Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Storm and the Sunlit Painted Ladies

Ed Note: As a blogger, a self-publishing writer/editor, I have covered many stories in 2006 in my own peculiar way. Politically, it has been a fascinating year in which Virginia’s bloggers played a role in bringing about change. So, naturally, I wrote thousands of words about Jim Webb, George Allen, war and peace, Dick Cheney’s “peppering” of his hunting partner, Harry Whittington, and so forth.

This is the season during which some of us reflect and compulsively make lists of the best, worst, least and most of the year about to end. Surely, the most important story I’ve written about extensively in this space -- in terms of how many people it will impact -- was the emergence of Senator-elect Jim Webb as a new political force. But that’s not the story I thought about the most. It’s not even close.

A local story dominated my year like no story ever has before -- the murders of a family of four, the Harveys. It broke with the new year and fractured the weeks to come into shards of desperate time for lots of people in Richmond that I care about.

My posts on this tragedy and its aftermath were read by locals and expatriates who became a community that shared a feeling about a profound loss. Some in that community came to feel more deeply about their loss, and each other, than they ever knew they could.

What follows is a compilation of SLANTblog’s coverage of the impact the deaths of the much-beloved family of four had on a community ... a look back at the darkest of days, which eventually -- as they must -- gave way to bright blue skies.

The Storm and the
Sunlit Painted Ladies
by F. T. Rea

Severe storms appear, darkening the sky. They blow through town, bending, soaking and breaking what they will. Then they’re gone. Each time the landscape is changed, sometimes a lot. When a storm causes profound change it’s called a “disaster.”

Those of us who are the detached dreamers, the compulsive analyzers, we then try to understand the changes wrought by nature’s whim. After all, we know we can never understand the storms, much less the reasons for natural disasters.

On January 1, 2006 a man-made disaster shook the part of the world I know best. The news that the Harvey family -- Bryan, Kathy, Stella and Ruby -- had been murdered in their home hit this scribe with the fury of a tornado. Because the family was well known, particularly in the part of town which surrounds Virginia Commonwealth University, I was not alone.

The crushing news came to me on the morning of Jan. 2, by telephone, from my daughter. Her memory of Bryan went back to his days in one of the Fan District’s most popular bands in the early 1980s, the Dads. She, like so many young mothers had taken her two children to Kathy’s delightful toy store in Carytown, the World of Mirth, too many times to count.

Today I remember little from our conversation, except that we seemed to be drawing some comfort from one another’s voices at the other end of the telephone line. The connection made the outrage and panic more bearable. We were not alone. Subsequently, I began pouring my time into making a web site I edit, SLANTblog, into a kiosk for those who cared about the Harveys. The pell-mell pace of the week that followed was surreal. I’m a writer, so I wrote to keep my wits.

Below are excerpts from SLANTblog’s series of posts on this disaster, which were aimed at serving that narrow community of readers that clung together though the worst storm many of them had ever endured.


Jan. 2: Family Found Murdered

In a quiet Southside neighborhood near the river, as well as Carytown’s business district and the greater Richmond pop music scene, the worst of news spread on the first day of 2006 -- a family of four brutally murdered. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports what is known at this writing (the morning of Jan. 2) about the mind-boggling story of the Harveys, parents and two daughters -- as attractive and well-liked a family as one can imagine -- being found dead in their home yesterday afternoon.
A well-known Richmond couple and their two young daughters were found bound with their throats cut yesterday afternoon in the basement of their South Richmond home. Richmond firefighters made the discovery about 1:45 p.m. after responding to a 911 call reporting a fire at the home of Bryan and Kathryn Harvey at 812 W. 31st St. in the Woodland Heights neighborhood. Investigators said the family members had invited friends for a New Year's Day chili party that was to start about 2 [p.m.].
Jan. 3: House of Freaks

It was in 1986 at the Jade Elephant that I first saw and heard what became the House of Freaks. At that time I already knew both Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott, from their previous musical endeavors. SLANT was then a handbill-style periodical, in the midst of fighting the City’s anti-handbill laws. The Jade was one of SLANT’s early advertisers, so I ran ads for the bar touting “Bryan and Johnny live at the Jade,” or something like that. The name House of Freaks came later.
Bryan Harvey in the days of The Dads

However, I liked their two-man act right away and went on to do what I could to encourage/support what they were doing. All that existed in a time in which you probably have to be over 40 now to remember. Hell, some of us are pushing 60, these days.

