Sins Of The Parent: When Children Learn The Truth
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Earlier this month, NFL star Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, drove down to the Kansas City Chiefs locker room, and killed himself. Afterwards, some asked questions about pro football and domestic abuse. Others criticized the decision to go ahead and play the next game on schedule.
But there is another victim in this case. The dead couple left behind an infant who will eventually learn what happened, and that child's life will then change. In some respects, at least, the sins of notorious parents are visited on their children. Can they forgive? Can they maintain a relationship? Should they? And what do they tell their friends?
If you had a notorious parent, how did you find out, and how did that change your life? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Later in the program, censorship and sales, pop star K'Naan on how he dumbed down his lyrics and why.
But first, the sins of the parent, and we begin with Melissa Moore, whose father was Keith Hunter Jesperson, the infamous happy face killer who murdered at least eight women. She joins us now form a studio in Dallas, Texas. And thanks very much for being with us. And I have to say, that must have been awful. When did you find out?
MELISSA MOORE: I found out in 1995. I was just a freshman in high school. My parents were divorced at that time. They divorced in 1990 because of my dad's multiple affairs. And my mother had found out about one of them, with a waitress. My dad was having an affair with a waitress in California. And they decided to divorce.
As a child I didn't know about the cause of the divorce. I just knew that we'd be moving from Yakama, Washington to Spokane.
CONAN: And all right, that's traumatic enough, but when did you find out your dad was, I guess at that point, an accused murderer?
MOORE: In March of 1995 I had come home from school and I saw on the news, it looked like a man in a jumpsuit, and news was covering it, but I wasn't allowed to see the screen, and I was kind of directed to go downstairs and put my backpack in my living quarters.
At the time we were living with my grandmother, and so we lived in the basement, an unfinished basement that was - so my living quarters really wasn't like a regular bedroom, per se, but nevertheless I went to my room, put my backpack on the cot that I was staying on, and my mom called for all three of us kids to have a talk with us.
And as we - I'm the oldest, so I have a brother and a sister, and as we got to the stairs, my mom said: Your dad is in jail. And my brother said: For what? And she said: For murder. And she wouldn't elaborate, and she went upstairs, and we were kind of left to scatter among ourselves and deal with the news we just heard.
At that time we didn't know that he was wanted for serial murder, but - and we didn't even know who the victim was. We didn't know if it was a man or a woman. That would later play out.
CONAN: And so this news, effectively you saw it on the TV first of all, and then it dribbled out over time.
MOORE: Right, so the next day I went to school, I went to high school, and that's when I started to realize this was really serious. I heard my name being whispered in the hallways. I had my friends that I would eat lunch with, they were talking to me about how their moms had saw my dad on the news and how they were nervous about them associating with me or being around me.
And then I found out it was for the murder of his fiancee, Julie Winningham, who I had met on a summer break, just briefly, but up to that point I didn't even know who he had killed.
CONAN: And I guess eventually we all get out of high school, sometimes it doesn't feel that way, but eventually we do. What happened then? Did you escape it?
MOORE: No, I decided after that moment, when my friends' parents were nervous about their kids hanging around me, and I felt guilty by association, I felt like there was some shame that was upon me, and I thought maybe genetically, am I somewhat genetically like my dad? I mean I look more like my dad than my mother. So I had all these fears inside of me.
But I didn't know who to talk to about it. After I found out about my dad and my peers at high school knowing, I changed high schools to kind of get away from my last name with the news with my dad. And then also at the same time I was in a very abusive relationship myself, and I wanted to break free from that dating abusive situation as well.
So I changed high schools, and I was hoping to kind of outrun the past, and ever since then I was running from my past until I would say probably about five years ago.
CONAN: All right, we'll pick up on that story in a bit, but we want to hear from callers in our audience, people who are - have similar stories. Of course every story like this is unique, but if your parents were notorious, how did you find out, and how did that change your life? 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Melissa's on the line, calling us from Wichita.
CONAN: Hi, Melissa, you're on the air.
MELISSA: Hi, how are you? I was just calling in because the summer before my senior year in high school, my father was arrested for running a drug trafficking operation in the Midwest, and I actually, the night it happened, when state and local authorities showed up at the house, he wasn't home, but I was there with my sister, and I was actually on a first date and had a young man over, and I guess it was a first date, but we were just watching a movie.
And so pretty safe to say that ruined all chances for any future opportunities with that young man at the time, when...
