When I first started my career, what I really, really wantedto do was to write for my local hometown newspaper. No such luck. They had other ideas for me and that was to sell advertising. Nope. I was hell-bent on reporting the news. So, I high-tailed it to the radio station and within 5 minutes I had a job.
My very first assignment was to find a grave. Not just any old grave, mind you, but Tiny Mercer's grave. Who is Tiny Mercer, you ask? George 'Tiny' Mercer was the first person on death row in Missouri to be executed in over 40 years. Rumor had it, that Tiny was buried in one of the local cemetaries in the next town over.
Please keep in mind this was waaayyyy before 'google', or even the internet. We're talking the early to mid 80's (yes, I'm that old). With that said, back then we reported news the old fashioned way. I researched and asked a lot of questions.
Finally, I'd narrowed my search down to at least 3 cemetaries. I pulled my trusty little pickup truck into the the gravel drive of a country cemetary. I was hoping I could nail this down on my first try. It was a blustery day, and the dark, looming clouds made the November evening seem later than it really was. The last thing I wanted was to be out scouting cemetaries after dark.
I cut the ignition and the old pickup gave a little bunny-hop before the engine stopped. I slipped off my loafers, reached for my green hunter boots and slipped them on, my pant legs bunched up at the top. (This was also long before rain boots, or wellies of any kind were either cute or in style). When I stood up from smoothing my pant legs half-way into the top of the boots, for comforts sake, I noticed two people, obviously grounds keepers working in the distance.
"Ah, great luck! I can ask them if he's buried here or not and I won't have to wander around looking for new grave markers. Then I can move along to the next place." (I knew I wouldn't hit the jackpot on the first try. That NEVER happens).
As I got closer I could see that it was a man and a woman.
"Good evening," I called. Each one of them had a gardening tool of some sort but I really wasn't paying attention. Besides, I'm not the 'gardening type' and I couldn't have told you a rake from a weed-eater.
"Hello, darlin' ", the woman said. Ahhh, I love to be called darlin'. Baby. Sweetheart. I'm a sucker for any kind of term of endearment. Never mind that she was a scary sight. Have you ever seen a woman with jet black hair with white blonde roots? It's kinda scary. Now picture a woman like this, at dusk - in a cemetary. Uh-huh. It magnifies the fear factor just a bit, doesn't it? But I ignore the chill that's just made it's way up my spine. After all....she DID just call me 'darlin'.
"I'm Kathie Truitt, with XXXX Radio and I understand that Tiny Mercer is being shipped back to town for burial. Do you know if he's here?"
"No sugar, I sure don't". She keeps working the ground, ever so calmly, doing whatever it is that cemetary caregivers do.
"Okay, well I guess I'll just keep looking. Thank you so much," I am ever so polite, just as Mama taught me. I backed up and tripped over something, and as I reached out to catch my fall I come face to face with a little silver, shiny, brand-spanking new temporary marker that reads "GEORGE MERCER".
Like a bolt of lightning I jump up, so excited about my dscovery, KNOWING how proud the boss is going to be, "Oh look! He's right here! I found it!"
I no sooner got those words out than the old man, who at this point hadn't made a peep, rammed what I now recognized as a shovel into the fresh dirt and started screaming at me.
"I'm his father and I'm ...." I have no recollection of what he said after that because when the shovel hit the ground I looked down - and I kid you NOT - Tiny Mercer's grave was 1/4 of the way dug up. Yes, you heard me. They were digging! him! up!
At this point all three of us were screaming. Tiny's father, the woman, who informed me rather loudly that she was Tiny's girlfriend, and ME. As their volume increased they kept getting closer to me and all I could think was, 'Gee, I sure never thought I'd die like this."
As I was peeling rubber out of the graveyard, the cops pulled in. Apparently someone at a nearby farm house had heard the screaming and hollering and called the authorities.
Later that night on news stations all across Missouri the lead story was how a young reporter had found two people digging up executed murderer Tiny Mercer's body. It wasn't until I listened to the story that I discovered Tiny's father and girlfriend were within their legal realm as they had exhumation papers. It seems that the State of Missouri gave Tiny a 'free ride home', but it was up to his family if they wanted to move him to his final resting place - which obviously they did. It would have been really nice if Dad and Girlfriend had shared that tidbit with me at the time.
Ah yes, the power of the prayer of a 19 year-old-girl: "Father, I don't know what I want to do with my life....but I do know I want it to be exciting." Tiny Mercer's grave was only the beginning....
More to come....
(Sorry, I have no pictures. I tried to google "George 'Tiny' Mercer" and nothing came up - too far back, I suppose).