Thinking of those two guys, stubbornly resisting everyone who told them to get a third player -- because a duo can’t be a band! -- takes me back to that rambunctious time on West Grace Street, when it was the main strip for live music and nightlife in Richmond. In the early- to mid-80s the Shockoe Bottom club scene was still in its formative stages.

The Dads, Throttle, Michel’s, Benny’s, Orthotonics, Hard Times, The Bowties, Beex, The Village, Offenders, Megatonz, Chuck Wrenn, The Pass, Death Piggy, Millionaires, R.A.W., Red Cross, Prevaricators, Casablanca, Rockitz, Barriers, Shake & the Drakes, Main Street Grill, Grace Place, New Horizons, Chelf’s, Biograph Theatre, The Insinuations, I Remember Reality Review, Plan 9, Bopcats, Good Humor Band, Single Bullet Theory, Shafer Court, The Pass, Lamour, 1708, The Clubhouse, Domino’s Doghouse, Faded Rose, J.W. Rayle, Toronados, Insect Surfers, Soble’s, Gatsby’s, X-Dux, Tom and Marty Band, Boys and Girls Grow Up, Cha Cha Palace, The Good Guys, Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe, The Rage, The Jade Elephant, Hababas, The Back Door, Non Dairy Screamers, Color Radio, Floodzone, Joe Sheets, Don’ Ax Me... Bitch!, Page Wilson, “Z,” Steve Payne, AAE, The Copa, Rick Stanley, Bruce Olsen, 353-ROCK, House of Freaks...

Jan. 3: Harvey Ceremony

The service for the Harvey family at the Unitarian Church tonight seemed to help many of those who attended -- strength in numbers. The mood of the ceremony itself was understated. There was no music. That will come later. And, when it does, I’ll be there, come hell or high water.

Many of the faces in the overflow crowd were familiar, the local arts/music community was well represented. There were tears and hugs aplenty. After the simple ceremony a candlelight vigil was held outdoors, behind the church. Some testified through sobs, most just stood and felt the vibe. I was surprised somewhat that the television crews actually showed restraint -- no bright lights or microphones in peoples’ faces until it was over.

Who can remember a blow to this city’s collective psyche as bitter and difficult to grasp as this?

As for me, I went to the memorial service with my daughter, Katey, who grew up in the Fan District, her husband Brian and their two children, Emily, 9, and Sam, 7, who both go to school at Fox.

Now I’m so glad we went as a family and had dinner together later. Emily and Sam are doing OK. I hope Stella Harvey’s other schoolmates are taking it as well. Like so many other children familiar with Carytown, the funhouse mirror in front World of Mirth, Kathryn Harvey’s shop, is a playful memory my grandchildren will probably carry with them forever.

Jan. 6: World of Loss, Grieving and Tribute

The growing display in front of Carytown’s World of Mirth is something to see. To remember the slain Harvey family -- parents: Bryan and Kathy, daughters: Stella and Ruby -- toys, flowers, notes, candles, and all sorts of things have been left off on the sidewalk in front of Kathy’s shop.There’s a large board for people to leave off their written comments. So much of the stuff there was obviously put out by children. Even as still more brutal, hair-raising details about the crime scene itself emerge, the tenderness of what’s on that city sidewalk is palpable.

Jan. 7: Right; Rite; Write...

Walking home from the bar the air was seasonally crisp. Back inside the place I had found myself explaining to a good friend, who was a little worried about me, just what I’ve been doing for the last five days -- functioning as a self-appointed, round-the-clock editor of what is the most terrifying/compelling story I’ve been close to in my life -- the Harvey murders.

But why? Maybe, my friend suggested, some in their grief could resent what they see as my using or even magnifying the tragedy. OK. My sobering walk’s thoughts on that topic have been gathered, here they are:

What I’ve been doing with my series of posts on SLANTblog is trying to present a restrained version of this story, with background, useful to people I care about. That, while I’ve been trying to keep my wits about me. I've suddenly broken down in tears every day, absorbing the dreadful details of the story as they came out. I've tried to avoid the gossip. Work has been my only balm.

