Episode 55: The Aftermath of Murder: Spreading Awareness on Homicide Survivors with Dr. Jan Canty, PhD
Episode 55: The Aftermath of Murder: Spreading Awareness on Homicide Survivors with Dr. Jan Canty, PhD
Dr. Jan Canty is a homicide survivor who seeks to spread awareness and garner more support for other homicide survivors. In this week’s episode, Dr. Canty explores the traumatic moment when she went from living a “normal” life to finding out that her husband was missing, then murdered. She explains her experience with traumatic loss and helps us to understand why so much more support is needed for those who are survivors (but still victims nonetheless) of homicide.
Dr. Canty’s Domino Effect of Murder Podcast
What to Do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss
A Life Divided: A Psychologist’s Memoir About the Double Life and Murder of Her Husband – and Her Road To Recovery
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hello everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I’m your host, Alyssa Scolari. And today we have with us a very special guest, Dr. Jan Canty. Dr. Canty was born, raised and educated and widowed in Detroit. Two months shy of completing her postdoctoral fellowship, her husband of 11 years went missing. Two weeks later, he was found murdered. That event separated her life into before and after segments. Due to media pressure, she moved, changed her name, and did not speak of it for 30 years. When she came out of the shadows, she wrote a book called A Life Divided, and started a podcast for other so-called homicide survivors called Domino Effect of Murder. So this is quite the harrowing story that we have today. So, with all of that said, I am going to turn it over to Dr. Canty herself. Hello. How are you?
Jan Canty [01:33]:
I’m fine. How are you doing?
Alyssa Scolari [01:35]:
I’m good. I’m really glad we connected, happy to have you on the show, happy to have you hear. I know we’re talking about some tough stuff today.
Jan Canty [01:45]:
Alyssa Scolari [01:46]:
Even reading your bio alone was just like oh, man, there’s so, so much here. I guess I’ll start with take me through your journey. How long were you married for?
Jan Canty [02:07]:
I was married to Al for 11 years before he went missing.
Alyssa Scolari [02:11]:
Okay. And what was life like prior to that?
Jan Canty [02:16]:
I would say pretty steady. He was very supportive of my career aspirations, and we were doing okay financially. He was 18 years older than me, and the reason I mention that is because when he began, at the very end of that 11-year period to seem more removed or tired or pre-occupied, I attributed it wrongly to his health, thinking well he’s older, he needs a physical, but instead he was up to his eyebrows in trouble and not telling me. Because he had befriended two people in downtown Detroit that he allowed them, encouraged them in fact, to take advantage of him financially. And he did this for 18 months, and when he ran out of money they murdered him.
Alyssa Scolari [03:06]:
So here you are, you’re married, you’re going to, it looks like, you were in graduate school going for your PhD?
Jan Canty [03:16]:
I’d completed my PhD at that point, and I was going through my two-year postdoctoral fellowship. I was in the last two months of it when it all happened.
Alyssa Scolari [03:24]:
Okay. So all this time you’re thinking, well, it’s just that Al is really, his health is declining because of his age?
Jan Canty [03:35]:
Alyssa Scolari [03:36]:
When really what was happening is he essentially had like another life where he was-
Jan Canty [03:41]:
Yes. He was pretending to be a physician by the name of Dr. Miller. I found this all out in talking with the chief inspector of homicide the day they called me down to interview me. I had no knowledge of anything that he’d been up to. And one of the many things that he said to me was go home and look at your finances, and you’re probably broke, and that was kind. I mean, when I looked into our finances, this is in 1985 dollars, I was $30,000 in debt. So that translates into about $90,000 today.
Alyssa Scolari [04:14]:
Oh my gosh.
Jan Canty [04:17]:
We were behind on taxes, rent at the office, mortgage payments, health insurance, you name it. It was way overdue, because he’d been giving these two people all of our money and more. He’d even bought cars for them, he paid their rent. He even gave them a scrapbook or a photo album that I assembled for insurance purposes of the interior of our house, with the estimated value of each of the larger items in the house. And in case there was a fire, I could just grab it and I’d have evidence of what we owned, and it would be easy to turn into the insurance company. He even gave that to them, so they had the knowledge of what was in the house, as well as the layout.
Alyssa Scolari [05:00]:
So your whole world, every aspect of your world, got turned upside down in a matter of a week?
Jan Canty [05:11]:
He was missing a week. So between the time he didn’t come home and the time I met with Inspector Gil Hill, I was just pacing and worrying and trying to figure out what happened. And then he called me down a week later after he’d been missing, and told me that he suspected he had been murdered, but he didn’t have a body yet. And then back in ’85 you needed that to have a prosecution, but he had a fair idea what had happened. I now know he had a whole lot more evidence than he was telling me.
