If you know me well, then you know that I lived through the horrendous murder of a colleague.
On the morning of December 20, 1988, I walked into the staff lounge at English Language Services International in South Korea (where I’d been teaching for six months along with 26 or so other Americans) and found out that one of us was missing.
Carolyn Joyce Abel was a no show. No call. Nothing. MIA.
Two of our co-teachers went to check on her that afternoon and found her murdered body. All hell broke loose. The Koreans were sure the killer was an American. Us Americans were sure it was a Korean. Tensions had been high since the Olympics when Western antics offended Eastern sensibilities. Besides, the long-lingering American military presence in Seoul was starting to feel like another form of imperialism for the long-suffering Koreans. Tear gas riots took place downtown every afternoon, and those Korean protestors came to learn English from us Americans every morning or evening.
Tense? That would be an understatement.
A DMZ ran through us all. We were one step from crossing the line.
I was surprised by own sudden onset of violent tendencies: putting my thumbnail in the face of cab driver, who seemed to purposely take me to the wrong destination; and, hitting a cocktail waitress, who was picking a fight a with me about my boyfriend.
We all had the same question: Who killed Carolyn?
Neither faction, it seemed, had an answer.
But us, the English teachers, did know one thing. Our dear friends, who had found Carolyn’s body, needed our help. So we supported them, we hugged them, we nurtured them, and we protected them from the raging Korean police who seemed to be asking the same questions over and over again.
One of those two teachers reached a breaking point and decided to move back to the States. She was Carolyn’s best friend, and was therefore especially distraught, had pulled herself together enough to give a moving eulogy at Carolyn’s memorial service. We admired her.
And we understood her desire to leave completely. We wished her well, and partied one last time in her honor.
A few months later–most of us having re-scattered across the globe–everyone found out who killed Carolyn.
An American. A Teacher. A Friend.
The Korean Police had the killer in their sights the whole time.
Click here for a newspaper article about the revelation.
To this day, those of us who were there and found ourselves on the wrong side, would like to make it right. Okay, that’s not really true. Most have moved on. But this thing is in my craw. I can’t let it go. Carolyn’s father couldn’t let it go either and the case took him to his grave.
In 2007, I started writing in earnest about what happened. I got in touch with teachers,attorneys, the FBI, and Carolyn’s sister. I wrote and wrote. I confronted, in person, the woman who went to prison for covering up the crime.
In 2009, I moved to Singapore and hooked up with the best literary agent in the world. She shopped and shopped the manuscript around…but publishers (who were horrified and intrigued by the story) were dismayed that it happened so long ago and that the killer was never convicted. They told me to rewrite it as fiction and to give it the ending we all wanted.
I did that. Still, what I wrote ain’t quite right. That’s fitting because all is so very very wrong.
For 25 years now, this person keeps getting away with the same murder. She’s out there living her life as if she weren’t the person who put Carolyn in a grave. (And Dr. Abel, too.)
Maybe it’s because I’m a mad competitive mermaid or sad sea-captain, but I’ve got to bring this story to the surface.
I’m the one who can’t live with what she’s done.
The whole reason I went to Seoul in the first place was to watch an old swimming rival compete in the Olympic Games.
Strange to realize that I left with an archenemy to avenge. I intend to overtake her in the last lap.
Take your mark. Get set. Go.