Dreams of Ada

( 10 )

Overview

The true, bewildering story of a young woman’s disappearance, the nightmare of a small town obsessed with delivering justice, and the bizarre dream of a poor, uneducated man accused of murder—a case that chillingly parallels the one, occurring in the very same town, chronicled by John Grisham in The Innocent Man.

On April 28, 1984, Denice Haraway disappeared from her job at a convenience store on the outskirts of Ada, Oklahoma, and the sleepy town erupted. Tales spread of rape, ...

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Overview

The true, bewildering story of a young woman’s disappearance, the nightmare of a small town obsessed with delivering justice, and the bizarre dream of a poor, uneducated man accused of murder—a case that chillingly parallels the one, occurring in the very same town, chronicled by John Grisham in The Innocent Man.

On April 28, 1984, Denice Haraway disappeared from her job at a convenience store on the outskirts of Ada, Oklahoma, and the sleepy town erupted. Tales spread of rape, mutilation, and murder, and the police set out on a relentless mission to bring someone to justice. Six months later, two local men—Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot—were arrested and brought to trial, even though they repudiated their “confessions,” no body had been found, no weapon had been produced, and no eyewitnesses had come forward. The Dreams of Ada is a story of politics and morality, of fear and obsession. It is also a moving, compelling portrait of one small town living through a nightmare.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
There was no body; no forensic evidence; no murder weapon; no eyewitness; but Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot were still accused and convicted of raping and murdering Denice Haraway. The disappearance of the 24-year-old convenience store clerk had sent the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, into an emotional swirl. In the rush to solve the case, police latched on to a naïve suspect who confided that he had experienced a violent nightmare. This confidence mushroomed into a purported "confession" that eventually put two men on death row. Robert Mayer's The Dreams of Ada places readers in a whodunit where real lives hang in the balance.
From the Publisher
“A work of quiet brilliance . . . Like Capote and Mailer before him, Mayer compiles his details with a reporter’s skill and arranges them with a novelist’s arrogance.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Ranks with the best . . . Clearly, thoroughly, and deftly written.” —Santa Fe Reporter

“A compelling, marvelously detailed picture of justice in a small, scared town.” —Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767926898
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/24/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 556,877
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Read an Excerpt

1

DISAPPEARANCE

Half a block from Main Street in Ada, Oklahoma, less than fifty yards from the railroad tracks, stands a small white building that looks like a garage. Beside it on a metal pole is a black-and-white wooden sign, the letters faded, that says: PECAN CRACKER. Ada is, among other things, pecan country; on the outskirts are commercial pecan orchards; in the grassy yards of many houses are one or more pecan trees. In the fall, when the pecans are ripe, the adults knock them off the trees with long poles. The children gather the fallen ones from the ground. The nuts not intended for commercial use are taken to the pecan cracker. There, in the small white building, the pecans are dumped into the funnel-like tops of machines.

One by one the hard pecans fall into moving gears. The top set of gears cracks open the largest pecans. Smaller pecans fall through, untouched, to another set of gears. These mesh closer and crack apart the smaller pecans. Still some escape and fall again: to another set of gears. These gears mesh tighter still; like steel claws they crack apart even the smallest pecans. Few pecans are too small, few shells too hard, to be cracked and broken, and to tumble in pieces into unmarked paper sacks.

Ada (pronounced Aid-a) is a city of about 17,000 people, the county seat of Pontotoc County, ninety miles southeast of Oklahoma City. Well-known to crossword-puzzle addicts (“city in Oklahoma, three letters”), it was named after a dark-haired girl, Ada Reed, daughter of the town's founder, back when Oklahoma was Indian Territory. In a rural area of farms, rolling hills, thick woodlands, it is a small industrial hub.

This is quarter-horse country, where horses bred for quick bursts of speed are sold at periodic auctions. It is oil country, with scores of pumps grazing like metal horses in every direction. Oil money built most of the magnificent mansions on upper-crust Kings Road. It is also a factory town. The gray turrets of the Evergreen feed mill tower only a block from Main Street like the superstructure of a battleship. The Brockway factory, a few blocks away, forges 1.3 million bottles and jars a day for Coke, Pepsi, and Gerber Baby Foods, among others. Blue Bell jeans employs 175 local women to sew 45,000 pairs of Wranglers and Rustlers a week. Ideal cement is produced in the town, as are Solo plastic cups. The Burlington Northern Railroad track slices diagonally across Main Street, several freights a day shrieking to a halt in the innards of the feed mill.

