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Friday, October 31, 2008

Goodbye Sun

Today, October 31st, is my mother, Susan G. Pittmann's birthday. She has been gone now for 16 years and 5 months, and I miss her dearly. She enjoyed the fact that she was born on "the Witches" day-and this blog- Oasis Writing Link(OWL)-is named in honor and memory of her. Mom was killed by her neighbor, James Elwood Brooks...why? Brooks was deeply offended by the public display of affection between Mom and Christine Puckett. Some say there was a property line dispute over the construction of a privacy fence but why did they need to build a fence? This question points to the truth, Mom and Christine were killed because they were lesbian lovers who were bold enough to get married and kiss in public, i.e. in the front yard within full view of all the neighbors and the passing cars on Middlebelt Road!

Brooks was not a stranger to me, our family knew him for years. He used to drink too much but he quit; he was angry and lonely. Frequently, he was lonely more than angry and I felt sorry for him. Once he shot our pet chicken, Chicken Little, because she was trespassing on his property. I was not afraid of him, though; I just thought that he had a temper as we used to say in Michigan. As a child, I reflected, I had a temper, too. Once I ran to his house when Black Beauty, our Labrador retriever, was locked in the backseat of our car. She must have gotten in when we opened the doors to go into the house. I remember I had a feeling that she entered while I was taking my time getting out of the car. It was that feeling that led me to discover where she was...I desperately tried to call Mom and Dad who were at work but there was no way to contact either of them. Brooks said the only way to open the door was by breaking a window, I tried but I couldn't. He said that the dog looked dead anyway. His lack of action was disheartening. Black Beauty, a gorgeous reject from a seeing eye dog school, died from the intense heat and lack of air. I saw her rolled up in a comfortable circle on the floor just waiting for her next car ride. (I know that sounds like a sad country song.)

Brooks occasionally threatened to shoot Cin-Cin, my French alpine 4H show goat, especially when she slipped out of the corral to contentedly enjoy the fresh green leaves off of his young apple trees. He threatened to shoot often but usually, he controlled himself by calling the police or reporting us for some imagined (or real) minor infraction. Ironically, he was reporting Mom and Christine for animal abuse. He shot at Mom's dogs, Arrow and Ms. Pitt, for trespassing. Ms. Pitt -yes, she was a pittbull-had a thyroid condition that slowed her down; she was heavy and not much of a wanderer so Mom kept her inside of the house most of the time. Brooks was shooting at Arrow and reporting Mom to any authority he could think of while passing more and more time at the Orchard Grove restaurant and bar. Shocked neighbors encouraged his rage at the lesbian women over at the Pittmann place. I imagine them questioning, "What happened to Sue, anyway? Wasn't she married to Richard all those years?" They would try to reason, "I always knew there was something weird about her; she rode a big motorcycle, you know. I heard she went all the way to Alaska on her bike; she's such a showoff." The grapevine reports that Brooks shared his plans to kill Mom and Christine down at the Grove where he would receive ongoing sympathy and support for his distressing viewing situation. He was going to kill them; he told the neighbors. He was going to kill them; he told Mom and Christine.

Brooks was not always a man of his word; he had a record of temper, not commitment. In the kitchen where he would sit and drink coffee, he had a gun-a hunting rifle-behind him. He had a couple of rifles in the corner and a shotgun as well. I imagine him sitting there at the table, rage pouring over his skin while he thought,"It's not natural ...those women together like that; it's just not right." Decisively, he got up and went to the property line; he crossed it and confronted Christine who was working on the fence posts.

Mom told me that Christine had a camera and was trying to take his picture while he was on their property; maybe she did snap a picture. Who knows? Brooks and Christine exchanged words and he went back to his house, pointed a rifle from the kitchen doorway and at a distance, shot Christine. Mom was calling 911 when Christine was shot. I heard the recording, "He shot my worker!" she said. The police operator tried to get details; address, descriptions-anything to keep Mom on the phone. I heard a sound like a phone falling to the ground and that was all. Mom ran out to help Christine who was face down in the grass. Brooks walked to our circle drive with his shotgun. With the strength of metal and gun powder, he faced my mom. She looked directly at him, courageously stood in front of him, while he lifted the gun and shot into her. She was so close to him that the bullets made a dollar-sized hole in her body; the blood poured out quickly and she was gone.

Sometime during the event, probably after Brooks killed Mom, he walked up to Christine and shot her directly in the back. Then he got into his car, backed up, and sat there waiting for the police to come. When they approached him, he didn't try to escape, he just said, "It had to be done." It had to be done. When you shoot wounded animals; a horse with a broken leg, a dog hit by a car, or a litter of puppies infested with maggots; you might say, it has to be done. When you kill two women who loved each other; and you are James Elwood Brooks or the community that supported him, you say; it had to be done.

Mom was 55 years old and Christine was 36, I think. I know it was May 5, 1992, Cinco de Mayo in southern California, when I heard the news. My sister, Linda, called me at work- the US Department of Defense, Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar, and said, "Mom is dead." I replied, "Mom is dead? How do you know? Tell me, are you sure?" Someone called her, a cousin, I think, and said your mom's been shot. I couldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe it. I was going to see her soon. I had my airline ticket and her new baby granddaughter, Amber, too; we were going to be there. She's not dead, I thought. But she was...her body was gone and I was too shaken to feel her in any other way.

Sue Pittmann was powerful. Her presence cleared the space of doubt around me and made me sure I could do anything. I am so proud to be her daughter. When the sun set on her life; it set in my heart and I knew I had to be strong on my own; I had to go on without a powerful mother lighting the way for me. I think I'm fine. Today's Mom's birthday; how glad I am that she was born. Happy Birthday Mom and thank you for my life.