But then it was the following week, almost to the day that he called me down, and said that they had unearthed his shallow grave in Northern Michigan. He had been killed by the way of a baseball bat and then dismembered. So they had buried his identifiable body parts in a bog in Northern Michigan called the University of Michigan Biologic Station. It’s an area where they do scientific research on mosquitoes, and to do that they have road kill dumped there, so it was a perfect camouflage for where they buried him. And I really believe that had an informant, an accomplice, in the burial not come forward, they would have never figured it out.
Alyssa Scolari [06:20]:
Yeah. So that’s what happened, somebody came forward with that tip?
Jan Canty [06:25]:
Yep. Yep, to escape prosecution. He wanted immunity from prosecution in order to give the information. And they made a deal with him saying yes, if you can lead us to the body parts, you will be off the hook, and you will have to testify in court though against the two defendants, which was John Carl Fry and Dawn Marie Spens. And he agreed to all of it, and they held up their bargain as well, so that’s what happened.
Alyssa Scolari [06:50]:
Wow. And in the months after, well, because I’m sure a trial took place?
Jan Canty [07:00]:
Alyssa Scolari [07:00]:
Are these people now in jail?
Jan Canty [07:02]:
They were at the time. And on that point, I’ll say that only 5% of murders go to trial, 95% are plea bargains. So that was a concern that I had, is if they all plea bargained to more information that the police wanted, and it could’ve ended in something minor, because there was evidence that he knew a lot more about other murders in Detroit. But they didn’t plea bargain. He did go to trial, and they were convicted. John Carl Fry was convicted of first-degree murder, and convicted to life without parole, which was the maximum in Michigan at the time. I think it’s still the same. However, his accomplice, Dawn Marie Spens, was given a very light sentence, and she was out before I could even sell my house.
Alyssa Scolari [07:47]:
Jan Canty [07:48]:
Yeah, because she didn’t do the actual killing. She just helped transport the body parts. So they charged her and convicted her of, I think the wording is something like mutilation of a dead body or something like that, and so she was off pretty quickly. I think she served two years, maybe 18 months. It was really brief. And then he died in prison after five years of Hep C, so he’s no longer around, she still is. Since she’s been out, she went back to school and she’s alive and well.
Alyssa Scolari [08:29]:
That makes me want to throw up, it truly does.
Jan Canty [08:33]:
There was a public outcry when the public became aware of her light sentence, but it’s a done deal. You can’t make a judge change his mind.
Alyssa Scolari [08:42]:
Right. Right. So then for you, after all of that, between having to grieve and being in shock, I’m sure, you made that decision to change your name, move completely out of the area?
Jan Canty [08:58]:
Eventually, because I tried moving locally and the media would not leave me alone. I had to change my phone number so often I had to write it down to make sense of it. And they were coming to my work place, people were driving by my house. It was always in the press, any little thing, like John Carl Fry escaped one time while he was incarcerated.
Alyssa Scolari [09:18]:
Jan Canty [09:19]:
So it drummed it all up again. And when he died, it drummed it all up, and I just thought I’m leaving. I’ve had it. This isn’t my swan song. I don’t want to forever be known as the widow. This isn’t how I want my life to unfold at this point. It was hard. I loved living where I did. My practice was taking off, it was something, a goal, I’d worked for for over a decade. And it was working, but I wasn’t happy, and I was on edge all the time. And I was tired of people pointing at me in public, and finally I just said enough.
And so to your point about grief, because of all the drama, the media, my health risks, I was told I had to get an HIV test because of his infidelity with prostitutes, there were so many irons in the fire at any given time that grief was totally postponed for a long time. That was a luxury. I didn’t have time to process it. I was constantly putting out fires. If it wasn’t the media, it was bills. If it wasn’t the bills, it was my health. If it wasn’t that, it was moving. If it wasn’t that, it was something else. So it kept getting postponed. It was one of those things that I thought later, I can deal with that later. Right now I’ve got to figure out, I mean, in the early weeks frankly, I had to figure out how I was going to eat and how I was going to keep the lights on, because he’d given away all our money and we were in debt. And I had just started my practice, so my income was very low.
Alyssa Scolari [10:49]:
Jan Canty [10:50]:
So I started selling things that I owned to not only prepare to move to a smaller place, but to survive. And winter was setting in, and I was worried about the heat bill, because it was a really old house and it sucked up energy. So my mind was consumed with survival for a long time.
