With One Shot: Family Murder and a Search for Justice

With One Shot: Family Murder and a Search for Justice

by Dorothy Marcic
With One Shot: Family Murder and a Search for Justice

With One Shot: Family Murder and a Search for Justice

by Dorothy Marcic

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Overview

A woman chronicles her efforts as an amateur detective to solve the forty-four-year-old murder of her beloved uncle in this true crime memoir.

The brutal 1970 murder of LaVerne Stordock, a respected family man and former police detective, shocked his Wisconsin community. On the surface, the case seemed closed with the confession of Stordock’s wife, Suzanne. But the trail of secrets and lies that began with his death did not end with his widow’s insanity plea.

Dorothy Marcic, a playwright, theatrical producer, and university professor, couldn’t put her doubts to rest. In 2014, she embarked on a two-year mission to uncover the truth. In the bestselling tradition of Ann Rule and M. William Phelps, With One Shot weaves a spellbinding tale of unmet justice and the truth behind a shocking family tragedy.

Praise for With One Shot

“A rapid-fire, real-life thriller.” —M. William Phelps, New York Times–bestselling author of We Thought We Knew You

“A riveting, personal story of the American justice system.” —Kaylie Jones, author of Lies My Mother Never Told Me 

“A gripping tale, well worth reading.” —Lawrence M. Miller, author of The Lean Coach 

“Marcic excavates new depths of perfidy, cruelty and lies.” —Randy Cohen, former Ethicist for The New York Times

“A compelling read about a true family murder mystery marked by intrigue, betrayal and injustice. ”—Leslie J. Mann, assistant prosecutor, Essex County, New Jersey

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806538563
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/27/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 384
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Dr. Dorothy Marcic is a playwright whose productions have played in over seventy cities, including over six years of her Off-Broadway musical, SISTAS, which has also aired on BET-TV. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and a former professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Econ-Prague, has three masters and a doctorate, and is the author of fifteen books, including the bestsellers Understanding Management and RESPECT: Women and Popular Music. Dorothy has appeared on C-SPAN, CMT, and Bravo Network. Her website is www.drdorothy.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Metamorphosis

When the call came February 11, 2014, I was sitting in my New York City apartment and there was no way I could have known this conversation would change the course of my life for the next three years, nor that I would have an opportunity to use all the research skills I had honed over many years as a university professor and the writer of over fifteen books.

"I found them," my cousin Shannon said breathlessly from Eugene, Oregon. She and her husband had moved out there some years after Shannon's father was killed, and I could almost see her with her graying hair and showing a few more pounds than when we were younger.

I immediately knew who she was talking about. For the past decade every conversation Shannon and I had included our failed attempts at finding out anything about Suzanne, "that tramp," as my grandmother used to call her. The woman who broke up the marriage of Shannon's parents. Suzanne, who'd already had three marriages and three children (one from each of those husbands) when she met my uncle, Vernie Stordock. They began an adulterous affair, which resulted in his murder seven years later. Suzanne confessed, but my family always had doubts.

After he took up with Suzanne, I felt I was on one of those old Twilight Zone episodes where you wake up one day and the person you're in bed with isn't your spouse, but says he is. Uncle Vernie had been tall and handsome, with a neat crew cut, but had become pudgy and wan after being with Suzanne; this man had always been the jokester, always teasing and trying to get a rise out of someone; the husband who loved his wife and doted on his daughter suddenly became obsessed with this woman he called "Sue." He left his wife as if in a drugged stupor. Maybe the aliens had come with a pod and replaced the real Uncle Vernie.

I was only fourteen when I first met Suzanne in 1963 and didn't really understand what was going on with their affair. Nor could have I predicted Vern's obsession would end in his murder one dark, cold night seven years later.

After his death we lost contact with Suzanne and her three kids, the youngest of whom Vernie had adopted. Though Suzanne had confessed to the murder, there were rumors for years that her older son, David, had actually killed Vernie that night. The other two children were not in the house when it happened.

* * *

My uncle, La Verne Gerald Stordock, had worked his whole life in law enforcement — twenty years as a police officer, then as a sergeant and later captain in Beloit, Wisconsin, where he retired as Captain in 1962.

He was the youngest of five children in a dirt-poor family with an alcoholic father and a mother who was forced to raise their kids alone during the Depression, bringing home scraps of food from her job as a cook at Beloit College. None of them went to college.

