Walbert Dopelson interview
Sunday, May 2, 2021 – 8:30 a.m.
Walbert Dopelson is the director of the Yoknapatawpha County Library as well as the director of the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival, which is staging the pageant.
Detectives Armstrong and Murphy talked to him the morning after the murder at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department.
- Detective T. Armstrong
- Detective S. Murphy
- Walbert Dopelson
Detective Murphy: Good morning, Mr. Dopelson. We're not making you miss church this morning, are we?
Walbert Dopelson: Good morning. And no, it's no trouble at all.
Detective Murphy: For the record, would you please state your name and address?
Walbert Dopelson: My name is Walbert Dopelson, and I live at 421 Saddle Creek Drive, Oxford, Mississippi.
Detective Armstrong: What's your relationship to the pageant?
Walbert Dopelson: As director of the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival, I approved the addition of the pageant to the list of official festival activities.
Detective Murphy: Do you now regret that decision?
Walbert Dopelson: While the death of Barbara Dubois is an unfortunate tragedy, the pageant itself has had an overwhelmingly positive effect.
Detective Murphy: Why do you say that?
Walbert Dopelson: The pageant has provided a needed shot in the arm, both financially and—how should I put it?—commercially.
Detective Murphy: Is the festival your only employment?
Walbert Dopelson: I'm also the director of the Yoknapatawpha County Library. Every year for the past five years, we have decreased the amount of space dedicated to shelving units. Book circulations are down and continue to drop. What the library patrons want is free movie rentals, gaming stations, and computers with Internet access. My job is to assess and meet the needs of the community at large.
Detective Murphy: And the pageant met one of those needs?
Walbert Dopelson: I too was skeptical at first, but it's proven to be very popular … with most people.
Detective Armstrong: Did you expect the resulting public outcry?
Walbert Dopelson: Dr. Ruffin-Moore's response was a given. I've known her for years, and I knew she'd take offense. I was quite surprised and disturbed, however, by the apparent actions of animal rights activists. I have only the utmost respect for Allie Lamar and find it hard to believe that she would sanction a policy that bordered on animal abuse.
Detective Murphy: Did you receive any threats? Anything you might construe as a warning?
Walbert Dopelson: Not personally. We did have an incident at the library recently. Much of 646.72 was shelved elsewhere. I can only assume this was a hostile act.
Detective Armstrong: What's 646.72?
Walbert Dopelson: Applied science, home economics and family living, personal grooming, cosmetics. You do know the Dewey Decimal System?
Detective Armstrong: Not quite as well as the Mississippi Code. Did you report the incident?
Walbert Dopelson: I thought it best not to grant the vandals the publicity. Volunteers searched the stacks and collected the missing books, which were then shelved correctly.
Detective Murphy: Did you tell Allie Lamar?
Walbert Dopelson: Probably not. I wouldn't have wanted to upset her.
Detective Armstrong: Did anyone claim responsibility?
Walbert Dopelson: No. Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Detective Armstrong: Do you have any theories of who besides Shakespeare might have rearranged your stacks?
Walbert Dopelson: Lucille comes to mind, of course. She can be quite the card once she has a few glasses of wine in her.
Detective Murphy: Did you discuss the matter with her?
Walbert Dopelson: No, I did not.
Detective Armstrong: Allie Lamar came to you with the pageant idea. Is that correct?
Walbert Dopelson: She thought the pageant would be good for the festival.
Detective Murphy: Did you agree from the very beginning?
Walbert Dopelson: Allie came bearing a checkbook.
Detective Armstrong: Was her contribution significant?
Walbert Dopelson: Very. I had the distinct impression that this was not a step taken lightly. Allie appeared, if I may use such a word, desperate.
Detective Murphy: Is the future of Lamar Cosmetics linked to a successful pageant?
Walbert Dopelson: That's not really for me to say.
Detective Armstrong: Let's assume the pageant is considered a failure. You then hear that Lamar Cosmetics has filed for bankruptcy protection. Are you surprised?
Walbert Dopelson: Not really.
Detective Armstrong: Mr. Dopelson, do you have any enemies who might want to embarrass you or the festival?
Walbert Dopelson: By committing such a violent act? No, I can't think of anyone. I mean, Lucille was angry with me, but she forgot about it. She forgets about everything. Now, that Kullman woman….
Detective Armstrong: Did she threaten you?
Walbert Dopelson: Not directly. She called and asked if our other sponsors knew that Yoknapatawpha County was associating with a company with a record of cruelty to helpless animals. I assured her that I knew of no substantiation of those charges. She assured me she had such substantiation. I told her the festival was not a platform for making political statements. She replied that before it was over, a definitive statement would be made.
Detective Armstrong: Weren't you alarmed?
Walbert Dopelson: Not really. I'd been told she and her organization were harmless. Now it appears I may have been misinformed.
Detective Armstrong: Who told you she was harmless?
Walbert Dopelson: Well…
Detective Armstrong: Who?
Walbert Dopelson: We engaged a private investigator to assess the potential threat.