Main Street dead-ends into East Central University, which makes Ada the modest cultural hub of the area. But Ada is perhaps most of all a religious town, mainly Baptist, where you can’t buy a mixed drink without an annual “club” membership. There are fifty churches in the town (forty-nine Protestant, one Catholic) and four movie screens.

On Saturday night, April 28, 1984, a few minutes after 8:30, just a few hours before the town would spring its clocks forward to daylight saving time, a car and a pickup truck pulled into the parking lot of McAnally’s, a convenience store that stands almost alone out on the highway at the eastern end of town. The car was being driven by Lenny Timmons, twenty-five years old, an X-ray technician. Beside him was his brother David, seventeen, a high school student. Both lived in Moore, Oklahoma, ninety miles away. Driving the pickup truck that pulled in with them was their uncle, Gene Whelchel, who lived just east of Ada, in a village called Love Lady. They were planning to play poker that evening, and they needed some change.

Lenny Timmons cut the engine and the lights of his car. Gene Whelchel did the same in his pickup. The night was dark already; the area around the two gas pumps in front of the store was illuminated by fluorescent lights. So, too, was the inside of the store, which they could see through the glass double doors, and through a plate-glass window. An old-model pickup truck was parked crosswise in front of the store, near an ice machine.

Lenny Timmons, tall and slim, with a neatly trimmed dark beard, got out of the car and walked toward the store. His brother remained in the car. Gene Whelchel, in his truck, puffed on a cigarette. As Timmons entered the store, he passed in the double doorway a young couple, who were leaving. The woman came out first, the man right behind her.

David Timmons, waiting in the car, saw the couple emerge from the store and walk toward the pickup. He noticed the man’s arm around the woman's waist. Gene Whelchel also glanced their way. They seemed to him like a pair of young lovers. The couple walked to the passenger side of the truck. The young man opened the door. The woman climbed in, and then the man beside her. After a few seconds the engine started, and the pickup drove off. Gene Whelchel puffed on his cigarette. David Timmons waited.

The inside of the store was bright to his eyes as Lenny Timmons entered. The shelves, lined up parallel to the entrance, were stacked with candy bars, paper products, cold remedies, tampons. In the glass-enclosed refrigerators were milk, soda pop, juice. Timmons, needing only change, saw the cash register and the checkout counter to his left. He approached the counter and waited for the clerk. There was none in sight. As he waited, he noticed, idly, an open beer can on the counter, a cigarette burning in an ashtray. Behind the counter he could see an open school book, a brown handbag.

A minute passed, perhaps two. The clerk did not appear. Timmons glanced impatiently among the rows of shelves. Perhaps the clerk was in the beer cooler, he thought, or in the rest room. He waited.

Growing more impatient, he went to the front door and opened and closed it several times. Each time he opened it a buzzer went off, a signal to the clerk on duty that someone had entered the store. There was no response.

He looked behind the counter. The drawer of the cash register was open. The money slots were empty, except for some coins.

Gene Whelchel looked at his watch. It was 8:40. He wondered what was taking Lenny so long. Then Timmons hurried out of the store, approached the pickup. He told his uncle, then his brother, that something was wrong. The three of them entered the store. They looked around, checked the walk-in cooler, the bathrooms. They could find no clerk. They were careful not to touch anything. There was a telephone on a wall of the store. They called the police.

Ada police headquarters is in the City Hall, a modern one-story brick building with basement offices, on Townsend Street. A young officer, Kyle Gibbs, was manning the dispatch unit that night. He took the call about a robbery at McAnally’s, jotted down the information. One of the officers on patrol duty was Sergeant Harvey Phillips, a tall, dark-haired, rugged-looking cop, fifteen years on the force. Gibbs dispatched Sergeant Phillips to what he assumed was the scene of the reported robbery—the McAnally's convenience store out on North Broadway, at the sparsely populated northern edge of town. Sergeant Phillips folded his long frame into a squad car, pistol secure in the holster on his hip, and headed out that way, crossing Main, passing the looming gray feed mill with a red warning light at its highest point, bumping over the railroad tracks as he did, passing the stores on Broadway, closed for the evening, crossing Fourth Street, speeding north toward where Broadway becomes one of the highways into town. Toward McAnally’s.

