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Making Peace With My Sister's Killer

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 23, 2024 3:04 am

Making Peace With My Sister's Killer

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 23, 2024 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Jeanne Bishop tells us the story of the brutal murders of her beloved family members… and how a change of heart changed her life and so many others. Read her book for the full story.

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Learn more at att.com slash 5g for you. I'm Katja Adler, host of The Global Story. Over the last 25 years I've covered conflicts in the Middle East, political and economic crises in Europe, drug cartels in Mexico. Now I'm covering the stories behind the news all over the world in conversation with those who break it. Join me Monday to Friday to find out what's happening, why, and what it all means. Follow The Global Story from the BBC wherever you listen to podcasts. Each week you can play for free anytime, anywhere, and each day brings a new chance to collect daily bonuses. So join me in the fun.

Sign up now at ChumbaCasino.com. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories and we tell stories about everything here on this show. From the arts to sports and from business to history and everything in between, including your stories.

Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. And up next we bring you a story from Jean Bishop.

It's the story of a loving family shattered by gruesome violence. Here's Jean Bishop. I grew up in Oklahoma City with a mom and a dad and two sisters. I'm the middle child of three. I have an older sister Jennifer and a younger sister Nancy.

She's five years younger than me. And we had this kind of idyllic childhood, you know, nice neighborhood, great friends, great school. And so when we all grew up and ended up moving back to Chicago, where I was born, where my sisters and I were born, we all kind of stayed together as a close family. Nancy got married to the love of her life, Richard, at the age of 23. And they started right away trying to have kids. They wanted to have a big, happy family. Even though Nancy was the youngest of us three sisters, she was the first of us to get pregnant.

She was the first who was going to be a mom. And when she announced the news of this to me and my older sister, my mom and dad, we were all just over the moon with joy and happiness. We went out to dinner to celebrate the great news. We went to this Italian restaurant on Clark Street in Chicago, and I brought a little baby gift, a little baby sweater from a trip I'd just been on. And we ordered pasta, and we were laughing, and my parents were so thrilled. This would have been their first grandchild.

This would have been my first little niece or nephew. It was a Saturday night, the night before Palm Sunday. We all had goodbye in the parking lot that night. My mom and dad went back to their big house in the suburbs. I went back to my apartment in Chicago, and Nancy and Richard went back to this townhouse they were living in in Winnetka, Illinois. And Winnetka is the place I live now.

It's one of the safest, most affluent communities in the country. When they walked through the door of their townhouse, the killer was waiting for them. He had used a glass cutter to break in the glass sliding door in the back, because he knew that breaking the glass would have alerted the neighbors, and they would have called the police. He had a.357 Magnum revolver.

He pointed it at them. He handcuffed my brother-in-law, Richard. And Richard was this gentle giant.

He was this six-foot-three, 230-pound former athlete, but he was completely disabled when he was handcuffed. He forced them down into the basement. They begged for their lives. Nancy and Richard both told him that she was pregnant, asked him not to hurt her. First, he put the gun to Richard's head, and he killed him execution-style with one gunshot.

And I can't describe how awful that must have been for Nancy, how surreal it must have been to see this man she loved and wanted to have a family with and grow old with, just assassinated in that moment. So then the gun was turned on her. She covered up her own head with her hands, just because of what she'd just seen, and kind of huddled in a corner.

The killer fired twice instead into her pregnant side and abdomen, and then he left her there to die. And when we got the coroner's report later, we saw that she lived for about ten minutes after that, and the blood marks on the basement and the marks on her body showed what she did. She tried to call for help by banging on this metal shelf with a tool that was in the basement. She was too weak to stand, and so she was trying to make a noise that someone would hear. And I just imagine that at some point she must have known that no help was coming, and that she was dying, and that the darkness was kind of closing in around her, and her baby was dying inside her. So she dragged herself by her elbows over to where Richard's body was, and before she died she did this incredible thing that the police told us about later. She had drawn in her own blood on the floor next to Richard, the shape of a heart and the letter U. It's how she used to sign her cards and letters to him. And when I learned that, I was with my mom, and my mom burst into tears, and she said, It's true, isn't it? Love is stronger than death. And when I heard it, I thought, What?

But this incredible presence of God could explain the kind of serenity and love and luminous grace that could explain her being able to do those in her last moments, this young woman who knew she was dying, to have this be her last word on her life. And that changed everything for me. I was working at a big law firm at the time doing corporate law and doing a terrible job of it, because I wasn't putting my heart into it. I didn't love it. It wasn't deeply meaningful to me. And I was cheating my employer as a result.

I wasn't giving it my best. And I realized when Nancy died at age 25, four years younger than me, that life is short, and it can be taken from us at any moment. And we have to spend our lives doing things that are deeply meaningful, that do require our whole heart, and that do some good for the world. And so I left the corporate firm to be a public defender within months.

