|I stand in support of the LGBTT Community. Gay Pride Parade June 5, 2011. Condado, Puerto Rico.|
On May 5, 1992 my mother Susan Pittmann and her lesbian partner Christine Puckett were murdered by their neighbor James Brooks. Newspapers in Detroit and Huron Township, Michigan reported that the double homicide was the culmination of an ongoing battle over property lines. My mother was fifty-five, healthy and vibrant with positive ideas about the future. Christine was thirty-nine, energetic and busy raising her teenage son. Brooks was slow to reflect and quick to anger. He became enraged when he saw my mother and Christine publicly expressing affection. By erecting a privacy fence between these two rural properties, Mom and Christine intended to bring a peaceful resolution to Brooks’ complaints. However, it became clear that he was enraged about their gay relationship, and that not seeing them together was not enough. He vigorously complained to neighbors where he found support for his rage, and he formulated his murder plan.
From police reports, it’s clear that he shot Christine first from the side door of his house and then as he walked over to view her body that was face down in the grass, he lifted his gun and shot her in the back. I imagine just before he pulled the trigger, he thought the words he told the police later, “It had to be done”. My mother was on the kitchen phone with the emergency operator reporting that Brooks had threatened their lives when Christine was first shot. She immediately dropped the telephone, ran outside and stood in front of Brooks, weaponless. I imagine she asked him why he did it, and in answer, he shot her just below the heart. Brooks’ determined discriminatory attitude has troubled me ever since. How did he become so certain about his decision to murder my mother and Christine? After the deaths, I watched in astonishment as the actual motivation for the crime was determined to be a property dispute instead of a hate crime. Newspapers reported exaggerated stories casting my mother and Christine in a harsh light, which apparently had nothing to do with their sexual preference.
I was shocked to see my mother, a dynamic loving people-person characterized as a temperamental abuser of animals while Brooks was portrayed as an elderly man who was pushed to the limits of tolerance by his unreasonable neighbors. Neighbors reported that he was upset about my mother’s Pit-bull trespassing onto his property. No one explained that my mother’s dog, Ms. Pitt, was an elderly overweight, exhausted and non-territorial dog that was given a daily dose of thyroid medication just to stay alert. No mention was made of her activism within the gay community, and that she and Christine were founding members of the Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Downriver-Detroit. No mention was made that she was a loving mother of five children and devoted grandmother to eight. No mention was made about how much we would continue to miss her for the rest of our lives.
After reading these news reports, I quickly understood that Brooks had not acted alone. In fact, it was a narrow-minded society that provided ammunition for this crime. It was only the gay community that stood strong and honestly told the truth about these murders. They loudly proclaimed that this double homicide was not a neighborhood feud but a hate crime. As a continued tribute to the gay community, I am honored at Marianne K. Martin’s request to write the forward of her latest novel, The Indelible Heart. This novel extends some of the plot threads related to my mother and Christine that appeared in Martin’s first novel Love in Balance and succeeds in giving a personal face to the events surrounding the murders. Though it is a work of fiction, the narrative highlights how in fact, the gay community rallied together to fight homophobia and violence in response to this shocking crime. I encourage people to read this profoundly moving novel and realize that it is our duty as members of society to stand together and continue a united struggle against intolerance and violence.
Brian Alexander is making a documentary on Mom and Chris' story, and the LGBT community in the Detroit Metropolitan area in the early 90s. You can visit the new website http://pittmannpuckett.com to find out more about it. He contacted singer/songwriter Susan Hendrick and asked her to share her talents, which resulted in the moving music video, "Fight 2 B Whole." You can view it below, or click on the link at the Pittmann/Puckett website or plan to watch it during the closing credits of the film.