Alyssa Scolari [11:09]:
Right. It’s as you were talking about you couldn’t really even go anywhere or do anything without the media, of course I think to myself there’s no way you even had two seconds to grieve.
Jan Canty [11:21]:
Alyssa Scolari [11:21]:
As you said, that’s a luxury, right?
Jan Canty [11:21]:
Alyssa Scolari [11:24]:
I’m in survival mode. There’s no time to process any of this.
Jan Canty [11:29]:
No. I postponed what I could postpone, and that was one of them. I had to prioritize. I had to make my bills, I had to eat, I had to figure out how I was going to heat the house, I had to try to sell the house. And that was an issue, because Michigan law, even to this day, states that if there is a serious crime in which the owner of the house is involved, even if it does not take place on the property, you have to divulge that information to the potential buyer in case they are superstitious. If you fail to do that, they can rescind the offer at any time in the future, so that devalued the house.
Alyssa Scolari [12:06]:
Jan Canty [12:06]:
Alyssa Scolari [12:07]:
Is that just me, or does that seem like an absolutely …
Jan Canty [12:11]:
It was like one thing on top of another, like I said. It made no sense to me, because it didn’t occur in the house. So I didn’t think it, but everybody knew anyway.
Alyssa Scolari [12:19]:
It made no sense.
Jan Canty [12:19]:
Because the media published pictures of our house, and even a map to get to our house, so it really wasn’t a secret in the sense. But the people that ended up buying the house came from England, so they would not have known anything about this, but they still had to be told about it. And so as a consequence, the house was probably valued by a third less of what it was worth, and then I used a lot of that money just to pay off bills.
Alyssa Scolari [12:43]:
Right. I feel like I’ve been shaking my head so much throughout this interview already that my head might actually spin off. I’m just, I’m baffled that a law like that even exists, like it-
Jan Canty [12:56]:
Yeah. I checked recently, and it’s still there.
Alyssa Scolari [12:59]:
Unbelievable, right? As if things weren’t, it’s like you had everything working against you all at the same time.
Jan Canty [13:07]:
Alyssa Scolari [13:08]:
How did you stay sane?
Jan Canty [13:11]:
I attribute a lot of my coping skills, number one, to how my parents raised me. They were never, ever one to allow me to escape responsibility. And if I complained, they’d always point out somebody has it worse than you, come on, get on with life, you don’t have it so bad. That was a factor, my childhood. My parents flew in from Phoenix to be with me, and they were immense help. Once they arrived, which was a week into his disappearance, my dad took charge of the front door and the phone. My mom took charge of laundry and cooking, because I hadn’t eaten, and in fact, the dinner that I had prepared for Al and I the night he was to come home, I’d left it on the stove for a week. I hadn’t even noticed it. That’s how out of it I was. It was hamburger. We were going to have hamburgers that night, and it just was sitting in the summer heat for a week and I didn’t even notice it. So the minute she walked in the house, she’s like, “What in the God’s name is that odor? That stinks.”
Alyssa Scolari [14:10]:
And you didn’t even notice it.
Jan Canty [14:11]:
And I hadn’t had a shower, because it wasn’t like a week, it was like one very long day. That’s how it felt to me. There was no morning, noon and night, 24-hour cycles. It was like the next hour or the next minute, the next hour, and it just kept going, and I was getting by on cat naps for a long time. So it didn’t seem like a week until that they came. It seemed like one very long day. Morning, noon and night had no meaning at all.
Alyssa Scolari [14:39]:
I think that that’s a deeply accurate description of the traumatic loss, like what that trauma is like in the initial phases. That’s what it is. A week went by and it felt like a day. I think that’s a perfect way of describing it, and-
Jan Canty [15:04]:
Well, I think you’re so into your own skin, those external benchmarks are gone. You don’t know the date, you don’t know the hour.
Alyssa Scolari [15:04]:
None of that even matters.
Jan Canty [15:11]:
You don’t know if it’s morning, noon or night, you don’t. It’s you’re so inside your own skin, and thinking about what’s happened and what needs to happen, that that’s all very external, very removed, and meaningless at the time.
Alyssa Scolari [15:26]:
Yeah. It’s like none of that even matters, the date, the day, the time. It’s all, right, none of, like you said-
Jan Canty [15:26]:
Alyssa Scolari [15:36]:
The external just doesn’t matter. Now for you, when did the grieving process, like when did you transition, was it when you moved, from that shock to the grief?
Jan Canty [15:54]:
Well, I would say in earnest, it was after I left Michigan. It was probably a year and a half later.