It’s this way -- newspapers do their job, their way. Likewise the local broadcasters. They all have their intentions, as do the pushy national media types who've been roaming about the Fan District today. And, I have mine. Every publisher is obliged to define and perform for a specific audience. Each has his agenda.

My aim, however, has been to be useful to a smaller audience -- people who knew and cared about the Harveys. The little Fan District-centered world I know best is changing as I write these words. We won’t be the same again. This bizarre grief spell is unprecedented. Those who understand what I mean with that -- you are my audience, wherever you are as you read this.

We are, for a time, a community. This is our Kennedy assassination. This nightmare is our 9/11. Our Katrina.

The fog of pain in the air I’ve been breathing is the collective pain felt by decades of associations -- many longtime friends, people I’ve worked and partied with, people I’ve insulted, people I’ve schemed with, people I’ve played sports with, people I’ve helped and people who’ve helped me, people who’ve created a generation’s music and danced to it. Then there are our community’s children; my granddaughter, as was little lost Stella, is a nine-year-old at Fox Elementary.

As a pair, Bryan and Kathy Harvey were naturally cool and talented in ways few people are. He was a gifted musician/songwriter. He had a style that was risky, yet easy to like. As an artist, he was respected because he went his own way, rather that try to ride some artificial wave. In her professional realm, she was also an innovator, a trend-setter. She didn’t much need someone else to tell her where the boundaries were to do with style and aesthetics. Within a copycat world of retailing cookie cutters, she fashioned a World of Mirth.

They had two beautiful daughters, whose horrific deaths will haunt us forever as our ultimate standard for evil. No, we weren’t prepared to accept such a level of depravity existed in our midst. We pray our cops can soon deliver genuine relief.

...Soon, it will give me great pleasure to use SLANTblog to spread the word on what gets going to establish fitting remembrances to a family that represented the best in us: Four beings I’ve chosen to believe remained brave and felt the vibe of one another’s love to the very end.

Jan. 9: Picking up the pieces

Sunday morning I woke up still exhausted. Six whole days and nights of jolting aftershocks, which seemed to be shaking to pieces what matters most, wore this grizzled scribbler out. With the arrests in Philadelphia of two men, defendant No. 1 and defendant No. 2 (there names will not appear in any of my reports), an anxious Richmond, Virginia now prays for calm.

...Hopefully, these arrests will stick and reduce the flow of ghoulish gossip-mongering that’s been rampant. At the same time let's have the unvarnished truth from our police department and news agencies, ASAP. Let’s hear the worst of it, and get it over with.

Since we learned of the Jan. 1 Harvey murders we have been breathing shallowly, caught in the grip of fear. Guessed-at reasons for the Harveys to have been selected for slaughter dominated too many conversations, as if that’s what mattered most. Now it appears the dark speculations about how the crime had to have been personal, and thus had to have been committed by psychotic fiends who knew them, was mostly a matter of too many of us playing “profiler,” trying to make sense out of the senseless.

Those who knew Byran best for his much-admired music, figured it had to be about that. His song lyrics were mined for clues; old events and connections were revisited. Others closer to Kathy feared it had to do with her life as a prominent Carytown merchant. The couple's Woodland Heights neighbors surely suspected the bloodletting had to do with the neighborhood.

Thus, everyone saw the crime scene itself through their own prism. Which means, of course, the terrified children at Stella’s and Ruby’s schools must have thought it was about their little world.

Now, we’re told the Harveys may indeed have been picked at random. OK. Is that worse that our squirming-toad-imaginations conjured up, or not? Does it matter?

...It won’t surprise me if we eventually learn the Harveys weren’t picked totally at random, either, or that there’s more to come out. Perhaps these murders were something like the Clutter family's killings in Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” in that the crime started out as a robbery of people thought to be rich, but that easy motive was an excuse to do more. Or not. Maybe we’ll never know why.

After all, should we ever believe anything the sub-human culprits tell us? Hell, they may be so wicked they don’t really know why they did it, except it was a thrill.

In the crucible of this shared ordeal for the community grieving the painful loss of the Harveys a truth more important than base motives is being forged: We know much, much better than before that we absolutely cherish our ordinary lives, just as they are -- our children, our friends, our history together and our community.