And it's a job that I've been doing ever since, a job that I still do. So after Nancy was killed, for six months, the crime went unsolved. No one could explain who would kill this happy young couple with no enemies, with everything in the world to live for. And I was just stunned at the theories that were being floated, that maybe it was the drug runners that were trying to disguise drugs in the coffee warehouse where Richard worked, and maybe he saw something he shouldn't have seen and they killed him. Maybe it was some jealous ex-boyfriend of Nancy's.

I mean, all these crazy things that didn't make any sense and that led to nowhere. And you're listening to Jean Bishop, and what a story she's telling us when we come back. More of Jean Bishop's story here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to OurAmericanStories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

That's OurAmericanStories.com. I'm Katja Adler, host of The Global Story. Over the last 25 years I've covered conflicts in the Middle East, political and economic crises in Europe, drug cartels in Mexico. Now I'm covering the stories behind the news all over the world in conversation with those who break it. Join me Monday to Friday to find out what's happening, why, and what it all means.

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Learn more at HowLifeUnfolds.com slash paper-terian. And we're back with our American stories and with Jean Bishop's story about her sister Nancy and her sister's husband Richard's tragic death. Now let's return to more of Jean Bishop and her story. One day I got a phone call in my apartment from the local CBS reporter who wanted to know my reaction to the arrest in my sister's murder case. And I said, you know, what arrest? And he said, there's a teenage boy in custody in the Wanaka police station.

And I was shocked. It was the last thing in the world I expected to find out that it was this skinny 16-year-old who lived a few blocks away from them that had been the one who killed them. He had bragged to his friends and nobody believed him.

They thought he was joking when he said that he had done it. Until one friend finally did believe him, because by this time the trail had grown so cold that the killer felt confident enough to show the gun to his friend, to show the handcuffs like the ones he'd used to tell him in detail how he'd done it. And the friend wasn't going to turn him in at first, didn't turn him in. And then when he was afraid that this young man might kill again and that he'd be a kind of an accomplice to it if he do, finally walked into the Wanaka police station and turned him in. So the police had gotten a warrant, had gone to this young man's home, had found the gun under his bed, tested the ballistics, found it a perfect match to the bullets that killed my family members. Found the glass cutter he'd used, found this notebook he kept about killing them with all the press clippings about the murders.

We even found out that he had gone to Nancy and Richard's funeral. So he was arrested. He was held without bond in the Cook County Jail, and he went to trial about a year later. And he took the stand and denied the crime, tried to blame it on someone else that he hadn't done it, that a friend of his had come to his door the night of the murder and knocked on it and handed in the gun and said, here, hide this sight.

I just killed two people with it. The jury didn't buy it. It contradicted all the physical evidence. It contradicted the details of the crime scene. Only he would have known about his own confessions to the crime. And so they found him guilty. And when he was sentenced, he got the mandatory sentence that you got at that time in the state of Illinois for a multiple homicide.

And that's life in prison without the possibility of parole. And when he got that sentence, my mom was sitting next to me on these hard wooden benches where you sit in the courtroom as a spectator. And she said to me, we'll never see him again.

And when she told me that, I was glad. I thought, good, you know, I'll never have to think about him again. I had decided very early on that whoever had done it, I was not going to hate him or her because I knew that if I had hate in my heart over the murders of my family members, that there wouldn't be enough hate in the world.

It'd be this vast, endless ocean of hate that I would drift into. And so I had to forgive that person. But the forgiveness that I had given to him wasn't directed directly to him.

I didn't tell him. It was a forgiveness in my own mind and heart just to unchain myself from him. And it was a forgiveness that wasn't really supposed to be about him or for him in any way.

It was really for God because my faith teaches me that we have to forgive as we've been forgiven. And it was for Nancy because I knew her. She was generous and loving and kind and funny and warm. And she loved life. She loved people.

She was carrying life in her body when she was killed. So that's when I decided to work in her memory against gun violence, against the death penalty, against anything that shed more blood. And I forgave for me because of this saying I love. I write about it in my book that hating another person is like drinking poison and expecting that other person to die. And I knew that if I harbored bitterness in my heart towards him, it wouldn't affect him at all. In fact, he might even want my hate.

But it would eat me alive. And so I vowed not to do that. So he was sentenced to life.

He was taken to Menard Prison, this dungeon-like fortress in downstate Illinois. And for twenty years I went on my way, not thinking of him at all, but just trying to live my life in a way that honored God and this gift of life that I still had been given and that honored Nancy and her memory. So I did a lot of speaking against the death penalty all over the country and the world, from my perspective as a murder victims family member. In the course of doing that, I met this law professor named Mark Osler. Mark Osler is, like me, a really unlikely opponent of the death penalty.