As soon as he was able, on his seventeenth birthday in 1943, Vernie enlisted in the navy and served during World War II, and probably quickly understood his skills lay in keeping order in society. After the war he joined the Beloit Police Department in 1948. Shannon told me, "He was recalled in September 1950 for the Korean Conflict. He was sent to Japan and served in the Okinawa Shore Patrol, because of his police experience. I remember him leaving on the train from Beloit and remember him coming home to the Great Lakes Naval Station in July 1952."

In the police department he was promoted to sergeant and later captain. After his work with the Beloit Police ended in 1962, he sat for a very demanding test and was one of only five who passed it. He was hired as a chief investigator for the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office, and later as an investigator for the Wisconsin State Medical Examiner's Board. According to newspapers, Vernie "played a prominent role" in one of his final cases, which involved a Dr. Milton Margoles, a Milwaukee physician who had been convicted in 1963 of tax evasion and obstruction of justice when he tried to bribe a judge and spent two years in prison. Margoles was attempting to get his license back and felt so strongly that the state medical examiner agents caused "public humiliation, public ridicule, scorn and derision" that he filed a $50 million lawsuit, with Vernie as one of the people named. But by the time the lawsuit went to court, Vernie was dead.

Vernie had worked undercover during the Korean War, when he was a narcotics agent in Japan. Later with the attorney general (AG), he worked on some high-profile cases of racketeering in the mob, prostitution, and drug dealing. Because of the corruption and crime he uncovered, he received death threats.

He also had a creative side. During his last years in Beloit, he was host of a weekend radio program, The Gerry Shannon Show, a combination of his middle name and his only daughter's name, Shannon. Because of his media work and his later high-profile status in law enforcement, he was well known in the region. The day after his murder, twelve newspapers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota carried twenty-six different articles about the crime. And many of them kept reporting on updates for over two years.

* * *

About ten years ago, Shannon and I both became obsessed to find out what happened to Sue and her family. Maybe it was our moving toward senior citizen status, or the fact that our children had grown up and we had time to focus on other family needs. And perhaps it was also the realization that Suzanne's family members were getting older, so time was passing us by.

Shannon and I proved to be good sleuths. We were motivated, adept at problem solving and conflict management. But in those early years of our investigation, Shannon and I unearthed nothing substantial in our search for Sue's family. Do you know how many people named David Briggs there are in the United States? We looked for Louisa (pseudonym), Suzanne's daughter from her first marriage, who was away at college the night of the murder, but that name yielded an overwhelming number of hits. Suzanne Stordock as an identity had evaporated, so we looked for her previous legal name, Suzanne Briggs. No person showed up whose age matched hers. During the searches Shannon learned that the youngest son, the one my uncle had adopted, had killed himself in 1992.

In 2006, after attending a friend's funeral in Madison, I drove my rental car out to Oregon and found "the Mansion." Luckily, the husband of the family was in the backyard and seemed willing to talk to me and remembered being in Oregon in 1970. He was tall and thin, with neatly combed brown hair, and was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt while he tended some flowers. He said no one in town had talked much about the murder. I found it strange that in a small village of five thousand, the high-profile killing of one of its residents had not been the subject of gossip. Or was he just reluctant to talk about that violent stain on the fabric of quiet, peaceful Oregon? He gave me the names of the people who had lived in the house previously, and Shannon called them later on, but they claimed ignorance, too.

On that bright summer day in 2006, I got in my car and drove the ten blocks to the Oregon Police Station, where I imagined they kept archival data. For about fifteen minutes I sat in my car, immobilized, as I stared at the dark redbrick building with the two large glass doors. Why couldn't I go inside? Was I afraid some man would tell me it wasn't my business? Finally I climbed out and walked toward the entrance. I felt the stainless-steel door handle under my hand. It was the kind with grooves, to help you grip it. Maybe I could find some answers here. Perhaps they had records I could look at.

But as I began to pull the door open, something inside me collapsed. How could any good come from my walking into that building? After all, who was I to question officers of the law, or at least those charged with safekeeping their reports?

This incident is indicative of my whole family's underwhelming reaction to what we always felt was a miscarriage of justice. My family members were poor but honorable folk, and if you look at the level of civic engagement of such people, it is shockingly low. And so on that sunny day I drove back to Madison. It would be another eight years before I found my own internal strength about the murder and understood the power I had to ask for legal documents.

By 2014, Shannon and I were getting desperate. Suzanne was getting older, eighty-five by now, and any chances of asking questions could disappear suddenly. We were grateful that the Internet was carrying more and more information each month. But time was running out!

