Blink.

Identified.

Jane Doe found on November 10th 1979 was identified was identified as Tammy Jo Alexander in January 2015.

Tammy Jo died from 2 gunshot wounds, one to the head and one to the back, when she was 16 years old. A missing persons report was filed for Tammy in August 2014. She was identified using DNA taken from her half-sister, Pamela Dyson, in 2014. Although Tammy died in New York, she was originally from Florida where she lived with her mother.

We can only hope that more Jane Does are identified, that closure may be brought to their cases and if not, than at least attention should be brought to the issues that affected their lives.

There are many reports and articles online where you can find out more concerning the life and death of Tammy Jo Alexander:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Tammy_Alexander#Identification 

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tammy-jo-alexander-1979-n-y-murder-victim-idd-as-long-missing-fla-teen/

http://www.people.com/article/police-id-teenage-girl-missing-35-years-tammy-jo-alexander

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/01/30/tammy-jo-alexander-pamela-dyson-cali-missing-girl-murder/22598871/

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Day 188 – January 30th, 1994

Unlike Jane Doe 1991, Jane Doe 1994 did not die under suspicious circumstances. Therefore, her case file is sparse yet leaves much to ponder. She was estimated to be between 60 and 75 years old, though judging by her photograph I would lean towards the latter.

Her face is striking and the contortion of her mouth is so that it appears as if she’s smiling, or even laughing. Just as striking is her black and gold patterned jumper. This was an interesting detail for me because hardly any of the morgue photos show the deceased’s clothing. Despite her senior age her skin is tight on her face and her cheeks are round yet prominent.

Jane Doe died in Philadelphia. Found inside an abandoned building, she was known to neighbours by sight only. They even conjectured that she may have been an alcoholic, or mentally ill, or both as they often saw her walking, bottle in hand, talking to herself.

She wore layers of clothing, presumably to escape the cold. She was found wearing 3 jumpers, a jacket, a hat, a scarf, a nightdress, trousers, stockings, two pairs of socks and steel toe cap boots. The boots surprised me, her photo is so ladylike, the friend or neighbour of my grandmother perhaps. How cold must she have been to wear all those clothes?

Questions swirl in an unsteady stream around my mind and I’m caught between trying to piece together the story of these women’s lives and recoiling from imagining for them a lie.

I suppose that’s where art comes in. I know that Jane Doe 1994 could be any of us and I know that people should recognise that but I don’t want to dishonour their lives by writing for them a story that never was. Truth is the central tenet of Blink. There are sketch artists out there who can make these women look like they may have in life, there are writers and directors who could re-imagine these women’s lives in far more convincing ways than I can. The best way I feel I can honour them is by giving them the time and the attention of a portrait. The images, many un-lifelike  are the only true life evidence we possess to represent them. I can only hope that these portraits do not isolate them further but it is my only response for what I see before me.

 

Illustration conceived while painting Jane Doe January 30th, 1994

Day 175 – December 7th, 1991

Yes, it’s been a long time and yes, there are reasons but they’re uninteresting and irrelevant so let’s move on.

Jane Doe was found on the above date days after she was murdered. Unlike her fellow victims in Blink. her murderer was found and convicted of sexual battery. He was acquitted of her homicide. His name is Joseph Algernon Rolle Jr.

I have spent the past week painting her portrait. Her face, aged between 25 and 40 years old, is slightly perfect. The proportions, the bone structure, the lips – if it wasn’t for the grainy black and white photograph and the tight, papery quality of her skin I would swear she was just having a beauty nap. This is so difficult to write about, even more difficult to paint. I’ve had a crisis of faith of sorts in the past weeks, I lost something and it was with this and another portrait I completed this week that I forced myself to reclaim my passion.

There was no moment of clarity, no spark of inspiration I simply had to sit down and doggedly immerse myself in the work once again. I discovered that balance is impossible in Blink. I cannot delegate between the joys of daily life, of summer and then return to the immense pressure I have laid on myself with this endeavour. I am in or I am out. I’m painting 13 hours a day or 0 hours. There is no middle ground. Unhealthy, perhaps but unfortunately I have yet to find an alternative.

Every time I added another layer of paint to this canvas, every time I screwed up a section and had to restart, every time I wanted to give up I just kept repeating, ‘This woman was murdered.’ Not only was she murdered but no one has lain claim to her for almost 23 years.

