Murder. Hawaii's beautiful Hanauma Bay. The suspects: two young mainlanders on their honeymoon. Maryann Acker, a pretty young Mormon woman, is eighteen. William, just out of prison, is twenty-eight. The crime is robbery, ending in a killing.
In 1982, Linda Spalding, a mainlander herself, living in Hawaii, is chosen as a juror for Maryann's trial there. Surprisingly the chief witness against Maryann is William, accusing her of shooting their victim. Spalding has reasonable doubts, but on the last day of the trial, she is abruptly dismissed from the jury, and Maryann found guilty.
Who Named the Knife is the story of how, eighteen years later, Spalding stumbles over the journal she kept during the trial, and reading it carefully, wonders if she right to have those doubts. She tracks down Maryann, who is still incarcerated, starts a correspondence, and begins to uncover much more than the answer to the question of Maryann's guilt or innocence. There's the bold new friendship frustrated by monitored visits, hard-to-make phone calls, and the dehumanizing results of years in prison. But as her understanding of the forces that drove Maryann's actions grows, Spalding finds herself compelled to examine her own past as well as Maryann's.
Who Named the Knife is a record of this complex journey--a journey into America's troubled soul and into the twists of fate that spin two lives down different but infinitely painful paths. The story is Maryann's but it is also Spalding's, as subject and writer overlap, and the hunt for truth unmasks family mysteries. Lyrical and achingly honest, this is a story that offers us profound insight onto the vagaries of the human heart.
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September 16, 2007
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Excerpt from Who Named the Knife by Linda Spalding
Murder. In such a place.
From above, from the highway, it looks like a planet must have fallen into it, the round bowl edges of this bay are so perfect. Below the surface of the water, amazing fish can be seen living their lives in the coral. This is a place where children play in the waves, where parents sit on the sand, where people float, looking down. A swimmer can pause, roll over, blink a few times, and look up at the hills that surround this blue water. The hills feel protective, a barrier between the world of invention and this place.
So it must have looked to Larry Hasker in the last minutes of his life. He had been casual with his captors. "So this is a robbery? I can't believe it." He got out of the car with his shirt unbuttoned, his rubber slippers moving over the rocks. Up at the cusp, above the parking lot, the terrain is rough. Even through the slippers, he must have felt the jolts of stone and brush and dirt. He had smoked a joint in the car. He was young, twenty years old, and almost relaxed. On a ridge within sight of the highway, he turned and looked down. It was past midnight in the month of June, 1978. The moon was high. It threw its reflected light on the ocean, so that the water looked like metal heated over flame. Molten. He breathed in and reached down for himself, opened his fly. Looking at water and night. The stars were there, too. And his captors.
There is no shame in dying with a shirt open or pants, dying in the act of emptying oneself. In such a place.
The girl who discovered the body was taking a walk before work, noticing the dusty smell of kiawe above the bay, the pungent smell of seaweed, the smell of a place where ocean and land meet. It was early in the morning, and when she saw a slipper lying in the brush, she was not surprised. Near any beach, such a forgotten slipper is not unusual, although this one wasn't broken; its thong was intact. She saw the slipper and then she saw a human foot covered in flies. It was a Monday morning and nobody was there to hear, but she screamed.
So it begins with a body on the side of the road that leads from Hanauma Bay to the Kalanianaole Highway on the windward side of O'ahu--this story of murder, on the island where I lived. The body was lying twenty-five feet from that highway among rocks, thorns, and brush. The shirt was untorn. There were no scratches, no bruises, no cuts on the flesh. There were just two wounds: one on the right side of his head and one on the outside surface of a leg.
What happens in such a place, on such a beach, is quickly forgotten in any season. What happens can so easily wash away. Even above the tide line, far above it, a third bullet can get lodged in the sand, can be plucked at by birds, can be sent down the slope by a vagrant wind. A body can be ignored until it is past recognition, until its bones and teeth must be studied; it can be eaten; it can merge with the elements; it can be nosed at by wandering dogs. But this is a beach for children and families, a place to be walked along and sat upon. And what is there left of Larry Hasker here? Blood. Piss. A fragment of rubber slipper. He'd stood in the brush above the sea with its luminous sheen. One of his slippers had fallen off. He'd turned, unzipped, and zipped. Then he'd been shot.
Once in an ankle. Once in the head.
Someone, it must have been, with lousy aim.
In 1978, I was living on the windward side of O'ahu with my two daughters. I was a single mother running a child-care agency for low-income families, and I must have read about the murder of Larry Hasker in the morning paper. Another syndicate killing, I must have thought.
In those days, the morning paper was stuffed in my mailbox before I got up. I had to walk across the front yard in whatever I had worn to bed and step on the sleeping grass, which stung my feet. I'd have made myself a pot of coffee and given myself until ten o'clock to get to work because it was summer and I was my own boss. I'd have sat outside on the patio of the first house I'd ever owned--a house hard-won and loved by me as no other. I'd have sat on one of the two basket chairs and read about the murder and I'd have thought about my father, who had been dead for seven years. I'd have thought about him and about my brother, who had taken me out to Hanauma Bay in the summer of 1958.
Hawaii was still a territory then, not yet the fiftieth American state, and to my vivid fourteen-year-old imagination, it was a magical place with its ancient stone temples called heiau still visible in the tall grass. Skip was stationed in the Coast Guard with his wife and their new baby. He was ten years older than I was, and by the time I could measure anything, he'd left home to study. He would not be a lawyer like our father, or drink highballs, or wear a suit. He would be an architect. He would be artistic. Maybe he took me to Hanauma to teach me courage, because we both knew the brooding temper in our Kansas house.
In those days, the bay formed its own remote reality. There were other swimmers, but not many, and Skip could dive deep with nothing but his mask on, blowing the water out when he resurfaced. The waves pushed and pulled, throwing me against the coral reef, but he told me to relax and breathe, to go with the waves. And once, we were looking down through our masks when I saw something in a crevasse where the water was not even very deep. It was a moray eel curled and ready to strike, with a cold, blank look over an open throat and murderous teeth.
When I married, I moved with my husband to Hawaii, where he had been born and raised. My mother said I had fallen in love with Philip because I wanted to go back; we had tried Massachusetts. We had started in Mexico. We had met at school and I thought we were perfectly matched, now Hawaii had changed. The landscape was full of high rises and highways. It was no longer paradise. During our second summer there, when Philip moved out, when he started another family, I stayed in Hawaii and raised our two girls. We used to go to Hanauma Bay with our snorkels and fins. I have a picture of a birthday party there, with little girls wearing paper crowns.
Now there had been a murder. And within a few days, there were sketches in the newspaper of two suspects: a man and a woman. Not the Hawaii syndicate, after all. But who were they?