There were 1,399 of us at the Byrd Theatre yesterday afternoon for the memorial ceremony. Let me tell you, being in that room was a powerful experience. We were told by speakers to “remember the Harveys well,” by remembering them as who they were -- generous, talented people who gladly took the risks to make us dance and laugh...


Jan. 10: Harvey Memorial Fund Established

At the request of family and friends, The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia (Tax ID# 23-7009135) has created the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment.

The Fund is established in memory of Bryan, Kathryn, Stella and Ruby Harvey and will be advised by a committee of their family and friends. Bryan and Kathryn shared a love of music and art, and they were known to their family and friends as kind and generous people. Thus, it is appropriate that the purpose of the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment is to provide music, visual art and performing arts enrichment in the Richmond area, which may include but is not limited to educational scholarships.

April 28: Harvey 50th Well Done

The Bryan Harvey 50th birthday party at Plan 9 was exactly what I thought/hoped it would be. It was absolutely upbeat, even light-hearted. If there was any weeping, well, I missed it. Good. One more sign that life really does go on, no matter what.

Still, remembering is important. Tonight, it was music that was remembered, and presented well by Bryan's longtime friends, who happen to be top shelf musicians. I needed to go to this oddly sweet happening tonight, staged to spotlight the Bryan Harvey CD. I needed to see that crowd back on its feet, after having been shattered by the events of the first week of 2006. It did me good to be there, and I'm sure others felt the same way...

June 15: Remembering the Sunlit Painted Ladies

A soccer ball rolled toward the fence ... a boy running away from it, toward the school building ... it was almost 2 p.m. The running boy was being called to join his classmates. The students, faculty and the school’s can-do PTA were all assembling on the front steps.

At William F. Fox Elementary School a garden graced with sculpture created by the community mentioned above was dedicated. The songs sung by the children were poignant. At the end butterflies were released into the perfect sunlit sky; Painted Lady butterflies according to rising second-grader Sam Knox.

The children were fine. Those adults who wept stayed in the shadows, if they could, during the brave celebration. Most of the grownups were fine, too, familiar faces smiling. The Harvey Family Memorial Garden was dedicated.

Aug. 23: The trial is over

The trial is over. The murderer has been sentenced to die for killing the children, Stella and Ruby Harvey. While others applaud the just sentence and find in it triumph, or find an opportunity to make some political point, I’ll pass on both accounts.

Today, I’m glad the ordeal of the trial is behind us. While some seem fascinated with the depravity of the wicked culprit’s deeds, I’ll not write his name in this space; I don’t use his name in conversation.

Today, I’m glad the evidence from the trial will now be packed up and no one who loved the lost Harvey family will ever have to look at any of it again. Closure? I’ll pass on using that word to define the moment, too. It’s a word I find to be utterly useless in a situation such as this. Furthermore, I won’t let the media, or anyone who thinks they know best, tell me how to view the crime, or its aftermath...

Dec 19: Ruby's Run raises $6,000

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a follow-up item about the Ruby’s Run fundraising event that was held in Byrd Park on Nov. 4th:

“Ruby Harvey’s memory lives on at her preschool. A check for approximately $6,000, raised during the Ruby Harvey Memorial Children’s Run last month on the Carillon Grounds, will be presented today during a ceremony at Second Presbyterian Church, 5 N. Fifth St. The money will go into a scholarship fund bearing Ruby’s name at the church’s child-care center, where Ruby was a student.”

This morning, a little girl named Bella, who was Ruby’s best friend at kindergarten, accepted the check for the fundraiser’s proceeds on behalf of the child-care center.


What happened to the Harveys is something we can scrutinize forever and perhaps never understand. Details may convict the culprits, but they won’t tell us why they did what they did. Dwelling on the whys won’t bring one smile to anyone’s face, either. But I guarantee the reader that if you actually go over to Fox School to look at the memorial garden in front of the school, you will smile.

Ed Note: A little bit of cosmetic editing was done to some of these excerpts for the sake of clarity. To read any of the posts above in their entirety, as they originally appeared, click here to go to the archives for the whole series of posts, which runs from Jan. 2 through Dec. 19. That archives page also contains many links to related material on other web sites.

The black and white photo of Bryan Harvey above was shot by Cindy Hicks (1982). It is used here with her permission. All rights to its use are reserved by Hicks. Other photos by SLANT.

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