If you want to start a heated debate, just discuss politics, religion or the death penalty. Everyone has their views on whether the death penalty is actually a deterrent to crime, but in our haste to voice an opinion on the matter – how often do we reflect on the families of the victims of the homicide that brought the killer to Death Row? This entry is not to defend or denounce the death penalty, but to take an introspective look at the families of victims who are left to deal with life after a monster has taken their loved one. Last month, serial pedophile and killer, James Crummel, hanged himself in his San Quentin cell. Crummel had a very long, violent history and destroyed many lives in his wake. He had a past filled with violent child molestations spanning 30 years and four states.
In a 1968 Wisconsin State Prison psychiatric report, the psychiatrist stated: “This is one of the few people that we see who really fits the prototype of a cold-blooded killer. ” James “Jamey” Wilfred Trotter, a 13-year old Costa Mesa boy disappeared in 1979 while on his way to school. For years, his family hoped for his return – never losing hope that one day he would come home. Eleven years later, Crummel called police pretending to be a random citizen, in what police later called a twisted game of cat and mouse, to say he found some charred human bones while hiking off the Ortega Highway in Riverside County. It wasn’t until 1996 that the remains were identified as Jamey Trotter’s. Police had also learned that Crummel lived about a mile from where the boy disappeared. In 2004, Crummel was convicted of Jamey’s murder and sent to Death Row.
While reading an article on cnn.com about Crummel’s death, I noticed a comment and wanted to share. I can only write about these cases without firsthand knowledge of how a family’s lives are destroyed, but Jamey Trotter’s brother provided a gutwrenching account of what his family has been through because of Crummel.
I envy those for whom the subject of Crummel’s suicide while on death row is simply fodder for their ongoing philosophical debate for or against the death penalty. And you are certainly entitled to your opinions. I don’t have the luxury of examining this dispassionately … as a matter of fact, just the opposite. There is a great deal of passion involved. I am deeply and passionately certain that this world is a better place now that this piece of human filth is no longer sucking wind!
Crummel murdered my brother and destroyed my family. We were not alone. Crummel’s acts of depravity spanned four decades. Many of his victims and their families will never be able to find closure because there was no admission of guilt, no display of remorse … Crummel maintained his innocence to the bitter end. Poor misunderstood sociopath. For the bleeding hearts who think for one minute that we as a society should mourn his passing, I welcome them to have stood in my shoes and those of my family for the past 33 years.
For the first 18 years after Jamey’s disappearance we didn’t know if he was dead or alive. When we were told that there were remains found off Ortega Highway that could belong to Jamey, we submitted our DNA for testing and hoped … not that the remains were Jamey’s, but that they weren’t. When we were told that, yes, the remains were Jamey, what was left of the hope that we might one day see him alive evaporated. Over the next couple of years, as we were trying to put the pieces of our lives back together, trying to assimilate this new reality of Jamey’s death, we were hit with the news that the “hiker” who had found Jamey’s remains turned out to be a serial child-rapist and that he’s suspected of abducting, molesting, and ultimately murdering my brother.
During the time we were waiting for the DA’s office to bring formal charges against my brother’s killer, the picture of Crummel’s past was coming into sharper focus. First he and his psychiatrist friend, and fellow child molester, Forgey, were both tried and convicted of molesting other boys … crimes that took place far more recently than Jamey’s murder. Details emerged about Crummel that had his earliest crimes against children dating back to the early 1960’s. He had been convicted of kidnapping, molesting, and murdering a 9-year-old boy in Arizona, but was released after only 5 or so years due to a “technicality” … the judge ruled that he had not been adequately represented. There were other victims, many others … some confirmed, some only suspected. Crummel’s list of depravities reads like something out of Criminal Minds … only this isn’t a television show, this is real. These children were real. What Crummel did to them was real.
