The Political vs the Personal by
(135 Stories)

Prompted By Assassination

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Looking back on it, it is odd how fragmentary are my memories of the various assassinations that have occurred in my lifetime.

I remember her funeral

I was seven when JFK was shot, but all I remember of the event is my father answering my questions about the riderless horse, backward boots and caisson. Of the shooting itself, or the national wave of grief that followed, I recall nothing.

Of MLK’s murder I can only remember (and that faintly) the riots in nearby New York City, the fear of them happening in Bayonne (they didn’t) and a black friend rescuing me from a group of black kids who were about to pummel me for it.

I remember even less of RFK’s killing, except that he died on my twelfth birthday.

I don’t know why, but the assassination of Anwar Sadat made me particularly sad, maybe because he was the first glimmer of hope, that I can recall, that Arabs and Israelis could make a workable peace.

But assassination is a political act. Regular people just get murdered. Like my college friend Dorothy, who in the Fall of 1975, when I was nineteen, was abducted off a suburban street and later found in a garbage dump in northern NJ. She’d been shot once in the back of her head. The crime was never solved. In North Jersey in the 70s, a lot of women disappeared and were never seen alive again.

The day Dorothy disappeared, she and I met by chance in a corridor and spoke at length about various things; we always could speak easily and freely. I delayed her leaving campus by maybe fifteen minutes. She was taken soon after. I was the last person she spoke to before her abduction.

I remember hearing she had disappeared. I remember the discovery of her body being on the news on Thanksgiving night. I remember being questioned by the detectives. I remember her funeral. And I remember wondering if that fifteen minute delay resulted in her path intersecting with that of her killer.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: Assassination, murder
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Dave, your memory fragments about the momentous murders of political figures are less significant than the chilling memory of your friend Dorothy’s murder, just after she left you. I understand how you could wonder if your conversation and delay could have changed her circumstances and perhaps saved her life. What a terrible feeling for you to have to deal with for the rest of your life! I offer condolences, even at this late date.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      College started out badly. In spring of my freshman year, a good friend jokingly told me that if he didn’t come back from spring break, it meant he’d drowned on the whitewater canoe trip he was going on. Which he did. Sophomore year it was Dorothy’s murder, and another close friend fighting cancer (he won). Junior year ended with the shattering debacle of Maria ending our relationship. I was shocked to get out of my senior year alive…and almost didn’t.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I fuly agree with Betsy, Dave. Your memory of Dorothy’s killing is even more chilling — and obviously more personal — than those of the other, famous people.

    And I do hope you don’t keep questioning yourself about the “what if’s” regarding Dorothy. It it painful and unfair to you. And, as we lawyers will always advise, there are always too many variables in hypotheticals for them to be worth thinking about.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Thanks, John. I stopped thinking about that long ago. It was always fruitless, and he’d surely just have killed someone else, unknown to me but mourned by another set of friends and family.

      The 70s also brought us the Son of Sam killings. I remember dates being terrified to leave the house. Jersey was a strange place back then….

  3. How awful Dave, and of course you weren’t to blame for your friend’s murder but understandable is your grief and your unmerited but painful sense of guilt.

    I’m reminded of my friend Herb’s fatal car crash many years ago and my disquieting feeling that I may have been the last person to speak to him.
    See my story PIANO MAN.

  4. Jim Willis says:

    When someone we know meets a violent death like your friend Dorothy, a killing does in fact take on a deeply personal meaning, Dave. Your well-written reflection here reminds us all of that and of the fragility of life itself. How many times have each of us looked back on someone’s passing and asked, “What if …”

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m so sorry about the killing of your friend Dorothy. While I grieved over the political assassinations I lived through, I never knew anyone personally who met a violent death. What a traumatic experience to go through at a young age.

  6. Chilling. Well written. THanks.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for your always thoughtful and yet distressing recollections—and so sorry to hear about your friend who was killed. Seems like there are way too many people getting killed pointlessly, whether in mass shootings or turf wars or random mishaps. So much trauma to process and yet try to find a way to carry on. You have been a survivor and have much to share.

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