Detective Armstrong: Uh-huh. Which PI did you get?
Walbert Dopelson: Pam Thompson.
Detective Armstrong: You didn't think hiring a PI was a little excessive?
Walbert Dopelson: It was done at the insistence of Mrs. Lamar.
Detective Armstrong: Uh-huh. And the festival paid for it?
Walbert Dopelson: Oh, no. Lamar Cosmetics covered that expense
Detective Armstrong: Uh-huh. So what did Pam Thompson tell you?
Walbert Dopelson: Mrs. Lamar wanted her to keep tabs on Ms. Kullman during the pageant. Unfortunately, she gave Ms. Thompson the slip, as they say, just before the pageant.
Detective Armstrong: So Ms. Kullman knew she was being watched?
Walbert Dopelson: I can't say—although she obviously has had run-ins with law enforcement and other organizations before. She's made a career of her cause, so I don't doubt she's picked up some skills at evading surveillance along the way.
Detective Armstrong: What did Pam Thompson say about Ms. Kulman's activities other than that unfortunate slip?
Walbert Dopelson: Her report did not indicate Ms. Kullman was planning or preparing anything potentially disruptive to the pageant.
Detective Armstrong: We'd like to see that report.
Walbert Dopelson: I'll have a copy sent to you.
Detective Armstrong: Thank you.
Detective Murphy: Did you know Barbara Dubois?
Walbert Dopelson: I knew of her. She volunteered to read stories in the children's room for a few weeks one summer. I didn't actually interact with her myself.
Detective Murphy: Can you think of any reason that someone might want Ms. Dubois dead?
Walbert Dopelson: It simply staggers the imagination. Given the paucity of her years, I find it difficult to believe that she could have made such an enemy.
Detective Armstrong: So how do you explain what happened?
Walbert Dopelson: Perhaps she was not the intended victim. That was my first thought when I heard. If you follow the news, innocent bystanders are killed all the time. I somehow find the idea more palatable.
Detective Armstrong: Tell us about the events of Friday evening.
Walbert Dopelson: I really don't have much to tell. About 4:30 p.m., Mrs. Lamar and I locked the in the pageant headquarters office. Per protocol, I took the keycard.
Detective Armstrong: Protocol?
Walbert Dopelson: I'm considered an impartial party, detective. I held the keycard so that no one could have unauthorized access to the contest results, the related paperwork, or the trophies. In some contests, Mrs. Lamar informed me, there have been accusations of tampering with the results. Mrs. Lamar wanted to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Detective Murphy: So the trophy was locked inside, and no one else had access?
Walbert Dopelson: I had the only authorized keycard. Well, I'm sure the hotel staff could get in if they needed to, but they'd have no reason to go there that night.
Detective Murphy: What did you do then?
Walbert Dopelson: I retired to my room and changed for the gala. I then attended the gala. When the function was over, I returned to my room. I caught the late news, then made several phone calls, primarily checking my voicemail for urgent library business.
Detective Murphy: And you stayed there all night?
Walbert Dopelson: Yes. I, uh, rented a movie, the subject of which I would rather not have on the public record. In the morning, Mrs. Boyd called me to inform me of the unfortunate incident.
Detective Murphy: Just a couple more questions before we wrap up. Starting in October 2007, you were absent from your position at the library for about ten months, correct?
Walbert Dopelson: A leave of absence, yes.
Detective Murphy: Could you explain your whereabouts during that time?
Walbert Dopelson: I'd rather not, actually. Quite embarrassing.
Detective Armstrong: This is a homicide investigation.
Walbert Dopelson: It has no relevance whatsoever, I assure you.
Detective Armstrong: Unfortunately, you don't get to make that determination.
Walbert Dopelson: Fine, but it's something I'd prefer to keep quiet. I can count on your discretion, I presume?
Detective Murphy: If it's not relevant to the investigation, as you say, we'd have no cause to mention it to anyone.
Walbert Dopelson: She was 21 and an art student who adored my sculpture. I was foolish. We ran away to San Francisco and cohabitated and lived the lives of bohemian artists—until she moved on to a swarthy-looking deconstructionist of Lacanian persuasion. I always hated Lacan. Her departure signified the end of my fling. I returned to Oxford, and the powers-that-be were gracious enough to consider the matter closed. I do as well.
Detective Armstrong: So you like young women?
Walbert Dopelson: Detective, I don't know anyone who wouldn't be flattered by the attentions of an attractive young person. Regardless, those days are long behind me now.
Detective Murphy: Do you see a second annual pageant?
Walbert Dopelson: That would depend on the outcome of your investigation and the impact on all involved. I would welcome such an opportunity, but the decision is not mine alone.
Detective Murphy: Okay, Mr. Dopelson. That's all we have for now. We'll be in touch if we have any more questions. Thanks for your time.
Walbert Dopelson: You're quite welcome.
Detective Armstrong: And we'll be expecting that report from Pam Thompson as soon as you can send it over.
Walbert Dopelson: Of course.
Interview ended – 8:57 a.m.