School Daze


You asked about people’s reaction at school after Tim was murdered, and my experience was pretty much the same as yours: I was a sophomore in high school, and none of my teachers or coaches spoke to me about it, even to express their condolences. My counselor never called me down to his office or even spoke to me. In a way, this didn’t really sink in during the first few days after I went back to school. I think I was in shock, at least to some extent; it was hard to concentrate and I was even unsteady walking in the hallways. The lights seemed to have an aura around them and nothing seemed to be at right angles; it was walking in a funhouse.

A few weeks later a friend’s mother was in the hospital for an operation. I saw my friend’s counselor come up to him in the hallway, put his arm around him, and ask him how he was doing. The counselor invited him to come down to his office anytime if he was having any problems at home or difficulty in class. I remember thinking, what the fuck — my brother got kidnapped and murdered, and my counselor didn’t say a thing. Did that mean we had done something wrong? What could that be? More than a decade later I saw an article in the local paper in which my 10th grade counselor was named guidance counselor of the year or something. Jesus.

My math teacher, Mr. Kish, actually penalized me for the work I missed. The course was the honors level geometry course, and it was very difficult. I missed the better part of two weeks of school while Tim was missing and during his funeral. The day I returned, there was a test. The stuff on the chalkboard looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics and I got a D. Then the guy gave me a D for the entire marking period. I’d never even gotten a C on a report card before. I went to see him after class with copies of all of my tests — one A, several B’s, and the one D — and asked him why he’d given me a D for the marking period. He told me he’d given me zeros for the two tests I missed entirely. He then berated me for not following up with him about the work I missed.

While none of my teachers ever spoke to me about the killings, there was one who mentioned them in class — Mrs. Ball, a worthless husk of a person who pretended to be an American history teacher. The course was called “Frontier and Western Movement,” and it consisted of reading one chapter of a very dry textbook every night, copying down the study questions and answering them in longhand on notebook paper. These sheets were handed in at the beginning of class, and this homework counted for a third of your final grade. Then the teacher would ask the same exact questions orally, picking people at random, and students had to answer from memory with their books closed. The oral answers counted for a third of your grade, and the exams accounted for the final third.

The course was so boring I basically used it as a study hall and did homework for other classes. One day during her Socratic Q&A she said to me, “There are no open books allowed during the questions.” I held up my book, said, “This is my math book,” and got back to work.

Up until that point I don’t think she had ever asked anyone more than one question during the same class period, but that day she asked me the next seven or eight questions in rapid succession. I assume she wanted to embarrass me for not paying attention, but since I’d just read the chapter and written out the answers the night before, I pretty much had the material memorized. She rattled off a bunch of questions, but I had the answers just as quickly. “Daniel Boone.” “The Cumberland Gap.” “The Louisiana Purchase.” “The Oklahoma Territory.” “The Trail of Tears.”

She eventually gave up and returned to the front of the classroom to read aloud about Daniel Boone. Still visibly angry, she paused, swatted the Map of the United States with a big pointer and hissed, “Daniel Boone put Kentucky on the map like the Oakland County Child Killer put Oakland County on the map.”

A couple of people gasped audibly. I should have walked out of the classroom and straight to the office or at least said something in reply, but I chickened out. I just kept doing my homework and pretending it never got to me. I’m still ashamed of that. But I’ll always love one very pretty girl who shook her head and scowled at the teacher for the rest of the period.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I was a huge wisenheimer, but there’s someone who had no business being a teacher. It was bad enough that almost no one even acknowledged the tragedy, but to use it to try to hurt a member of the victim’s family — a minor — seemed as unconscionable then as it does now.

Sent to me by my brother Chris.

10 thoughts on “School Daze”

  1. Please accept my deepest sympathies to you and your family. Your family has displayed great courage over the years in pursuing unreviewed, unacted upon, and neglected evidence. I’m extremely sorry that your family has received criticism and a general lack of consideration and courtesy from law enforcement agencies and others who feel that they can lay some legitimate claim to interpreting the horrifying murders of your brother and the other children.

    I grew up in the area (14 Mile and Southfield) and was 12 years old when your brother was abducted. Although Tim and I went to different schools, I played a lot of sports and have often wondered if he and I played together. I have lived many places since those terrible years but the memory of your brother has always stayed with me. Whenever I see his school picture in a story, I feel an enormous sadness that this young boy was robbed of his life and its joys and complexities.

    This morning, after reading your entries about the callous but in some instances very decent treatment by teachers, I feel a renewed sadness for your family as I sit at my desk in New York City preparing to start the day and wanted to write to you tell of the great admiration I have for what you have undertaken and my enduring sorrow.

  2. Hi Chris and Catherine,
    It’s heartening to see that we as a community of Americans are starting to acquire much more focused awareness of what goes on in schools and how predators and sadists get themselves into certain jobs.
    What do I mean? I am probably 4 or 5 years older than Cathy. I attended Catholic elementary school in Redford and later got a scholarship to college. In elementary school no one, not classmembers, not nuns or priests or lay teachers, ever said anything to kids who lost family members. I had a classmate who died at 12. After the funeral, which we all attended, she was never mentioned again. No one counseled her brother. It was like everyone was too wigged out or embarrassed to address the issue. The grownups basically acted like ignoramus adolescents operating under the principle that since no one ever dies we don’t have to know what to do. And in your case where murder was involved I’m sure they were doubly incompetent and as you’ve explained, even cruel.
    As for sadism and predatory teachers, nobody was looking. We are beginning to look at it now tho. That is good, thank God. In my day my scholarship went down the toilet when I had to quit school to get away from a predatory professor. In those days people laughed at you when you explained what was going on. I am sure some of Busch’s victims got the laugh also.
    But now, because of the wholesale suffering of children and women, we are seeing how creeps like this prey. How they get themselves into “good” positions. Through the suffering of other people we are starting to smarten up as a community.