CONAN: I laughed a bit. It isn't funny, but it's...
MELISSA: No, it's funny to me now, but it was really not funny then, and it was a really, really bad situation for me as a teenager to - of course, you know, this was before cellphones and text messaging and social media, thank God, but word spread really fast. And you know, I didn't feel like I could show my face in public around my friends.
Everybody knew what happened, you know, and speculation was running rampant. And my father, actually before he was set to go to court, did jump bail and leave and disappear for about a year. And so...
CONAN: I guess that resolved a lot of questions about whether he was innocent or not.
MELISSA: Yeah, I think everyone knew he wasn't innocent. You know, they speculated anyway. There's just kind of a certain way things look when your friends', you know, parent doesn't have a day job that you can talk about and has a nice home and cars. And you know, it's not like in the movies by any means. I don't want to give the impression that we were living like, you know, any movie I've ever seen.
But I think there was speculation for sure on my friends' and their parents' behalf. So when it happened, and he was arrested, I really had the sense that lots of my friends' parents were thinking, oh, I knew it all along. I knew she was not the person I wanted my kid to hang around with.
They - you know, my dad, what he was doing, and then when it came out in the news, you know, I think they all felt like I had somehow had a similar life when that couldn't be further from the truth and...
CONAN: Melissa Moore, this is - there's another Melissa in Dallas - this sounds exactly like what happened to you.
MOORE: Right, it sounds really similar. I can relate on so many different levels. I was on a date before I met my husband, and my dad's story came on Discovery as I was on this date. So I - it's just - it's crazy. We have similar names and similar kind of backgrounds.
CONAN: What happened with your dad, Melissa in Wichita?
MELISSA: Well, he actually - there were court cases, federal court cases that happened while he was on the run. So he was actually sentenced while he was on the run but was caught my freshman year of college. So it all came flooding back, you know, kind of destroying a teenager's idea of what their world is for a second time.
So he did spend 17 years in federal prison and then was released about five or six years ago and has, you know, just kind of, you know, been back in our family and community and just trying to, I don't know, live a better life. But it's still in the background, you know, in my mind all the time.
CONAN: And did you forgive him?
MELISSA: Yes and no. I was pretty resentful there, eventually, and realized instead of the person I thought, who was fun, and funded, you know, my existence and my sister's until all of this happened, realized that it really hurt us and my family and especially my grandparents and cost them a lot of money.
But really because of their sake, I decided why would I harbor this grudge when they don't, and more for my grandparents than anything did I decide to just kind of get over it and deal. And so that's what I, you know, did once he was released.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.
MELISSA: Thank you.
CONAN: And I'm glad it's - at least you're dealing. Melissa joined us from Wichita in Kansas. Carol Adams was 17 years old when her father shot and killed her mother. Carol was in the house at the time. With her father in prison, she finished high school, later became a police officer. She's currently a sergeant with the Richmond Police Department and joins us now from member station WCVE in Richmond, Virginia. And it's good to have you with us today.
SERGEANT CAROL ADAMS: Hi, it's good to be with you.
CONAN: And that must have been terrifying.
CONAN: And do you ever get over something like that?
ADAMS: Absolutely not. It's with you every day. You grow up and you grow older. Time helps you deal with it a little bit better, but you know, the fact of not having parents, you know, to be a teenager and to wake up one day and you're an orphan because you're mother's gone, taken by a higher power, and your father's gone off to jail, and you have to survive.
CONAN: And - I can understand. It took you some time to talk about this.
ADAMS: Yes, it took me a long to talk, to be able to talk about it.
CONAN: It's interesting, we were hearing from Melissa Moore just a moment ago that she only started talking about her situation about five years ago. Why did you start talking about it?
ADAMS: Well, I'm in law enforcement, and only by - because this is where God wants me to be and to share my story and to help educate people because when things like this happen to you, like one of the callers said, you feel as if you played a part in it. But no matter what has happened to you, whatever your life experience is, is to help you educate and to help others make it through the steps that you have to take to survive something like this.
CONAN: Stay with us if you will. We'll also hear more from Melissa Moore as well. We're talking about the sins of notorious parents and how they affect their children. If you had a notorious parent, how did you find out? How did it change your life? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. After an attack or a murder, the focus is generally on the crime, the attacker and the victim and understandably so. In some cases, though, there's another victim: the children of the now-notorious parent.