The ticking clock really motivated Shannon. She started by locating the Find A Grave website, and she looked for the younger son's resting place. That's when she discovered Suzanne had gone back to her birth name, Suzanne Brandon, something that now seems so obvious, but we hadn't even thought of before. Shannon's pursuit also unearthed Suzanne's location and her daughter Louisa's current name.

"They all live northeast of Chattanooga in Tennessee," Shannon said on that February 2014 call, with triumph in her voice.

I asked what she meant by "all," and she told me that Suzanne, her daughter, Louisa, and Louisa's husband, all lived on a farm, with Suzanne's son David a couple of towns away. How could it be possible that I too had lived in Tennessee, for fifteen years before moving to New York, and didn't even know they were in the same state? Had they been there a long time?

Shannon didn't know. She gave me their phone number. I had spent many weekends at my uncle's house while I was a student at the University of Wisconsin, so I had more familiarity with Suzanne's family.

"Dorothy, call them. We have to find out what really happened," Shannon said with an urgency in her voice I had never heard before. Here was reality giving us its own selfie. After talking about Suzanne's family for decades, we finally had the opportunity to see them. Moving from theory to practice was daunting. My heart beat fast as my stomach churned around as if I had just jumped off a whirling carousel.

"Okay," I said with a mix of trepidation and exultation, "I'll fly to Tennessee and drive the four hours to go see them."

"I can't ask you to do that," Shannon said.

"Someone has to find out, in person, what happened."

"But it's dangerous."

"They haven't done anything in, what, forty years?"

"That we know of," she said again, soberly. "And don't forget, one of them murdered my father."

But which one? That was the mystery to solve. Shannon agreed. We both desperately wanted to know.

"I am the only person in the entire world who can go to that family and ask questions. There's nobody outside of our family who cares much about getting answers, and I'm the only one of us who spent endless weekends at the house in Oregon with your father and Suzanne and the kids, and I'm the only one who had contact with her after the shooting."

And by "the shooting," I meant what happened March 1, 1970, when Suzanne — or was it David? — murdered Vernie shortly after 2:00 A.M. Just like everyone old enough remembers where they were when President Kennedy was shot, I remember that day quite precisely.

* * *

That Sunday morning I was asleep at my grandmother's house in Beloit, Wisconsin, visiting from college in Madison. Around 5:30 A.M. there was a loud knocking on the front door. At first, I thought it was part of a dream. After all, it was a surreal time between the darkest night and the first light of dawn. I stumbled out of bed, hugging my arms tight to keep warm as I went to the door. Was that my mother and uncle standing outside? Or was I in that winter hallucination that can overcome even the hardiest soul in such arctic weather? If I had been more alert, I might have noticed the wad of tissue stuffed in my mother's hand and how she was biting her bottom lip.

When I think back to that day, I remember my tall and substantial mother being dressed in her church clothes and hat, but now I realize how memory can cloud reality. Because they had to drive the 62.7 miles over icy roads, she couldn't possibly have taken time for such elegance. She must have been wearing her brown slacks, worn at the knees, navy wool overcoat, which was two sizes too big from when she lost the weight, and her beige knit scarf, which was starting to pill. As a younger man, my uncle had been lanky, with blond hair, but now in his forties had more girth and gray hair. His eyes were narrow. My mother's were puffy and red, with her hair not combed, but sticking out in bunches in a short roller cut. They quietly marched across the linoleumed floor into the kitchen and sat down at the round maple table covered with red-gingham oilcloth. By this time my grandmother was up. It was clear looking at her and her children that my grandfather must have towered over her, as she was so much shorter than her offspring. She sat down on one of the four captain's chairs and looked expectantly at her children. This wasn't the first time she'd had bad news, so she was prepared.

"Vernie's gone," Mama blurted out as she let go with a gush of tears. My uncle was crying, too, a hankie to his eyes. I don't think I'd ever seen him cry before. Not this retired army sergeant who'd traveled the world working on important international assignments. Grandma just sat there in her robin-blue robe and slippers, staring out through the kitchen door to the covered porch, her white hair matted down from sleep.

My grandmother was seventy-seven years old. She had left Norway at age fifteen to make a new life in America and had never seen her own mother again. Her father had died before she was born. Now there was more loss. This was the third of five children dead, plus her husband and a grandson. I've had many years to wonder how she held up through all of that grief.

Her only remaining son took a break from his tears and continued. "Vernie and Suzanne were out drinking. Fighting in the bar. They got home and — the sheriff said — Suzanne shot him at two this morning." Because Uncle Vernie had been a police officer before the scandal, he kept guns around.

