Marietta Jaeger Lane
Marietta's seven-year-old daughter, Susie, was abducted, raped and murdered
100 x 150 cm
Oil on canvas 2008
In 1973 Marietta and her husband and five children had been on a camping holiday near Three Forks, Montana. During the night her seven-year-old daughter, Susie, was kidnapped from their tent. For over a year Marietta did not know whether her daughter was dead or alive.
After driving through the beautiful countryside of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, we arrived at an isolated farmhouse. I had forgotten that the events we were here to discuss happened 34 years ago and so was slightly surprised to be greeted by a fragile-looking, white-haired lady. Sitting in the cosy farmhouse, any apparent fragility was quickly dismissed by the strength of her character as Marietta shared with me her traumatic and extraordinary story. She described the days following the kidnapping - the rage that roiled up in her and how she fantasised about killing the kidnapper with her bare hands. But she came to realise that this desire for vengeance would be her own destruction and she would be no good for her remaining four children and for Susie - if she should ever come home. Although unable to feel forgiveness for this man, she committed herself to that aim.
Marietta told me that one year after Susie was taken the kidnapper rang to taunt her. During the call she expressed concern for the young man and he broke down in tears, giving away sufficient detail for the police to track him down and arrest him. Despite learning that Susie had actually been killed only a week after her disappearance, Marietta did not want the murderer executed. She movingly explained that another death was not fitting for the sweetness and beauty of her daughter’s life.
Marietta quietly related how the young man admitted to the rape, strangulation and dismemberment of Susie and the murder of two other boys and a young woman. There was also evidence connecting him to several murders in other counties but the prosecutors there were insisting on the death penalty and he would not confess. Much to Marietta’s sorrow, and despite being on suicide watch, he succeeded in taking his own life just hours after his confession.
The 25th anniversary of her daughter’s death took the widowed Marietta back to South Forks where she met the man she was to marry and find the peace and happiness that is now so obvious in her life.
Part of the interview with Marietta is available to listen to below but the quality may be poor so please click the button for the transcript.
“By becoming somebody who wants to kill people I was becoming that which I abhor – the same mindset as had taken Susie’s life and that wouldn’t honour her memory.”
"How could I best honour Susie’s life, once it had been taken?”
"I wanted to aspire to something that was more fitting for the goodness and sweetness and beauty of her life - so for me that meant aspiring to a higher moral principal than getting even… that was to say that all of life is sacred and worthy of preservation.”
"I couldn’t deny him the opportunity of rehabilitation and restoration by participating in his death...In God’s eyes he was just as precious as my little girl."