The Salad Dressing Murder. How often does a failed memory result in the murder of a loved one?
I remember this case well. Why? Quenette Shehane was kidnapped at a convenience store just below Birmingham-Southern College on December 20, 1976 at about 6:00 P. M.
My family and I were in Memphis on December 20th watching our son play his last game for Coach Bryant in the Liberty Bowl on national Monday night TV. Sunday had been almost a summer day, and early night. After midnight, I’m not sure whether it was the Canadian Clipper or a cold sweeping across the plains, but it came across the southeast. All day Monday was below freezing, and by game time at 7:00 or 8:00 P. M., the temp had dipped into the twenties, with wind chill in the five to ten range. And there was plenty of wind chill coming in from the river adjacent to the stadium.
By Alabama standards the team had had a lousy season at 9 and 3, but they had beaten their in-state rival Auburn, and in the eyes of some fans that was redemption. As always Coach Bryant had assembled his usual talented players, but for some reason they did not come together that year. Two years later and for two consecutive years (’78. ’79) Alabama was national champs.
The announcer and commentator for the Liberty Bowl speculated that Coach Bryant might have trouble getting Alabama up for what many considered a second-tier bowl game. I’m not sure what Coach Bryant said before the game, but when the team appeared on the field, it looked like steam was coming out of their nostrils, and it was downhill for UCLA from the kickoff. The extreme cold weather could have been an additional factor for the guys from California, because the QB had the speed of molasses in making sure he didn’t fumble the ball when he took the snap from center, or he handed off to the backs, or he dropped back for a pass, first trying to make sure he had a grip on the ball before he heaved it, not passed it, but heaved it.
It was this same very cold night that Quenette Shehane was left to die in a vacant field in Birmingham, after she was shot and left for dead. She died, but only after she must have realized what happened as she gave one last effort to crawl for help after the killers left.
We didn’t learn about Quenette Shehane until we returned to Birmingham the next day. Birmingham-Southern College is located in the western section of Birmingham where I went to high school. Before I was old enough to drive, I either rode a street car or walked all over without fear of any crime. Crime had drifted in after we no longer lived in the western section, and then came December 20, 1976.
David Barber was the retired DA who appeared on a retelling of the Quenette Shehane story on the ID channel last night with Paula Zahn. At the time of the crime he was an assistant DA to the DA Earl Morgan. It was his thankless job to go to the coroner’s office.
David Barber became DA after Earl Morgan, and the first job our son had out of law school was a deputy DA in David Barber’s office.
Quenette’s car was found on Tuesday, and her body in that nearby field, a field a very short distance from Daniel Payne College, a black institution, where, as it turned out, the three killers were students. College students? What were they learning? How to kidnap and rape and kill someone with a .22 pistol? And the fellow who actually killed Quenette was the president of his fraternity.
The word fraternity brings us back to a different fraternity, that of Quenette Shehane’s boyfriend. They were having a cookout on that Monday night at his fraternity house. Quenette’s boyfriend said on TV last night he was supposed to pick up the salad dressing and forgot. Quenette got in her car and drove to the convenience store to buy that bottle of salad dressing.
Her boyfriend forgot to stop and pick up a bottle of salad dressing? What he must have lived through all of these years. The mental anguish and torture. She would be alive if he had not forgotten to pick up the salad dressing.
No one can really blame him for that memory lapse. We all forget. It just doesn’t normally have those kinds of consequences. Surely that had to go through his mind as he called her parents in South Alabama to tell them Quenette had gone to the convenience store for that bottle of salad dressing and never returned.
I didn’t realize the program about Quenette would be on TV last night until I accidentally ran across it as I surfed the channels to see what was on.
The salad dressing made me think of one of the purchases I made at a major supermarket during the week. A bottle of salad dressing. Actually two bottles, because they were having a 2 for 1. I never thought twice about the purchase at the time.
A bottle of salad dressing? How the most innocent of events turns into a horrible tragedy.