An article about victim's family member Bess Klassen-Landis appeared in yesterday's Vermont Sunday Magazine. In it, Bess talks about speaking against the death penalty and about how her mother's unsolved murder affected her and the rest of her family. Here's an excerpt:
Bess Klassen-Landis grew up with her parents and three sisters in a Mennonite neighborhood on a country road south of Elkhart, Ind. "It was as safe as safe can be," she says. But on March 14, 1969, the 13-year-old's life turned upside down.
"My mother was a homemaker. While we were at school an intruder hit her over the head, stripped, raped and shot her five times."
Her father, a psychiatrist, was at his job at a college clinic. There were seven suspects in the murder of Helen Klassen, says her daughter, but no one was charged, and the case remains unsolved.
For 36 years Klassen-Landis, who now lives in Windsor, struggled with the aftermath.
She did the expected things: finished high school, married and bore two children, and continued her education, eventually moving with her family to Vermont so she could get a master's degree in art therapy.
But fear and a sense of failure were her constant companions until 2005, when her sister introduced her to the Journey of Hope, an organization devoted to the abolition of the death penalty.
Since then, Klassen-Landis has transformed her loss and tragedy into activism and action. She is embarking this month on a series of journeys that will take her all over the country in the next nine months to share what she believes, however paradoxical it may seem for a woman with her past: Rage and violence are not the answer to violence. ...
For related reading, see MVFHR's Spring newsletter for an article that quotes from Bess's sister Liv, titled 'We're Left to Wonder: How Unsolved Murders Affect Victims' Families." (Scroll down to p. 6.)