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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Prostitute as Prey

Since the days of Jack the Ripper and well before that, prostitutes have always been easy prey for serial killers. The reasons are obvious. Prostitutes are a highly vulnerable population. They are out at night, on the streets, and willing to get into a car (or a buggy or dark alleyway, in Ripper's time), with a total stranger. When they go missing, sadly, few people seem to notice or even care.

Several of Jack the Ripper's victims were alcoholics. It wasn't uncommon for them to disappear for days at a time on drunken binges. Their absence from the streets was part of a larger pattern of addiction. Likewise, in today's world, most prostitutes are drug addicts. A loved one or another prostitute may report them to the authorities as a missing person but by then, days or even weeks have passed and the case is already getting cold.

In theory, local and state police should dedicate equal time and zeal to every missing persons' case. In reality, it is often assumed that the prostitute overdosed and died, or skipped town with her John, and so less energy is put into the investigation. Compare this to the prompt detective work and frenzied media coverage that occurs when a suburban soccer mom from a high-end neighborhood is missing in action. The recent book and movie "Gone Girl" did a fine job of depicting that dynamic.

Based on my online research, no one reported that Karen Everett was missing before her body was called in to the state police dispatcher by Harwinton highway supervisor Tom Pollack. Karen, a known prostitute and drug addict, was last seen early in the evening of October 14, 1988, walking on North Main Street in Waterbury, in the neighborhood where she lived and worked. That section of Waterbury was also known as a common stopping point for drug addicts and prostitutes.

According to police reports, two weeks earlier she had been busted at a Waterbury park with nine bags of heroin and arrested. At the time she went missing, she was released on bail with a trial pending. With these facts in mind, it goes without saying that her two day absence from the community was not a startling development. Karen was looking at another lengthy stay in the state penitentiary. Maybe it was time for her to leave Waterbury and find another place to live.

I don't think that anyone can define a "typical prostitute". These women come from all walks of life and one thing is certain,  as little girls they don't plan on someday selling their bodies for drugs and money. They do, however, often share a common childhood history of sexual and/or physical abuse and emotional neglect.

So who, exactly, was Karen Everett? Her mug shot tells us that she was an attractive, brown haired, green eyed caucasian woman. It seems, however, that Karen was far more than just another pretty face. In an article for the Waterbury Sunday Republican dated November 23, 2008, Karen's former landlord and employer, Alan Lane, describes the twenty four year old woman as nice, hard working, and extremely lonely. "Other than my wife and I, I don't think she had a friend in the world."

For every serial killer in America, there are thousands of do-gooders like Lane and his wife. They saw Karen as being different from the other girls working the streets in that neighborhood. Even though Lane knew of Karen's drug use, he took the risk and hired her as a courier for his mortgage firm. Lane even gave Karen the keys to the company car. He and his wife also allowed Karen to rent the apartment above their place of business because they were hopeful that she would kick her drug habit and make a clean start. To that end, Lane signed Karen up for methadone treatment at a local Waterbury clinic.

Lane and his wife must have seen something special in Karen. What was it about her that gave the older couple hope and fueled such generosity? She was smart, for one thing. She liked to read and write, and she talked about enrolling in college someday. As for her background, according to Lane, Karen came from a prosperous family in Virginia. This fact is confirmed by an online search of The Phelan and Healy Family Tree, which lists Karen as the third cousin of Taryn Lynn Phelan and states that Karen's body was buried at St. Bridget's Cemetery in Cheshire, Connecticut.

The Cheshire connection seems related to the fact that Karen's maternal grandmother lived in Cheshire at the time of the murder. It's not clear why Karen moved to Waterbury in 1981. On the surface, she had a golden childhood involving racing and showing horses in Virginia, for which she had won ribbons. This no doubt contributed to Lane calling her a "tomboy"in the article.

Look up tomboy on and here is what you'll find: an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, especially in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys than of girls.

That endearing quality is evident in Karen's mug shot. Her head tilts slightly to the right, highlighting her naturally high cheek bones and delicate nose. Her eyelids are heavy from heroin use, but the drugs had not yet killed their light. In those emerald eyes there remains a trace of confidence- some might call it "attitude".  I'd like to think that Karen was a fighter, up until her very last breath at the hands of a killer.

Karen Everett: reader, writer, equestrian, and tomboy from Virginia. Rest in Peace.

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