Our guests are Melissa Moore, author of the book "Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter," And Carol Adams, her father murdered her mother when she was 17, she's now a sergeant with the Richmond Police Department, where she does work on domestic violence.
If you had a notorious parent, how did you find out? How did that change your life? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Melissa Moore in Dallas, we just heard from Carol Adams why she decided to start talking about this. You said five years ago you decided to talk about it.
MOORE: That's right. It started when my daughter came home from school. She was learning about families, and she said to me when she got home that everybody has a daddy, where's your daddy. And that's when it hit me that this isn't going to just end with me, that there's going to be a point when I'm going to have to tell my daughter, and actually that point is now.
She's 11, and I'm starting to have to have this discussion with her. Unfortunately my dad's actions had consequences far beyond and far reaching than I had ever hoped as a teenager. As a teenager when I found out the news about my dad, I had no idea that it would later affect how I had to tell my spouse, how I had to tell his parents, my in-laws, how I had to now tell my children about who their grandfather is.
And I don't know how that can come up in such an easy way, and I don't know how I want to tell them, but it's about time, close to time now that we need to start sharing this with our kids.
CONAN: Carol Adams, you've had to tell people, too.
ADAMS: Yes, and my children were - they did get to meet my father before he passed away with lung cancer, and my sister and I decided that we would allow him to have conversations with our children because a very, very wise old lady who is my grandmother, who just turned 98 years old and is the mother of my mother, she told us when our father murdered our mother that we couldn't hate him, we needed to allow God to handle that and for him to get through that because we would be caught up in the hate.
So we've always talked about it with our children, to let them know, you know, about their grandmother because, you know, the children, my grandchildren have also asked me where is my mommy and where is my daddy, and I would have to tell them that they are in heaven, they're with Jesus.
CONAN: What about friends?
ADAMS: My friends, a lot of them - this happened when I was in high school. In my city, you know, it was in the newspapers, and everyone knew. So going back to school, I can remember, was a day that will be imprinted because no one was - had been trained. And my incident happened back in the '80s. So no one knew what to say. There were no services for the kids. And they were not - the staff was not prepared for us, and therefore the students weren't prepared for us, as if it would just go away.
But the day came where we had to go back to school, and we did, and no one talked about it. No one asked us about it. It's as if it never had happened. And we kept going. And...
CONAN: As if it had never happened, but you were walking around under a cloud.
ADAMS: Yes absolutely, absolutely, but we managed. I managed to graduate high school, and I remember graduation day was one of those tough days because, you know, when you come out, and all the families are together, and your parents aren't there. So it was really, really a tough day. And I guess we walked around in a cloud until about 15 years ago, when I decided to talk about it.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation. Felicia's(ph) with us from San Antonio.
CONAN: Hi, Felicia.
FELICIA: Hi, how are you?
CONAN: I'm well, thank you.
FELICIA: So I guess I should share my story, or...
FELICIA: I was actually in middle school, and my father was a prominent law enforcement official, and one night it was just - it - I mean, the next morning I remember going to bed, going to school and then waking up the next morning and finding out that my father had been arrested. And we didn't really know what was going on, and we weren't allowed to watch TV or, you know, read the newspapers or anything. And my family was very hush-hush about.
And when I got home that day, they had said, you know, it's going to be - you know, my mom sat us down and said it's going to be on the news, it's going to be everywhere. And my father was depicted as a ringleader of a drug - FBI drug sting, where all these law enforcement officials were actually sent to prison.
So he went away to federal prison for a long time. And yeah, so that's basically it. I mean, it was everywhere. It was on the news. It was in the newspapers. Like these ladies said, I definitely can relate to everybody talking about you behind your back. And it just shattered my world. It was like he was living a double life.
He had - you know, who was this person? I don't know this person at all, so...
CONAN: Looking back, how did that change your life?
FELICIA: You know, it really made me wary of who I keep in my life and who I don't. And it's still kind of hard for me now because there was a big - he recently came home, and there was a big chunk of my life where he wasn't there, and now that I meet people, you know, people are asking me well, what does your dad do, or where has he been. And it's hard for me to tell people that.
You know, it's hard to me explain oh, my dad is in federal prison, you know. So it's just - it's very bizarre and very strange.
CONAN: Carol Adams, in law enforcement yourself, you must have some understanding about this, the sense of betrayal particularly and the loss of integrity there.
