An excerpt from the upcoming book,
Who Killed My Sister, My Friend by Melanie Hack
I knew I would be publishing this story one day because of a dream…
…I am walking under a canopy of branches and heading down some stone steps that are cool to the touch, until I arrive upon a breathtaking beach. On this sweltering summer day I seem to have found my perfectly secluded spot.
Stepping onto the hot sand, I am mesmerized by the ocean’s waves licking the shore. My tongue detects salt in the air. The magical pan flute of Zamfir tickles the hair in my ears. I hum along.
Looking far to my right, I see someone already soaking up my perfect day. She is reading a book while lying on a fuzzy purple beach towel large enough for two people.
She is alone.
There is something familiar about her and curiosity draws me closer.
It does not come as a surprise that it is my dead sister, Cindy. She looks radiant. She is so engrossed in a fascinating book that she does not take notice of me until I am right beside her. She calmly lays the book down, turns her eyes to me, and smiles an approving smile. As soon as I glance at the book I know immediately what I will do one day. The book she is reading is called My Sister, My Friend – and I, Melanie Hack, am its author.
She wants this story, this incredible mystery that was her life, shared.
And she wants me to write it. Realizing all stories without an end never go away, I understand the message veiled in her eyes. It relates to how she wrote on 2 June 1988, almost exactly one year prior to her body being found, “I feel a strong need for justice that I have to accept will never occur.”
For much of seven years starting in 1982, the life of my oldest sister, Cindy James, was a living hell, as though she were trapped in a horror novel from which there was no escape, except in death—but this was real. She suffered more than most of us will ever experience.
“I have been tormented and harassed by someone who knows me well enough to know what will really hurt me,” she wrote of her living nightmare.
She endured seven major physical assaults including kidnapping and several attempted murders, had her arms tied up tightly behind her and electrical tape sealed over her mouth, was injected with drugs, held at knife point, slashed, stabbed, sexually violated, and, time after time, strangled to near death with black nylon pantyhose. In addition, she was the object of harassment that included obscene and threatening phone calls, letters and notes made of words cut from newspaper, messages left on her car windshield with a picture of a covered corpse being wheeled into a morgue on a stretcher; raw meat delivered and dead cats left in and around her house—some with string around their necks and a note nearby saying, “You’re next”; damage to her property—broken windows, a slashed pillow, cut phone wires, and arson. Even her beloved dog, Heidi, had been found shaking with fright and sitting in her own feces, allegedly with cord wound tightly around her neck. The harassment would appear to cease for brief periods, then return, so Cindy never knew when something horrible would happen, so she had to be constantly alert, careful and watchful. In her journal she screamed at God, “How could you let this go on?” but he never heard her, or, she guessed, he never cared.
During those seven years Cindy changed her name, repainted her car a different color, moved many times, and hired a private investigator she could hardly afford, who installed a two-way radio, alarms, and strong back porch lights at her home plus gave her an electronic “panic button”. Cindy endured polygraph tests that were scientifically unreliable due to her traumatized state. She tolerated hours of stressful and draining hypnosis sessions where she recounted and relived horrific visions in an attempt to share information that her attack-induced amnesia had kept hidden. And she suffered great emotional anguish from the resulting flashbacks and nightmares and became tense and afraid those nightmares or memories would overwhelm her.
Eventually Cindy’s constant tension led to exhaustion, depression and suicidal thoughts. She suffered a mental breakdown in 1985 that led to a brief hospital stay, although I didn’t know about it at the time. In 1986 she needed more medical intervention when she tried to starve herself to death after a fire destroyed her downstairs rec room and jeopardized the lives of her friends who were staying with her. That time she was in the hospital for months and I was concerned about how the harassment had led her to give up on life. Later I would hear and read the opinions of the doctors at the time, and how some had made snap judgments about her and didn’t take her harassment seriously. While I lived life oblivious to the broader picture, Cindy was bathed in doubt, humiliation and fear.
Fear was her constant companion. By June 15, 1988, Cindy was feeling a difference in her thinking, was easily distracted, and began to wonder if she had been brain-damaged by the assaults, especially the attempted strangling. With professional therapy she fought valiantly to be a survivor, not a victim. Because she was a private and proud individual, I did not have extensive knowledge, until much later, of most of the atrocities inflicted upon her. Over the years I was only given enough sketchy details of her harassment to make me wonder what was really going on. She sadly believed that others had enough problems in their own lives and did not need to be burdened with hers. To her journal she shared how vivid images of some of the more frightening things she could not talk about left her feeling “so alone … no one in the universe will ever understand … like I somehow live on a different planet from everyone else. Like I’m existing alongside them but always separate.”
During those seven years many theories developed about what was actually going on in Cindy’s world. Her friends, family, co-workers and private investigator believed she was being stalked and tormented by someone adept at covering his tracks—a stranger or clever sadist, or perhaps her ex-husband, Roy, maybe desperate to have her back after she left him. Roy believed the Mafia was harassing Cindy, or at the least, someone hired by a disgruntled parent at Cindy’s workplace. Ozzie Kaban, whom Cindy hired to provide security, would throw out the idea that maybe Roy was trying to drive his client crazy. Even the police thought Roy was the major suspect for almost five of those seven years although briefly turning their suspicion to a fellow police officer, Pat McBride. And early on, within the policing community, some officers doubted Cindy’s tales of terror, believing she was doing it to herself. Some people even speculated Ozzie was involved somehow; maybe he had been drawn into her web and began assisting her or covering up for her. Or maybe it was a combination of possibilities.
Although the evidence was contradictory, confusing and incomplete, the police ultimately believed Cindy was knowingly behind her own harassment, while Roy came to believe Cindy was a multiple personality, unaware she was tormenting herself. Even the doctors pulled into Cindy’s world had varying opinions. And as the evidence slowly unfolded for me, my thoughts and beliefs played a game of ping-pong, going back and forth over the possibilities, desperate for an answer. It seemed almost any scenario was possible, but one truth emerged:
Appearing cloaked in a world of fear and loneliness, Cindy endured harassment—until she disappeared for the last time.
I offer you a compelling true story, almost unbelievable in it’s complexity-the mysterious death of Richmond nurse, Cindy James.
This is the timeless tale of a tragedy that unfolded over seven years of attacks and harassment by an unknown perpetrator. Her violent death – far from offering closure – was only the beginning of an agonozing journey through layers of family secrets, official negligence, and conflicting stories.
Grief bruises are vividly painted as this book journeys through the bowels of hell. You will come to know the stench of loss and the struggle of surviving.
In searching for an understanding of Cindy’s mysterious death and how society failed her, a powerful message unfolds for all of us.