of a professional group to which Jim Harrison and Tom, both lawyers, belonged. Jim was blazing his way through the legal offices of McCormick & Co., the spice manufacturer in the Baltimore suburbs. He was married to his college sweetheart, and their six children were in their teens and 20s.

Apparently, he and Susan had a special rapport, the kind of charged reaction called chemistry. Jim says it was obvious to everyone. Tom Owsley sees it only in hindsight.

He and Susan moved to Baltimore in 1982, when he became a vice president at Crown Central Petroleum Corp. The Owsleys and the Harrisons socialized even more after the move, "dating" as some couples do. They had just been at the theater one night in 1984, when Jim Harrison stood to make an announcement.

"I love your wife and I'm going to marry her," he told Tom.

Advertisement

Tom Owsley, looking back across 11 years to that night, says dryly. "It was something of a showstopper." Then he asks to change the subject.

Within the year, both couples separated, both amicably. Susan and Tom shared custody of their sons. On Dec. 2, 1988, Jim Harrison made good on his word, although Susan was already complaining about abuse to her friends and family. They married the courthouse in Towson that morning, then went downtown to Piper & Marbury, where Jim oversaw a $550 million real estate deal for McCormick.

By 1989, Baltimore County police had begun logging repeated complaints of domestic battery involving the couple, recording at least 20 in four years. Susan petitioned the court for a restraining order twice in 1993 -- prevailing the first time, only to violate the order herself.

Finally, she left Jim in Christmas week of 1993, banging on her friend Mary Jo Gordon's door at 3 a.m. She was barefoot and hadn't even bothered to grab a coat as she ran from the house while Jim slept. She wanted out.

It started as a silly quarrel, but many of their quarrels began over silly things, especially during the holidays. She told her friend that Jim had thrown her into the Christmas tree. Police reports indicate she might have been drinking, but Susan insisted she was sober, which gave her the courage to leave.

"She kept thinking if she could change herself, it would never happen," Ms. Gordon says. "She thought it was something she (( did. He could be so good to her. He admired her. At the same time, he thought maybe she was better than him. He put her up on a pedestal, then resented her for being higher than him."

Advertisement

Ms. Gordon acted swiftly, convinced Susan was sincere this time. Within a week, she helped her find a house for rent in Ruxton. Friends and family rallied around Susan, moving her belongings and providing a buffer against Jim.

Initially, she kept her location and phone number a secret from her husband.

But she had to see him, she said, if only to pick up her support checks. From there, it was easy to start socializing again. She needed someone to go to dinner with on Friday night, she explained to her sons and her friends, who had hoped the separation would stick. Jim even helped her negotiate the lease for her Mill Centre store, the Shady Lady, the place that was, briefly, the symbol of her independence.

Of course, the name was a joke, a harmless pun on Susan's lamp shades. Who could have been less shady than Susan, the && sunny blonde who looked younger than her years?

Once she disappeared, the shop name took on an unsavory life of its own. In the early days of the search, Susan's dark green Saab still missing, the Shady Lady insinuated its way into the subconscious and ended up jumbled with other details, the whispers of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Why not? the skeptics asked. Why couldn't she have just walked away? It's a common enough fantasy.

Why not?

Advertisement

The profiler

Lt. Sam Bowerman gets to know a lot of people after they're dead. It's his job, a job that didn't even exist when he joined the Baltimore County Police Department 22 years ago.

An FBI-trained profiler, he's a cop who uses the social sciences to learn about crimes, crime victims -- and the possible suspects. He also is the closest thing to a neutral party in the two camps who have staked positions on either side of Susan Harrison's disappearance.

The first camp -- her siblings, her sons, her first husband, her friends -- believe she is dead, and have believed this almost from the moment they heard she was missing. There is no perch in their hearts for hope, that thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson called it. For them, it is an article of faith that Susan is dead.

In the second camp is Jim Harrison. He has his own, sometimes contradictory, theories. Her emotional problems may be at the root of her disappearance. She might have run off with another man. She might be in Ireland. A man named Chris Kennedy Hughes says he heard she was being held in Boston. (He also told Jim he's running for president in the year 2000 and that he has several sets of adoptive parents, including Howard Hughes, Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.) But even Jim is beginning to waver in his oft-stated hope Susan is alive.

