MONDAY, AUGUST 16, 1976: Gerald Ford was still president, and Elvis had exactly one year to live.
I was 22 years old and living in South Austin with Dianne Roberts, my girlfriend of almost four years. We’d met in the fall of 1972, my first semester at Southwest Texas State University, in San Marcos. Dianne was an art student, a tall beauty with long brown hair. I was an English major who played bass guitar. The first time we met, we both realized there was a spark between us, but neither of us did anything about it. The next time we met, I didn’t let her get away, and from then on we were as close as toes in a sock. Even our friends assumed we’d be together forever.
In the summer of 1974, Dianne and I quit college and moved to Austin. I was going to be a rock star. To get by in the meantime, I worked as a mail clerk, and Dianne worked at a credit bureau. In 1976, after numerous bad garage bands and false starts, I hooked up with a hot guitarist with cool looks named Eddie Muñoz. By August we had a band called Jellyroll and a slew of gigs lined up. The first one was still two weeks away when a friend of Eddie’s called with a proposition. A glam-rock singer who went by the name of Queen Bee needed a guitarist and a bassist for a gig in San Antonio the following Sunday night. Eddie and I were so excited you’d have thought it was Madison Square Garden or jamming with the Stones.
Sunday morning came. Dianne slept late. She was still in bed when Eddie’s horn beeped in the driveway. I knelt down to kiss her good-bye. I remember her pale skin and sleepy smile. “Bye, sweetie,” I said.
“Bye, sweetie,” she said. And I left.
I could have invited her to come along, but it was going to be a long day and a long night. Rehearsal was at noon and our gig at least twelve hours later. Eddie wasn’t taking his girlfriend either, and he was driving, so it never came up.
We went on just after two in the morning. The band sounded like a cross between the MC5 and the Shirelles, and the crowd seemed highly entertained. Eddie and I were psyched. On the way back to Austin, we talked nonstop about how fabulous Jellyroll was going to be. Eddie dropped me off at home around two o’clock Monday afternoon.
I’ve relived the next moments a zillion times. I go up to the front door; it’s unlocked. The house is silent. Dianne is in the bedroom, naked, lying on her stomach on the bed. I kneel down to kiss her. “Sweetie,” I say softly, and gently tug on her shoulder. Her body rolls over like a plank. Her face is bloody; her eyes are open; a pillowcase is wrapped tightly around her neck.
It was as if I’d crossed a threshold into a hellish twilight zone. Nothing was real. But in that zombie fog, certain details stood out: an ashtray full of strange cigarette butts doused in the kitchen sink; a missing windowpane in the extra bedroom. Part of me realized she was dead but part of me didn’t. When the police came, I told one officer, “Maybe she’s not really dead; she’s just sick. Or is she …?” He just looked away.
They took me downtown and fingerprinted me. A bald detective called Curly led me to a tiny room and told me to write down everything I’d done in the past two days. When I was finished, Curly took me to the lieutenant’s office, and they began to interrogate me about the kind of lifestyle Dianne and I had led. They seemed deeply offended by our eccentricities.
Things were much more conservative in 1976. I had long hair. My eyes were smudgy from the eyeliner I’d worn at the previous night’s gig. Dianne’s art was unusual and provocative: a huge oil painting of odd supernatural beings, a watercolor of an old woman sitting on a nest of oversized eggs, and, on a bedroom wall, a sepia-tone photo of a bearded man, with a real bayonet protruding from his forehead.
They thought her poetry was weird too, and after taking inventory of all the books we had on witchcraft and the occult (a benign interest we shared with many of our friends), they had us pegged as drug-crazed rock and roll weirdos, maybe members of some kind of cult. It gradually dawned on me that they were trying to get me to confess. Either that or they thought Dianne’s death was the result of some strange sex-drugs-witchcraft ritual—that she’d “brought it on herself.” Enraged, I did my best to straighten them out. Meanwhile, I could hear detectives in an adjacent office laughing and joking about details of the case.
I was the one who had to call Dianne’s father in Houston to tell him that his daughter had been murdered. I had a reputation as a prankster and was unable to convince him that this wasn’t some macabre joke. I finally gave the phone to Curly, who had Mr. Roberts hang up and call the Austin Police Department. “Ask for homicide,” he said.
Around this time I fell into a black hole of despair. If there is a God, I thought, where in hell was he?
At some point I suddenly remembered the missing windowpane and realized what it meant. For a few months Dianne and I had rented a room to a friend of mine from high school. The last month he lived with us he lost his key, and instead of getting a new one, he would enter the house through his bedroom window, unlocking it by taking out a loose pane. I never got the window fixed after he left. One day while Dianne and I were out, he returned to pick up some of his things, entering in the usual manner. When we got