At second glance
I recently stumbled across a photograph of young woman circa 1990. She had that attitude; that stance of a woman who just does not want her photo taken. Always dissatisfied with the outcome for one reason or another, she steadfastly takes the posture of objection whenever a camera is produced — hiding her face with her hands or looking away from the camera. I can hear her thoughts, “I won’t like it” or “I never look good in pictures”.
Looking at the photo again, I noticed something else. She was outfitted in a somewhat sophisticated dress and high heels but her hair shorn as if intentionally butchered — definitely a fashion statement of some sort. What really caught my attention is the genuine terror articulated in her eyes, fear and pain; the body position attempting to shove away the photographer. I expected a playful disdain or a smirk of angst something more representative of a a girl that age. Perhaps she is just irritable or in a cranky mood, she is about the right age for teenage angst . That’s when I read the caption explaining that this was the last living image of 14 year old Regina Kay Walters the photograph taken by serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades who dressed her, cut her hair, tortured her, and then eventually killed her.
A childish impulse may have set the course to this venue —from Texas suburbia to an isolated barn somewhere in the mid-west. Some nonsense she read in a book, like live your life and risk it all take some chances, take the fall. Her thoughts now different in my mind:
“He is going to kill me. Can I wish this away?”
“I will never see my family again. What will my mother think?”
This horrific souvenir of a frightened child’s last moments about to be snuffed shakes me as a human, an involuntary witness to depraved cruelty; petrifies me as a woman who has never experienced mercilessness from man but knows it exists; and, terrifies me as a mother of two trusting souls who still believe in fairy tales, Santa Clause, and that there is some good in everyone. I am haunted by an image I can never unsee.