Alyssa Scolari [16:02]:
Okay. And what-
Jan Canty [16:02]:
Because up to that point I was just treading water. And finally, when I got away from everybody I knew, all the reporters, the media, the police, and I could sit and think. Even at the funeral I couldn’t think, because the media were there. I mean, they were so intrusive, so invasive, and impersonal and in my face. And I couldn’t even grieve at the, all I could think about at the funeral was getting out of there and getting home. They had cameras and microphones, and it was like a circus. I felt like all that was missing was popcorn.
Alyssa Scolari [16:36]:
A circus you don’t want to be at.
Jan Canty [16:38]:
Alyssa Scolari [16:39]:
Not at all.
Jan Canty [16:40]:
So it was a long time, and I was pretty removed from it all by then. And I did not have a name for the kind of grief that I was experiencing at the time, but now looking back, I know that it’s a unique kind of, well, maybe it’s more common than we think. It’s called conflicted grief, where there is relief in your grief, where there is some element of, oh, I’m glad that’s over. I know I wouldn’t want him back, because of all the deceit, all the infidelity, endangering my life, let alone his own. There was this anger like I had never experienced in my life.
You still have the other typical parts of grief, the sadness and the feeling empty and remembering the good times. That’s still all there, but in addition to that there’s this other layer of how dare you? How dare you have done what you did to your life and my life and our life? What was wrong with you? And so that conflicted grief, for me, and I’m not saying this is everybody, but for me made it easier. Because you don’t go to that depth of soul searching and mourning, because your anger is it bottoms you out. It’s at a point where if he had lived, if he had survived, I would have left him in a heartbeat. I mean, I wouldn’t have put up with that.
Alyssa Scolari [18:04]:
Jan Canty [18:05]:
So it made it easier for me, and I took it a day at a time. Again, when that happened, I wish I’d had a name for it then. All I know is I felt terribly guilty for not feeling more sad, more mournful than I did, but I was able to start sleeping soon. And you go in the Hallmark section of a card area and you’ll see they’re still with you in your thoughts, and you’ll be together one day. None of that applied to me. It was like I don’t want to walk with him again. I don’t want to be with him at some future time.
Alyssa Scolari [18:38]:
Yeah, you were mad as hell.
Jan Canty [18:39]:
Alyssa Scolari [18:39]:
You were mad as hell.
Jan Canty [18:40]:
And there’s no place to discharge it, because he’s not here.
Alyssa Scolari [18:43]:
Right. You can’t even scream at him.
Jan Canty [18:45]:
No. And his mother really was in denial. He was an only child, and so my mother-in-law was like feeding it, like I bet … She even sent me an anniversary card after he had-
Alyssa Scolari [18:59]:
Jan Canty [18:59]:
Yeah. A few after he left, after he died. And she was not in touch with what was going on. She refused to believe his role in his own demise, and always said he’d been blackmailed, there was another explanation. But she would not go to court, she would not go to the police station, she would not face any of the facts as we knew them, so she could continue to live in that sense of denial. And at her age, I thought let her. What’s the difference? It’s her only child. She’s entitled to see it how she needs to see it, if that makes her sleep, but I don’t want to be a part of it. And so there’s an old saying that murder kills not just victims, it kills families too, and that’s a good example of that.
Alyssa Scolari [19:39]:
It’s so true, so, so true. Now, but for you, it didn’t kill you.
Jan Canty [19:46]:
Alyssa Scolari [19:47]:
And it sounds like it’s partially because it’s, like you said, that type of conflict grief, right? You have all this rage, this anger, because there’s this sense of betrayal.
Jan Canty [19:58]:
Alyssa Scolari [19:59]:
But you also, even just reading your bio and seeing where you’re at now, you’ve now kind of incorporated the past and what happened to you into the work that you do now.
Jan Canty [20:13]:
Yes, I do. It took me 30 years to speak of it. I did not talk about it for a long, long time after I moved, but there was specific events that happened that made me come out of the shadows. And when it did, I had enough objectivity there, the dust had settled. I had gotten my ducks in a row. I’d deliberately done things to get myself back on track, because back in 1985, you’re alone. There is no internet. There’s no way to search out, I didn’t even know the name homicide survivor then. All I knew is I didn’t know a soul who’d been through what I’d been through, so it was up to me to deal with it as best I could and figure out how I was going to heal myself.
So I fell back on a very old model that I was taught in my training, which is you look at biopsychosocial dimensions of behavior. And I thought I’ve got to address each of those. I’ve got to look at what I’m doing biologically, so I started doing triathlons. I started looking at things socially. I traveled around the world and went to remote villages, and visited and helped communities in very remote places who didn’t even have drinking water, let alone a spouse. Women had no rights, and it was bug infested, and I tried to throw myself into helping other people who were less fortunate, in some ways, than myself. That put it in perspective.
