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  • Written by Linda Spalding
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  • Written by Linda Spalding
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A True Story of Murder and Memory

Written by Linda SpaldingAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Linda Spalding


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: October 14, 2008
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-307-47280-9
Published by : Anchor Knopf
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When a murder occurs in beautiful Hawaii, the suspects are two young mainlanders on their honeymoon. Mayann Acker is eighteen-years-old. Her husband, William, is twenty-eight and just out of prison.Linda Spalding is chosen as a juror for Maryann's trail. Surprisingly, the chief witness against her is William. Spalding has her doubts, but on the last day of the trial she is abruptly dismissed from the jury. Maryann is found guilty. Who Named the Knife is the story of how, eighteen years later, Spalding tracks down Maryann and uncovers much more than the answer to the question of her innocence. A complex journey into the twists of fate that spin two lives down different paths, Who Named the Knife offers profound insight into the human heart.


Chapter One

Murder. In such a place.

From above, from the highway, it looks like a planet must have fallen into it, the round bowl edges of this bay are so perfect. Below the surface of the water, amazing fish can be seen living their lives in the coral. This is a place where children play in the waves, where parents sit on the sand, where people float, looking down. A swimmer can pause, roll over, blink a few times, and look up at the hills that surround this blue water. The hills feel protective, a barrier between the world of invention and this place.

So it must have looked to Larry Hasker in the last minutes of his life. He had been casual with his captors. “So this is a robbery? I can’t believe it.” He got out of the car with his shirt unbuttoned, his rubber slippers moving over the rocks. Up at the cusp, above the parking lot, the terrain is rough. Even through the slippers, he must have felt the jolts of stone and brush and dirt. He had smoked a joint in the car. He was young, twenty years old, and almost relaxed. On a ridge within sight of the highway, he turned and looked down. It was past midnight in the month of June, 1978. The moon was high. It threw its reflected light on the ocean, so that the water looked like metal heated over flame. Molten. He breathed in and reached down for himself, opened his fly. Looking at water and night. The stars were there, too. And his captors.

There is no shame in dying with a shirt open or pants, dying in the act of emptying oneself. In such a place.

The girl who discovered the body was taking a walk before work, noticing the dusty smell of kiawe above the bay, the pungent smell of seaweed, the smell of a place where ocean and land meet. It was early in the morning, and when she saw a slipper lying in the brush, she was not surprised. Near any beach, such a forgotten slipper is not unusual, although this one wasn’t broken; its thong was intact. She saw the slipper and then she saw a human foot covered in flies. It was a Monday morning and nobody was there to hear, but she screamed.

So it begins with a body on the side of the road that leads from Hanauma Bay to the Kalanianaole Highway on the windward side of O’ahu—this story of murder, on the island where I lived. The body was lying twenty-five feet from that highway among rocks, thorns, and brush. The shirt was untorn. There were no scratches, no bruises, no cuts on the flesh. There were just two wounds: one on the right side of his head and one on the outside surface of a leg.

What happens in such a place, on such a beach, is quickly forgotten in any season. What happens can so easily wash away. Even above the tide line, far above it, a third bullet can get lodged in the sand, can be plucked at by birds, can be sent down the slope by a vagrant wind. A body can be ignored until it is past recognition, until its bones and teeth must be studied; it can be eaten; it can merge with the elements; it can be nosed at by wandering dogs. But this is a beach for children and families, a place to be walked along and sat upon. And what is there left of Larry Hasker here? Blood. Piss. A fragment of rubber slipper. He’d stood in the brush above the sea with its luminous sheen. One of his slippers had fallen off. He’d turned, unzipped, and zipped. Then he’d been shot.

Once in an ankle. Once in the head.

Someone, it must have been, with lousy aim.

Chapter Two

In 1978, I was living on the windward side of O’ahu with my two daughters. I was a single mother running a child-care agency for low-income families, and I must have read about the murder of Larry Hasker in the morning paper. Another syndicate killing, I must have thought.

In those days, the morning paper was stuffed in my mailbox before I got up. I had to walk across the front yard in whatever I had worn to bed and step on the sleeping grass, which stung my feet. I’d have made myself a pot of coffee and given myself until ten o’clock to get to work because it was summer and I was my own boss. I’d have sat outside on the patio of the first house I’d ever owned—a house hard-won and loved by me as no other. I’d have sat on one of the two basket chairs and read about the murder and I’d have thought about my father, who had been dead for seven years. I’d have thought about him and about my brother, who had taken me out to Hanauma Bay in the summer of 1958.