It falls to Lieutenant Bowerman to sift through all the possibilities. A likable, easygoing man, he explains his methods as he sits in his office high above Towson. On a clear day, one can see Ruxton, where Susan lived, or Timonium Road, the last place she was seen alive.

Advertisement

That was the night of Aug. 5. This part of the story has been polished to a high sheen, like a silver coin buffed every time it is taken out and examined -- and it has been taken out many, many times. Instead of the usual discrepancies bred by several tellers, the account is consistent, down to the smallest details.

In the early evening, Susan went to visit Jim. The next day, she was to go to Boston with Nicholas, for a long-anticipated visit with her brothers. After running a few errands, Nicholas went to his mother's Ruxton home, where the door was ajar and her purse was on the counter, but with no wallet inside.

By 9 p.m., he had begun to panic. He called his father, calling again at 11 p.m. and at 2 a.m., until Tom Owsley urged him to return to his house in Homeland for the night.

Where was Susan? Jim Harrison says she came to see him, acting strangely. She raged at him, fell asleep the moment she drank a glass of wine, then woke up, serene and loving. Another nap, then she reverted to screaming at him, until Jim went upstairs and got into bed.

The next day, as Nicholas, his father and Susan's family pondered her disappearance, Jim Harrison says he impulsively decided to walk around downtown. It was an unusually beautiful day -- cool for August, not at all humid. When he returned home about 4:30 p.m., a scrap of yellow paper was taped to his door: "Please call Officer Sabotka as soon as possible." He says it never occurred to him the note was about Susan.

The missing-person report was filed officially Aug. 6. Homicide got the case on Aug. 8, but the profiler was not brought in right away. Of course, there was no crime scene for Lieutenant Bowerman to dissect. That was the whole problem. A year later, it remains the problem.

Advertisement

With a scene to study, a profiler might determine the relationship between the killer and the victim. Did the killer get in close, or hold the victim at a distance? Did the killer degrade the victim? With no body, and no scene, the profiler studies the victim in abstract. Who was she? What behavior makes sense?

Lieutenant Bowerman is convinced Susan is dead, and has been dead since that weekend. His training tells him she is the victim of foul play, and that her killer is someone who knew her.

"We have a fact," he says. "The fact is that Susan Harrison was a devoted mother. Forget all other things. The sun rose and set on her two sons."

But how can he tell the killer knew her? Couldn't she have been carjacked, or kidnapped by an inept criminal who panicked and decided to kill her?

"The stranger has no need to distance himself from the victim," Lieutenant Bowerman explains. "He doesn't need to take real time and effort in concealing the body. And if there's a witness, he needs even less time. Then, he just wants to dispose of the body and get the hell out of Dodge."

So the perfect crime, that old conceit, comes down to luck. And a murderer's luck doesn't have to run out. Consider Bernadette Caruso, who disappeared outside Eastpoint Mall nine years ago, in a missing-person case with unsettling parallels to the Harrison case.

Advertisement

She had a 3-year-old daughter at home, and no one in her family believes she would have left her voluntarily. She was in the middle of a divorce. Neither her car nor her body has ever been found.

Every year, her family holds a Mass for relatives of missing adults, an extension of the support group that Bernadette's mother, Patricia Stevenson, set up in her Dundalk home. Last December, Lieutenant Bowerman attended, bringing Jim Harrison with him. They've spent a lot of time together over the past year. Sometimes, Jim calls up to ask why he hasn't seen him in a while.

The two sat in the same pew at the Mass. To Lieutenant Bowerman's surprise, Jim rose during the service, walked up to the altar and whispered in the priest's ear.

Jim then turned to the front -- and led the congregation in a prayer.

The police have never publicly identified Jim Harrison as a suspect in the case, although Jim readily admits he has been treated as one. When asked who might have killed Susan, Lieutenant Bowerman always speaks of a generic killer. As in: The killer knew Susan Harrison.

And what does he have to say about Jim Harrison?

Advertisement

Lieutenant Bowerman thinks for a second. "I can say he is probably one of the most cooperative individuals I've experienced in all my years in law enforcement."

The husband

They were not yet husband and wife when Susan and Jim purchased the place on Timonium Road, a Cape Cod that backs to the 17th hole at the Baltimore Country Club. From the outside, it is a gracious, secluded house of pale red brick and willow-green woodwork. The grounds are nicely kept. Jim Harrison points out the clump of black-eyed Susans blooming in the back yard.

