Saturday, May 26, 1984

The Jedi homicide

Our courts reporter covered this trial, but the circumstances were so bizarre and the details so rich that the metropolitan editor, Bob Samsot, assigned me to write a reconstruction of the case after the verdict was in. Early on, I got the cooperation of the killer's father, which gave me great access to the son's bedroom and drawings, windows into his disturbed mind. The dead boy's parents also opened up to me, eager to show what a talented young man he had been. And the investigating detectives opened up their thick case file.

What made the story eerier was my realization, about halfway through the reporting, that I actually had met the murder victim a year earlier when covering the opening of one of the Star Wars movies in suburban Kansas City. I went out to write about the rabid young fans who waited days in line for the first screening, and the most rabid fan out there was this immature looking guy in a Beatles haircut and an old Army jacket bedecked with sci-fi movie trinkets. Ralph Cochran.

We didn't have a Sunday magazine at the Kansas City Times, but the paper would sometimes run long stories on Saturdays in a full-page format. That's how this story appeared. I'll never forget eating a late breakfast in a restaurant that Saturday morning and all around me, people were opening their paper and getting absorbed in the story. It was one of the most exciting moments I've had as a writer.

I was further honored when the story was reprinted in the book, Best Newspaper Writing of 1985.

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