Hawaii was still a territory then, not yet the fiftieth American state, and to my vivid fourteen-year-old imagination, it was a magical place with its ancient stone temples called heiau still visible in the tall grass. Skip was stationed in the Coast Guard with his wife and their new baby. He was ten years older than I was, and by the time I could measure anything, he’d left home to study. He would not be a lawyer like our father, or drink highballs, or wear a suit. He would be an architect. He would be artistic. Maybe he took me to Hanauma to teach me courage, because we both knew the brooding temper in our Kansas house.

In those days, the bay formed its own remote reality. There were other swimmers, but not many, and Skip could dive deep with nothing but his mask on, blowing the water out when he resurfaced. The waves pushed and pulled, throwing me against the coral reef, but he told me to relax and breathe, to go with the waves. And once, we were looking down through our masks when I saw something in a crevasse where the water was not even very deep. It was a moray eel curled and ready to strike, with a cold, blank look over an open throat and murderous teeth.

When I married, I moved with my husband to Hawaii, where he had been born and raised. My mother said I had fallen in love with Philip because I wanted to go back; we had tried Massachusetts. We had started in Mexico. We had met at school and I thought we were perfectly matched, now Hawaii had changed. The landscape was full of high rises and highways. It was no longer paradise. During our second summer there, when Philip moved out, when he started another family, I stayed in Hawaii and raised our two girls. We used to go to Hanauma Bay with our snorkels and fins. I have a picture of a birthday party there, with little girls wearing paper crowns.

Now there had been a murder. And within a few days, there were sketches in the newspaper of two suspects: a man and a woman. Not the Hawaii syndicate, after all. But who were they?

From the Hardcover edition.
Linda Spalding|Author Q&A

About Linda Spalding

Linda Spalding - Who Named The Knife

Photo © Derek Shapton

Linda Spalding was born and raised in Kansas. She is the author of three previous novels and two acclaimed works of nonfiction, A Dark Place in the Jungle, which was short-listed for the Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers’ Non-Fiction Prize, and Who Named the Knife. The Purchase received Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is an editor of Brick magazine.


Author Q&A

Q: Eighteen years ago, while living in Hawaii, you sat on the jury of a murder triala young woman and her husband went on an armed robbery spree that left two men murdered.  Standing accused however was only Maryann Acker, the wife.  Can you tell us little about how the case was first presented to you? 

I was called to jury duty but repeatedly challenged by prosecutors. It was a little frustrating. Why didn't they want me? I suppose I reeked of liberalism. Then when the Acker trial was called, I was made an alternate juror when the prosecutor ran out of peremptory challenges. I didn't remember anything about the Hasker murder of 1978, but the minute I laid eyes on Maryann Acker, the defendant, I was fascinated. I felt oddly connected to her. For some reason, she reminded me of my eldest daughter, although she was several years older. Maryann was from a middle-class mainland background, like me, and had a strange fragility. On top of that, she was a Mormon, so her whole situation seemed so improbable! I began writing to her in my journal. Everyday, I kept track of my thoughts and the trial proceedings in letters to her that I kept in a journal.

In the end, you were dismissed from the jury that convicted Maryann Acker of murder.  To a large extent, there is an element of fate involved this -- If you had not taken your dog to the vet, you would have been on time the day of deliberations and would have remained on the jury.  Likewise, had you not years later discovered the notebook you kept during the trial, you never would have gotten back in touch with Maryann.  What compelled you to write WHO NAMED THE KNIFE now? 

Maryann and I began a correspondence that was fairly intense. But I could never get her to tell me about the two murders she and/or her husband had committed. Nor could I get her to examine her childhood with anything but nostalgia. All of her energy was devoted to the present and the future. Was that a mechanism for survival in prison or a lifelong process of denial? The more I urged, the less I got in the way of insight from Maryann. So I began telling her things about my own life, providing the example of my own self-exploration. The book grew out of that dialogue. I was as fascinated by our similarities as by our differences—by our similar but different parents and backgrounds and choices. Books grow out of fascination. I was trying to figure something out. I was learning.

How did your friends and family react to your growing friendship with a woman in prison for murder?

There were lots of surprises. My boyfriend and I were staying in La Jolla when I first visited Maryann in prison. We were staying with friends and I wanted Maryann to be able to call me. The friend said she could use his phone number for a collect call if she was a murderer, but not if she was a serial killer. Seriously. I was stumped. There is a sort of knee-jerk reaction I notice when you talk about people in prison, that somehow they mean less. Didn't I care if she was guilty? Was I sure of her innocence? There was also a persistent warning: What about when she gets out? What will you do then?

You comment that being a juror enabled you to test yourself on your father's ground.  What do you mean by that? 

