Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ode to Joyous

Stew and I are not big on attending memorial services but on Sunday we went to one for a local American woman who had been murdered a little more than a week before but whom we barely knew. We felt our presence would signal concern about the lengthening string of murders, assaults and other serious crimes in San Miguel that, except for the capture of a serial rapist about about six years ago, remain unresolved.

Worse still, this cold file continues to grow as a contingent of expats appears more interested in mitigating the damage alarming news might inflict on San Miguel's reputation--read "real estate values" and "tourism"--than in apprehending the guilty. In the minds of some expats, hush-hush apparently trumps closure-closure.

Altar in memory of Joyous Heart. On her photo a message read,
"I will love you forever. You will always be in my heart."
The victim's nom-de-Web was "Joyous Heart" but her real name was Joyce Schuman. She was a fifty-nine years old Californian, who had lived in San Miguel for approximately seven years. The circumstances of her death were both tragic and gruesome: Stabbed some forty times and nearly decapitated, one newspaper report said, her body not discovered for a couple of days.

According to the rumor mill the murderer was a eighteen-year-old Mexican woman Schuman had adopted from a local orphanage four years before. The adoptee was said to have a serious mental illness, something along the lines of schizophrenia. As of this writing no one has been apprehended.

Schuman was a devoted New Ager, a practitioner of "creative and healing arts" who had studied "inner child/family healing," astrology, card readings and hypnosis. On her Facebook page she proclaimed: "I try to find the positive in everything. And learn from my ongoing life lessons. I choose to be happy. I value kindness and compassion." 

Whether you embraced her worldview or not, there was universal agreement Schuman was indeed a kind and generous person, traits that may have led her to adopt her alleged killer, hoping to still the voices clamoring in the adolescent's mind.

I got to know her distantly through her numerous postings on one the local internet bulletin board,, and which mostly echoed her trademark love-and-kindness take on life.

A sad-looking mutt who lived with Joyous Heart. It's moving to
the U.S. to live with one of Schuman's relatives. 
The gory details of this case--and those of a Canadian woman who was stabbed twenty-some times on June 2011; and of an elderly American man who also died of multiple stab wounds earlier the same year; and of a gay couple beaten and left for dead in the wine cellar of their home right in the middle of town more than six years ago; and a member of a gay couple who nearly lost an eye to a machete-wielding home invader two months ago; and of two Americans who were pistol whipped in their home near the center of town last year--have not led to any arrests, or even to sustained demands by the expat community for some investigation, arrests, announcements or other signs of activity by local law enforcement.

Quite the opposite. The woman who made the first posting about the killing--and admittedly got her facts badly mangled--was herself brutalized by some Civil Listers as a hysterical hag.

"You owe the Listeros [members of the Civil List] an apology for frightening them," one contributor wrote. "This is exactly the information you do NOT [emphasis his] put on the Civil List. Second-hand, scary, violent information. Terrible."

When someone brought up the details of the murder again today, the same contributor added: "... [y]ou could have omitted the gruesome details on the [Civil List] that reaches 7000 people all over the world."

There were other postings along the same lines, urging readers to "move on," or put more crudely, to shut the fuck up already.

Indeed some of these crimes suggest domestic disputes or other special circumstances, not a local reign of terror. I for one will remember not to adopt schizophrenic teenagers or unduly antagonize the household help, just in case.

But wouldn't it be comforting to the local expats--and I suspect the Mexican population of San Miguel which is after all the victim of most crimes here--if someone were sent to prison for one of these crimes? Or at least arrested? Identified as a suspect? Right now I'll even settle for some indication these crimes are under active investigation.

At Joyous Heart's memorial Sunday I met Yolita, a woman in her forties, wearing a vivid, traditional Mexican outfit of a white cotton blouse with embroidered flowers and a red, ankle-length dress. She was standing in front of a funeral altar decorated with flowers, candles, photos and several other items of apparent significance to Schuman, including a glass bowl with a small turtle swimming in it,  and a bottle of white wine.

Yolita was sobbing and conversing with the picture of Schuman. After standing next to her for a while I was inadvertently drawn into the sobbing and conversation. "They should have put a picture of the girl they think killed her, so maybe someone maybe could identify her," Yolita said.

"Do you think they'll ever catch her?" I asked. Yolita slowly shook her head.

For the sake of Schuman's joyous memory, I hope Yolita was wrong.


Good news addendum: Yolita's pessimism--and mine--were misplaced and the young woman who allegedly murdered Joyous Heart was arrested somewhere in Mexico, according to a Santa Barbara, Calif. television news report. Hope this is the beginning of a virtuous trend by Mexican law enforcement and that the perpetrators of a couple of other crimes in San Miguel are similarly caught and brought to justice.

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