"His birthday was just last week. Forty-four," Grandma said quietly. She had found her voice. "Never shoulda married that tramp." Grandma got up and automatically walked toward the counter to make coffee for everyone. "I told Jenylle [his first wife], 'Don't give him a divorce. You've got Shannon to think about. He'll get tired of Suzanne and come back around.' Instead, he married that lowlife and started drinking himself to death." Such was the narrative I had heard many times in the past seven years, during which time Uncle Vernie had resigned in disgrace as Captain following his affair with Suzanne, who'd already had three husbands and three divorces.

I remembered the many weekends Uncle Vernie insisted I visit them, which were more frequent that first year of college, from 1966 to 1967. He'd pick me up in Madison and drive me the thirty minutes to Oregon to spend time with the family, which included Suzanne's three children. He and Suzanne drank like dehydrated desert inhabitants. My family had a lot of alcoholics, people who needed piped-in beer as accessible as city water, so I was accustomed to excessive alcohol consumption. But even I thought Vernie and Suzanne were extreme. Then they'd fight loudly with name-calling and arguments, but afterward make up with the same intensity with which they'd fought. I remember riding in the car with them in the days before seat belts, sitting on the front right side, with Suzanne in the middle. Suzanne would slide up so close to Vernie, you'd think they were soldered together. Her left hand would sit on his right leg, way too close to his crotch area for me to be able to even look at it. How can you even make small talk when this woman is fondling your uncle's genitals? I was embarrassed more than once when Suzanne would announce she was withholding sex from Vernie until he did what she wanted. It wasn't until I got deep into this research that I started to understand what behavioral changes she wanted from him.

It was such a contrast from the quiet and peaceful life he had shared in Beloit with the elegant and stately Jenylle and their daughter, Shannon, who was cute, with long, wavy brown hair and filled with enormous energy and smiles. Whereas Suzanne knew how to mix the perfect drink, Jenylle was known for her aromatic breads and tidy home. Vernie didn't drink much when he was with Jenylle.

My own family included a teetotaler father, which might sound positive compared to others in my tribe, but my father was a gambling addict, always sure the next bet would bring overflowing rewards and would spend our rent money on the next "sure thing," which, of course, was anything but sure.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "With One Shot"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Dorothy Marcic.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Praise for With One Shot,
Title Page,
Copyright Page,
Dedication,
AUTHOR'S NOTE,
Epigraph,
Prologue—Why I Still Cry,
CHAPTER ONE - Metamorphosis,
CHAPTER TWO - The Visit,
CHAPTER THREE - David's Communications,
CHAPTER FOUR - Suzanne's Strategy,
CHAPTER FIVE - A New Family Member—Dealing with the Unexpected,
CHAPTER SIX - Organizational Chart #1,
CHAPTER SEVEN - Shannon's Road Trips,
CHAPTER EIGHT - Another Death and More Planning,
CHAPTER NINE - Jenylle and Change,
CHAPTER TEN - The Rest of the Family,
CHAPTER ELEVEN - Louisa's Courage,
CHAPTER TWELVE - The Law and Openness to Learning,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - David and Connections,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - Court Transcripts,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Family, Once-Removed,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - Franklin, with Key Information,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - The District Attorney, Lawyers, Judges, and Sheriff,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - Asking Questions with Suzanne,
CHAPTER NINETEEN - Finding the Old Friends,
CHAPTER TWENTY - A Trip to the Bountiful Oregon,
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE - Jocelyn Revisited,
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO - An Unexpected Call,
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE - Forensic Files—An Information System,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR - Forensic Files and Ethical Matters,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE - Police Reports,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX - From the Doctor and Psychiatrists,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN - Is She a Psychopath?,
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT - Final Thoughts on Cigarette Burns and Marriage Licenses,
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE - Careers and Money,
CHAPTER THIRTY - Danny, the Other Heir,
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE - Munchausen or Serial Killer?,
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO - Was She an Abused Wife?,
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE - Forensic Experts,
CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR - If She Did Have a Psychotic Break,
CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE - Why'd She Do It?,
CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX - One Possible Scenario,
CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN - Hindsight of the Sheriff, et al.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT - Good-bye, Jenylle,
CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE - Suzanne's Last Curtain Call,
CHAPTER FORTY - The Police Badge,
CHAPTER FORTY-ONE - Thoughts on Complicity and Redemption,
SOURCES,
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,
Notes,

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