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Witness Interview: Dani Bonner, Victim's Friend

Thursday, October 26, 2000 - 2:01 p.m.

This witness, identified as a close friend of the victim, was interviewed in her home by Det. Sam Murphy and Det. Ted Armstrong.

TA = Detective T. Armstrong
DB = Dani Bonner
SM = Detective S. Murphy

SM: For the record, could you please state your name and address?

DB: Danielle Bonner, 425 Van Buren, Oxford.

SM: We want to thank you for your cooperation in this matter and allowing us to come to your home.

DB: Of course I'd cooperate. Zoe was my best friend. I want whoever did this to pay!

TA: We realize this is a difficult time for you...

DB: Difficult? It's like somebody killed a part of me. Oh, I'm sorry, I'm still so emotional about this. I wonder if I'm ever going to get over it.

SM: We understand. Do you need a minute to compose yourself?

DB: No, let's just go on. I don't think taking a minute will make it any better.

SM: Okay. Now, you know we have already spoken to your husband, Ed, correct?

DB: Yes, of course.

SM: Your husband mentioned a tape you have of yourself and the deceased?

DB: The New Year's tape. Is that what you mean?

SM: The tape in which Ms. Chase allegedly bequeathed her worldly goods to you or something to that effect?

DB: Yes, that's the tape. The only one I have left. Why didn't I save the others? You know, I guess I never thought... Well, you just don't think your best friend is going to be... Sorry. Yes, I have that tape.

TA: Do you mind telling us what prompted you to make the recording?

DB: I know it's strange. Everybody thinks so, even Ed. I just got in the habit of doing it years ago and, after a while, it seemed natural.

TA: Got in the habit?

DB: Well, Zoe and I met at college. We were just friends from the start. Even more than friends... more like sisters, twins even. At least in some ways. And we were just so close. So when she went back to New York after school, it just broke my heart.

SM: So you started taping your conversations?

DB: Well, it was sort of an accident. She called me one night and the answering machine picked up the call before I could grab the phone. I guess I didn't realize the machine was recording it. Later on, when I noticed the blinking light, I hit the playback to hear the message and it was the conversation we'd had a couple of hours before.

TA: Uh-huh?

DB: Well, it just was so good to hear her voice and hear us laughing and talking that I saved the tape. So when I felt lonely for her, I could play it and not feel so lonely. You know? Then the next time she called, I taped it too. Then, well, it just became a habit. You know?

SM: Okay. But even after Ms. Chase moved to Oxford and you could call her or see her any time you wanted, you continued to do this?

DB: Well, no. Actually I stopped doing it for a while. Except for holidays and things that were special occasions. I don't know. People are always snapping pictures and such during occasions, and no one thinks that's odd. So I guess making tapes wasn't that much of a leap in my mind.

TA: Okay. We get it. Do you still have this tape?

DB: Yes, I do.

TA: Would you be willing to turn it over to us?

SM: Naturally, it would be returned to you when we have finished with it.

DB: I suppose so. Though what you think it will do to help you I can't imagine.

TA: We just want to cover all the bases.

DB: Of course. If it will help in some way, I'll be happy to give it to you. Just ask them to be careful with it, will you? It's all I have left of her...

SM: Sure, we will.

TA: Let's talk about your relationship with Ms. Chase and what you know of her relationships with others.

DB: Okay, where shall we begin?

SM: What was her relationship with her parents like?

DB: Well, by now I'm sure you've talked to them, and you know they didn't have any use for me.

TA: Why do you think that was?

DB: I guess it was because Nan... Zoe and I got into some hijinks in school. Her parents are pretty old fashioned and didn't take to practical jokes too well.

TA: How did Zoe feel about her parents?

DB: She loved them. In her own way. She was so different from them that she was often perplexed about how she could have been their child. Of course, once she learned about the adoption, that explained a lot.

SM: When did she learn about that? The adoption?

DB: A while back. About five years ago.

SM: How did she take the news?

DB: She had mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, it answered a lot of questions for her. On the other hand, she felt her parents should have told her sooner. I think they had a bit of row about that.

SM: How did she find out she was adopted?