Her case file tells us she had given birth to at least one child. How old is he/she? Did they know their mother? Are they still alive or do they have their own place in the unidentified persons database? The questions are endless and yet the facts surrounding her death seem quite clear.

Days after she was raped and murdered, a hiker came across her semi-naked body in the woods in Lake County, Florida. He first thought she was a mannequin. It’s possible that her brown hair with blonde tips camouflaged with the stack of tree limbs she had been temporarily buried beneath. The defence alleged the crime scene had been botched; incompetent investigators brushed debris out her multiple stab wounds after initially concluding that she’d been killed (and covered?) by a bear. Later however, after fully uncovering the posed corpse they discovered a glass bottle protruding from her neck, framed by strangulation marks. A stolen Land Rover was found nearby, the detectives working the case questioned it’s owner but later ruled him out.

Then something happened. Or more correctly, nothing happened for almost 4 years. The case lay dormant, along with Jane Doe’s identity.

February 1995 – a computer matches Joseph A. Rolle’s DNA with semen left on the victim. And suddenly Florida, and some argue, the nation was transported into the modern age of criminal justice.

Like many sex offenders, one victim was never going to be enough for Rolle. And Jane Doe probably wasn’t his first. With a charming demeanour, Rolle found no trouble in attracting women. But he had a reputation for diverging the anger of apparent ill’s in his life onto prostitutes. According to police, when things went wrong at home he picked up working girls and raped them. Of course, the case is the same now as it was then, the word of a street girl is never good enough. Perhaps if someone had listened, Jane Doe could have been spared the brutalisation she endured. In 1992, someone did listen but not to a prostitute. Holding a hacksaw to her throat to enforce compliance Rolle violently raped a woman in a friend’s home.

He was sentenced to a meagre 18 months in a state penitentiary. He served 6 months and was released to choke and forcibly rape another woman four times. He lured her with the promise of crack cocaine which indicates she may have been a sex worker and so instead of being arrested for sexual battery he was held on the lesser charge of violating his probation. A pattern has seemed to emerge in the convict’s ferocious violence. One victim reported a hacksaw being held at her throat whilst the other was choked. Meanwhile, Jane Doe gets the full package – she was strangled and stabbed in the neck with a glass bottle. Rolle had a record of other crimes ranging from drunk driving to burglary.

After his previous conviction Rolle’s genetic marker is submitted to what was then a state-wide computer database and hey presto the police have a match.

Rolle became one of the first people in the nation to be accused and convicted by a centralised DNA databank. The trial was predictable. The defence argued against the prosecution’s standard of evidence and investigation while the state attorney’s office needed little once the integrity of DNA evidence was explained to a jury who then would have known little on the subject.

The jury came back with a guilty verdict on the sexual battery but felt they could not be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that he went on to kill the victim.

Thankfully, justice would have it’s day. Unlike so many sex crimes both then and today Rolle was not under sentenced. Judge G. Richard Singeltary went above and beyond the sentencing guidelines for Rolle’s crime which was set between 12 and 40 years.

Joseph Algernon Rolle Jr. was sentenced to life in prison where he still resides.

Once again, just as outlined in my previous post, the only reason I was able to recover this information was because the perpetrator’s identity was discovered and made public. Otherwise Jane Doe’s case would only be the sum of the parts of her case file. Justice was served and yet I can’t help feeling unsatisfied. There was no family, no friends sitting on the sidelines to support and remember their loved one while her alleged killer sat comfortably with his mother and sister at his back. The survivor of the first attack for which he was convicted sat solemnly at the sentencing hearing and gave a defiant fist pump to know that she could finally move on with her life.

I hope she thought of herself as sitting in hypothetical solidarity with Jane Doe and all of Rolle’s past and potential future victims too. Jane Doe, in unknowingly sacrificing her life ensured that no more women would fall prey to the barbarity of Rolle.

An earring found with the body of Jane Doe.

 

Think Consent

These 25 case files are perforated with gaping holes. Many are still open homicides and thus law enforcement are careful to keep important details such as cause of death from the public eye. But if you’ve read them as often as I have some things become increasingly obvious.  11 of the women were found either without pants or completely unclothed (and a startling number still had their socks.) This means that in all likelihood at least 44% of the cases I’m working on were violent sex crimes and this is excluding the killers that bothered to reclothe their victims.