ADAMS: Yes, absolutely because, you know, when you're a kid, and you think about your family, they're supposed to be - they're supposed to uplift you, and for that to happen, when my father went to jail, actually he got - he took a plea bargain. He only served - he was sentenced with seven years and five years suspended. So he received 18 months with good behavior. So that was the betrayal for me. But he did come home, and my sister and I maintained a fatherly relationship with him because he was the only parent that we had left. And mine was very, very distant, but I was respectful as the oldest child to take care of him like I was supposed to do.
But yes, you know, for him to be here and my mom not to be here, there's a sense of betrayal because of all of the wonderful days that she missed: birthdays, weddings, graduations and all of those things. Absolutely you feel it.
CONAN: There's got to be a lot of anger there.
ADAMS: Yeah, anger and frustration, but the key is not to allow that to absorb you because there's a higher authority operating here, way beyond us, and you have to see the big picture and see what he has planned for you and for the rest of your life. And you sort of like take one second at a time, which turn into days.
CONAN: Felicia, how did you deal with your anger?
FELICIA: You know, just talking about it. I had a lot - I had a really great support system, and I was still really young. So, you know, just talking to adults, talking to people. And actually now, listening to these ladies' stories and feeling, you know, that I can relate, especially, you know, being a child of a, you know, who has a parent that's in federal prison that's going to be there for a while and, you know, has a crime that everybody knows about, you know, especially if you're from a small town or city, you know, everyone knows your story. So it's really comforting actually. So I'm still healing, every day, you know.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call.
FELICIA: Thank you.
CONAN: And I wanted to ask you, Melissa Moore: There had to be a lot of anger in your life, too, after you found out what your father had done and then not just the murder of his fiancee, as you mentioned, but this was a horrible, horrible case, at least eight, he claims 150.
MOORE: Right, surprisingly the anger hasn't shown up until just recently with having to tell my kids. That's when I got angry is that, the fact that it's going beyond me now, and it's going to affect my children. That's when the anger really crept up. But before that, it was just - I was just in shock.
I mean, he had this complete double life. Professionals call it the mask of sanity. We were - you know, we were just a pawn, kind of, or a facade that he used to even entice his victims. I know I had met one of the surviving victims, Dawn(ph), and she had said that when she met my dad in the parking lot that he started a conversation with her about my birthday.
And so she knew my birthday. She knew information about me. And that's what I found disgusting is that my dad had used us children as a means of gaining access to his victims and giving them a sense of comfort and security, when there really wasn't that. So my anger is in him using us and also in me having to tell my children.
But beyond that, though, I was just in shock when it first came out. I didn't have time to have emotions about it. I was just surviving every day, trying to get through high school, then, you know, changing high schools and leaving the abusive relationship that I was in. And then eventually I met my wonderful husband that we've been married for for 12 years. And I didn't really feel emotion about my dad until I got a chance to have a safe environment, and my husband created that in our home.
Once I was safe, I was able to start sharing details and talking about it, and then I started to heal, and talking about it was such a healing part of this journey for me because, as I say in my book, you're only as sick as your secrets. I think that secrets harbor violence. It harbors unhealthy relationships. When you can keep someone oppressed like that or keep something a secret, then someone is - it's coming at an expense to someone.
CONAN: Here's an email, this from Rhiannon(ph) in Kansas City: The father of my son died by suicide two years ago. Though he wasn't notoriously famous, he was in a relatively popular band. After his death, he appeared on numerous websites and discussion boards with specifics of his suicide, many of the comments being out of line and rude. My son was almost six when his father died. As he gets older, he naturally has more and more questions. I know eventually he'll be at an age where he can Google his father's name and read all of this. My son knows his father died by suicide, though he doesn't know specifics. I fear before he comes to me for answers, he will find these websites.
So that's an aspect of this that in our modern times we also have to deal with. Let's go to Dee Dee(ph), Dee Dee with us from Jacksonville.
DEE DEE: Hi. My grandfather - actually my step-grandfather - was in the Mafia in South Louisiana, Carlos Marcello(ph) and that whole bunch. And I don't have any bad memories of him. I do remember going to the local stockyard every few weeks. He would back his car in, at a certain place, and put the keys on the back tire. And then when we came back out of the stockyard, because there was a little cafe there, the car would be in a different place, with the keys in the ignition.
And when we were little, if we were bad, he would say: You know I'm going to feed you to the pigs. And they eat everything but your teeth. And so it wasn't until years later that I kind of put two and two together because if he - if something went - he would get phone calls. Of course he gets 12 telephones. I thought everybody had 12 telephones in their house, even though it was 1960.
