Murder Trial: The Disappearance of Margaret Fleming, BBC iPlayer, directed by Matt Pindle.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000d2cw/murder-trial-the-disappearance-of-margaret-fleming-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000d2fq/murder-trial-the-disappearance-of-margaret-fleming-series-1-episode-2

In 2019, Edward Cairney and Avril Jones are jointly charged with the murder of Margaret Fleming and brought to trial. The accused lived in Inverkip on the coast of the Firth of Clyde, a backwater (near where my sister used to live) but there’s no body, and little forensic evidence. Until recently bringing out the body for examination was necessary before a murder trial could take place. John George Haigh or The Acid Bath Murderer, as he was daubed in the early twentieth century was convicted of the murder of six people (he claimed nine victims) but there was still enough physical evidence to convict him. Forensic evidence in the twenty-first century is no longer a pony and trap, more of a high-speed-express train that often pre-determines which way a jury is going to vote –guilty,  not guilty, or in Scotland, the case being Unproven.

The prosecution were able to show what little forensic evidence that appears in the case of Margaret Fleming was ambiguous. Bone fragments, which were fragments, but which could have come from any number of animals and not necessarily from the body of Fleming.

There was little doubt the John George Haigh was guilty of murder, but he was asking the prosecution a simple question—prove it. Edward Cairney and Avril Jones are saying the same thing. The case rests on who has the best story?

Here we move from the whodunnit to the whydunnit. We’re looking at motive. Agatha Christie, who was guilty of a well-publicised disappearing act of her on, much quoted saying suggests, ‘very few of us are what we seem,’ and is the basis of most of her work. The before and after shock of J.B.Priestly’s An Inspector Calls.

Margaret Fleming, thirty-five, disappeared before or after police called at the depilated property investigating inconsistencies in form filling. An application for Personal Independence Payment which had been filled in by her carers, Edward Cairney and Avril Jones quickly became a missing-person enquiry then a murder trial. Margaret Fleming, the two accused suggested, had simply ran out the back door as the police came to the front door.  Cairney suggested that she had run away with gypsies. Jones went along with whatever Cairney suggested. But the last person to see Margaret Fleming was her GP and that had been in 1999.

Motive for murder, improbable as it seems, seems to have been diddling the benefit system for sixteen years. Witnesses are called to establish that Margaret Fleming had been a happy-go-lucky girl before her protective father Derick died and she was given into the care of the accused.

The only witnesses that Margaret Fleming was no longer happy and no longer lucky afterwards were Edward Cairney and Avril Jones. A doughnut shaped hole exists in the prosecution’s case.  They can’t provide the body and they can’t provide evidence that Margaret Fleming was maltreated before she was murdered.

In the Whydunnit story something always turns up—the moment in Scooby Doo when the hood is pulled off the ghostly figure and he cries, ‘I’d have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you damn kids.’ The Scooby Doo moment arrives after Cairney and Jones are arrested, wheeling their trolley, ready to board a train to London. A supposed typed letter from Margaret Fleming to Edward Cairney and Avril Jones has a hotel address in London. You know the sort of letter, I’m doing great and I’ve ran away with gypsies, but I’ll be home soon, and p.s. you definitely didn’t kill me. In Scooby Doo setting up your alibi sets up your fall.

To recap, the police have the letter. They have the typewriter it is written on. They have dates and time in which Edward Cairney and Avril Jones were in London staying in the same alleged hotel Margaret Fleming was staying in. Time enough to post a letter to themselves, which is franked with a London postcode, and which they collected themselves as proof of Margaret Fleming’s continuing disappearance, but sudden re-appearance using language she was not grammatically capable of.   The jury could decide its circumstantial evidence—because it is. In terms of a double-twist narrative either Margaret Fleming’s body has to be found or the victim has to turn up in court the day they are convicted.

No double-twists—yet. Apart from a local vigil for Margaret Fleming. Bit late for that, vigilance should be for people that are alive.       

Safe Harbour, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written by Belinda Chayko and directed by Glendyn Ivin

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m0002j52

safe harbour.jpg

This four-part Australian drama is a big budget production. A morality play, a kind of J.B. Priestly An Inspector Calls set in Brisbane and the Timor Sea. There’s lots of angst and gnashing of teeth. In An Inspector Calls class is the card played. Here it’s class and race, and religion in a toxic mix, as wealthy westerners in a yacht meet immigrants in a sinking ship on the Timor sea. Safe Harbour is a metaphor for everything that happens.

