The Why Behind the Story – Hole in the Woods by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush
I came to know Shannon Siders when her body was first discovered in October 1989. We lived in neighboring towns and would have been the same age today if she had survived. My father, who was the medical examiner at the time, performed her autopsy. He determined after examining her remains that Shannon had suffered a brutal death, with disturbing details that I wouldn’t find out until sitting in on the trial some 25 years later. I desired justice for Shannon just as much as anyone in our community. We all wanted to believe that someday her killers would be found and put away. We wanted good to win over evil for her. And we got our wish.
When Shannon’s case finally went to trial in 2015, I was fortunate to be able to sit in on the three-week trial, logging 80 plus research hours in the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, I spent hours talking to friends and family of Shannon Siders, and those related to the accused, Paul and Matthew Jones. Both were sentenced and will remain in prison until they die.
This triumph, however monumental, doesn’t erase the pain. Her father, family, and friends still grieve Shannon’s absence. I’ve become friends with Bob, her father, who has graciously provided his approval and blessing on the novel based on his daughter’s case. He has worked closely with me to provide interviews, personal family details, and introductions to others involved in the case. It was Bob who kept her case alive. He worked tirelessly for twenty-five years to showcase her story in the public eye and fight for justice. He says he wants Shannon’s story told so that law enforcement and people like him can see how important it is to never, ever give up! He wants to encourage others in this situation to have faith and keep fighting the good fights to solve cold cases. He’s living, walking proof that restlessness and persistence and hope can lead to justice.
In our world of constant “bad news” and fear mongering, we need to know those bleak stories don’t always end bleakly. Here is a story that didn’t end up as bleak as it could have. Here is a place where the selflessness and charity of an imprisoned criminal emerged to give an innocent girl justice and a father a measure of peace. Here is a place where light was shed in the darkness.
This is also my personal mission statement, to shed hope and light into the dark recesses of the human experience. And Shannon’s story completely embodies that to me. However, I wanted to create a fictionalized version so we can journey with a young female detective who comes to find hope and light out of her own dark human experience.
It may seem like Hole in the Woods is about justice… closure… redemption. But at its core, Hole in the Woods is about belonging.
Hole in the Woods begs one of the greatest questions we all ask at some point in our lives: how do we find hope when a great evil or suffering befalls us–or a loved one?
The best answer I have found is this: we find hope when we choose not to suffer alone. We find hope when we belong to something greater than ourselves. We were created for community and connection. And when we connect and contribute to one another, we build trust, and we begin to belong to each other in a deeper way. In that way we find the greatest power and hope over the evil and suffering that inevitably befalls each one of us. And in this, we become truly grounded in sacrificial love, agape love! That’s the deepest kind of love there is. And this agape love always points to hope and redemption.
Hole in the Woods is a story about shedding hope and light into the midst of a harrowing human experience. A story where a small handful of unlikely people come together, contribute to a common cause and end up sharing in each other’s suffering. In that type of belonging, love and hope always win.
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