No Justice: To Karla on her 40th Birthday
March 20, 2010. Karla would have been 40 today, had her life not been cut short by a despicable coward in a senseless act of revenge. Karla was the beautiful, blond haired daughter of my Aunt Lily Shuster, (Pauline’s daughter), and my uncle, Carlos Meleg, and the older sister of Ethan.
Karla and Ethan grew up in Kingsville, Ontario, a small, rural town known as the Southern Most Town in Canada. Nestled on the banks of Lake Erie, it’s an old Victorian town surrounded by lush farmer’s fields that seem to stretch endlessly into the horizon. As teenagers, both Karla and Ethan endured the coming of age summer job of de-tassling corn by hand; it was the parents’ way of ensuring that their children pursued higher education after high school, I suspect.
Karla was a bubbly, fun-loving kid who excelled at sports, especially swimming, and I remember visiting her one sunny summer day in the late 1980’s when she was a lifeguard at the beach in Point Pelee National Park. As she strutted happily down the sand in her bathing suit to greet us, flowing curly locks and dark tan, every pair of eyes on the beach was fixated on her.
You couldn’t help but feel happy in the presence of Karla. She was full of mischief, and when she smiled, her eyes smiled too – she had magnificent dancing and sparkling eyes. Her mom, Aunt Lily has those eyes, Grandma Pauline had those eyes, and so does Ethan, and my dad. They make your heart melt.
After high school, Karla flitted around somewhat, not quite sure what to do with her life. She worked at some mundane jobs, and then almost on a whim, decided one day to move to southern Florida, a place she had once fallen in love with during spring break. She settled in Boca Raton, the tony neighborhood just north of Miami, and quickly landed a job as a nanny.
She would go out to the clubs, made friends easily and was of course popular. She dated a few men and then one day struck up a conversation with a young Englishman at a bar. He was quick witted and charming, and Karla, who always saw the good in everyone, was soon dating him. He worked in construction, and was close to the owner of the small construction company.
Not happy with her nanny job, she quit after a few months, and took on another, this time with an executive of Estee Lauder, her lawyer husband and two beautiful young daughters. The house was in a gated community, and Karla moved into her own suite in the home. She loved the two girls, and was less fond of the parents, especially the mother who was often working late and was somewhat aloof and unfriendly towards Karla.
Karla and her Englishman boyfriend had a rocky relationship. His temper and attempts to control Karla turned her off, and she soon called it quits. He was not happy with her decision and angrily, he returned home to England.
In the spring of 1993, Karla called me. She was thinking about a career in nursing, and about moving back to Ontario to pursue her education. Nick and I were living in Newport News, Virginia, and Nick was in the Navy. Karla had met someone new, a Navy boy named John Harrison, and she was also full of questions about military life as a spouse, and what it was like to live in Virginia. I cautioned her to be careful and not rush into anything (like I was a good role model ), but Karla brushed my words of advice aside as most young girls in love would probably do.
The hot Miami summer wore on, and Karla’s English ex caught wind of her relationship with John. He started to call her and to try to win her back, and then started being nasty and leaving threatening messages. He travelled back and forth between England and Florida on more than one occasion, and would sometimes turn up in places where Karla was, surprising her. Karla was concerned enough that she contacted the police about him stalking her.
Near Thanksgiving weekend that year, he called her again, and this time left her a message on her answering machine that he was going to track her down and run her over. He also talked to her friend in Florida, saying he was going to be in town that weekend. Whether Karla heard this or not, I don’t know, but she left that Wednesday night for her boyfriend’s house on her bike and spent a long happy weekend with him.
Early Monday morning, on November 29, 1993, by 6am, Karla was up and back on her bike and headed home so that she could start work. She was biking on Military Trail with her headset on listening to loud music as she usually did, oblivious to the world around her. As she passed by Lynn University, a vehicle came up behind her and plowed directly into her, knocking her off her bike and onto the road. The police later said they thought the vehicle stopped, backed up over her, and then shifted gears again and went forward and roared off, leaving Karla on the road in the dark to die alone. A short time later a motorist found her, but it was too late.
Devastated and with sad and heavy hearts, we said our good-byes to our forever young, beautiful 23 year old Karla. “Karla, Karla, Karla,” Pauline used to always say with a sigh, half amused and half exasperated as her granddaughter Karla was growing up. She repeated this over and over in the next few days, but this time out of grief. My Aunt Lily read a poem about Karla that she had written, and I remember just a few strands of it – about lying in bed and Karla coming in to lay beside her in the morning, the sun streaming through the window, and Karla’s mass of golden locks lying on the pillow beside her. It was achingly beautiful, and there was not a dry eye in the room. I don’t know how my aunt managed to get through reading it without her voice breaking.
As we stumbled through the following days, and then weeks and months, we all believed this was a terrible case of a hit and run, possibly involving two cars, and that the police would solve it. But the months stretched into years, and there was no resolution, despite repeated contacts with the police. Several years later, my brother Tyler attempted to look into it through his connections with the FBI. Through this, we discovered the details of the phone call from her English boyfriend, and the conversation with her friend. Flight records indicated that he had indeed flown in and out of Miami around that time, and his old boss said that he had borrowed his truck that weekend, bringing it back damaged. And someone had reported that a person of the same name had been in the airport, and his name had been paged as he was late for his flight back home. Much of this had been in the police records, and they had not shared any of this with our family.
Interpol was contacted, but the ex could not be found. He had a criminal record of some sort, and in the early days of the Internet I spent many fruitless hours going through British websites trying to locate him. But the case fell through the cracks; she was a Canadian girl in the US working illegally, killed by a British subject who was no longer in the country. Three countries, and no one was willing to take the lead in the investigation. I later learned through local Miami newspaper articles that the police had been suppressing crimes like this for years, often portraying them as accidents, in an effort to minimize the amount of crime in the area for publicity reasons. Karla’s murder was just one of the crimes covered up in an effort to glamorize Boca Raton as a safe place for the elite to live.
In the 17 years since her death, my Aunt Lily and cousin Ethan have come to somewhat of a reluctant acceptance of Karla’s death, and they prefer to remember the goodness in her living rather than the pain of her death. For Ethan, Karla’s death was a wake up call to make each day count, and that he only had himself to thank or blame for his accomplishments. Today Ethan is a popular and internationally known birder and an awesome nature photographer.
Every year, a tree is planted in a small grove at the Hillman Marsh Conservation Area, a living reminder of the beauty of Karla’s life. There is no ongoing investigation, and there will be no justice served for Karla. As you grow older, unfortunately you learn that life is at times unjust, and that the bad guys sometimes win.
Happy Birthday, Karla. Miss you, kiddo.