I’m both drawn to and repelled by the current story I’m working on. As a Pisces Sun and Moon, I’m used to living in the world this way. It’s a story that I’ve always felt was mine to write, not in a autobiographical sense, but in that way where I feel my muse holding me close and whispering in a no-nonsense way, “DANCE.”
Here’s an article on the front page of the local paper last week on the project that’s making me two-step. (I would like to point out that I am not yet 50!)
Jamie Weil of Cottonwood reads from an early draft of her next novel, based on the exploits of serial killer Darrell Keith Rich, also known as the Hilltop Rapist during the summer of 1978.
Cottonwood author Jamie Weil, 50, is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects.
Her first young adult novel, titled “First Break,” is the story of 17-year-old Paige who leaves a small town to attend an urban university.
Two weeks into her first semester at college, Paige hears voices telling her to kill herself.
After trying to make the voices stop with a bottle of her roommate’s prescription sleep medication Ambien, Paige ends up on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, then stays in an adolescent psychiatric hospital until her 18th birthday.
Weil’s latest project for young adult readers is a fictional murder mystery based on her real-life acquaintance with serial killer and rapist Darrell Keith Rich, also of Cottonwood, who was executed for his crimes in 2000.
“When I was younger, say 5 or 6, I would go to a baby sitter,” said Weil, whose family moved from her birthplace in Salinas to Cottonwood when she was still a toddler.
“At first, I would stay for the day with Mama Lillie Rich and Daddy Dean Rich. Gradually, as my own mother and stepdad would go on fishing trips to the Klamath River, I would sometimes stay overnight or even several days with them,” Weil recalled.
Years before, Lillian and Dean Rich had adopted Darrell Keith Rich as a 2-day-old infant. Mrs. Rich ran a day-care in her Cottonwood home, Weil explained.
During the summer of 1978, a series of violent rapes, abductions and eventually killings were reported along Hilltop Drive in Redding, just 14 miles north of Cottonwood, Weil said.
“I was 14 at the time and Darrell was 23. I had a major crush on him when I was 11 or 12 and he was in high school. I even knew that he had been born in Torrance, where I later had my own children,” she said.
Previously, while Darrell was still in high school, Lillie and Dean Rich divorced and Darrell started getting into trouble, Weil recalled.
“He would go to the park and threaten to beat up people,” she said.
During his murder and rape trial, more of Darrell Rich’s combative exploits came to light including an incident apparently driven by despondency over his adoptive parents’ divorce in which he fired a gun over the head of a police officer in hopes the officer would retaliate by killing Rich, stated defense attorney Russell Swartz in an account from “Season of Madness,” a book on the case written by Robert Scott and published in May 2013 by Pinnacle Books/Kensington Publishing Corp.
Darrell Rich was eventually sent to the California Youth Authority for that and other incidents. He even spent time at Crystal Creek Conservation Camp outside Redding, Weil said.
“I remember his adoptive mom would take us to see him at Crystal Creek,” she added.
In 1978, when Darrell was released from California Youth Authority custody, he appeared to be settling down, Weil said.
“He had a job, got married and lived in a house not too far from his mother,” she said.
At that time, neither Weil nor anyone else in Cottonwood suspected Darrell Rich was the notorious Hilltop rapist, she quickly added.
“One late summer afternoon, I was walking into Cottonwood from my mother’s home on Gas Point Road and Darrell’s car pulled up alongside of me and he asked me if I wanted a ride. There was something very strange going on because his eyes were really glistening. His eyes were just manic, yet he was trying to be very charming,” Weil recalled.
“All of a sudden, I had this sharp intuition not to get into the car,” she said, noting she plans to title the book “Sharp Intuition.”
“Get in the car,” Darrell said to young Jamie in an even more threatening tone, Weil said.
“That was about the same day or so in mid-August 1978 when he picked up 11-year-old Annette Selix, an innocent child who was walking home from the market,” she said.
According to trail testimony, Darrell Rich took the young girl to his Cottonwood home where he raped and sexually assaulted her, bit her thigh, stripped her naked except for panties, then drove her 30 miles to a bridge where he threw the girl, still alive, to the rocks 105 feet below.
Battered and broken, Selix curled into a fetal position and died there some time later.
Selix was Darrell’s final victim.
Court testimony shows Darrell Rich had previously sexually assaulted and killed Annette Edwards, 19, a vivacious young woman on her way to watch the July 4th fireworks from her apartment on Hilltop Drive; Patricia Moore, 18, a former beauty pageant contestant who hitched a ride along a busy street in downtown Redding; and Linda Slavik, 28, a young mother enjoying a night out in Chico with a friend.
Darrell Rich also admitted to, was tried for and convicted on charges of kidnapping, rape and other sex crimes with four other young women, including a 15-year-old from Red Bluff and a 14-year-old girl Rich dragged into his car by the hair as she was walking along a Redding street at night with her boyfriend.
“At that time, Cottonwood was a small, innocent town where you could leave your front door and windows open,” Weil said.
“My story is set in a similar Norman Rockwellian town that also loses its sense of innocence under the tyranny of one person,” she said, noting she will not use Darrell Rich’s name nor the names of any of his victims in fictionalizing her close brush with death.
“The protagonists in my novel are two teen-age girls who are going to figure out what’s happening because the police are taking too long,” she noted.
“I’m not going to use his name, but I want to capture the essence of the story. I’ve avoided doing this book for a long time because it is so dark and dangerous, but every time I try to step away from it, something draws me back to the story,” Weil said.
“I’m about 50 pages into it, and actually, I’d like to have two months clear to finish it,” she noted.
Meanwhile, she continues to plug away at two other books she is writing as well as complete a blog three times a week, Weil said.
We all have a story, an experience that only we can tell. We may feel too protective of that story, like we need to keep it locked up where nobody can see it lest we endure it again. I believe, though, that each of us has a story that only we can tell. That story makes itself clear to us over and over again as we either embrace it or push it away. In the end, we have a responsibility to share that story. And sense those are the stories I love to read most, those are the stories I will write.