And I tried to heal myself psychologically by trying to read up on it. Once the internet came into being, and I could get resources, I started researching a little bit more about homicide survivors. And even now there’s not a ton of information, but it’s better than it used to be. And so that was my focus, was to say life, strangely, has prepared me for this. I’ve got my formal training, and I have my life training, and my goal now is to help other homicide survivors, and people close to homicide survivors, like perhaps a close friend of somebody who’s lost someone to homicide.
My goal is to help that population deal with their experience, because there’s very little out there now. There’s no parades in our honor. There’s no national day that people are aware of for homicide survivors, and we’re misrepresented in movies, if we’re represented at all, because most of the time the focus is on the crime and the perpetrator, and maybe a trial, which is a myth, because like I said, most of the time it’s a plea bargain. But as for the family of the deceased, they’re just in the background. They’re this fleeting people that are dissolved into tears, and then they lead them off stage and that’s it. And that’s where the story starts, that’s not where it ends. So my goal has been to try to fan the flames of that, and create better understanding and a pool of resources for people in that situation.
Alyssa Scolari [23:07]:
And is that largely what you book is about, A Life Divided?
Jan Canty [23:14]:
Alyssa Scolari [23:14]:
Or is that more of a memoir?
Jan Canty [23:16]:
It’s both. It’s both.
Alyssa Scolari [23:16]:
Jan Canty [23:17]:
It’s a true crime memoir, but my deliberate intent was to segue at the end towards speaking to trauma survivors in general, so that you can use my story as a springboard to understand what goes on with trauma, so that other people can use it for their own benefit. Like, for example, I talk about nightmares as not something to fear. That’s a part of the healing process, and it’s natural and it’s inevitable, and it’s your mind trying to reset itself, and just as one silly example. But there’s that, and then also the podcast. It was actually suggested to me by a relative in South Carolina who owns a crime scene cleanup business, and it was her idea to say you’d be a perfect person to have a podcast. And I’m thinking I don’t know anything about podcasts, the technology, pop filter, the whole there’s a lot as an uphill of information you have to gather.
Alyssa Scolari [24:21]:
It’s a lot, right.
Jan Canty [24:22]:
But as you probably know, Alyssa, other podcasters are very helpful. It’s like a nice community.
Alyssa Scolari [24:28]:
It’s a nice community. It is.
Jan Canty [24:29]:
They’re not competitive, they’re helpful.
Alyssa Scolari [24:31]:
Jan Canty [24:31]:
And they really helped me get on my feet, so that’s how The Domino Effect of Murder was born. And that was two years ago, and it’s now heard in 11 countries.
Alyssa Scolari [24:39]:
Wow. That’s incredible. It’s incredible.
Jan Canty [24:44]:
And I’ve met the most remarkable people. That’s been so enjoyable. It’s like my tribe. That’s what I think of them as. These are people that went through, every homicide is unique, they’re all different, but these are people that somehow figured out a way to make lemonade out of lemons, and I admire them. They’re resilient. They’re creative. They’re compassionate. They’re passionate and articulate, and willing to talk about their histories. And I’ve just admired them, and I enjoy speaking with them.
Alyssa Scolari [25:19]:
Yes, and you are one of those people. I mean, you truly are, and it’s the kind of grief, and the kind of traumatic loss that you have been through. I think the grief expert, David Kessler, who is just one of my all-time-favorite people on the planet, he wrote the book called Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, and I believe he has an entire chapter dedicated to homicide, and it is because it is a much different type of grief.
Jan Canty [25:59]:
And it’s a grief that one of the sad things about it is that when you start to knit together, when you start to pull yourself out of this, that’s about the time the trial happens, or the court proceedings, and it just opens it up again. And anytime you see somebody in the news who died under very similar circumstances as your loved one, it opens it up, so that’s another part that makes it hard. When I hear of somebody who’s lost a loved one, they’re missing and then they’re found murdered, it’s just, ah, it just rips at me.
Alyssa Scolari [26:38]:
Yeah. It’s like this wound that just you can’t get medical attention for.
Jan Canty [26:38]:
Alyssa Scolari [26:44]:
It’s just this wound that weeps.