DB: Her parents told her, on her 30th birthday. Now that's a party I'm glad I wasn't at. I guess they'd seen some news show on the TV where they talked about adopted kids getting diseases and needing transfusions and things like that, and they started worrying. So, they decided to tell her over her birthday dinner. Not exactly good timing, was it?

SM: Did Ms. Chase do anything to find her birth mother?

DB: No. She talked about it for a while, but then, when she discovered her birth mother had been an unwed teenager, she thought better of it.

TA: How so?

DB: Well, she figured that the woman probably wouldn't have wanted to meet her. Or maybe worse. Like she'd just been a tramp who'd gotten herself in trouble. She just decided she didn't want to know. The Neidelmens had done right by her, given her a good life. She thought if she pursued her birth mother, that they might turn their backs on her and it was just a risk Zoe didn't want to take.

SM: What about her boyfriend? Jack Swanson?

DB: I'm sure he's as devastated as I am.

SM: Do you know how they got along?

DB: As well as most couples I expect. Though he was a little jealous sometimes.

SM: About what?

DB: Zoe's dalliances.

TA: Her what?

DB: She occasionally saw other men. Jack didn't like that. But what man would?

TA: How much didn't he like it?

DB: I don't know. When she was feeling pissy and wanted to get his goat, she'd take out jewelry or things they gave her and flaunt them a bit.

TA: And how did Jack take that?

DB: He'd get mad at first, but then he'd cool down and behave. Which was the point, if you know what I mean.

SM: I know what you mean. Did you ever witness any of these arguments?

DB: Well, they had a tiff at our 4th of July cookout. Jack had a few too many beers and he started grumbling. But it was over quick enough and they were all lovey-dovey by the end of the day.

SM: Did Ms.Chase ever tell you who these other men were?

DB: Well, she referred to them as Mr. X and Mr. XX. She never told me and I'm glad because I didn't want to know. I don't think I could have looked Jack in the eyes if I knew who they were. Besides, she wasn't serious about them. They were just a distraction.

SM: Who bought her expensive gifts?

DB: Some men just do. I mean, Zoe liked gifts as much as any woman. But it didn't make her fall in love with them, if that's what you mean. No, her heart belonged to Jack. She just had a little wild side that had to come out every now and then. That's all.

TA: Okay. Do you know Peggy LeClaire?

DB: I know who she is and we've spoken maybe a couple times, but I wouldn't say I know her.

TA: How was her relationship with Ms. Chase?

DB: She worked for Zoe. Did her typing and transcription. Oh, and she belonged to the same writers group.

SM: How did they get along?

DB: Fine, as long as Peggy got Zoe's work to her on time.

SM: Was there a problem with that?

DB: Sometimes. From what Zoe said, Peggy is a queer little bird. She'd go along fine and do great work, then out of the blue, Zoe wouldn't be able to reach her and she wouldn't return Zoe's calls. Then Zoe'd either be late with her column or have to call in someone else at the last minute.

SM: Did Ms. Chase fire Ms. LeClaire at any point?

DB: I don't think so. I mean, no matter what Peggy is like, Zoe always swore by the woman's work. It was perfect, she said. Hard to give that up, even if the person sometimes made you nuts. You know?

SM: Did she ever tell you who she used as a back up when she couldn't reach Ms. LeClaire?

DB: I think she called the school business center and asked for a student to come over and help. They never did great work, so she always tried to wait until she was sure she wouldn't be able to get Peggy to do it.

SM: Did she ever use any other service that you know of?

DB: Maybe. I think she mentioned a place in Memphis, but I have no idea what it was called.

SM: So, there was no upset between them - Ms. Chase and Ms. LeClaire - that you know of?

DB: Well, actually, Zoe was mad that night. She called me just before she left for the meeting and she was having a fit. Peggy had pulled another of her disappearing acts and Zoe didn't know what to tell Richard. Bertuch, her editor? I guess he called wanting to know where the column was and she couldn't get ahold of Peggy... You know, temperamental artist stuff.

SM: Did she say she was going to fire Ms. LeClaire?