He is a former prosecutor who doesn't believe in it. And he had written a book about faith and the death penalty, and I met him at this conference down in Atlanta, Georgia, at Martin Luther King Jr.'s church of an Easter Baptist. And he gave me his book, and later he gave me another one, one chapter written by a colleague of his from where he used to teach. And this chapter is written by Randall O'Brien.

So Randall is this guy who grew up in Macomb, Mississippi, veteran of the army in Vietnam, first a teacher of religion at Baylor and then a college university president in Tennessee. And he wrote this chapter about forgiveness, which I was really interested in. And in that chapter, he wrote this, that no Christian man or woman is relieved of the obligation to work to reconcile with those who've wronged them. And when I read that sentence, I was so affronted. I was just completely indignant. And I thought, you're telling me that even though this killer of my sister is not sorry and hasn't apologized and showed no remorse whatsoever, that it's my job to walk out to him, hand outstretched, and say, let's make peace, you and I. And I was so angry that I actually called Mark Gossler to yell at him for giving me this book.

And he said, you know, don't be mad at me. I didn't write this. Call the author. Call Randall O'Brien.

Tell him what you think. And so I did. I called the president of Carson Newman University and I left a message that Jean Bishop wanted to speak to him. And I thought, oh, gosh, he'll never call me back. I'm this stranger calling out of the blue.

But he did. I was sitting in my car waiting to pick up someone from O'Hare Airport. It was one of those freezing cold Chicago nights.

And the snow was swirling around and the heat was on full blast. And I get this phone call from this guy who sounds just like Jimmy Carter. He says, Jean Bishop?

And it was Randall. And I told him this story about my sister and the murder and this unrepentant murderer and this thing he'd written that so upset me. And I said to him, reconciling with this remorseless person, what would this even look like? And he said it would look like Jesus on the cross. And I know that I'm speaking to an audience of people of many faiths or maybe no faith at all. But my Christian faith is how I was raised.

And so I know what he meant by that when he said that. The Gospels record that when Jesus was dying, being crucified by people who are not sorry, who haven't apologized to him, who showed no remorse, that he was praying for them. That he said, Father, forgive them. Forgive them.

They don't know what they're doing. And I was so convicted in that moment because I'd never once prayed for this young man who killed my family members. I'd never even said his name. I went through my life saying Nancy and Richard's name because I wanted their names to live and the name of this killer to die. And I realized that if I were going to pray for this young man, I needed to say his name because you kind of make him a non-person by not saying it. So the first thing I did when I started praying for him is to say his name. It's David Biro.

David Biro. He is a child of God. My faith teaches me that God loves him every bit as much as God loves me. And that I'm as flawed and fallen as he is and is in need of grace. And you are listening to Jean Bishop. What words to try and live by? Not easy. Hating that other person is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

This idea of how to reconcile with a remorseless person, how to forgive, how to not carry hate in our heart. More of Jean Bishop's story here on Our American Stories. From BBC Radio 4, Britain's biggest paranormal podcast is going on a road trip. I thought in that moment, oh my God, we've summoned something from this board. This is Uncanny USA.

He says somebody's in the house and I screamed. Listen to Uncanny USA wherever you get your BBC podcasts. If you dare. If you use paper, you're a human. But if you choose paper, you're a paper-terian.

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That's K-N-I-X dot com. And we return to our American stories and you've been listening to Jean Bishop's remarkable journey of forgiveness. Let's return to Jean and the remaining parts of this remarkable story. What I'd done all those years is built this very convenient wall between me and him. And on one side of the wall was him, and you're the evil murderer. And the other side was me, the good innocent victim's family member. And I saw that God breaks down that wall and that instead of trying to shut him away, I should try to bring him back.

To bring him back into community, into fellowship, into the grace of God. So I wrote him. I wrote him a letter and I said in that letter, I forgave you a long time ago and I never told you that that was wrong. And I'm sorry. And I've waited all these years for you to apologize to me. I'm going to go first. I am sorry.

And if you want me to come see you, I will. And I mailed that letter not knowing how he'd react. I put it in the mailbox to Pontiac prison where he was at that time. And I pictured him getting it and maybe crumpling it up and throwing it away or showing it to his cellmate and having a good laugh over this woman and her lofty words about forgiveness, or maybe getting back some smarmy, ingratiating letter trying to manipulate in some way. And so the last thing in the world I expected was to get a very thick envelope a few weeks later in my mailbox at the public defender's office with his name Biro up in the left hand corner and the return address. And for two days I couldn't open it.

I was just afraid to see what it would be. And so I asked Mark Osler to open it instead and read it to me. And when he did, he said, it's good.

And he read me out the whole letter and it started like this. You and your family waited so long to hear this. I am guilty. I did kill your family members. And I'm so sorry.