  1. Sorry about the mistakes, which I noticed now when I reread this. Mark

  2. It seems like you have gone through a lot, Mark. I send you blessings of peace and surround you in a halo of contentment that is infused with the balancing tonic of justice to provide you with the strength to transform your difficult situation.

  3. Cynthia, thanks for sharing this story with us. I know we are family, but I don't think I've ever heard the full details of what happened like you outlined on this blog. I'd heard the bits and pieces but never the full story.

    I had no idea that this nut-job (Brooks) was a neighbor for so many years, even while you lived here in Michigan.

    I'm glad that you created this website to honor your mother, I think this is totally fantastic! What better way to honor her memory than with the words of life that radiate from her own daughter's heart and soul.

    Sadly there will always be pockets of hate and intolerance in the minds of some people. Ignorance will always exist to some degree.

    I've always felt that judging is not our job. When I hear of any senseless death especially of a great person, I'm always reminded of Elton John's lyric for when John Lennon was slain..."It's funny how an insect, can damage, so much grain".

    Love ya!

  4. Thanks Eddie, for your input on the mom story. When you tell a story so much after it inicially happends, you get tired of telling it. I'm glad I gave it a rest and now I can talk about it with the perspective of 16 years. Most people think that you have to be crazy or evil, essentially, to commit a violent crime but I learned in my years teaching at the brig (military prison)that crimes (especially first offenses) are committed by those under some kind of mind altering influence- drugs, rage, hate...That's why we have to be responsible about what we encourage-intentionally or unintentionally. People have the capacity to experience life at a more altruistic level; it is also true that violence can be cultivated in a climate of fear and intolerance. I hope that my contributions to the atmosphere of acceptance are strong enough to make a difference.

  5. Mark, I have some Cherokee advice given by Awiakta's parents for your work situation: "If you meet a copperhead-snake or person-give'em a wide berth. If you have to go in close,take a hoe." As a fellow gardener, I am confident that this suggestion should do the trick.

  6. Cynthia - it is amazing, but I see such serendipity here on your site - The pic you show of the suffragette happens to be one I have used to illustrate my writing today, and the quote from John Martyn, when I just wrote about him at his passing...

    I am sorry for the loss of your mother and her beloved partner - I can only sing, once more from John, "I don't want to know about evil, I only want to know about love...", and I think you had that 'in spades' from your mom and her beautiful life and loves... Bless them both x

  7. god what a horrific story.

    I'm so sorry for your tremendous loss....

    what a horrible, horrible man

  8. This is such a difficult thing to read, Cynthia and words wouldn't do justice to how I feel after reading it. I feel so angry on your behalf - well, your mother's really - so very angry. I can't go on because I don't want to sound trite.

  9. Thank you for sharing this story; your beautiful blog is a wonderful tribute to your late mother.


    Mama Shujaa

  10. Thank you all, Charmaine HHD, French Fancy, Woman of Every Importance and Mama Shujaa. Your warm comments remind me just how lovely the world can be. <3

  11. How absolutely horrible! Is there anything worse than a hate crime? I'm so sorry. I'm sure your mother would have appreciated this tribute.

  12. Thank you, Sarah, for reading my mother's story. I appreciate your sympathic words.

  13. Hi Cynthia!
    Read the horrific story about your mother's murder. How cruel people can be! It is disgusting and depressing.
    People are fated to receive either negative or positive ( or grey ) vibrations from the nature. It all depends on how pure or impure are one's chakras ( energy centers ). If the chakras are pure one attracts good vibes from the nature and vice versa. Purity and impurity of the chakras depend on one's actions committed through the medium of body, mind and speech. One's actions are responsible for one's fate or destiny. It is said that people behave according to their destinies. It is not true. Actually, one's destiny is made according to one's actions. If one has ocmmitted bad actions, misdeeds, bad karmas, one's chakras get impure and then the nature takes its own course to either punish or reward that individual.
    In order to remove the impurities in one's chakras, one must practice chakrashuddhi ( the unique process of purification of the chakras), Yoganidra and meditation. Once the chakras are purified, one starts getting positive vibes from the nature. Thus by chakrashuddhi, one can actually change one's destiny for the better.
    How to purify chakras? What are chakras? If you are interested to know more, contact me.

  14. Beautifully written. I know you miss her terribly. No matter how old you are, when your mother passes, you feel orphaned. There is not much to say about insanity. It exists, and can be created and fueled by societies ills, but you seem to understand that all too well.

    From one motherless daughter to another, I wish you fond memories and great stories for your children.

  15. Cynthia, was this neighbor of yours someone who was a problem with your family even while your father was alive? In other words were there already issues with him dating back to those years?

  16. Passion4Blue, Brooks was crabby sometimes, I just thought it was his personality. We all tried to be friendly and respectful of him. My parents thought that he was lonely. I think he really liked my dad, Richard. Though, he would sometimes get angry about the animals we still had a neighborly relationship...not exactly friendly, but we would say hi or wave when we saw him. The son of a friend of his (Oscar Buckner) was our foster brother for a while.

  17. sitting here with tears running down my face, the mourning for my own mother still so raw...what a senseless, horrible death. I'm so sorry for your loss, Cynthia, so sorry for all of us who have lost our mothers much too soon.

  18. Cynthia
    I was so glad to be able to know the full story of your Mom. I don't want to forget that these things happen in our world

  19. I accidently deleted Lille Diane's comment but it was also in my email...so I'm reposting it here:

    I just want to hug you. Did this make national news? I was living in southern CA at the time this happened. I am so sorry this happened. I'm proud of you for sharing your story with us. Your writing, your words, your delivery... mesmorizing...

    Thanks Lille, it was in the news...if you check out the link to Pittmann/Puckett documentary, you will read about a movie that's being made about the crime. Thanks for your heartfelt compassion.


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