Eight years after Jamey’s remains were identified, Crummel finally stood trial for Jamey’s kidnapping, murder, and molestation. We held our collective breath hoping that justice wouldn’t fail us as it had so obviously failed the families of his earlier victims. Our hopes were realized when the jury came back with a guilty verdict. We tentatively celebrated his conviction, waiting for the sentencing phase of the trial to begin. I am not ashamed and I make no apologies for wanting and hoping that the jury, after careful deliberation, would vote to end Crummel’s miserable life … and I’ll be damned if my wish didn’t come true. Here it was, 25 years after Jamey first disappeared, my family and I thought we might finally find some sense of closure and come to peace with our loss. Crummel was to die for what he did to my brother … then came the rest of the story. We were told that it could be 20 or more years before all of his appeals would be exhausted and the state could finally put this vile piece of garbage well and truly in the ground. Crummel would likely die of old age in prison before the state would ever be able to put a needle in his arm and end him.
That sentence wasn’t Crummel’s to endure … it was ours. My family was being told that we would face the possibility in the coming years of multiple appeals that could result in his death sentence being overturned, his conviction being overturned, and that the possibility existed, however slim, that he could eventually walk free. Now, with that in mind, let me tell you that after his sentence had been read to the courtroom and we were all filing out I said to one of the bailiffs, my gallows humor showing, that if I could borrow his sidearm I’d gladly take Crummel out behind the courthouse and carry out his sentence myself. The deputy admonished me that even in jest my statement could be construed as a threat and that I would be wise to keep such thoughts to myself … then in a low voice he told me that even if he could loan me his sidearm I wouldn’t stand a chance of carrying out the verdict … there were too many people in line ahead of me who would have that taken care of before I got a shot off. I didn’t realize how soon after that exchange that I would wish that the deputy had not been kidding.
In the years since Jamey’s death I’ve lost my father, my older brother, and my mother. I hold Crummel responsible for their deaths as well. My father and brother basically drank themselves into early graves, and the many years of stress and strain that my mother endured left her too weakened when her health eventually started waning to put up much of a struggle. Cancer was the final battle she faced and she was too weak to fend off that foe with everything else she’d been through. Crummel may not have literally stangled the rest of my family, but his handprints are there just the same.
So, there it is folks. Is it vengence that made me want Crummel to finally be dead? To some extent, yes. But if you consider what his one heinous act back in April of ’79 did to my family, how it affected everything we did, who we knew, where we went, drove choices … good and bad … for the 33 years after, I would argue that it was more, much more than vengence that made us want to see him gone for good. It was self-defense, self-preservation, even therapeutic to wish him dead. And I for one, and I know I’m not alone in this, will sleep much easier now that the evil waste of space is no longer among the living.
The one and only regret I have about his taking his own life is that he took with him the answers to the many remaining questions about his other victims. And yes, you can be certain that there were other victims. Even with the hell my family has been through, we were the lucky ones … we got to finally have some closure and were able to lay my brother to rest at long last. Curmmel’s last act on this earth was to leave holes permanently in the lives of the families his depravity already destroyed. Those families Crummel’s cruelty touched may never know for certain what happend to their loved ones. Looking back to when my family still had hope, before we knew that my brother was likely drugged, raped, and strangled at the hands of a sociopath, perhaps not knowing is a blessing.
For those of you who are eager for a debate, why don’t you wrestle with that one: the pros and cons of knowing or not knowing how horrifically your brother, sister, son or daughter met their end. I’ll even let you borrow Crummel for your philosophical debate. Use his as the face of evil while you imagine yourself not as poor Crummel’s bleeding heart defender, but rather on the receiving end of his sick, twisted, debauchery, Try to contemplate how it would be for your loved one to first be defiled and then strangled to death at the hands of this man who indiscriminately violated children, killing them when he was done because he learned early on that dead kids can’t run tell mommy and daddy. Dead kids are just dead. Well, thankfully now, so is Crummel.
Jeffrey Trotter, Battle Creek, MI
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