If I could take it back, I would. And in the next 15 pages front and back in this letter, he traced his whole trajectory over those 20 plus years of how he'd gone from trying to get away with the crime to getting to prison and seeing the people around him and realizing that he didn't want to be like them. And yet he was, that he'd done this terrible thing, that he deserved to be there. When he'd see the news on TV of some horrific crime like a baby being murdered or an old woman being raped, he'd think instinctively, oh, that person's an animal that did that. And then he thought, wait a second, that's me.

I shot a pregnant woman in the stomach. He started reading. He started self-teaching. He had a friend who had come to visit him and then one day she just vanished, never wrote him again, never called him again, never came to see him, never answered his letters to her. And he started just wondering why, you know, was it something he had done?

Was it something that happened to her? And then he started having great empathy for my family, thinking, gosh, I bet the Bishop family wishes they knew why. Like, why had I done this to them?

Why did I kill their family members? And so he became very remorseful and wanted to reach out to me, but didn't want to do that unbidden because he was afraid of how that would traumatize me or my family if we didn't want to see that name, or throw on an envelope to us. So the minute I had written to him, he started writing back. And I did go to see him.

I'm seeing him still. It has been incredibly healing to hear about Nancy's last moments, to learn about things I didn't know. One thing I learned that I loved was this. Nancy was kind of like the chatty, talking one, and Richard was like the strong silent type. And so I imagine that as they were talking to the person who killed them, begging for their lives, that she would have been the one doing the talking.

But what David Biro told me is it wasn't her, it was Richard. That from the moment he saw a gun pointed at his wife and child, he never stopped begging, finding ways, trying to find any way that she would be let go, that he would stay behind, and that she would be let go and be able to live. And it was incredibly healing to speak to David because I got to have this one-on-one victim impact statement that I never got to do.

When he was sentenced to life without parole, he didn't have these aggravation and mitigation proceedings that you usually have in a court case because the sentence was mandatory. So we never got to do a statement that we could read out in court about how his actions had hurt us, had hurt everyone who loved Nancy and Richard, my mom, my dad, my older sister, Nancy's neighbors, her coworkers, her classmates, everyone who loved them. And when I talk about Nancy to him, this kind of shadow comes across his face. He told me once, he said, the more I get to know her through you, the worse I feel about what I did. And that's the only justice he can give me. He can't bring Nancy back or her baby or her husband, but he can do what he's done, which is to grasp the enormity of what he did, and to feel great shame and remorse for it, and to do everything he can now to live a quiet life in the prison where he's doing life.

Because I told him that it's his job now to do every bit of good in the world that she can no longer do. So I sing in a choir at my church, and one day one of my choir members asked me, Jean, what is it like to go and see the person who killed your family members? What is it like to shake the hand that held that gun? And I told her, it's like frozen earth that used to be hard and barren where nothing would grow, becoming soft and moist, where green shoots are springing up, and life is coming out of the ground that used to be so barren. That's what it feels like. I feel like my heart had been frozen.

And now it's a place where so many things can grow. This love, this forgiveness, this mercy, this reconciliation. It's so healing.

It's so helpful. And it isn't just for me. It's for everyone. It's for everyone within the sound of my voice, whether it's the coworker who undermined you, or the business partner who betrayed you, the family member that wounded you and abused you, the neighbor, the friend, you name it. None of us gotten through this life unscathed. Every single one of us has something that we have to forgive. And every one of us, I think, knows what it's like also to go to another and say, I am so sorry. I can't believe I did that.

I'm so ashamed of it. And I apologize. Will you take me back?

Will you let me back in? That's what I've learned from this tragedy, from the loss of my sister, and from that message of love that she wrote in those last moments, that love is greater than our woundedness. Love is greater than hate or bitterness or vengeance. And love is the way out of this hurt that we're in. Love is greater than our woundedness.

It's the way out of the hurt we're in. You're listening to Jean Bishop on forgiving her sister's murderer. Her book, Change of Heart, Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer is available on Amazon. Again, the book is Change of Heart.

Go to Amazon, get it, pass it to everyone you know. And by the way, what I loved about this piece is she wasn't asking that he not serve his time. And for anyone who's had a family member that was a victim of a crime, people need to be in jail and pay the price for what they did. But this beautiful way of dealing with it in the interpersonal level and through the reconciliation model, well, it's simply beautiful. Jean Bishop's story, her sister's story, and her sister's husband's story, and David Buro's story too, here on Our American Stories. I'm Katja Adler, host of The Global Story. Over the last 25 years, I've covered conflicts in the Middle East, political and economic crises in Europe, drug cartels in Mexico. Now, I'm covering the stories behind the news all over the world in conversation with those who break it. Join me Monday to Friday to find out what's happening, why, and what it all means. Follow The Global Story from the BBC wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-23 04:41:21 / 2024-05-23 04:53:57 / 13

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