Old photographs show it was once equally well-kept inside, graced by Susan's taste. But those days are long gone. The family room looks as if it has been ransacked; mail and newspapers cover every surface. Jim makes a joke about his sloppiness and leads his visitors through the house.

In the kitchen, at least 100 bottles of vitamin pills and nutritional supplements crowd the counters and windowsill. The drywall has a deep gash in it. Vestiges of Susan's handiwork are still evident -- the rust-colored border of stenciled animals along the counter and the walls, a motif repeated on the cabinets' porcelain knobs.

The living room is almost bare, except for a sofa, a few chairs, a stained rug and Christmas decorations. The tree, left up through spring, has finally come down, but a wreath hangs over the fireplace, a lone Christmas card sits on the mantel and a wrapped gift has been tossed on a chair.

Advertisement

Jim, impossibly merry for such a hot day, kneels before the fireplace and plugs in a knee-high Santa Claus. It is difficult to imagine Susan approving of this plastic St. Nick, which sways jerkily to and fro, playing nerve-jangling snatches of carols.

But Jim is delighted by his toy. He even sings along, his florid face quite animated, his body swinging in imitation of the Santa.

"The first Noel/the angels did say . . ." Santa slides into the next song, throwing Jim off guard for a moment, but he finds the

melody and continues, swinging his arms and tapping his foot as if conducting a ragtag orchestra.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way . . ."

He is 58, almost 59, and until four years ago, he was the chief financial officer of one of Baltimore's most successful and visible companies. Before his early retirement from McCormick, his reputation was for playing the bumpkin, allowing his adversaries to think themselves smarter than he.

Advertisement

The phone rings and he leaves the room, shouting "Merry Christmas!" upon his return. But he has tired of Santa's songs and finally unplugs him. Time to talk about Susan.

He volunteers that they had a great sex life. He speaks of himself in the third person, showing off a series of photographs of him with his grandchildren. "Jim likes to read." "Jim gives kisses." "Jim likes to hug, too."

And he occasionally blurts out: "Oh, I hope she's alive. I hope she comes back to me."

By anyone's standards, Jim Harrison is having a difficult year. Susan disappeared. One of his sons, William, boarded a bus in Florida, shot and killed a stranger, then killed himself, apparently because he was distraught over losing most of his fingers to frostbite. Jim went to see a psychiatrist six times, but decided not to take the anti-depressant the doctor prescribed.

In March, Jim was charged with battery of a police officer in Baltimore County, who stopped him as he stumbled along Reisterstown Road near the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club. Then in June, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Ocean City and charged with battery of the arresting officer. He won't discuss those matters, still pending in court, but he has no problem discussing his role as a suspect in Susan's disappearance.

He finds this preposterous, but tries not to be offended by the questions from Lieutenant Bowerman and the homicide detectives. He even agreed to a lie detector test, a six-hour ordeal on Election Day. "The police said I failed it," he says, "but I looked at the chart and all the lines were the same."

Advertisement

By now, he has told his story repeatedly -- to police, to reporters, in a hearing on Susan's property last November. He is remarkably consistent. He loved Susan. He never hurt her. Things were wonderful, except when she "went manic depressive." They were going to get back together.

A most cooperative individual, as Lieutenant Bowerman says. But Jim Harrison admits there are two people in the world who don't like him at all, Jonathan and Nicholas Owsley. In fact, their contempt for him is so strong, they reject "stepfather" as too intimate a term. He is Jim to them, or simply "he."

Does Jim know why they feel this way? "Susan told them bad things about me."

Did they ever see or hear anything in the house on Timonium Road that might have led them to draw their own conclusions? There was nothing to see or hear, Jim Harrison insists. Susan's accounts of abuse were delusional, her injuries self-inflicted. She was the one with the drinking problem.

The sons

The sons of Susan and Tom Owsley are five years apart, a comfortable distance for two brothers whose identities might otherwise have collapsed into one, first at Gilman School, where both were outstanding students; then at Middlebury College, where they both majored in political science, and lettered in the same sport, lacrosse. They even shared the same number on their jerseys, 27. Ows and Little Ows, as they are known at the Vermont college.