The psychology and cultural influences behind rape and sexual assault have long been a source of both fascination and disgust for me. After watching documentaries such as The Invisible War I felt the need to discuss the issue because unlike topics such as female role models and lack of political representation for women the growing problem of sexual violence seems to be slipping deeper and deeper from public discussion.

Feminism is most certainly a fashionable topic among twenty-something students today and so it should be. I give credit to my elder and much wiser sister for introducing me to Miss Representation which since seeing over 2 years ago I have been a proud and card carrying feminist. But it seems there is still much work to do on the world’s stage.

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The universal popularity of feminism can certainly still be called into question. 2013 was undoubtedly a year for feminist discourse – between Robin Thicke’s undeniably catchy date rape anthem and Miley Cyrus’ latex twerking debacle.  Discussion is great but the fact that we still have to argue whether a club crowd of 400 + chanting lines like ‘I know you want it’ and ‘the way you grab me/ must wanna get nasty’ has an influence on both men and women is frankly quite insane. And Thicke was just the only one brazen enough to combine explicitly derogatory and dangerous lyrics with a jingle so memorable that it became a summer sensation. Music like this is everywhere.

The trouble is that it’s not just music. It’s been estimated that adolescents are exposed to various media sources for over 10 hours each day. This means that while girls are listening to these diminishing lyrics they may be flicking through a magazine where they are told page after page, ad after ad that they should be striving to attain an inhuman epitome of beauty and that working hard and becoming self-fulfilled just isn’t enough. They take time to watch tv instead and inevitably flick to E! while presenters question whether the latest starlet is pregnant (or maybe she just had white carbs for lunch) while at the same time deplore an actress for being too thin and sending a bad message. And if they want to shop online, ASOS is there to tell them via their ‘size guide’ that their measurements should look something like a 36″ bust, 25″ waist and 36″ hips – the perfect hourglass.

Meanwhile, teenage boys are learning from various porn sites that it is simply not natural for there to be one strand of hair anywhere on a woman’s body besides her head and above her eyes. They also learn here that to be a man is throw your woman down and give absolute reign to your primal instincts – and she’ll appreciate this every single time. Maybe some boys find this a tad unrealistic? So they go and pick up one of the magazines that comes free with the Sunday paper and see an ad, oh say for Calvin Klein jeans? Or American Apparel shoes?

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This is 10 hours a day, 365 days a year and yet we still have to ask ourselves how much influence media has on both ourselves and the younger generation. The time when parents and teachers were 100% responsible for adolescents moral compass is long gone. Today, the media parents both us and our children.

The term objectification has been overused – are women seen as sex objects in the media? Undoubtedly. But more importantly they are dehumanised. Men are taught to value women only for their sexual attributes and women respond in valuing themselves this way too. The harsh reality is things are just not getting better. If you go on to IMDB, the largest public voting database for movies and televesion, among the top 20 tv shows of all time only 2 feature a female lead and these don’t even count because they’re ensemble casts. Meanwhile among the top 50 movies only 3 have a female lead. The most recent of these 3? 1994. So for over twenty years a movie lead by a female has not merited being included in the top 50.

Dehumanisation has occurred often throughout history – it’s how dictators incite genocide and how racial and religious hatred is maintained. The scary fact is that in these cases violence was dependent on the sense of there being an ‘other’ not like us but here not only are men, under the deep impression of media influence, dehumanising women but women and girls are dehumanising themselves. Instead of teen media promoting figures like Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey or Wendy Davis the female ideal is a hyper-sexualised cookie cutter image of “empowerment.” Men don’t need to rely on their sexuality to be seen as powerful so why should women?

The relevance to sex crimes? What is your immediate reaction when you hear the word ‘rapist’? Most men and women (including myself) picture a dark alley, a man in a trench coat wearing a ski mask. Or some variation. But in reality the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland reported in 2011 that 90% of perpetrators of sexual violence are known to the survivor. The even bigger problem is that a huge proportion of these men don’t think of themselves as rapists because of the simple fact that we are not teaching men and women what constitutes sexual assault. More often than not rape doesn’t necessarily involve a brutal struggle and it doesn’t have the obvious signs but not saying no does not mean yes.

