Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Remembering Dawn Basom and Happier Times in Ypsilanti

Defunct Peninsular Paper Company hydroelectric plant on the Huron River, just south and across the street from Dawn Basom's home on LeForge Rd.

Working closely with the facts and circumstances of the Washtenaw County Murders has given me a concentrated view into the evidence against John Norman Collins. If I ventured no further than that, I would be able to present only one dimension of these young women - as victims. But they were much more than that.

It is their victimology that forever links them in death, seven women who had no knowledge of one another in life. It is this cruel irony that I have tried to mitigate by writing The Rainy Day Murders, which is currently undergoing an extensive rewrite before it goes off to an editor. I want to know more about these young woman as living human beings and not just the subjects of police reports.

Each of these girls was a unique person with hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. Each had a family, be it good or bad, and each of the girls lives on in the memories of their family and friends. Each memory forever tainted by the senseless tragedy that befell each of them.

As much as I have learned about these girls as people over the last four years of researching their cases, I am forever an outsider when it comes to the aching memories of their loved ones. The efforts of my researcher and me to contact family members and friends for their testimonials has been only partially successful.

The pain is too strong, even after all these years. But in a few instances, some people have been able to overcome their emotions and rein in their grief to share their memories of happier times. Here is one such recollection of Dawn Basom's life by Elizabeth Kay Mann.


"I read a great deal of your information (Fornology posts) and was mesmerized and totally thinking what it was like for me being thirteen (Dawn's age when murdered) in Ypsilanti.

"Dawn and her brother were best friends of mine at Central Elementary School, I would say 1962 or so. I spent a lot of time with her family as I grew up on Ann St. not far from LeForge where she lived. We were in second grade and all of seven years old. I felt like part of her family.

"Our common denominator was the love of horses and horseback riding. Dawn had three palominos: Lady, the mom, and Joker and Ace. She and I rode nearly daily when our world was a softer, safer, much more gentle place. A time when folks looked out for the children that they saw everyday. 

Stock Photo - Not Dawn and Kay.

"We rode double on horseback in the fields near Peninsula Paper and Highland Cemetery, where it was peaceful, and along the Huron River in back of the Basom's land. A perfect childhood for two wonderful horse loving girls. It's all different looking today.

"As time marched on, I moved with my parents to the east side of Ypsilanti to Hickory Woods on Grove Rd., Dawn staying of course with her family on LeForge Rd. We invariably lost touch. She went to West Junior High School, and I went to East Junior High School. I never saw my childhood friend at Ypsilanti High School because her life was cut short.

"The atmosphere around Ypsilanti (during the murders) was one of fear and trepidation. Once the Washtenaw County Sheriffs' Department sent out information on the killings, and that perhaps Dawn was one of his victims, my parents locked me down. I was 5'5" tall with long brown hair, pierced ears, and I wore blue jeans. Everything I wore then told my parents to limit my life.

"There are so many questions in my heart about what may have happened to Dawn. I am sure I now know why I shared this with you. It is because I am now fifty-eight years old, the same age my second grade friend would be, and we still don't have answers about her death. I miss her so much.

"As grade school children, we had no fear and no worries. I will miss Dawn always. I will never forget the time when Ypsilanti lost its innocence and evil knocked on our doorsteps. My parents were terrified, as was the entire community. I so appreciate your mission to seek the truth. Thank you."

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