I got home from work about 6pm and flipped on the news as I ran to answer the phone. I heard sobbing on the other end of the phone and my friend Risa, between sobs, told me that Darrell was dead.
"Darrell's dead. He was murdered."
I heard these words and simultaneously registered the helicopter shot on the 6 o'clock news featuring an overhead view of my friend Darrell's little beach house in Sunset Beach. They were wheeling out a gurney upon which was strapped a black, plastic body bag.
It was October 30, 1984 and the events of that day still seem like something that only happens in a movie. My friend Darrell, who was 25 and his 21 year old girlfriend Stephanie had been tortured and executed, apparently by South American drug dealers.
Darrell was a free spirit, easy going guy who loved surfing and music and travel. After he'd graduated from high school he'd traveled down to Brazil and throughout South America surfing and hanging out and making friends. He had white blonde hair and was always smiling - he surfed every single day. As long as I knew him he never seemed to have a job, and while he didn't have what would be considered a luxurious lifestyle, it was definitely easy living.
There were always people around from his travels who'd come to visit and seemingly stayed - they didn't work either. Cocaine was definitely part of the party, but not in a dark, scary way. It was light and fun and the product was pure and the buzz was excellent. It never occurred to me to question any of it - Why didn't anyone work? Where were the drugs coming from? What were they saying in all the conversations en espanol at the weekend BBQs?
We were all having too much fun.
There were definite warning signs but we were in our 20s and bullet proof so an FBI raid? Ha! Those assholes. Darrell's brother getting busted and then found guilty and sent to prison? An aberration.
Maybe those things were the things that motivated Darrell to make the decisions that he made which lead to his death. We don't really know exactly why he was killed, but the theory has always been that he'd been dealing large quantities of cocaine and made enough money that he felt he could retire and live a simple life at the beach with his girl. Maybe have some kids, get a dog.
We had all gone out to a halloween party on the 29th. Darrells was a clown and Stephanie was a genie - this is how I remember them. Stephanie had left part of her costume at my house and I'd planned to stop by the house at lunch that day to drop it off. I got really busy and couldn't make it so I called and left a message about noon that I would be sure to connect with them before the party that evening.
Their bodies were discovered at 12:45pm by a friend who was staying at the house when he returned from a DMV appointment - he'd been gone for three hours. They were both naked and had numerous stab wounds. Darrell's face was beaten unrecognizable and his hands had been cut off. They had killed Stephanie first - I don't know and don't want to know what they did to her before they killed her.
The police responded and the FBI was involved - no clues were ever found as to who killed them although they believe it was more than one person. They found Darrell's notebook in the phonebooth at the liquor store across the street. It had names in it and numbers - there was talk that Darrell had been skimming, or that his business partners believed that he was stealing, and so he was killed.
Stephanie died because she happened to be there.
I had never experience death so intimately before. No one I knew had died. Not even friends of friends had died. We were a bunch of middle class, suburban white kids and this kind of stuff just didn't happen. Not to us.
Except it did happen.
Most of the foreign "friends" disappeared - quickly. They didn't come to the funeral. We were all overwhelmed by fear and anger and grief and looking for people to blame. Maybe that's why they left, or they could have been more business associates than friends. I will never know.
There's really no way to explain how casual we were with cocaine, in the age of "just say no" and the walking wounded celebrities who are sad illustrations of that old saying, "if you can't be a good example then you'll just have to be a horrible warning," (shout out Amy Winehouse) it's hard to imagine a time when drugs weren't demonized and scary.
But we had fun. A lot of fun. Right up until Darrell was killed.
Halloween has never been a very happy time since. Getting dressed up and partying always carries with it the association of this incredibly tragic and violent event. I am thankful that I got the wake up call and that Darrell's death put an end to my own dabbling in the drug business. Back then it was easy to get in over your head really fast and while Darrell was the first friend I lost he was not the last.
I guess you could say that Halloween scared me straight.