Cavalier: The Story of an Unsolved Murder in a Small Town is a true crime memoir that centers on the true story of Connie L. Nelson's friend, Dr. Jack Wahl, who was murdered in his home one night in 1986.
Nelson conducted her own research into the crime, which remained unsolved, using interpersonal communications, the investigation notes provided by the current Pembina County sheriff and his deputy, and newspaper reports from that time. As she pursued a truth that remained elusive, her life changed.
Fast forward to 2018. The crime remains unsolved. No one was ever been charged or convicted with her friend’s murder. But the sorrow and pain of being a murderer's collateral damage remained, and so Nelson has written this book about the events that transformed her life.
Law enforcement readers as well as those involved in the psychology of relationships changed by murder and unresolved crimes will find much to appreciate in the way Nelson has pursued her subject.
Her ability to inject thought-provoking angles on murder which affects close friends as much as family, yet constantly locks out friends from discussions and insights, makes for a story that needed to be written as much for other victims of unresolved crimes as for true crime readers: "If you have had a loved one die suddenly, you probably know the heartache of not getting to say goodbye. When the sudden death isn’t due to a long-term illness or a car accident, but instead an unsolved murder, it’s like a wound that doesn’t heal. And when the murder takes place in a small town, everyone you know could be the potential murderer—just one of the ways the crime changed my life.Another way it changed was that I was forced to see myself from the police viewpoint: I was just a friend. If Jack had been a relative, I would have been included in the discussions with law enforcement, but I was not interviewed as part of the official investigation—and I felt I had a valuable perspective on Jack’s life."
The memoir blends nicely into true crime experiences, processes, and revelations to create a realistic and emotion-driven "you are here" feel to the story.
In many ways, Nelson has crafted the perfect true crime saga because of its wider-ranging considerations of the effects of a small town murder on those who reside alongside a perp who remains mercurial and unidentified.
This impact is thoroughly explored in thought-provoking passages that broaden the concerns and impact a murder has on the entire community; especially in a small town: "The citizens and communities of Cavalier and Pembina County need closure too. After there has been a murder in a small community, where everyone knows each other, it is difficult to go back to feeling safe and secure. Do they still worry when strangers come to town? Do they lock their doors at night? Does the murderer still live among them?"
Nelson's inspection of psychological, social, and criminal impacts of unresolved crimes is astute, drawing together a number of resources to make points that most true crime memoirs omit.
Her ability to include, yet move beyond, her personal connections and perspective to embrace the wider issues affecting the legal, social, and political processes of a community sets Cavalier apart from the usual true crime story. It's thus a highly recommended pick not just for libraries interested in criminology and sociology, but for discussion groups analyzing the impact of unresolved grief that affects individuals and society as a whole.
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Connie L. Nelson