Moments after Sergeant Phillips sped away, Kyle Gibbs had second thoughts. McAnally’s is a small chain of convenience stores in the region. There are three in Ada: one out on North Broadway, one out on East Arlington, one close to downtown at Fourteenth and Mississippi. The caller hadn't said which one he was calling from. Gibbs telephoned the store on North Broadway, to make sure he had sent the patrol car to the right place.

No, the clerk at North Broadway said. There had been no robbery there. No trouble at all.

The dispatcher hung up. The robbery wouldn't have been downtown. The caller had said something about a highway. Gibbs radioed new instructions to Sergeant Phillips, who was just reaching Richardson Loop and North Broadway. Phillips swung the squad car around, headed east instead of north. He reached the scene of the robbery—the McAnally's out on East Arlington Boulevard—about ten minutes after leaving headquarters, about twice the time a direct route would have taken.

In a suburban-style house seven miles south of town, surrounded by two acres of lawn and a swimming pool, Detective Captain Dennis Smith of the Ada police force was at home with his wife, Sandi. They were planning to go to bed early, because they had to get up early the next morning. Though a veteran of eighteen years on the police force, the detective supplemented his income with a paper route. Every morning, seven days a week, he and Sandi, who worked as a building inspector for the city, started their day by driving around town delivering 650 copies of the Daily Oklahoman, out of Oklahoma City, the largest newspaper in the state. Sandi would drive the family car while the detective, a stocky, sturdily built man, bald almost in the manner of television's Kojak, hurled the rolled-up newspapers onto the lawns of subscribers. Getting up early wasn’t fun; tonight, because the clocks would be moved forward, they would get even less sleep than usual.

Tricia Wolf was at home that night, with her husband, Bud, and their three young children, in a graying frame house at 804 West Ninth Street, in a working-class section of town. After supper they watched television in the small, veneer-paneled living room dominated by a four-foot-high oil painting of Jesus; the painting had been done by Bud’s father, C. L. Wolf, an electrician and amateur artist; it was one of their proudest possessions. The children—Rhonda, nine; Buddy, six; and Laura Sue, five—took turns taking their Saturday-night baths, getting help from Bud or Tricia with their hair. It was a weekly ritual, so they would be fresh-scrubbed for church in the morning.

In one of the town’s better restaurants, District Attorney Bill Peterson and his wife, Dean, were enjoying a meal out. This was somewhat unusual; they generally preferred to spend their evenings at home. It was not for lack of money. Bill Peterson’s grandfather, P. A. Norris, had been one of the wealthiest men in the region, had owned the First National Bank on Main Street, had donated the land for the football stadium at the college, which bears his name: Norris Field. Some of this wealth had been passed along to his grandson, William Norris Peterson. But this night was special: April 28 was Mrs. Peterson’s birthday.

Don Wyatt, in his large, comfortable house on Mayfair Way, had much on his mind that night. He was one of the town's leading attorneys, was getting wealthy by winning a lot of accident and personal-injury cases for the people of the area against insurance companies, and had been planning to expand his staff. But on February 9, his offices in a building he owned on Main Street had burned. Thousands of files had been scorched or destroyed. For weeks the staff had been trying to reconstruct them, working in small rented offices on Twelfth Street, while Wyatt bought a plot of land out on Arlington Boulevard, and personally designed a lavish new office building, and watched impatiently, hauling away the trash himself on weekends, as the spacious new building began to take shape. It was both a frustrating and a forward-looking time.

In a small apartment downtown at Fourteenth and Rennie, above his father’s dental practice, Steve Haraway was looking ahead, too. Though in his mid-twenties, he was a senior at the local college, having taken a couple of years off to work. He was due to graduate in less than a month. His pretty bride of eight months, Denice, was also a senior, would finish up in August. Both were working their way through school. Denice had been student teaching; they’d talked about possibly moving to Tulsa or Oklahoma City after graduation.

Steve had gone to work at 10:30 that morning at the We-Pak-Um convenience store on Arlington. When he got off work around seven, he went home to the apartment to study for final exams. He expected Denice, a clerk at McAnally’s, home from her job around eleven.