DB: Maybe. I don't know. I am so used to her snits that sometimes I don't listen to every single word. I knew she'd get over it, so I didn't really give it much thought.

TA: She ever mention Mallory Benson?

DB: Sure. I've met Mallory a few times. Lovely woman. A little shy, but lovely.

TA: What did Ms. Chase think of her?

DB: She thought she was a very good writer and was trying to help her find an agent to market her work better. Zoe was always trying to help her friends.

TA: Did they ever disagree on things or have any arguments?

DB: Not that I know of. At least, Zoe didn't mention anything. She only had good things to say about Mallory. She even tried to fix her up with one of Jack's buddies, but she was just not interested.

SM: Do you know Steven Atwater?

DB: Yes, he came to my house for the 4th of July cookout. Between you and me, we were kind of hoping to fix him up with Zoe's agent, Kathy, who was in town. Now, there's a girl who's a pistol. But she and Steven just didn't hit it off at all.

SM: Why not?

DB: They just didn't. No chemistry I guess. Which was too bad because, after that, Zoe couldn't broach the idea of having Kathy read his novel. Which upset Steven to no end.

TA: Why couldn't she show the novel to Kathy?

DB: Well, Kathy didn't like the guy. She thought he was pompous and self-important, which maybe he is, but that sort of thing doesn't bother me. Anyway, Zoe felt Kathy would just reject it without giving it a fair chance. Our biases do affect our opinions. Really, I think she was just trying to spare his feelings.

TA: What did Steven think?

DB: Well I don't know first hand, of course, but I guess he was pretty miffed. Thought she betrayed him and so forth. She was trying to smooth things over with him. Hoping she could find another agent she could get his novel to.

TA: Okay. By the way, back to Ms. Chase's birth mother for a minute. You know she lives in Oxford now?

DB: Yes, I know.

TA: Did Ms. Chase have contact with her after all?

DB: Yes, not because she wanted to, but yes.

SM: How did it happen then?

DB: I guess Debbie found her. She just showed up on Zoe's doorstep one night a couple months ago. Threw Zoe for a loop. Upset her a lot.

SM: Why?

DB: Because of the surprise initially. But more because the woman turned out to be what Zoe feared all along. She has a drinking problem, and hasn't... ah... aged gracefully, as they say. Zoe was convinced the woman only tracked her down because she wanted money or for Zoe to take care of her. Imagine that? A mother who gave her baby away, thinking the child owed her a life?

SM: What did Ms. Chase do?

DB: She told her to leave her alone. But Zoe had such a big heart, I doubt she would have made her stay away. She felt sorry for the woman and I could see it wouldn't be long before Zoe was going to let her move in with her or start writing her monthly checks.

TA: Did Ms. Chase tell you she was going to do that?

DB: No, she just said she felt sorry for her and maybe she'd been too hard on her. That maybe she owed her a chance to get to know her. Sad, isn't it?

TA: How about you, ma'am? Any disagreements or arguments with Ms. Chase?

DB: Well of course, we had disagreements, all the time.

TA: Anything in particular?

DB: That damn Ed! I suppose he told you about Christmas? Well, it was nothing really.

TA: How about you tell us about it, just the same?

DB: I guess I'd had too much champagne and I got the idea that Zoe was trying to hit on Ed. God, when I say it out loud, it makes me want to laugh. So, anyway, we got in a big snit over it. Then she said Ed was a loser and she'd never go over such a dog or something like that. Well, that did make me mad. I don't think I talked to her for a whole week after that. But New Year's Day we made up and patched things up.

TA: So you didn't bear her any grudge?

DB: How could I? She was like a sister to me. My life will never be the same without her. Sorry... I promised myself I wouldn't start crying again.

TA: It's all right, we understand. Almost finished here, just a couple more questions. Is there anyone you know of who you think wished Ms. Chase harm?

DB: No, never. Zoe was just, well... bigger than life. Everyone loved her. I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to end her life and snuff out that light. You understand?

SM: Yes, ma'am. Well, thank you for your time. If we have more questions, we'll contact you.

DB: Any time. Don't hesitate to call.

TA: We won't. Afternoon, ma'am.

End interview 2:48 p.m.

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