Jan Canty [26:46]:
Alyssa Scolari [26:47]:
And there’s no healing. And one of the questions that I’m very curious to ask your opinion on this, there has been such a trend toward true crime, and I don’t know if it’s specifically in this country, or if it’s worldwide. People are obsessed with true crime, myself included, right? Myself included. I listen to many, many, many true crime podcasts, and I think that there’s been a lot of criticism that people are obsessed with it in a way that almost minimizes the tragedy. Do you feel that that’s the case? Have you noticed that, that people more so are all about the drama of it, and less aware of like, no, this is homicide, this is devastating and life altering?
Jan Canty [27:49]:
I think you see an array. There are some podcasts which make light of it. My favorite podcasts, one is Wine and Crime, and they even laugh, and it trivializes it.
Alyssa Scolari [28:04]:
Jan Canty [28:06]:
And in addition to that, it doesn’t focus on the aftermath, it focuses on the crime itself.
Alyssa Scolari [28:11]:
The crime itself.
Jan Canty [28:12]:
Which is very common. But there are a handful out there that do bring up, and do try to address, the victims who are living. They’re in a minority, but they’re there, and I don’t think they were even there five years ago, so that’s refreshing.
Alyssa Scolari [28:28]:
Jan Canty [28:28]:
What I find equally upsetting, for me, is the lack of interest in scholarly research on homicide survivors, because here’s a for instance. When I do my episodes, I guess it’s the researcher in me, but I always try to research the topic I’m going to be specifically addressing in that episode. One week I was going to be speaking with a young woman, she was like in her mid-twenties, maybe late-twenties at the most, who was a filicide survivor, meaning that her mother murdered her brother. Filicide is the murdering of one’s child. She survived it.
Alyssa Scolari [29:06]:
I didn’t know it.
Jan Canty [29:08]:
And so I thought, okay, I want to research filicide, and particularly what’s the impact on the surviving child? Because it’s not like the Watt’s case. They’re not always where all the children are killed. It’s unique, it’s there’s differences. I could not find one shred of data, one study anywhere in the world that talked about this. And that’s just one example, but it’s not unique. And so but if you look up serial killers, oh my God, you don’t have enough room to read all the articles. So academia is following that same mode. It’s like can’t you get off the subject of serial killers and the homicide itself and look at the aftermath? There’s so much we need to know. What’s the impact on development of children who witness a homicide? Or what’s the impact of an older child if he sees his parent murder a younger child? We don’t know, because nobody’s researching these things. So that’s one thing.
And movies, they don’t show the reality of it very often either. There’s only a very few, few films out there that start with the trial, and then proceed to show the people’s life afterwards. They’re definitely in the minority, which I don’t totally blame the academicians and the producers and the podcast hosts for this, because homicide survivors tend to run and hide. We don’t like the spotlight. We don’t want to talk about it. It took me 30 years to talk about it. So it’s not just them not giving us a thought, but we run from the spotlight too, and so you put the two together and there’s this big unknown.
But I will tell you this, that it’s an equal-opportunity club, and that at any moment anybody can join us. You just never know. Whether it’s a mass homicide or an individual homicide, you don’t know until it happens to you.
Alyssa Scolari [31:06]:
Exactly. Exactly. I thank you for that, and I thank you for your honesty, because I see that and I open my eyes to it. And listen, I am no angel in this. I, myself, am reading about The Stranger Beside Me, about Ted Bundy, Original Night Stalker or Golden State Killer. They recently caught him, but what are there books about-
Jan Canty [31:32]:
But the thing that I think we need to underscore here is that I believe, and the research supports this, that many women in particular who follow true crime do so as a learning tool for their own safety. What do I need to know to avoid this happening to me? So it’s not always a gossipy kind of mystery-intrigue angle that they have, it’s self-protection.
Alyssa Scolari [31:57]:
Absolutely, but I think that self-protection also can be extended to looking at the impact of the survivors, because as easily as we could be a victim of homicide, that’s as easily as we could be a survivor of homicide, right?
Jan Canty [32:14]:
I wish more people would see that.
Alyssa Scolari [32:16]:
Yeah. And it’s, you know, there are no books on, like you said, like I …
Jan Canty [32:21]:
One book, if I can plug it, and I learned about it from my podcast.
Alyssa Scolari [32:24]:
Jan Canty [32:24]:
The one about [inaudible 00:32:25], and it’s a wonderful book. If you are a police officer listening, get this book in your department to hand out at crime scenes of homicides. It’s called What to Do When the Police Leave, and it’s exactly what it’s about. It’s almost like a manual, like Step A, Step B.
Alyssa Scolari [32:44]:
Jan Canty [32:44]:
And it’s been printed over 40,000 copies, but it’s I think it should be, and especially with the uptick in homicides in the last year. Homicides have nationally gone from an average of 18,000 annually to now 20,000 since COVID has hit.