Advertisement

Actually, Nicholas, Little Ows, is taller than Jonathan by a few inches, with a lanky, muscular frame just beginning to fill out at age 20. His heavy-lidded eyes are watchful, his manner cautious. In this hyper-articulate family, Nicholas is the quiet one who keeps his feelings to himself.

At first, Nicholas declined to speak to anyone, even his closest friends, about his mother's disappearance.

And Jonathan, although more at ease with reporters, did not want to talk about his mother's marriage. Now, they are willing to discuss anything if it can help find their mother.

So Nicholas talks, a little haltingly, about his interior life over the past year, and about what he saw for 10 years.

Just 9 when his parents separated, Nicholas stayed close to his mother, although he preferred living at his father's. One night, when Nicholas was 12, he stayed at the house on Timonium Road while his brother and father toured Northeastern colleges. He awoke at 1 a.m. to a terrible fight between Susan and Jim, intense enough to scare him. He called his brother's girlfriend, who told him to wait in the driveway until she could get there.

As he stood outside in the dark, he saw his mother run from the house, her arms filled with her lamp shades, one of them badly torn. She fumbled with her keys, trying to stow the shades in her car. Before she could get the trunk open, Nicholas says, Jim came out of the house and began shaking Susan violently.

Advertisement

"I yelled at him, 'Get off my mom!' He smiled at me and walked back into the house." Within minutes, Nick's ride arrived. His mother begged him not to go. But he was only 12. The only person he could save was himself.

Jonathan, however, was old enough to play the role of protector. He says his mother frequently summoned him to the house when the Harrisons' quarrels raged out of control.

"One time I got there, and Jim's holding her back, and he has a knife." A kitchen knife, apparently brandished more to intimidate Jonathan than to harm his mother. Jonathan forced the storm door open, walked into the family room and, by his account, threw Jim down on the sofa.

"Don't move," he told him, "until we're out of here." He didn't move. And the next time Jonathan saw Jim, he acted as if nothing had ever happened. To this day, Jim maintains there was no violence in the marriage, at least on his part.

"Really?" says Jonathan, the lawyer in training, interning this summer with the Cook County district attorney's office in Chicago. "Then ask him how a person blackens her own eye, fractures her wrist, breaks her own ribs? How does someone do that to herself?"

Her injuries are burned into Jonathan's memory. He photographed them in the summer of 1993, muted color photographs now part of the court record in his successful effort to become guardian of his mother's property.

Advertisement

He accepted this task as the price of being a parent's best friend. "You get the best, but you also get the worst. I got it all. I got to hear it all, got to see it all." He looked through a viewfinder at the bruise on his mother's forehead, at the blackened right eye almost swollen shut, and tried to ignore the bile rising in his throat. He told himself: This is rock bottom. This is the beginning of the climb out.

Jonathan last saw his mother on June 17, two days before he left for Europe. He and Nicholas stopped by her house, planning to take her out for pizza and a movie. But, like most people in the United States that night, they ended up riveted by the sight of a white Bronco moving slowly along a Los Angeles freeway, O. J. Simpson crouched inside, forestalling his arrest in the double homicide of his ex-wife, Nicole, and waiter Ron Goldman.

"I looked at my mother and said, 'Mom, do you realize how dangerously close you are to that?' Like anyone close to that situation, she said, 'Oh, no, no, no.' "

Obsessions

A locket. The gas tank of a dark green Saab. A diagnosis. Families in the throes of tragedies fixate on seemingly small things. For Susan's loved ones, no detail about her life or disappearance can be ignored.

"She never was not wearing a gold, heart-shaped locket that contained photos of her two sons when they were small," her sister Molly says. "It was gold, very expensive, and I believe it was monogrammed, maybe not. We want to know where that is, where the rings are, where her wallet is." If they're not with her body, they might be in a pawn shop, a possible lead.

Advertisement

Then there's the Saab, one of the many extravagances Jim Harrison gave Susan over the years, from diamond rings to a racehorse, Susan's Choice. Nicholas drove her car on the day she disappeared with it, and noticed the gas tank's needle hovering near empty. When the car was found, the tank was more than half full.

This means someone filled the tank, possibly the night Susan disappeared. But not his mother, Nicholas is convinced, because she always procrastinated when it came to this task. No, somewhere, there's an attendant at a gas station between Baltimore and Washington who saw that car, who knows something without realizing what it is.