  3. Those were the days when things like that were not talked about. I think people thought if they did not mention certain things, they would just go away and hopefully not interfere with the hoped for Ozzie and Harriett lifestyle. I feel a lot of parents, teachers/counselors abdicated their responsibilities to young people because it was a threat to their comfort zone.

  4. Cathy….so many hugs to you. I did not know about this, even when your children went to Highlands, but I do hope things are better for children in schools now. All of you suffered at the hands of so many.

  5. Looking back on the 70’s, it was a crazy weird time to grow up. Things werw not talked about and there were so many pedifiles, serial killers, and just bad people out there in positions of authority that got away with what they did because it was common to “just mind your own business”.

    I remember as a elementry school kid in oak park, the parents suddenly became protective and needing to know where their kids were when just days earlier it was common to just leave the house without saying where you were going and to come back whenever you got hungry and it was ok. Heck i was 6-7 yrs old and wondering the streets of my neighborhood. It was assumed i would stay nearby and be safe.

    A few years later i moved in with my father and grandparents (parents were devorced) in southfield. I worked at the berkley theatre when i was 16. I drove by the dairy queen and have been in that bowling alley many times. I took drivers training in birmingham. In other words until i moved out of the area, i saw constant reminders of all the scenes of abduction on a regular basis. What i see was a area before i696. Areas that the OCCK didnt just pick randomly, but places that he/them must have traveled frequently. He must gave felt confortable because oak park, berkley, and birmingam were in areas where there were always cops around! They were the main public areas in those towns and near enough to the police stations and with active visable police. You dont just stumble onto these areas. You know them. Its not like they had GPS back then, you went to areas you knew and thats it. If you didnt have a reason to be somewhere you didnt go there. Plus if you wanted to find a place you looked in the phone book. To think of a place to kidnap a kid you either knew where they were or phone book.

  6. Cathy, thanks for sharing that. Sorry to hear about what you and your brothers went through in school during Tim’s disappearance as well as after. I would’ve thought counselors, principles, teachers, students would’ve reached out more. That’s unbelievably cold the way you were treated after going through your brother’s death.

    Some events and what some things were like in 1977:
    Gas was 65 cents a gallon.
    Jimmy Carter was president after Jan 20th.
    World Trade Center in New York was completed.
    The Hobie skateboard was $34.99 (I couldn’t help but think of Tim).
    First Apple computer goes on sale.
    Elvis Presley died.
    Star Wars is top grossing film.
    Some of the popular fashion was high waisted bellbottoms.

    At the time this was the largest man hunt in the nation. If I had to guess I would imagine most people thought the OCCK was going to get caught after that huge task force was formed. And who could ever forget that sketch of that man and the blue Gremlin. Then before you know it the 70’s decade is finished. Then the 80’s decade. Then the 90’s decade. Then the 2000’s decade.

    What gets me is if we had a crystal ball back in 1977 and looked into it, who would’ve thought we’d be on computers 36 years later and still hoping to find out who was the OCCK? I know for me it’s more of an obsession. It’s like wait a minute. This thing hasn’t been solved yet?

  7. Cathy,

    I went to Seaholm and graduated the same year as Chris. I didn’t really know him, but he and I did have sort of a nodding acquaintance. I remember Mrs. Ball. I thought she was terrible then, and that was before I read this piece. I remember March 22/23, 1977. I was at school, and the horrible news spread like wildfire through the student body. We 15 year olds didn’t really know what to do. What I don’t remember is any teacher talking about it in any fashion. I wonder now if they had been warned against that for some unthinkable reason. The summer of ’79, after graduation, I remember driving down Cranbrook past the school, and thinking that I was glad not to be there anymore. A lot of snooty kids, and not enough good teachers. Some, but not enough.

    What you and your whole family had to endure is unspeakable. You have my deepest sympathy.

    It is highly likely the continued obstruction by present day authorities has nothing to do anymore with whatever money or pull the Busch family once had. No, there is a specific reason why it continues, why the harrassment, the failings, the unbelievable “incompetence”, the “missed opportunities”, the resentment, the grossly insensitive behavior toward your family, all of it, why it continues:
    CNB’s relationship/status with state and federal LE before January ’77.

    From their standpoint, the exact nature of that relationship must be buried at all costs, and everyone from Wasser to Cooper to ordinary cops have received the message. You and I can guess which organizations have the juice in 2014 to continue to keep every official in line with the official narrative. Subtly, at first. Or not so subtle. Was Chris Flynn in Berkley guilty of something, or was he an “example”?

    Anyway, please know that there were and are thousands of kids who grew up in Birmingham then who remember that terrible year, and who as adults and parents now are just torn up thinking about it. None of us can know what it was like for you, none of us can pretend that we really understand what you’ve been through.

    But please know we care too, and we haven’t forgotten, and sometimes, alone in the dark, when no one else is around, we cry.

    1. Thank you, Armchair. You get it and are right on. Buried at all costs. As for Seaholm, that place sucked. A friend of mine whose dad was a counselor at a junior high in Bham told me he said they were all explicitly told not to talk about Tim. At all. My heart still breaks for all of us–every young person who was exposed to the gross mishandling of this tragedy by the Bham school district. And please, nobody defend them by invoking the era this happened in. It wasn’t the Dark Ages.

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