The Story


The Anatomy of a True Crime

anatomy   n [LL anatomia dissection, fr. GK anatomē, fr. Anatemnein to dissect, fr. ana- + temnein to cut – more at TOME]  1 : a branch of morphology that deals with the structure of organisms  2 : a treatise on anatomic science or art  3 : the art of separating the parts of an animal or plant in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function  DISSECTION  4 obs : a body dissected or to be dissected  5 : structural makeup esp. of an organism or any of its parts  6 : a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination : ANALYSIS  7 a (1) : SKELETON  (2) : MUMMY   b : the human body

…I asked myself – “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?”  Death – was the obvious reply.  “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” … the answer, here also, is obvious – “When it most closely allies itself to Beauty:  The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world …”  –Edgar Allan Poe, The Philosophy of Composition

Part One: The Girl


Paula’s life from childhood through high school, up to that summer when she went missing. Interviews with Paula’s family and friends, photographs, some newspaper stories augmenting the descriptions of the people and the place at that time.

Part Two: The Crime

July 10 – November 29, 1970

The five months between her disappearance and the time that her body was found. Rumors are that she was pregnant when she disappeared. Interviews with detectives who were involved in the case, photographs, newspaper articles, and the police reports from the case file.

Part Three: The Investigation

November 30, 1970-February 13, 1971

The two months that the Cedar Rapids Police Department spent investigating her death. Common knowledge has it that she died of a botched abortion.Interviews, photographs, newspaper articles, the police file.

Part Four: What Happened

February 13, 1971 – March 4, 1972

Perry Harris murders his best friend at a poker game and then confesses to dumping Paula’s body. He pins the abortion on a local chiropractor.  The police are happy with this version of what happened to Paula, though it’s clearly not the true story. Nobody is brought to justice for the crime and the implication is that there is more to it than anybody has been willing, or able, to admit. Newspaper articles, interviews, the police file.

Part Five: Afterward

1972 to the present

Newspaper articles, following the mostly criminal lives of the players we’ve already met as well as some that we haven’t and making connections between them, with the implication maybe there was no abortion.

So something else happened to Paula.  But, what?