The red, white, and blue lights atop his navy blue squad car were revolving as Sergeant Phillips swung to his right off the highway, at the very spot where four-lane Arlington Boulevard narrowed to a two-lane road out into the countryside, and pulled up in front of the store. The light flickered across his face as he unbent from the car and strode, long–legged, toward the door. The Timmons brothers and Gene Whelchel were waiting. They showed him the open and nearly empty cash drawer, described the light–colored, old-model pickup they had seen. They told him that on leaving it had headed east, away from town. Phillips returned to the squad car, radioed a description of the pickup to Kyle Gibbs at headquarters. It went out over the police frequency. In Ada, the police, the sheriff's department, the highway patrol, and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation all use the same frequency, which is changed periodically. Any law enforcement officer in the area who had his radio on would hear the description, could give chase if he happened to see the pickup. The people in it would be wanted for questioning in the apparent robbery of McAnally’s.

Other people could hear it, too. Many Ada residents have scanners in their homes. They can be useful in times of emergency—to keep track of tornado warnings in the area. They can also be cheap entertainment on a quiet evening if there is nothing good on television.

When he’d sent out the description, Sergeant Phillips went to look for the clerk. He saw a car, a 1969 Pontiac Sunbird, parked beside the building. There was no one in it. He checked the bathrooms and the cooler. There was no one in them. In the store he talked again with Whelchel, who told him of the couple they’d seen. Phillips picked up the brown purse behind the counter, looked inside it. He pulled out a driver’s license. It had a picture on it, of an attractive young woman with dark blond hair. At first, sitting in his pickup truck watching the couple leave, Gene Whelchel had not made a connection. Now, knowing the clerk was missing, he did. He lived out this way; he used to stop in the store fairly often, would chat sometimes with the clerk while making his purchases. The woman they'd seen leaving, he told Phillips, was the clerk.

The name on the driver's license was Donna Denice Haraway.

Sergeant Phillips returned to the squad car. He sent out her name and description. The store manager, Monroe Atkeson, who lived nearby, was called. He arrived in a few minutes. He was told what had transpired by Phillips and by Whelchel, whom he knew slightly; they had gone to school together.

Atkeson locked the front door, closing the store for the evening, though closing time on Saturdays was eleven. He checked the tape on the cash register, and counted up the money on hand. There was $500 in a locked safe. There was $400 under the counter, ready to be put in the safe. There was $150 under the cash drawer. He estimated from the tape that the amount of money missing from the bill slots in the drawer was $167. The last item rung up on the tape was for 75 cents. His best guess was that that was for the can of beer now sitting open on the counter.

As the men waited for a detective to arrive, the manager put the money away, closed the cash register. He tossed the beer can into the trash. He emptied the ashtray with a single butt in it, so the store would be clean and ready for business when it opened the following morning.

Nobody stopped him. Nobody gave a thought to fingerprints.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2007

    Super Book!

    I read this book after reading John Grisham's, The Innocent Man, and I thought it was well-written and made me want to be in Oklahoma when this trial took place. I really want to know what happened to Tommy Ward After 1987- he needs to be out of prison, is he??????

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2007

    AWESOME READ!!!!!!!!!

    I was apprehensive about reading this even though Grisham recommended it but I loved it. It's hard to put down. I'm a HUGE Grisham fan and I liked this better than The Innocent Man.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2007

    Great True Life Crime

    This was a great book to read. I was astonished at how much the law enforcements could alter and 'adjust' the crime to fit their needs. I am from Oklahoma and it fits other things that I have heard from people that I know that live in Ada. It is well written. Too bad that the same crime happened twice (or possibly more than that)there in that town. This is an excellent read. Couldn't put it down.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2006

    Grisham Is Right!

    John Grisham mentions this book seven times in 'The Innocent Man.' Elsewhere he calls it 'an astounding book, a great example of true crime writing.' He's right on. The book takes place, like Grisham's in the small town of Ada, OK. The same cops, the same prosecutors, the same snitch, put two other innocent men in prison -- and they are still there after 22 years. This is as good as the old pro's. Read it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    Interesting Book

    A very sad but true to life story that needs to told. Peterson who is a bad prosecutor is retired but his legacy will live on as to how he has destroyed innocent lives. He may blame in on the cops or the investigators but he is the gate keeper of justice.
    He sued several authors for writing books about his misconduct and has lost. Peterson is the loser.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very interesting.

    If you read John Grisham's Innocent Man than this book will make sense since Grisham touches on the characters in Innocent Man. It is a slow read in the beginning but gets better toward the end. Worth the read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 1, 2011

    !

    Tommy ward is still in prison.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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