Monday, November 18, 2013

"Met Her On the Mountain" by Mark I. Pinsky (2013)

When VISTA volunteer Nancy Morgan arrived to Madison County, North Carolina in 1970 she believed that she could make a difference in the lives of the working poor who lived there. And, to some extent she did. By most accounts she was a friendly and outgoing young woman who was determined to do what she could to help in the War on Poverty. Her future plans after her stint with VISTA involved obtaining her nursing degree and returning to Madison County to provide health care to the people who lived there. It just didn't work out that way.

One night in June, as Nancy was headed home to her cabin next door to the grocer’s, she was apparently abducted, raped and killed. Her body was left; bound; in the backseat of her government issued Plymouth, where it was found several days later by a passing motorist answering the call of nature.

What followed was one of the most botched investigations imaginable, with local law enforcement competing with the FBI for clues to solve the killing. The body was left on Federal land, and should have been a Federal crime scene from the beginning of the investigation until the last. Even local politics played a part in not solving the case of Ms. Morgan’s murder. The case is still unsolved as of this writing.

Social attitudes were also a sticking point in the investigation, with the more conservative local folks believing, in some measure, that Ms. Morgan was too sexually active. Books were found in her belongings concerning S and M. It was reported that she had several lovers in the area. It was even rumored that she was killed by a local woman, jealous of Nancy’s easygoing ways. None of these things were ever proven to have had a bearing on her murder. As a matter of fact, none of those things was ever proven at all.

The title of the book comes from the ballad “Tom Dooley”, which was actually written about a murder in Statesville, North Carolina. The author traces the roots of mountain violence back to the original settlers from Scotland and their clan wars. The violence was almost endemic there, and some of that culture did spill over into the Appalachian Mountain communities. The suspicion of outsiders also played a part in this true life mystery.

The most striking thing about this book is that the crime remains unsolved. The author, a VISTA volunteer, who although he never actually worked with Ms. Morgan, thinks he knows who killed her. Carefully culling everything known about the people with whom she dealt in Madison County, he pieces together a picture of good gone bad, and justice denied. This is a compelling book.

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