We have national television adverts and school sessions dedicated to ‘Think Contraception.’ Where is the ‘Think Consent’ campaign? Does it really kill the mood that much to simply utter the words: “Do you want to do this?” 6 simple words. Unfortunately, not only is preventing rape the issue but when a survivor has the strength to come forward she is often revictimised by the judicial system. And before even coming forward she may google some things to research what she has experienced:

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It is possible that sexual assault is one of the only crimes where the victim is essentially put on trial. The bruises? She liked it rough. She flirted/danced/ kissed me. She passed out? Well she shouldn’t have drank so much, worn that dress, she was asking for it. Victim shaming is possibly the most repugnant part of the crime itself. If you leave your door unlocked accidentally and are burgled will you be asked: Did you want that to happen? If you get drunk, pass out  and wake up to find someone has stolen your bag: But you really wanted that right? And if someone leaves their DNA on you this is suddenly a different matter.

As long as we keep blaming the survivors we are both letting the perpetrators know that they can get away with it and simultaneously telling victims that their word and forensic evidence simply isn’t good enough.

Hence, the vicious circle is complete. The media conditions both men and women into accepting rape culture and when the crime is committed we are more likely to question the victim rather than the assailant. Sexual assault is both underreported and even when it is prosecution is extremely difficult. This isn’t a woman’s problem, it is a human problem. As long as one half of the population is underrepresented be it in politics or the media we will never receive a balanced view of the world. Media conglomerates simply have to be held accountable for their insidious and blatantly dangerous impact on the population as a whole because as much as we like to think of ourselves as being autonomous we are simply the sum of what we’re exposed to.

While we chastise Islamic states for using religion as an excuse to oppress women we fail to reflect on our own excuse. Sexual freedom does not equal empowerment as we are taught to believe and while Muslim men and women worship at the Mosque we switch on the television, open a magazine, log into twitter and plug in our headphones. Our altar is present it just may not be made of stone making it all encompassing and all the more powerful.

Think Consent

Join the cause at http://nomore.org/

Day 53 – Lost Threads

I’ve found it difficult to write as of late  and I explained that this can largely be attributed to my inability to put myself out there. I’ve also spoken of the importance yet striking frailty of the connections we make throughout our lives. And again with the startling and heart-breaking documentary Dreams of a Life in mind I wonder who would be the first to notice my absence?

For any of you who don’t know the film, Joyce Carol Vincent was a woman who at the age of 38 died in her London bedsit and lay there undiscovered for over three years. Director Carol Morley subsequently tried to piece together Joyce’s life through her friends and people she had known. According to all that knew her she was sociable, full of life and even met people such as Nelson Mandela and Stevie Wonder. The story of Joyce’s life and death has haunted me for well over a year now since I saw the documentary and I know of many others who were affected thus.

After watching such a film you immediately want to reach out to those closest to you, just to check in. 

The women who are a part of Blink. don’t even have those to speak up for them, they don’t have the voices that keep them alive through telling stories, reliving memories, paying tribute to them. This, surely, is the least we can ask for in death? And who would check in with you? I can rattle off a list and I’m sure you could too because in this golden age of technology and instant communication we think, we assume, that we are so safe, so acknowledged, so connected.

But connection is a double thread and if one end breaks how long will it take for the other end to feel the effect? For most of us these threads, sometimes the ones we think most solid, are stretched miles, oceans wide through the complexity of the ether and this is undoubtedly an essential part of maintaining these connections in modern times. I’m not a life coach, I can barely manage myself but it seems logical that every now and again, more often than we think necessary, our threads need to be serviced. We must reign them in so that a key pad, an iphone or a camera is no longer the catalyst for communication.

This, as all things, is easier said then done but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. We’ve all seen in one form or another how distance, how lack of face to face contact can be as sharp as a blade to any relationship as an argument or a betrayal. But there are those relationships, usually with family, or partners or very close friends that can withstand this test and even if the people don’t stay constant the relationship does.

However, take stock, real brutal stock because these exist in the handful, not the dozen. Who would you want to be the first to ask of you’re whereabouts? Who do you know that undoubtedly thinks of you on a daily basis even for a fleeting moment? And how many people would know the thread has been cut before the effect reaches them?