Alyssa Scolari [33:00]:
Oh my gosh.
Jan Canty [33:00]:
It’s still rare. It doesn’t mean it’s frequent. It’s like if you picture a football stadium, we’re now talking about ten people in that football stadium, as opposed to maybe seven before, but still it happens.
Alyssa Scolari [33:13]:
Still significant, yeah.
Jan Canty [33:14]:
And that doesn’t include always the bigger-scale homicides, the mass tragedies. But I think that there are books like that out there, but this is it, the public doesn’t know about this safety net. They don’t know the resources that are out there. I’m still learning about them, and it’s so darn hard to find them. And I wish there was a clearinghouse or public, I don’t know, a nationwide conference, or something we could pull these resources together, police, victims and attorneys and so on, and learn from one another, to get a boost going so that the safety net is there and in place. The closest one I can find is through Arizona. The Arizona Homicide Inc is what they call it, I-N-C, Homicide Inc. It’s-
Alyssa Scolari [34:02]:
And that’s a conference?
Jan Canty [34:03]:
It’s an organization within Arizona. They have support groups, they have pamphlets, they have speakers. And they are probably, and from where I sit, it looks like the most organized, and probably one of the earliest. The other one is Parents of Murdered Children. They’re both in the United States and Canada. They are very organized. And despite what the name sounds like, they are open to speaking with people other than parents. But there aren’t many. There’s very, very few.
Alyssa Scolari [34:32]:
Jan Canty [34:33]:
And so I’m hoping that through your podcast, and people listening here as well as my own, that people will become more aware of resources out there.
Alyssa Scolari [34:44]:
Yes. And I will absolutely link your book, your podcast, as well as the What to Do When the Police Leave book in the show notes for the listeners.
Jan Canty [34:57]:
It’s written by Bill Jenkins, J-E-N-
Alyssa Scolari [34:59]:
Bill Jenkins? Okay.
Jan Canty [35:00]:
Whose son was murdered. One thing also, if I could just touch on quickly. I know we’re running out of time, but-
Alyssa Scolari [35:06]:
Oh yeah, go ahead.
Jan Canty [35:07]:
If I could speak to some of the other myths surrounding, one I’ve already mentioned, that frequently murders end in trial. That’s like CSI stuff on TV.
Alyssa Scolari [35:17]:
Jan Canty [35:17]:
That isn’t the case.
Alyssa Scolari [35:17]:
Law and Order.
Jan Canty [35:19]:
95% of them end up in a plea bargain, so be prepared for the murderer of your loved one to get a lesser offense charge. The other one is that once a homicide occurs, that the grieving people who are going through it, that they receive a lot of support. And that doesn’t usually happen, except at the time of the funeral, and maybe at the time of the trial, but it quickly falls off. And therefore, one of the recommendations I would make is if you knew somebody that had had this happen to, and you’re close to them, stay in touch with them over the next few months. They’re going to need you to be there for them month five, month six, and the year anniversary of the murder.
The other misperception is that once people are convicted of homicide that they serve very long sentences, and that too is false. Nationally, if you are convicted of a first-degree premeditated murder, the national average, and it does vary by jurisdiction, is 17 years. If you are convicted of second-degree impulsive murder, the national average is only five years nine months. That’s involuntary manslaughter 9.2 years, so it’s really not what you think. We don’t have these life sentences. About 2% of murder convictions are false convictions, that is an innocent person has been railroaded into giving a false confession and put behind bars. And there’s a man I met, he was a guest on my episode, called Deskovic is his last name, Jeffrey Deskovic. He was a teenager who was interrogated over many hours and just given caffeine, finally falsely confessed to a murder of his classmate, and served 16 years before he was released. He’s now an attorney himself and helps other exonerees get their day in court.
Alyssa Scolari [37:15]:
Jan Canty [37:17]:
Another myth is that women are at greatest risk when they are alone outside after dark. And what the data shows is that the most common place for women to be murdered is their own home, and the most common perpetrator is someone close to them. It could be an ex-boyfriend, could be a neighbor, but it’s somebody known to them. It’s not the stranger pulling them into a van and dumping them into the woods. That happens, but that’s not the biggest risk. Most women are murdered in their home.
And about 65% of murders are by people who know each other well, so family members, friends, coworkers are the 65% of all homicides are perpetrated by that group versus strangers, which is not how it’s portrayed in the media very often.
Alyssa Scolari [38:02]:
Jan Canty [38:04]:
So there are other myths, but those are just the ones I wanted to throw out.
Alyssa Scolari [38:07]:
Wow. Thank you.
