True crime and absurdity
To true crime aficionados, Mary Vincent is a legend. We all know the story, because it’s been covered endlessly on American TV, the news and podcasts. In 1978, 15-year-old hitchhiker Mary Vincent accepted a ride from Lawrence Singleton, who was said to look like an innocuous, grandfatherly type. Later, when Singleton pulled over by the side of the road and Mary got out of the van, he knocked her over the head with a hammer and brutally raped and assaulted her. He then took a hatchet and cut off both her arms while she was fully awake. He then threw her over the side of a cliff and left her to die. Her determination led her to struggle, while exhausted, suffering from blood loss and completely traumatized, to make it over the hill and back on the road, where she was picked up by a couple and brought to safety.
It’s a gruesome bit of true crime, but the horror doesn’t stop there. The remorseless Singleton was sentenced to 14 years in prison, the maximum at the time under California law. He was also fined $2.56 million in a civil suit, but she was unable to collect this as he had only $200 in savings. To make matters worse, his “good behavior” in prison had earned him a reduction in his sentence. To the outrage of many, he was released after serving only eight years and four months. The case was at the center of a national discussion on recidivism among sexual offenders, especially when Singleton was later caught after murdering a 31-year-old sex worker. In the end, he was imprisoned, and Mary Vincent survived, able to live her life and start a family.
It’s easier to be fascinated by true crime when it happened in the distant past, or somewhere else. The rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta by Antonio Sanchez holds no fascination, only disgust. The fact that his release was even considered inspires only disgust as well — that and a certain helplessness, the knowledge that things truly are spiraling out of control, now that the same arguments for the murder of drug suspects are being twisted to allow for forgiveness of a convicted rapist and murderer. Mary Vincent didn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but she did survive, which makes the story easier to digest. Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez did not survive; in death, there are no “second chances.”
It’s certain odd details in true crime stories that stick with one over time. In the case of Mary Vincent, it’s how she had covered the stumps of her arms in mud to lessen blood loss as she crawled up the ditch in which she had been left to die. In the case of Eileen Sarmenta, a horrible, unforgettable detail: that the seminal fluid found in her body was reportedly enough “to fill a can of sardines.” An unfortunate urological fact I wish I didn’t know is that the normal ejaculate amount ranges from 1.5 ml to 5 ml. How much brutality was needed to achieve that “can of sardines”? Such details can hardly fail to affect even the most hardened medical professional. I hope that whoever reads this does become nauseated. I hope that the visceral reaction is enough to fuel more outrage.
The best thing about true crime reportage is the endings; most of the time, the stories do end with the villains being caught, giving us a Chestertonian sense of satisfaction in the slaying of a fictional dragon. In the case of Lawrence Singleton, the national outrage about his early release was instrumental in the passage of a bill that upped the sentence for such crimes to 25 years to life imprisonment. Not a perfect ending, but satisfying at least some of our indignation. At the moment, the powers that be, with the illogical Bato dela Rosa at the helm, seem to swing back and forth between appeals for forgiveness and condemnation of Antonio Sanchez’s heinous crimes. How can it be that the Duterte administration has regressed so much that its pronouncements make less sense than the US government in the 1980s? Our criminal justice system’s failings are enough to repel even the most eager true crime fan, and might belong in a different genre altogether, to be enjoyed by those who are fascinated by the absurd and Kafkaesque.
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