Shaman the Springer Spaniel was on his morning walk down by the dock on the bay. It was clear and crisp that first Tuesday of the New Year. At one point, he disappeared into the bayberry bushes behind the bathroom facilities of yacht cub whose heading is at the south end of the Amityville cut on the barrier beach. `
Usually, Shaman comes when called, but this time he was unresponsive. Back in a clearing, he was sniffing and pawing the ground. By his forepaw, lay an odd object. I picked it up. It was one of those long, lean Barbie-type dolls. It had been methodically wrapped mummy-style from head to ankle in cloth electrical tape faded to coal ash. A clump of peroxide blond hair sprouted from the doll’s tape-wrapped head. Given the four female cadavers wrapped in burlap found three weeks earlier two miles due east, it was hair-raising. I turned it over to the police.
Was mummified Barbie merely an off-handed sentiment caste off and blown two miles across the Great South Bay by a Nor’easter? Could it have been a creation of some artiste under the influence of Dare Wright’s The Lonely Doll? Or was it, in fact, a Voodoo Barbie left at the scene as a creepy symbol by the killer? Most viewing the pictures thought it the latter
The grizzly discoveries on the barrier beach became instant grist for jokes and jibes at work. One woman, who comports herself properly, as a rule, greeted me with, “Have you been cruising Craig’s List lately?” Others chimed in with, “Hear you’re a suspect,” or “Have an alibi?” One of the wisecrackers was certain mummified Barbie was my twisted idea of a joke. Within hours he had Googled five images of Ken dolls including one in a leather biker outfit, stapled them together with a title page, “Suffolk County Police Department: Ocean Parkway Murder Suspects Mug Shot,” and left it on my desk. It was the only chuckle any of this got out of me.
There would be no wisecracks had there been a home invasion of the caliber that savaged and brutally murdered all three females of Dr. Petit’s family in Connecticut. With the perpetrators still at large, everyone would be too racked with fear. That the first four victims were so-called “Craig’s List escorts” renders their fate more of an abstraction. Poor, unfortunate creatures these, vulnerable to vermin as they ply the “world’s oldest profession.” Some protest ‘they are people too,’ but most, as Shannon Gilbert’s mother put it, “look at them like they’re throwaway.”
It was Blue, the police dog that picked up where Gilbert’s frenzied flight from her Craig’s List client left off. Some six months later, three miles to the west, he sniffed out the cadaver dump in narrow clumps of bayberry thickets just off Ocean Parkway. “If it wasn’t for my daughter, these bodies never would have been found,” Gilbert’s mother observed. “Everyone has their destiny, maybe this was hers.” Pictures of Shannon’s suggest she was destined for tragedy. Mascara frames sad, tired eyes. Pouting, Angela Jolie lips are caked with lipstick. Her face is inanimate, the expression defeated. She’s all dolled up with no place to go.
Like so many girls growing up across America, Shannon surely played with any number of Barbie dolls. Ten years ago in a DadsWorld.com article, “Gender Bender Barbie”, I reported that the average American girl has nine of them. The iconic Barbie is the template for what little girls should want to look like when they grow up. Barbie is how Hugh Hefner likes his babes – 36”/18”/33” if you take her to scale at 5’9”. Barbie is the mold out of which Fox News Stepford foxes pop; Vanna White game show ornaments as well. They’re all dolled up to get attention.
You can tell the Mummified Barbie is a knock-off, someone pointed out, because her feet aren’t permanently arched to accommodate three-inch heels. Barbie herself is a knock-off of Lilli Doll, a German ‘sex doll’ whose wardrobe made her “the star of every bar.” “I could do without balding old men,” Lilli declared, “but my budget couldn’t!” What else need we know about the aspiration of Barbie’s inspiration? An innocent doll Barbie ain’t.
Last fall teenage girls at a Texas high school made national news by going makeup-free on Tuesdays. Not exactly an echo of hairy-armed women liberationists from the 60s. From the red glossed lips of the Fox News anchor, the coverage blushed with irony. “Redefining Beautiful is all about self-confidence,” their web-site announces. “Over 200 girls are doing this every Tuesday. So join in the pack!” Will joining the pack to bolster self-confidence lead to a middle-age spent painting their faces daily like scary clowns?
A few years back, the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO) set about “to make a statement about the way toys can encourage negative behavior in children, particularly given rising acts of violence and sexism.” BLO transplanted voice boxes from G.I. Joes into Barbies and placed them back on store shelves. Might the Craig’s List girls – Maureen, Melissa, Megan, Amber and Shannon – been empowered survivors rather than victims had they grown up with G.I. Barbie roaring “Vengeance is mine,” or “Eat lead, Cobra” instead of “Let’s go shopping”?
Maybe the cosmic message of mummified Barbie is that it’s time to put this icon under wraps.