They want what we have and we’re not for giving.  There’s another story, of course, that when we die we must pay the ferryman with a coin. Usually, it’s taken to be the coin that cover the dead’s eyes, or a coin of great value, usually gold, but the coin we pay the ferryman before travelling over the River Styx is the coin of our worldly losses. And in some religions, when a soul is reborn and travels in the other direction we shake off all we have known, all we have been. Loss is a tide that sweeps in and out of Safe Harbours.

Jill Bialosky (2015 [2012]) History Of A Suicide my sister’s unfinished life.

history of a suicide

This book left me cold. I read an extract of the story of these sisters in The Observer a while back, one living and the other dead. I was intrigued.  I know what I’m supposed to feel. What I’m supposed to say. But it feels a bit like someone leaning over the garden fence and saying yada, yada, yada and I’m saying yeh, yeh, yeh. That’s true. You’re right. I wish I’d thought of that.

In the first act of J.B.Priestley’s An Inspector Calls stasis is undermined in this interchange:

GERALD [laughs]: You seem to be a nice well-behaved family –

BIRLING: We think we are –

In sum, we have the Anna Karenina principle. All happy families are alike. All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. In ‘Opening Words’, each chapter is Bialosky’s book are bite sized, she draws her family in Cleveland in 1970 for the reader. Kim, who commits suicide is the youngest. Laura, Cindy and the author Jill are more than a decade older than their sister. Their father, a Jewish immigrant died when they were infants and their mother re-married an Irish Catholic. Kim father didn’t last. He’s the villain of the piece who left them in relative poverty, and also left their mother for another woman. Kim was lost baggage, left behind, but with her mother and three surrogate mothers in her elder sisters. She lacked a father figure to nurture her. It belittled her. Set her back in  ways that didn’t affect her sisters. I’m not sure why.  That’s one of the arguments the book makes. Jill finds confirmation in Dr Sheidman prognosis, an amateur Herman Melville fan and eminent sucidiologist who quotes Moby Dick to her:

There is no unretracing progress in this life…we do not advance through fixed gradations. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally.

As the Inspector says:

what happened to her then may have determined what happened to her afterwards, and what happened to her afterwards may have driven her to suicide. A chain of events.

I don’t have a problem with eternal ifs. Temporality, is always dateable. Jonathan Lear, in Radical Hope, quotes Heidegger – a time when. A time when Kim made her last phone call to her sister Jill. A time when Jill lost her baby in the first trimester. A time when Jill lost her second baby, snatched away from life. A time when Kim, with her mum sleeping upstairs,  shuts the garage door and starts the car engine. A time when the boy that’s being paid twenty dollars to cut the grass hears the car engine idling and opens the garage door to carbon monoxide. A time when two police officers stand at the foot of her mother’s bed and tell her there’s no hope. Her youngest daughter is dead.

I don’t have a problem with no hope and its causal link to suicide or even references to Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, William Styron and Darkness Visible. It seems rather obvious. Those without hope seek a way out. Life gets in the way. But what I found myself doing was saying no.

Jill, for example, says, ‘I should have told her that I once loved a boy, too.’ She has an annoying habit of making statements like that and interjecting drama with the added clause, ‘too’. That would have saved her Inspector?

In ‘Last Dance’ as author she constructs a narrative. ‘In my mind’s eye…Kim…Dabbed her eyes with musk. Wore her favourite jeans and a sexy black top, convinced she would see Alan’.

Alan was Kim’s on-off boyfriend. He also killed himself. It’s part of the narrative, his death and her death. Romeo and Juliet. But I don’t buy it. It’s too pat. Life’s too messy.

‘But he wasn’t there. Not him. Not anyone. Longing consumed her.’ I find that very Mills and Boons.

‘Maybe someone leaned over the bar to talk to her.’ Maybe they didn’t, I interject.

‘Hey, you look cute. Wanna do a line in the bathroom?’

If an Inspector called how many suspects would he find with such bland conjecture? For every ‘maybe’ or ‘possibly’ I overwrite with maybe not. When history become a made-up story then is it history? Or something else? I’m unconvinced. Life is for the living. Perhaps that is the lesson of the Jewish Shiva mourning period. Perhaps that is the lesson of religion. I’m not sure. I’m never sure. Not in the grief-stricken way that Jill Bialosky is. I’m not sure. Not sure.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole