SHOW KILLING

Laurie Show died of a slashed throat in her bedroom in her mother's townhouse, a month shy of her 17th birthday, five days before Christmas 1991. The crime was blamed on a jealous, stalking rival named Lisa Michelle Lambert.

Dozens of people are murdered every year in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, some of them as brutally as this girl had been. But from the start, the Show killing chilled the local soul. For one, it happened in the suburbs, in the kind of place people create to be safe from just such violence. Both the victim and the killer were products of "good" schools. They weren't minorities. They weren't drug dealers.

Then, in April 1997, came the shocking reversal of the verdict that had put Lambert behind bars for life. Federal Judge Stewart J. Dalzell set Lambert free and delivered a scathing indictment of the entire county, painting it as a place that had evolved away from the mainstream of American jurisprudence, and traded law for order. Lambert said two friends, Tabitha Buck and Lawrence Yunkin, killed Show. She said investigators framed her for the murder to silence her about an earlier gang rape by three police officers. Dalzell found reason to believe her.

The revelation of how the prosecution had mishandled the case against Lambert was disturbing to some Lancaster County folks. But many more, on the morning she walked free, saw only the smirking face of the woman they considered a callous murderess.

In 1999, ABC's "20/20" program aired an hour-long in-depth look at the case, "A Killer In Disguise?" It was perhaps the best by an outside-the-county source. Toward the end of the program, a crying Tabitha Buck described how she watched Lambert slit Show's throat.

"I said, "Oh my God, did you kill her?' She said, "I don't know.' ... She just kept cutting." The camera cut to the calm, composed face of Lambert, full-screen.

"It's very sad," Lambert said. The interviewer had asked her about Show's death. Forrest Sawyer pressed her for more. She did not look sad, he said.

"I'm very sorry about what happened," Lambert answered, her face blank and pitiless, "but I wasn't the cause of it. I don't know what else to say."

"Abused women," one of Lambert's lawyers explained, "have this appearance of emotionlessness." It's safe to say most of Lancaster County wasn't buying that.

"Lisa Michelle Lambert has never once expressed regret, remorse or sympathy for the loss of Laurie Show," the dead girl's aunt wrote even before the television show. "She has never shed a tear, as far as we know, for Laurie Show."

"Tabby's showing remorse," Show's father said after seeing the interviews, "and Michelle is still the evil woman she is."

"Evil woman." Whether in letters to the editor or in conversations in Jennie's Diner, Lambert emerged as a Medea, a maenad, a woman who killed in an orgy of sexual frenzy. These are terrifying images out of Dionysus cults: chthonic, pagan and dark. Judge Lawrence Stengel, a former English teacher, alluded to Shakespeare at least three times in his decision this year sending Lambert back to jail. Dalzell "sent the earth in reverse by releasing Lambert," wrote Linda High of Narvon, Hazel Show's cousin and a free-lance writer and author of children's novels. In a newspaper column she railed against the system, against the triumph of wrong over right through legal technicalities. To witness and condemn, she invoked Aeschylus.

Like Medea, Lambert made chameleon transformations, from shy naif to sex kitten in the months before the killing, then to business suits and modest make-up in the weeks of the hearings.

"In December of 1991, she was called Michelle," High wrote, "her brown eyes were blue, and her hair bleached blond. Now, as easily as she popped out her lenses and grew out her dark roots, Michelle has become Lisa, shedding her old life behind bars and walking out a free woman."

Christina Rainville, the lawyer who took up Lambert's cause as a personal crusade (and lent her the business suits), also obtained a new trial for Darrell McCracken, who had been convicted of speeding through a Lime Street red light while drunk and erasing an entire family from the face of the earth. His freedom, in the words of one letter-writer, "would be a violation of the common sense and order of the community in which we live."

"Justice has collapsed," Linda High wrote, "crumbling to pieces before our very eyes as a sentenced-to-life murderer walks footloose and fancy-free from a Philadelphia courthouse, wearing new shoes bought with taxpayers' money. Justice has betrayed us, stabbing Lancaster County in the back as convicted killer Lisa Michelle Lambert is released from handcuffs to clutch a bouquet of yellow roses with dreams of Disneyland in her eyes ... the same eyes that gazed at Laurie Show as she gasped desperately for her last breaths."

After Dalzell ordered Lambert's release, some 40,000 Lancaster County citizens signed a petition for his impeachment. That means more people put their names to getting him out of office than voted to retain any of the judges in Lancaster County.

The case naturally translated into politics. Veteran ultra-conservative Paul Weyrich circulated a videotape to potential donors, trying to raise $1.4 million. It cited Dalzell at length as an example of "activist liberal judges" appointed by President Clinton. Dalzell is a lifelong Republican who was appointed by President Bush.

Many people are certain that somehow life here was more moral before -- pick your date: 1972? 1962? 1933? 1913? This overlooks the startlingly immoral behavior of many local politicians in the early decades of this century, the flagrant and widespread defiance of Prohibition and the brutality of crime that can be read in any front page from any decade. They are certain that America is in moral decline, and the certainty often comes down to the image of two faces. One is the hint of a smirk or smile on the deadpan face of Lisa Michelle Lambert during her "20/20" interview.

It might have been nervousness, even shame, but it played out in the local conversations as a lack of remorse. It is how we judge people. In the thousands of years before DNA testing and crime scene labs and fiber analysis, the test of guilt or innocence was the look in the accused's eyes, whether the trial was in the Areopagus of classical Athens or the old courthouse on King Street.

The other is the high school yearbook photo of Laurie Show that appeared again and again in newspaper accounts of her killing and the subsequent trials. "Laurie Show had the biggest smile of anybody you could ever hope to know," her aunt wrote. "She swam and played softball and twirled baton. She loved teddy bears. She loved pizza. She loved pinwheels, roses, Christmas, her family, her friends and life."


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January 21, 2001 Douglas Harper Moe: "Say, what's a good word for scrutiny?" Shemp: "uh ... SCRUTINY!"