And he was a bookie. And I thought everybody had guns, and everybody had cards and dice and racing forms and people all night. But he would - a phone call would come and he would go and handle things. And so when I grew up later, if I needed something done, I could just call him, and it would get - I mean I didn't have anybody rubbed out, but, you know, I always felt like you could pick up the phone and call your papa or call your daddy.
And whatever it was, was going to be taken care of, whether it was a ticket or, you know, in that regard, or if there was a problem needed to be solved in any kind of way - I mean, not outside the law, but you know what I'm saying? I just always felt like you just called your papa because everybody called on him to handle things.
They didn't call him by his name, which is another thing. They called him Red Top because he had such a bad temper. And when you would see someone - I was little, and I would see somebody out in public who was a Mafia member, he wouldn't speak to him necessarily. But I didn't ever know their real names anyway, but all went by different names.
So - and I remember during the Watergate hearings, my papa would sit and watch all the Watergate hearings and scream at the TV: RICO, RICO. They should get him on RICO, because all of his friends were being deported and stuff because of RICO.
CONAN: The racketeer and corrupt...
DEE: Yes. And so he was quite a character and a snappy dresser. And if he - when I was little, if you needed to go to the bank for money, we always went in the vault. We never went into the window because - and I was so surprised when people would go to the window and get their money because I thought you just go in the vault and you open the box and there's your money, right?
Well, he did that because - he would always say (unintelligible) never write anything down because it could become evidence. So I never was able to balance a checkbook because I never would write anything down. And it was just a fun kind of life to lead. Everybody in the world, in the (unintelligible) community (unintelligible) small town even then, of course, knew who he was, gave him wide berth, but I didn't know that he was anything other than my papa till much later. And...
CONAN: Mm-hmm. (Unintelligible) when you were a kid.
DEE: You know, it wasn't bad for me. It was bad for whoever crossed him or whoever lost - who never was paying him. And when I watch "The Sopranos" or I watch "The Godfather," I could just really relate, even though I'm pure Irish. He's my step-grandfather. But I adored him. He treated me like a princess. I thought all men did that. I found that was wrong. But - because then - you know, but it was just a - it was a strange kind of life.
CONAN: I understand, yeah.
DEE: It was - and I don't know - you know, in South Louisiana people can come up missing, and there's a lot of swamps, and Lord knows what went on. I have no idea. I cannot even imagine. But if he got arrested, which he did all the time, my grandmother would wake us up and say, get up, honey, Papa is downtown talking to his police friends. And we would go downtown. He'd been bailed, somebody had been paid off. She'd pick him up.
Or if we couldn't find him for a few days, she'd go looking for him. Once we found him between a couple of cars. He'd been beat up by some LSU football players who he'd been collecting a bet. She just took him home, fixed him up right there at the breakfast table while he was eating a big thing of cornflakes, and I just thought: normal, this is normal.
CONAN: Dee Dee, thanks very much for the call. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let me reintroduce our guests. Melissa Moore is the author of "Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter," with us from Dallas, Texas. And Carol Adams, whose father murdered her mother when she was 17 years old; she's now with law enforcement, a sergeant with the Richmond Police Department who works on domestic violence, and she joins us from Richmond. And Carol Adams, as you listen to these stories, people like you and unlike you, any advice?
ADAMS: Yes, just be secure in who you are. You know, what your parents did, you're not responsible for their action, and everything is a lesson for you in life. And, you know, you can't judge people because us human beings here on Earth don't have that authority in the first place. But there's a reason for everything, and there's a reason for everybody's story, so you just have to be secure in who you are and to continue learning about you and being open and honest and to help you grow in, and as the caller talked about, relationships.
Every experience you have, it hinders your progress. Your - like my mom and dad's relationship. It within itself had a horrific impact on me, my life and my relationships when you talk about trust, talk about communication and those types of things. So they significantly impact you, but you have to understand that you can't hold on to that because that will just redirect your road and your path in life.
CONAN: Much of Melissa Moore's advice is contained in her book "Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter." Thank you so much for your time today.
MOORE: Thank you.
ADAMS: Thank you.
CONAN: And that was also Carol Adams of the Richmond Police Department, who joined us from member station WCVE in Richmond. Thanks to everybody who called and wrote to share their story. We're sorry we couldn't get to everybody's call. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.