YOKNAPATAWPHA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT
Investigating Officer(s): Det. T. Armstrong, Det. S. Murphy
Incident No.: 002586-24E-2020
Case Description: Zoe Chase homicide investigation
At Detective Murphy's request, Alice Zerousnik, the typist Zoe Chase used for her book Desperate Stranger, prepared this synopsis of the book based on her recollection.
DESPERATE STRANGER: SYNOPSIS
One summer night, seventeen-year-old Megan Brady sneaks out to meet her boyfriend, David Harrison, at the park for some serious necking. Their rendezvous—at the swings at midnight. Megan arrives early. When she approaches the swings, she hears a gasp. Thinking it's David, she moves toward the picnic tables. There she sees Rodney Martin Jabe, a neighborhood mechanic, strangle a school mate, Grace Perry. With a final squeeze, Grace drops lifelessly to the ground.
When Megan gasps, Rodney spies her through the trees and recognizes her as the daughter of one of his customers. When he starts toward her, the adrenaline kicks in, and she runs for the exit. Rodney pursues her, but he is a big, lumbering man, not accustomed to running. She easily puts distance between them. In her panic, Megan runs straight into David. She is terrified, can't explain what's happened. Seeing her fear, he rushes her to his car to safety. As they speed away, Megan tells David what she's seen. Rodney sees their departure and quickly goes back to dispose of his victim's body.
David's driving is so erratic that he gets pulled over by a police officer. The two teens try to explain what's happened, but the cop, who knows them, thinks they are drunk or on drugs. He takes them to the station and calls their parents. When Megan has calmed down, she tells the police what she saw, but by this time, hours have passed. The police send a patrol car over to Rodney's and find him there, claiming he was asleep. They search his home and his car and find nothing.
Nonetheless, they decide to bring him into the station for questioning. Upon his arrival at the police station, Rodney spots the Brady family car and knows that Megan has told the police what she saw. The cops hold Rodney for 48 hours but have to release him because they cannot find the body.
After his release, Rodney goes on a campaign to terrify Megan, convincing her that if she does testify against him, she, her family, and friends will all be in grave danger. Eventually, the police do find the body, gather some trace and circumstantial evidence against Jabe, and charge him with the crime. They feel, with Megan's testimony, they can get a conviction. But Megan gets cold feet and says she doesn't want to testify. The police tell her she has no choice. She is an eyewitness, and the law compels her to testify. From jail, Jabe continues his reign of terror against Megan with crank calls and letters.
Two weeks before the trial, Megan insists on visiting her grandmother, a person she feels close to. Her parents agree and put her on a Greyhound bus. But at the first opportunity, Megan cashes in her ticket and hitchhikes to Texas. She gets work in truck stops and the like, any place where they will pay her under the table.
Without the testimony of their star witness, the authorities are unable to successfully prosecute Jabe. A mistrial is declared, and Jabe is released. Jabe leaves town to make a fresh start, knowing he will someday meet Megan again and silence her forever.
A few months later, a fight breaks out at the diner where Megan works, in which she is hit in the face. Megan, though frightened and shaken, only sustains some bruises and a black eye. To her surprise, she is approached by a regular customer about being a battered woman. Though Megan tries to explain what happened, the woman insists she is in denial and gives her a phone number to call. Realizing that this may be a way out of her dilemma, Megan makes the call.
She then tells the woman a sob story about a crazy man who won't leave her alone, and she is afraid he is going to kill her. In short order, she gets the help of the people at the shelter and a new life. Overnight, she becomes Vicki King. She moves to San Antonio, Texas, where a job in a pre-school is waiting for her. She finds she is good at it and takes classes in child care, gets a degree, and ultimately opens her own pre-school. It's touch-and-go, and sometimes the roof leaks, but she has a happy life and work she loves. And best of all, she is safe.
Then one day, her car breaks down. She calls for a tow truck. To her shock and terror, Rodney Jabe is the tow truck driver. She recognizes him instantly, and she is amazed at how he seems not to have changed at all. But she has changed. Her hair is short now and no longer mousy but golden blonde, no longer skinny and lanky - she has become a woman, one he did not recognize.
Though it's torture to ride in the tow truck with him to town, she manages to keep her head. She has her car repaired and vows to stay clear of Jabe. She reasons he will never know it's her. He will never recognize her. After a couple of days, she realizes that she is just buying time and that soon he will remember her. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.
She makes plans to leave her life and to start over. She has done it once and knows she can do it again. But she can't bear to tear down all she has built, all of her friends, all of her students, her school—it is too much to give up. She already gave up one family and resolves she won't give up another. She decides to fight back.
Her resolve turns the tables, and she becomes the predator, the stalker. She follows him, takes pictures, learns where he works, who his friends are, his habits, hobbies, everything there is to know about him. She buys a gun and learns to shoot it. She becomes quite a skilled marksman. Then she designs the murder of Rodney Martin Jabe to make sure he never terrorizes another woman or innocent victim again.
One she is ready, she takes the step. She drives out to a seldom traveled road and calls for a tow truck, claiming car trouble. She waits. When Rodney arrives, he more than surprised to see himself staring down the barrel of a .357 Magnum. He doesn't get it. What does she want?
Megan introduces herself. Rodney doesn't remember. She tells him more about where they knew each other and how. The memories jog, and he laughs, laughs at her terror of the years, laughs that she has spent years hiding from him.
Megan pulls the trigger again and again and again until the bullets are gone, and Rodney Martin Jabe is no more. She removes her clothes, which are now spattered with Jabe's blood and cleans herself with the diaper wipes she brought along. She changes into the clean clothes she brought with her, puts the bloody clothes in the bag she brought, gets in her car, and leaves the scene. As she drives away, she calls the towing company and says Rodney never showed up. She tells them she got a jump from a passerby, and she no longer needs the tow.
She is happy—free at last. When she gets home, she decides to call her parents. She hasn't spoken to them in years. The number is disconnected. She tries other telephone numbers she remembers of other family but again finds no one at the other end. She begins to wonder what she will do. She wonders what she's done. She begins to feel horrible guilt. She has killed a man and, no matter what her reason, she has committed a sin. God will never forgive her.
She remembers the phone number of her church. She calls it and talks to her priest from those days so long ago. He urges her to confess, to go to the police, and to throw herself at their mercy. When she asks after her family, the priest says they have moved, and he doesn't know where. They were heartbroken when she disappeared and never stopped looking for her, and may still be looking for her.
She insists Jabe was going to kill them all. The priest tells her that Jabe left and also never returned. She hangs up the phone and feels lost. She is too afraid to go to the police, too proud in some strange way. She resolves she can live with her deed. She doesn't have to live with the judgment of an old priest she hasn't seen in years. She has her new life, her new family.
The news of Jabe's murder is all over the local news and papers. Everywhere she goes, people are talking about it. She starts to have strange ailments and finds she needs to drink wine at night to sleep. She begins to forget things, appointments, errands. Everywhere she goes, everything she sees reminds her of Jabe. She can't get the last look of surprise on his face out of her mind.
Her school begins to fail. People start to take their children out of her school and place them in another. The man she loves leaves her. Her life disintegrates piece by piece. Still, the police have not knocked on her door, no one has accused her. She has gotten away with murder. Only her guilt knows. Only the voices that talk to her about her sins.
Finally, she can take no more. She calls the priest, gives her last confession and takes her own life with the gun that killed Rodney Jabe.