pril 17, 1982, prom night in Long Beach Delaware. This should be a significant occasion for graduating senior, Emily Vaughn, a George Washington University legacy enrollee.
The Vaughn family was also awaiting another significant event. Esther Vaughn, Emily’s mother, was with her husband awaiting a phone call from President Ronald Reagan. The President would hopefully offer Esther a nomination for a federal judgeship.
Moving ahead to current times we find that Esther Vaughn was indeed nominated and then confirmed to the federal judiciary and has served the past forty years in that capacity.
But Emily, poor Emily. She never went to college. Never had a career. On Prom night, Emily was brutally beaten and her naked body thrown into a garbage dumpster in an alley in town. She was left for dead and against overwhelming odds, Emily survived. Rescued from the dumpster, treated by EMTs, she arrived at the hospital alive. She was kept alive for two more months on life support machines. Two months, long enough for the baby she was carrying to be safely delivered. Yes Emily was pregnant that Prom night. Sadly baby girl Vaughn would learn who her mother was – but not know who her father was. No one knew. Not even Emily.
Yes the baby girl survived and is now 40 years old. She and her daughter are living with her grandparents: Franklin Vaughn and Judge Esther Vaughn.
The identity of Emily’s killer has never been determined though there were several suspects. As mentioned the paternity of Emily’s child also has never been determined, though there was speculation surrounding several high school classmates.
Now the United States Marshalls Service enters the picture – not to look into the original investigation of Emily’s death, or to open a new investigation but to provide protection for Judge Vaughn who has received several creditable death threats. Which leads us to Jasper Oliver, US Senator from California. Jasper Oliver in his official Senate duties, oversees the US Bureau of Prisons. In one of these prisons is Nick Harp aka Clayton Morrow, a convicted felon and the former husband of Jasper’s sister and the father of his niece Andrea Oliver. Today is Andrea’s graduation from training at the US Marshall academy. Jasper is here to offer her an assignment to guard Judge Vaughn in Longhill Beach Delaware. What a cushy assignment! Ocean front beach, small town, and partnering with Leonard “Catfish” Bible for half day shifts.
Unappealing idea for Andrea. Longhill Beach is the hometown of Nick Harp. Andrea has only horrible memories and thoughts of her father. The man is an evil cunning manipulator. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit domestic terrorism. He has been denied parole in the past, but Jasper believes he has a good shot of getting paroled at the next meeting which occurs in just six months. Andrea wants nothing to do with Nick and wants to keep him in prison.
In 1982, Nick, Emily, Nardo, Ricky and Blake were seniors together and often hung out together. The Clique as they were known were not always supportive of each other. When Emily admitted she was pregnant, the others treated her with disdain and turned their backs on her. Her claim that she did not know who the father of the child was met with disbelief. Emily claimed that she was drugged at a party, that she totally blacked out and had no memory of any events that night. Her “friends” either didn’t believe her or laughed at her. She was called a slut and even worse her family offered no support.
When her body was found, the police investigated – but not very deeply, The Clique members and young High School teacher, Dean Wexler, were questioned and seemed to be suspects but no evidence was found. Each of them gave a written statement as to their whereabouts on Prom night and what they observed but these statements led to no further investigation.
What can be learned now forty years later. There was no DNA evidence and many things in the town have changed. Andrea is determined to seek a solution. She is motivated by her desire to solve the crime and hopefully to use the result as a means to keeping her father in prison. Luckily, she had the support of “Bible” and Mike Vargas, her fellow partner and love interest.
Yes the case is solved -but this is a sad story. Too many people gone, too little love and kindness.
Hopefully Andrea will be able to keep her father in prison and away from people he can hurt. We will have to wait for the next Karin Slaughter novel to have some of these questions answered.