Women like those in Blink. and Joyce Carol Vincent fell through the cracks that we like to pretend only exist for weird people, the “others,” those who are not like us. But I’m sure each and every one of them did not foresee this as their legacy, did not think this would be the result of their life and many may have rattled off the list just like you and I. These people are not the other, this isn’t a result of them doing something wrong, it is the result of these cracks in our collective life that we assume we are impervious to. We’re not and these fractures aren’t small, they’re craters. 

 

Day 42 – Connections Part 2

The infrequency of my posts over the last few weeks has been ridiculous, but all in all there was little to report and I’d rather write nothing than to become monotonous and tiresome. There is less than three weeks left on the Fundit campaign and we still have the majority to raise yet if every reader gave 5 euro right now we could finish it today. Don’t wait because soon it will be over and those who have already contributed would have done so for nothing http://fundit.ie/project/blink .

As promised, today (8 days late I know) I am discussing the Blink. inspired painting I mentioned last time. It’s not what you’re used to from me, I know, I shelved precision and detail for texture and freedom. It took less then a day and honestly it was simply a way for me to break through the artist’s block I had been experiencing. There was no process, no forethought, no sketches. It was simply paint to canvas to deal with the relationships of some of these women. Mothers, daughters and brides. Gleaned from case files, many had been pregnant or given birth, one still wore a wedding ring and many had clearly been victims to the sex trade. So I will let the painting speak for itself and I would love to hear any thoughts you may have as there’s nothing worse than having unsupported thoughts and no dialogue when it comes to this kind of subject matter.

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Day 34 – Connections

I have to recognise the recent infrequency in posting but the details are not too interesting and more importantly quite boring.There is little less than a month left on Fundit http://fundit.ie/project/blink and still 85% to raise so don’t wait, it takes less than 2 minutes. I’m currently working on a Blink. inspired painting that I hope to share in the next 24 hours but today  I feel the need to approach one of the central themes of the project – Connections.

I often wonder how many people the average person speaks to in their entire life. There’s no way of knowing and yet it must be somewhere in the many thousands. Your mother, your partner, the woman behind the deli, the bouncer on the door, your children, the people interviewing you for a job, your doctors in the final days. It’s endless. And how many people do these people talk to?

Isn’t it possible that every last one of us is in some distant way connected to any and all of the Jane Does across the world? Less possible, more probable. How many names do we learn in a lifetime? This number is significantly less. And further, How many names do we remember on our deathbed?

Every one of these women was somebody’s daughter, sister, aunt, friend, waitress, maid, patient, boss, partner. Some were even wives and mothers. Somewhere along the way these seemingly significant connections were severed or at least ignored.

So how do we decide which connections  are worth strengthening? Every single relationship starts as a thread in a web, a word, an introduction, but when do we cast these threads in silver, gold, iron and steel? We choose to do this. We choose who enriches our life moments. Blood is liquid and genes are microscopic but those people we decide to cherish beyond all else upon a chance encounter in one moment – this is the real miracle of life. No religion, no destiny, no fate just the miracle of coincidence.

These women once had these connections and maybe some were made of heavier stuff than thread but they still somehow disintegrated. Nothing is unbreakable and death is the greatest hammer. We may never be able to forge the truly permanent connection but it is our choice of who we decide to spend the strengthening moments with that makes all the difference.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my dearest friend whose infinite ability to be my complete opposite has furnished me with some of my happiest memories and who I hope to spend countless life moments with to strengthen our relationship even more.

Day 28 – Blanche Taylor Moore

As promised, this is my portrait of Blanche Taylor Moore. Here’s a step by step process of how it came to be. First I started with sketching directly onto the canvas:

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Then I painted a light grey wash over the whole canvas and just began to outline the darker points:

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Now, more detail is added and something is slowly beginning to emerge:

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From here I take the painting in sections  (eyes, mouth, hair, etc.) so that I can see the true portrait developing. First I start with the eyes:

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Next, I moved onto the general skin tone, mouth  and neck:

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Now it’s time for hair, which I love despite being extremely tedious:

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And there you have it, obviously this is a very sparse walk through but it’s nice to track a painting from blank canvas to complete work. Due to lighting and camera issues I hope to have a good quality photo of the complete painting tomorrow.

Remember to like, comment and share as we are now at the end of our fourth week and still have a long way to go on Fundit.