Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Murder in Murdock: My first exposure to rural life

By my junior year in college at UCLA, I had lived my whole life in Orange County and Los Angeles, Ca. and hadn’t really traveled anywhere except big cities like New York. That fateful year of 2006, I covered the UCLA Women’s Volleyball team for the Daily Bruin and a photographer and I were sent to Omaha, Nebraska when the team made the Final Four.

As a student newspaper with limited funding, we were always looking to cut costs. Coincidentally, the photographer’s great aunt and uncle lived on farmland in tiny Murdock, Nebraska and they offered to house us for the trip and save us the expense of a hotel. The city is about a 40 minute drive from Omaha and is about as “in the middle of nowhere” as one could hope to get.

To say that it was a unique experience for someone like me is a severe understatement. The one anecdote among many that really sticks out to me occurred when I sheepishly informed the photographer’s aunt and uncle (who were the nicest and most hospitable people I’ve ever met) that I couldn’t eat what they had prepared for dinner because I am Kosher and can’t eat certain kinds of meat. This prompted two reactions. Aunt: “Well, I…I just don’t understand that at all!”. Uncle: “I once met and befriended a Jew when I worked in a factory out here during the war. What a nice man he was!”

Murdock is an agricultural based town that is perfectly content to stay as isolated as possible from society. No one I talked to in Omaha had ever heard of the town. However, when I was there, the town was buzzing over an incident that had taken place just a few days prior to my arrival. A double murder had occurred at one of the resident’s homes and everyone was talking about it.

At the time, the investigation was ongoing and information was limited. However, in a town like Murdock, where everyone knew the victims like close family and where criminal activity of any kind is virtually nonexistent, the shock factor was intensified. For the first time that anyone could recall, media vans and reporters lined up to investigate and interview Murdock residents. I will never forget the looks on the faces of the residents when they were talking about the murders. I’ve been around a lot of unfortunate and tragic scenes, but days after the murders, people could simply not come to grips with what had happened. The perpetrators were eventually caught and convicted.

Having never experienced any atmosphere like Murdock, my three days there taught me a lot about how people outside my suburban/urban bubble live and deal with problems. The trip erased a lot of preconceived notions that I had coming in and showed how a town that is not used to dealing with crime and its devastating effects could lean on each other to get through a tragedy. It was a terribly sad thing to watch, but also beautiful. I never had thought a short stay made to save some money could be so educational and memorable, but I will certainly never forget my trip to Murdock.


princesspeach said...

From the article it seems they were passing through Murdock on a drug induced crime spree. The article you linked also stated two men were originally charged for the crime. Since it is such a small town and everyone does know everyone, I wonder how local bias affects investigations such as this one. For example if there is bias, we might see less leads investigated. Do you know how many lawyers are in Murdock?

JT said...

It is interesting that, as you you point out, the shock factor of the double murder intensified because everyone knew one another in Murdock. Moreover, this familiarity amongst residents seems related to the fact that "crime was virtually nonexistent." I wonder if there are more statistics or studies out there that determine whether in rural areas such as Murdock there is a similar pattern of low crime when residents are more familiar with one another?