I’m not erudite enough to have read all of Proust, but what I got through impressed upon me the influence of smells upon memories.

Oddly enough, what came to mind today while doing laundry is the clean, astringent and faint chemical scent of Tide with Bleach.  What a contrast that was compared to the strong floral scents of various Mexican laundry detergents.

Here in Merida, many meet and greet one another in a perfumed cloud of Suavitel, nearly uniform in our cleanliness markers. The memory of Tide’s odor is firm in mind, as if I’d used it only yesterday, yet longed for and missing from today.

The unpleasantness of today wasn’t over laundry and laundry soap, although they intermittently occupied my time. Instead, the cloud hanging over my mood was an Email which arrived today, awakening old feelings, still painful.

Last year, 2012, two Norte Americano men were murdered in Merida.  The first, Robert Lee Wickard, died sometime between May 4 and May 13. The authorities were unable to pin down the day.  I was not acquainted with Mr. Wickard, although it sounds as though we might have become friends.  His brother wrote a moving memorial which I think we should all read and contemplate before leaping to judgement.

Robert Wickard was the son of Raymond and Sylvia Wickard.  He is survived by two brothers, George and Raymond, and a sister, Martha.  His siblings, nieces and nephews are scattered throughout Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Robert was the youngest sibling.  He was born during World War 2 in December, 1944.   His father was diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) when Robert was an infant and died when he was 8 months old.  Due to Robert’s young age, he was very susceptible to TB and contracted the deadly disease.  By 18 months of age, Robert was so ill that doctors didn’t expect him to survive.  At this time, he was admitted to a state-operated TB hospital.  

Many times, his Mother was called to the hospital thinking it was the end.  However, at the age of 2 years, Robert suddenly began to show signs of improvement.  This was indeed a miracle, and I believe it was the result of much prayer by family and friends.

After spending 4 and ½ years in the hospital, Robert was finally strong enough to be discharged to his home. At this time, Robert’s mother changed jobs in order to have a schedule more compatible to his care. Unfortunately, sickness left Robert with a permanent hearing loss. Due to the diligent care of his Mother and much prayer, Robert’s overall condition did improve and by the age of 8 years, he was a healthy, young boy.

Unfortunately, Robert’s hearing loss proved daunting and resulted in behavioral issues  which caused heartache for his Mother, who was struggling to raise him alone.   His behavioral problems escalated,  and Robert eventually ran away from home.  He was picked up by police while hitchhiking in Virginia.  His family was contacted, and his brothers drove some 300 miles to return him to Pennsylvania.

As a result of this situation, his sister, Martha, and her husband, Max, volunteered to take Robert into their home.  It was the hope of the family that he might benefit from the presence of a father figure in the household.

Robert seemed to do better in his new environment and remained with his sister, her husband and family until he graduated from high school.  Following graduation from high school, Robert moved home to Carlisle, Pa., for awhile until getting a job with the Patriot News in Harrisburg, Pa.  He continued to work for the newspaper for some time.

Suddenly, without warning, Robert left Harrisburg.  The family was unaware of his whereabouts for nearly a year.  Finally, we received word from Robert that he was in Oklahoma working, I believe, in a supermarket.  During this time, the family heard from him occasionally.   Soon afterward, he decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona, where he resumed working for a newspaper.  He remained in Arizona for 25 years more or less.

Robert returned to Pennsylvania in 2002 for his Mother’s funeral.  In the years prior to his death, he flew home to visit family on several occasions.

Last year, Robert informed his family of his intent to retire in Mexico.  His brothers and sister questioned whether this decision was the wise thing to do.  But, he insisted that the Yucatan Peninsula where he planned to reside was considered safe.  You know the rest of the story.

As far as Robert’s character and personality, I would like to shed a little light.  He was very intelligent and did well in school despite his hearing loss.  Although he didn’t graduate from college, he was well-read, well-informed and very articulate.  He could have debated current issues with ease.

He had great fondness for the Washington Cathedral and was a supporter of it.  He attended many events there over the years.  He also visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City when the opportunity arose.

Despite his hearing loss, he was still able to enjoy Classical music, which was one of his great passions.  On occasion, he attended symphony performances with his sister, Martha, who shared his interest and love for this period of music.

Robert was a professing Christian and he believed in Christian charity.  His circle of Christian friends and their church strongly desired for him to have a Christian funeral, as they felt it was fitting.  Indeed, this speaks volumes as to his character.

Following Robert’s untimely death, we heard from people in Arizona who shared with us how Robert had made a positive difference in their lives.  He was a helpful and giving person.  He had a heart for the downtrodden.  Their descriptions of Robert are in stark contrast to Robert’s portrayal by the Merida police.  I believe, when searching for the truth, people need to take into account the source of their information.  I question some of the information provided by the alleged killers.

It is my hope and prayer that Robert’s affairs can be finalized in the near future. May the good things he did be a part of his legacy and may he rest in peace.

As of today, I have been unable to find any final resolution regarding Mr. Wickard’s death. Four men, aged 19 to 35, were originally arrested in the case and gave conflicting statements. Two were subsequently released for lack of proof.  A fifth man, missing at the beginning, was the subject of a manhunt by Yucatan and Campeche police.  His name has not surfaced again in any reporting online or in the paper news that I have been able to find. I don’t know whether the two originally held were convicted, since I cannot find any reporting on that. They had both confessed some aspects of involvement in the death, with conflicting details.

The second person murdered was my friend Sam Woodruff. A wonderful memorial page can be found here at Yucatan Living.  Sam was well known among many in the expat community, having lived in Merida for many years. Each of us has our own best memories. To me, he was a loving, open, gregarious and committed individual who taught art to kids and spread warmth wherever he went. It was rare that he, and those with him, were not laughing.

In this case, a confessed killer has been arrested and charged. His story is also questionable. In fact, I don’t believe a word of it other than the confession that he stabbed Sam in the early morning hours of November 12.  The accused was arrested driving a Campeche-tagged van, selling drugs in Merida when arrested.  Inside the van were some of Sam’s effects (“documentos” – we believe items from his wallet).

I’ve been trying to write about this for a couple months, but frankly, every attempt has seemed to be inadequate and off-kilter.  Nevertheless, I’m diving in now, right or wrong, and hope to write about what we feel about these events and safety in Merida.

A final note. There are (at least) two websites which publish scandalized versions of awful events for whatever reasons exist inside their demented perceptions. Approach sordid scandal claims with caution.

And there is at least one “respectable” “news” website so ridden with errors that people should simply look elsewhere.  (For example, in the reporting of the death of a Ukranian man whose body was dumped in Yucatan, he is referred to as the “wife.”  The wife actually remains missing, but the husband’s body has been found.)  Any news source which doesn’t bother to get “husband” and “wife” right in the reporting is poor. The “respectable news source” also uses one of the scandal-sheet writers as a source, so… there’s that.

Don’t believe everything you read online. Compare multiple sources and use common sense.

That’s it for now. It’s been a rocky day going over all the details of these cases again. I’ll be back soon to discuss further. Please feel free to comment or critique my words, as these are certainly difficult thoughts to clearly put into words.