The car belongs to her sons now. They had wanted to sell it, but no buyers appeared for a convertible in the cold winter months. They decided to share it. Their mother always urged them to drive her car. They try not to think about the fact her killer may have been the last person behind the wheel.

Finally, there is the debate over Susan's emotional problems. Jim Harrison has a tendency to explain everything -- Susan's rages, Susan's claims of abuse, Susan's repeated calls to 911 during their marriage -- as an offshoot of "going manic-depressive."

The family is willing to admit Susan had emotional problems, but rejects this diagnosis. They arranged for a psychiatrist to talk to the press, then decided against it on the advice of their attorney. Jim produces another doctor's diagnosis to buttress his claim.

It's not as if Susan's problems were secret. She told her friends and family constantly, almost compulsively, about her marriage. She also recanted her stories to them, until some family members became angry with her. They admit now she had problems, but not that problem.

Advertisement

What does any of this have to do with Susan Harrison's disappearance? If she's dead, even Jim Harrison agrees, her emotional problems are irrelevant. And, whatever her diagnosis, her behavior throughout their marriage never deteriorated for more than 48 hours, by his account. No bouts of amnesia, no suicide attempts, no disappearing acts.

Rituals

How do you grieve without a body, without the ceremonies that (( allow us to say goodbye?

The Hurleys and the Owsleys still confer in marathon conference calls, from Boston to Baltimore to Chicago to Athens. Every day, one of them is on the phone, talking about Susan. They keep thinking there is something else they can do, or must do. Another private detective? Another search? More publicity? A larger reward?

In June, they held a service at Gilman School, hoping to find the bridge from anger to grief, from frustration to acceptance.

A lovely event, everyone agreed, even without Susan there to plan it. Family and friends read short speeches. Musicians played "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." Nicholas, the nontalker, screened a video and photo montage of his mother. Always smiling, always lovely, but never, in any of the photos, with Jim Harrison.

Advertisement

Afterward, at Tom Owsley's house in Homeland, the mourners )) gathered for a reception. It was a balmy day, not too hot, with waiters weaving through the crowd with trays of hors d'oeuvres, and a large tent covering the back yard. From the street, the gathering looked like a wedding reception, or a graduation party.

Inside, Susan's sons, her siblings, and her first husband huddled in the sun room with Lieutenant Bowerman, talking about the case. There was nothing new to report. At this point, each discussion is like the last, and like the next.

In the other rooms, the talk was about Jonathan's speech. "I'd hate to be on the opposing side when he's in a courtroom," lawyer friends told Tom Owsley. Jonathan had been so poised, moving his audience from laughter to tears, all in six pages.

He had thanked his mother for all the things he had never thought to mention: the perfect Christmases, her loyal attendance at lacrosse games, the way she squeezed his hand at the doctor's office to tell him the pain wasn't so bad. Days before the service, he told his spellbound audience, he had dreamed of finding her. They walked hand in hand down a city street.

"I realized as we walked along that city street, and you held your hand in mine, that no one could see you, that I was the only one. All anyone else could see was me, walking down the street, tears flowing, my hand outstretched. But to me, you were there, you were walking with me side by side, as you always have and as you will forever."

With each day, Jonathan's dream becomes more prophetic. The first anniversary of Susan's disappearance has come and gone. In the press, she has received far more attention than Bernadette Caruso, or many of the official homicide cases in Baltimore County. So far, to no avail. What happens next August, or the August after that?

Advertisement

As Susan disappears for the rest of the world, she is all her loved ones can see. In their memories, she is not a body, not that awful thing called remains. She is smiling, her locket at her neck. In their memories, she lives.

And, they are convinced, someone else lives with the memory of killing her.

Lieutenant Bowerman knows too well the evil that men, and women, do. Yet he believes in redemption. He believes Susan's killer, whoever it is, could find relief in confession. He believes he is looking for someone with a conscience.

Jonathan, not even 3 years old when Lieutenant Bowerman joined the police department and with only one year of law school behind him now, is far more cynical. He has no expectation that his mother will be found, or that he will see justice done.

"I've seen how things work," he explains.

For now, their disagreement is moot. Without Susan's body, everything is moot.

Advertisement

No body, no death. No death, no homicide. No homicide, no arrest. No arrest, no justice.

No peace.



Advertisement