Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Murder On Meadowthorpe

I'm going to guess its not going to be too long before the name Almira Fawn Southworth, a currently twelve year old singer/musician/songwriter and Lexington Kentucky native, will become a household name. Unfortunately, it is likely to be because of all the wrong reasons. A week and a half ago, on Wednesday the 9th of June, her mother, Indonesian immigrant Umi Southworth, was murdered-brutally beaten to death, apparently outside the family's apartment on Meadowthorpe Lane, a tight knit, upscale neighborhood that is not accustomed to violence, or for that matter any kind of crime. As if that were not bad enough, the police bungled the investigation right from the start.

When they discovered her seemingly lifeless body in the bushes outside her apartment (in response to a missing persons report filed by her Fazzoli's co-workers who had been waiting for her to arrive for her farewell party), they waited five hours before they called the coroner, who then determined that Mrs. Southworth was still alive. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital some hours later. As one might imagine, an investigation is on-going into police misconduct, and an internal investigation is being conducted as well. Obviously, this woman was so severely beaten, she probably would have died regardless, or at the very least probably would have been left severely brain damaged and incapacitated. But you never know.

On top of that, we have here a case of potential journalistic misconduct as well. The Lexington Herald-Leader went out of its way to implicate Umi's husband and Almira's father, Donald Southworth, in the crime. They did this by pointing to a past history of assault. Although the victim here was not involved in any of the incidents, he has had a history of restraining orders, four different ones taken out on him by three different women, two of them by the same woman whom he was in one case accused of hitting in the face with a phone book.

Thus, so far, the Herald Leader's reportage is appropriate, as this history of violence is not in dispute. However, they go on to point out that Umi had recently quit her job at Fazzoli's in order to promote Almira's up-coming recording career in Nashville, and to this end the two had gotten an apartment there. They then pointed out that Donald would not be joining them, but would be remaining in Lexington. The obvious implication was that Donald and Umi were separating, she was leaving and taking their daughter, and Donald was angry about it. Given his more than a decade long history of physical abuse, the implication was plain. Their source for this was Buck Williams, the head of Almira's management company, whose comment they let stand on it's own merits, without further comment or context-

Buck Williams, owner of Progressive Global Agency, a booking and management company, said Umi and Almira began renting a place in Nashville in May and planned to move soon. Don Southworth was not moving with his wife and daughter, Williams said.

However, what the Herald-Leader did not bother to go to the trouble to point out was that Donald had a year or so to go at his job before he could retire with full benefits, and the couple had decided he should wait until that time, after which he would join them in Nashville. It should not have taken much effort to ascertain this fact, but the Herald-Leader seemed to have all the facts they needed or wanted.

In the meantime, the police have questioned Donald, and released him, while naming his as neither a suspect, nor as a "person of interest". This is not to say that he has been sufficiently cleared or will not be charged in the future, but in all probability, had he been responsible for the savage beating of Umi Southworth, he would have bore some signs of at least some minor defensive wounds or some other indications of involvement.

The Herald Leader, and others, have pointed out that Almira has been removed from his care. No one knows where she has been taken, and not even her management, the aforementioned Progressive Global Agency-which represents a large and impressive stable of artists, including REM, has been able to get in touch with her. They also point out an educational fund has been set up for the child to be administered independently of the family.

All of this is understandable, but it is not indicative of guilt on the part of the father. That the authorities are looking exclusively after the best interests of the child is certainly understandable. I would also like to point out that a twelve-year old girl is probably not best suited to deal with the characters one comes across in the entertainment industry, even during the best of times. During this period of heartbreak and trauma, this is all the more true.

While there are many good and decent people in the entertainment and music industry, like in all areas of life, there are also an exponentially greater number of criminal types, including but not limited to drug users, alcoholics, those prone to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and outright criminal thugs affiliated with the Mafia and Gods know what else.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Umi had not run afoul of some of these very types of characters, or if Almira Fawn were not being stalked by a deranged or perverted fan, or may even have been the target of an attempted kidnap plot that went awry. After all, she has already, over the course of the last couple of years, beginning at about the age of nine, made quite a name for herself playing nightclubs, restaurants, fairs, talent shows, schools, and various other venues, even appearing on KET, the Lexington PBS affiliate.

Yet, the Herald-Leader seems to think Donald Southworth is an easy target, for whatever reason only they can know, and so has not yet deigned it appropriate to look into the potentially shadowy characters that one can easily find roaming the corridors of the music and recording business.

Granted, this is a strange case that doesn't seem to afford any easy answers, or in fact, any at all. I have an idea that, although they won't say it, the police now investigating the case-who are hopefully not the ones who bungled the earliest stages of the case-have their own suspicions as to the denizens of the world Umi Southworth perhaps unwisely introduced her preteen daughter to at much too early an age.

The girl is obviously talented, and for her age is actually pretty good. In another ten years, she might develop her potential to the level of artistic genius. But that kind of talent, in the real world, unfortunately, is just another commodity, one to be bought, and sold, and maybe even disposed of when convenient.

Nor does she necessarily have to be victimized by criminal thugs to be taken advantage of. She should not be pressed into service with her talents for service to "the Lord" or "society" or for an "inspiration", nor for any grand "cause". She should use her talents to benefit herself and herself alone. She should work that out over time. Doubtless, she's not in the mood for any of it right now, but on the other hand, her music might be the one true anchor she has in life. She can play a variety of instruments, and this can be an outlet, just playing, releasing her emotions, be that love, hate, anger, guilt, and eventually, joy. She might well become an impresario over time, and in due course of that time, her singing and songwriting skills will ultimately blossom as well.

But for now, she just needs to be nurtured and protected, not necessarily "guided" by allegedly well-meaning know-it-alls who might have an agenda of their own. She might in the long run be better off with the criminal types as have to put up with that kind of benign abuse.