Silent Witnesses

Her name was Kate, and she died on a late spring day in 1990.

The 37-year-old mother of two was living in Lakeville, Minnesota when she “disappeared” after an argument with her estranged husband, Ricky Hebert. She never left Ricky’s house; he later dumped her body in a shallow grave just off a quiet, country road.

Ricky then left Minnesota for Los Angeles, California. Just a few weeks later, he headed to Louisiana, where he was born and raised. Lakeville Police questioned him in both states and made it clear he was their one and only suspect.

Six months passed before Ricky confessed. He waived extradition from Louisiana to Minnesota, then led police to Kate’s body. He admitted to locking her in a bedroom during their argument. He said she fell and hit her head.

I’ll never believe Ricky’s story, but that’s how he was charged, so that’s what we all reported. I had worked for the Lakeville Life & Times less than a year when Kate disappeared. Along with other journalists, I followed her story even as it became part of a larger picture.

In 1990, 26 Minnesota women, ages 16 to 86, were murdered by their partners. They lived in large cities and rural counties, in expensive homes and run-down apartment buildings. Many were stabbed; some were shot, some beaten.

Silent Witness

The full horror of that year didn’t hit me until I walked through “Silent Witness,” a display of 27* red silhouettes, each bearing a plaque that described a woman’s death. Organizers had unveiled the exhibit at the State Capitol building in St. Paul. I covered a press conference for the traveling exhibit at the Dakota County Western Service Center in Apple Valley, a western suburb.

Tears filled my eyes as I photographed Kate’s silhouette. I couldn’t stop thinking about her children. Mine were about the same age when their father and I went through a bitter divorce.

There but for the grace of God.

Since its launch on February 18, 1991, Silent Witness has become an international movement, with projects in all 50 states and 23 countries. Despite increased awareness and the Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994, we don’t seem to have made much progress.

Today, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one out of every three female murder victims is killed by an intimate partner.

One of three.

I have written about too many Kates. All of their stories remain close to my heart. And my next novel, Bullet Point, is dedicated to their memories.

*One more woman died in 1990 while calling for help, but her death was ruled an accident. No charges were filed. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *