Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Location: 175 Fifth Ave, NY, NY
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 5/1/2009
Summary: The murder of Loretta Bowersock by live-in boyfriend Taw Benderly. She was 69 at the time of her murder in 2004.
The major contribution Jana Bommersbach’s BONES IN THE DESERT makes to any discussion about crime is how difficult it can be to define a crime when victim and victimizer are in a domestic relationship. In the death of sixty-nine year old Loretta Bowersock, it is obvious that she was the victim of various personal crimes long before she was finally murdered on December 14, 2004. Taw Benderly, the man who murdered her and nine days later killed himself, had been siphoning away Bowersock’s assets for years. He appeared to be an asset sponge. For the nearly twenty years of Bowersock’s and Benderly’s relationship, Bowersock was the spigot and Benderly the sponge. That’s the way it appears.
There is a compelling story in the Bowersock and Benderly relationship going far beyond the murder and suicide. But we don’t get that story here. Bommersbach’s treatment of the principals and the final crime is viewed through the tempered skylight of Terry Bowersock, Loretta’s daughter. It is useless to speculate on how Loretta Bowersock and Taw Benderly existed as a couple, as a dysfunctional couple, as victim and victimizer. But there is much in BONES IN THE DESERT to suggest that there was more to them as flawed man and woman than the saintly Loretta and evil Taw sketched in the pages of the book.
The author manages to sneak in two themes pertaining to the life of Loretta Bowersock which are not developed in the particular. The first theme is that of the abused woman. Loretta Bowersock did not see herself as a victim of abuse and it is relatively easy to understand why. To the outside world she appeared confident and accomplished. She ran a business and was, for most of her life, a single parent. Her only failing, if one can call it a failing-quirk would be more appropriate-was that she believed a woman needed a man in her life. The fact is of course that everyone, woman and man, needs a life. Life, in turn, is besot with dizzying array of absorbing problems. Absent a problem, most people will go out and look for one. Sometimes, as with Loretta Bowersock, the problem finds them. From the author’s treatment of the subject, it appears that Bowersock allowed herself to sink so deep into the problem of Taw Benderly that there was no way for her to climb up. The author does not give us a clue as to why this strong and independent woman surrendered to life as a victim.
It is tempting to see the circumstances of Loretta Bowersock’s life and un-necessary death as a facet of elderly abuse. Author Jana Bommersbach raises the issue in passing, noting that the “. . year she died [Loretta Bowersock, 2004], more than 4,900 cases of suspected elder abuse were reported in her home county in Arizona. . .” While the abuse is real, the question is how it relates to Loretta Bowersock. That her “long-time”, live-in boyfriend was stealing her blind and eventually murdered her points unequivocally to spousal abuse, elderly abuse and more. But “abuse” in the abstract-giving it a label-does not help the reader understand Loretta Bowersock. The book is filled with too many contradictions to sum Loretta Bowersock or even Taw Benderly with abstractions.
The omnipresence of Terri Bowersock, Loretta’s daughter, throughout the pages of BONES IN THE DESERT explains the contradictions, the absence of a flesh and blood Loretta Bowersock.. It is the story of “a daughter’s search” for her mother. Perhaps, the search was not only a search for the mother’s body, which was found in 2006, but also for the woman Terri Bowersock knew as her mother. The former search was successful, apparently with the help of some physics. But the search for the woman, Loretta Bowersock, was definitely not completed in this book.
BONES IN THE DESERT is not recommended reading.