My father (a trial attorney) had the highest standards of conduct and ethics with regard to the law. His fundamental belief system was written into the U.S. Constitution; it was his religion and he was proud of his ardent defense of clients within the confines of that system. I suppose that, never having been able to prove myself competent in his eyes, I hoped to live up to his standards of logical thinking and problem solving during the trial. To come to some conclusion about Maryann's innocence or guilt that would make my father proud. Even when our parents are dead, we continue to measure ourselves against their expectations and desires.

In the book you say you initially reconnected with Maryann out of a sense of guilt.  What kind of guilt?

I felt very keenly, and still feel, that she would not have been convicted in Hawaii if I had not been late on the last day of the trial. There is a factor of shame involved too, and that is the awful fear that I let myself be late because I did not want the responsibility of being the only juror who would vote for her acquittal. This is the kind of wondering I hoped Maryann would do but she still laughs about my persistent interest in “what ifs.” In prison for twenty-eight years, she is much less interested in the concept of personal guilt than I am.

How has your relationship with Maryann evolved since first meeting her?

Although we are both middle-class white women, our friendship is challenged on many levels because we live in unequal circumstances. Maryann has few privileges; I have many. Her interest is almost entirely focused on her predicament. Mine is focused on work, family, home, entertainment, politics, ideas, relationships. In the early stages of our correspondence, I thought I was gifting her with my experiences, the way I used to gift my stay-at-home mother with my adventures. Then I began to hide things from Maryann out of a sense of embarrassment—as if I didn't want her to know how much she had lost! But Maryann is very bright and she has helped me realize her strength. Our continuing intimacy does us both good. I have come to know her former cellmate and her foster sister. She has come to know a dear friend and has met one of my daughters as well as the young woman who is working on a screenplay of Who Named the Knife. We have gradually built another context for our friendship—this community of sorts. She reports to me about her communications with her lawyer, her health concerns, her worries. She now knows a lot about my life, my opinions, my values. She knows that, even after the book was finished, I continue to care about her. We have good days and bad days, leisurely conversations and hurried ones, but our friendship is no longer tentative. It is, of course, still a friendship of unequals. In the book I tell my mother that a dependent friend can provide “the comfort of need.” It's something I think about a great deal.

What about the American penal system is brought to light by Maryann's case?

Lawyers vary in their abilities and defendants vary in their ability to pay for good ones. Then there is the quirky juror, who can single-handedly determine a trial's outcome and the quirky sentencing and parole systems that vary from state to state (parole commissioners are sometimes poorly educated, and vindictive.) Prisons should not be a place of no reprieve, but our society is less and less interested in rehabilitation. In California, the prison-guard lobby, which promotes longer sentences, is the most powerful lobby in the state. This may be the reason that prisoners who are found acceptable for parole are rarely released by the governor.

At the end of the book, you recount telling Maryann that she has given you back your life.  How so?  How have you changed from your relationship with Maryann?

While I kept trying to help Maryann understand her own life, I used mine as an example—the way my father had frightened me or my mother had influenced me—and I began to understand my parents in the process. My mother became more and more real to me. So did my father's tragic past. Explaining them to Maryann and seeing them in contrast to her parents helped me consider my parents' complex strengths. It was an amazing process—a kind of narrative-analysis! To consider the whole was to forgive the parts. And forgiving my parents helped me forgive myself.

Where is Maryann now in her new trial?  What's next for her?  And, for you?

Maryann's murder conviction in Hawaii has been vacated, but the State of Hawaii has appealed that decision and we are waiting for the Hawaii Supreme Court to rule on the appeal. In the meantime, Michael Brennan, Maryann's attorney in California, will try a Writ of Habeas Corpus in California since she has served many years more than her “matrix” there and has never been found acceptable for parole. Without a pro bono lawyer willing to represent her, Maryann would not stand a chance of release. Even with one, it begins to seem possible that she may never get out.

Meanwhile, I will do what I can to see that the movie of my book gets made. I'll hope that it makes a difference, that the book makes a difference—that people will begin to care about the lives of prisoners. I talk to Maryann two or three times a week, see her whenever I can and, if Maryann is released, I'll be waiting at the prison gate, with a rental car and a full tank of gas.

From the Hardcover edition.



“Reminiscent of Truman Capote. . . . Breathtaking.” —The Seattle Times“A formidable psychological journey into the dramatically different, yet interconnected lives of… two women. Compact and riveting.” —The Oregonian “An honest, creepily fascinating memoir/true-crime story.” —The New York Times “Gripping. . . . Spalding is amazing in her ability to seamlessly present a legal paper trail and other research alongside her emotional and honest assessment of herself.” —The Miami Herald

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