Jan Canty [38:10]:
Alyssa Scolari [38:10]:
Thank you for what you do. You truly embody, I think, the word resiliency. You embody what this podcast is really all about.
Jan Canty [38:23]:
And if I can do it, other people can do it.
Alyssa Scolari [38:26]:
Jan Canty [38:26]:
You need to surround yourself with strong people. You need to pay attention to your biology, get your rest, get your hydration. You don’t have to do marathons and triathlons.
Alyssa Scolari [38:26]:
Could though, right?
Jan Canty [38:37]:
But you do have to get off your chair and go walk at least. So pay attention to your diet, ratchet down the cigarettes and the pop and the bad stuff. Take care of yourself biologically. In fact, I would recommend you see a physician within the first weeks of a homicide.
Take care of yourself socially. Don’t become a hermit. I did that, it doesn’t work well. Surround yourself with at least one or two close allies. They don’t have to have been through what you’ve been through, but just to have them sit there and listen. They don’t have to throw out any recommendations, there’s no magic words they need to come up with, but just to sit there non-judgmentally and listen to you, whether it’s 3:00 am or whatever it is, and listen to them is very, very helpful. The other thing that friends can do which is very helpful, especially in the early weeks, is do not say call me if you need something, because people don’t know what they need. And instead, say-
Alyssa Scolari [39:30]:
Right, so they won’t call you.
Jan Canty [39:31]:
Right. Instead, say I noticed you need to take your car in to get your tires rotated. I’m going to do that for you. Or you need to get your cat into the vet. I’ll get that done for you. Or I’m going to grocery shop. I’m going to bring your groceries to you. Do something specific and concrete that you know they will benefit by. I had a friend whose husband suicided, and I know she was very worried, she kept talking about how am I going to get my grass cut, because she was not physically well. And so I purchased landscaping for that summer for her, and you’d think I’d given her a million dollars. If I had said to her call me if you need something, that would have never happened.
Alyssa Scolari [40:04]:
No. I have almost felt, I hate that phrase so much. I have always seen it as a cop out, and it might just be a personal thing. It might be I think sometimes people feel uncomfortable, they don’t know what to say, so then they say just let me know if you need anything, and I feel like that’s a cop out.
Jan Canty [40:04]:
Alyssa Scolari [40:20]:
It’s like, no, that person will not be able to tell you what they need.
Jan Canty [40:23]:
Alyssa Scolari [40:23]:
There are no words for this.
Jan Canty [40:25]:
Alyssa Scolari [40:25]:
Just look and go into action.
Jan Canty [40:28]:
Alyssa Scolari [40:29]:
And that’s how you can be the best help.
Jan Canty [40:31]:
Alyssa Scolari [40:32]:
I mean, that’s my spiel on that. And that phrase always just frustrates me when there’s grief or loss. It’s like, no, because that puts more pressure on the victim.
Jan Canty [40:44]:
It does. You can’t even make a decision.
Alyssa Scolari [40:45]:
Right, like what am I, the CEO of-
Jan Canty [40:47]:
And you’re not looking at your life objectively.
Alyssa Scolari [40:49]:
Jan Canty [40:49]:
I mean, my mother comes in and sees the week-old, rotten hamburger. I mean, obviously I needed somebody to clean my kitchen, but I didn’t notice.
Alyssa Scolari [40:56]:
Right. Exactly. Exactly. So …
Jan Canty [41:00]:
But because of people like you reaching out and allowing me to speak, I do feel more optimistic that more people will be helped.
Alyssa Scolari [41:07]:
Yes. Even just today, right, or the week I’m having, listening to this, A, puts things into, I think, very serious perspective for me, but also helps me to know that people out there, myself included, can do very hard things, and can take so much pain, pain that we did not deserve. You did not deserve it, you didn’t need it, you didn’t ask for it, you didn’t want it, you never saw it coming.
Jan Canty [41:41]:
Alyssa Scolari [41:41]:
But you took it, after many, many years, as hard as it was, and now you are using it to help other people.
Jan Canty [41:48]:
I think people are more capable of doing things than they even think they are.
Alyssa Scolari [41:52]:
Jan Canty [41:53]:
You don’t know until it happens, what you’re capable of.
Alyssa Scolari [41:57]:
1,010% So I thank you so much for your vulnerability, for sharing your story. Everything will be linked in the bio for the listeners, so you can check all of that stuff out, and thank you.
Jan Canty [42:14]:
Thank you, Alyssa, for having me on.
Alyssa Scolari [42:16]:
Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are at lightaftertrauma, and on Twitter it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5.00 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks, so please head on over. Again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you, and we appreciate your support.