Susan Taylor Chehak writes:
I celebrated a birthday on February 16th.
If you already know me, then you already know:
I live an insanely blessed life, filled with dear friends and beloved family, dogs and cats, a highly stimulating career, absorbing hobbies, travel,beauty, warmth, good health and (at least many moments of) inner peace.
I want you to also know: I’m deeply grateful for every little bit of it.
Around this time of year fifteen years ago, I’d published five novels and I was ready to write a new one. As is my habit, I went searching for a story to get me started. What I found was an unsolved murder, the death of a lovely girl, who I’d known only vaguely when I was in high school.
1970. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I remembered the story, but I wanted to know more.
So I wrote a letter and made an appointment and talked a judge into signing an order, effecting the release to me of a photocopy of the entire police file on the case. I remember thinking when I opened it and began to read: I have found my life’s work.
And so it has become.
At the time of her death in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the summer of 1970, eighteen-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling was a beautiful leggy blonde who dreamed of becoming a model. She disappeared in the early morning hours of July 11th, after she’d borrowed her roommate’s car to go off on an unspecified errand. She was barefoot and dressed in a light blue nightgown with matching panties. The next morning, the roommate’s car was found parked in a red zone near a grocery store, and Paula was gone. Four months later, two young brothers who were on a hike along the railroad tracks down by the Cedar River came upon some human remains and homicide detectives were called in. While rumors flew, the ensuing police investigation brought no conclusive answer to what had happened to Paula.
Although theories have been put forth, still all these many years later, the case remains unsolved.
In 2008, I brought a crew to Cedar Rapids with a plan to make a documentary film about Paula and my ongoing independent murder investigation. In the process I conducted interviews with Paula’s family and friends, as well as two homicide detectives who were on the case in 1970, the doctor who was coroner at that time, and others who had been mentioned in the file.
In 2010, I conducted further interviews with several more people who were involved, including the roommate and the man who was believed to have dumped Paula’s body in the woods.
In 2012, in an effort to raise the stakes by crowdsourcing further investigation, I published a website and posted there the entire police file, obituary, FBI reports and other documents, as well as news articles, photographs, and my own transcribed interviews, inviting readers to comment and consult. I also built a Facebook page, where we’ve posted updates and tributes and ongoing group conversations as well.
Next Monday, February 25th, would have been Paula’s 62nd birthday, and now, on that day, in honor and memory of her, Foreverland Press will publish an e-book revealing what has come of my 15 years of research into the circumstances of her untimely death.
What Happened to Paula: The Anatomy of a True Crime doesn’t mark the end of my investigation. It doesn’t offer a solution to the case. It’s neither a conventional novelization nor a nonfiction narrative rendering of what went down. Rather, it’s a compilation of raw data, presented in such a way that it tells Paula Oberbroeckling’s story, reveals the socio-political realities of that time and place, and invites you, the reader, to follow the threads, make the connections, imagine the scenarios, come to your own conclusions, and in so doing, join me and other readers in this murder investigation.
The e-book will be available in the Amazon Kindle store on February 25th, and it will be continually updated as additional data is added and new information comes to light. (Readers will be able to sign up for alerts to these updates as they’re made.)
All proceeds will go toward funding what promises to become a powerful collaborative effort to discover and reveal, at last, what happened to Paula.
Together we’ll come to the truth. Solve the crime. Close the case.
Let the girl rest in peace