Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kathy Dempsey: Justice at Solstice, 20 Years Later

On August 23rd, 1992, Kathleen Dempsey (known to friends and loved ones as Kathy or KD) was brutally murdered in her apartment in Lexington, Massachusetts. Neighbors in this well-to-do suburb of Boston were shocked, and her many friends in the Boston pagan community were heartbroken.

Perhaps most shocking and heartbreaking of all: Kathy, who had been stabbed fourteen times, managed to call 9-11 and ask for help. But the dispatcher on duty did not send anyone to help her. Questioned by journalists, at first this emergency responder said they could not make out Kathy's words and didn't know where to send help, despite "listening frantically" to the tape over and over again. But eventually it became obvious that Kathy's words were sufficient; the dispatcher thought the call was a hoax and failed to send anyone. The supervisor who came on duty the following morning sent an ambulance immediately, but by then, Kathy had bled to death.

It's impossible to know if earlier intervention would have saved her: but it is possible the identity of her killer, who lived in her neighborhood, might have been revealed: something which has taken nearly two decades to unravel. That lost opportunity weighed heavily on the minds and hearts of those of us who knew and loved this woman. This article in the Lexington Patch mentions that 9-11 was not in place when Kathy made her call; but the ensuing debate about enhanced 9-11 (which allows location identification) was merely a smokescreen to obscure the real issue: a very bad decision made by the dispatcher in charge. But I am sure this worker has suffered enough over the years for this oversight, and the real blame lies in the hands of the killer who took her young life.

The case proved difficult to solve: there were no signs of forced entry (perhaps not unusual for a suburban neighborhood), and there was speculation the killer was someone Kathy knew. Police investigated the crime for years, and despite a number of leads, no suspects were apprehended. Until now.

A man in prison for another murder, of a 49 year old woman in the same Lexington neighborhood, two years after Kathy's murder, recently confessed to the crime after nearly twenty years. The Boston Herald reports that Craig Conkey, 45, broke into Dempsey's home to rob it but "was startled when he found Dempsey sleeping and attacked her." Conkey was 25 when the crime was committed; Dempsey was 31. She would be 50 years old now.

Kathy was a graphic designer by trade, who worked for Musician magazine (the editors wrote a moving tribute to her in the magazine that fall). Prior to her untimely death, she had begun studying at Lesley College in the hopes of becoming an educator, focused on teaching children about nature. Kathy was an active member of the EarthSpirit Community. She was also a singer, and former member of the choral group MotherTongue. I joined the group soon after Kathy died; in an instance of sad irony, I was the soprano who replaced her.

I remember KD as a kind, funny, sweet, talented woman: always friendly, always upbeat. She loved animals, did not consider cleaning a priority, loved to dance, and seemed to think the best of everyone unless she had a reason not to. I saw her for the last time a mere three weeks before she was killed. Her smile, glimpsed in a hallway, still haunts me. I recall the Earthspirit Samhain gathering that year: the tears and wails of loss during the ritual as we named those who had passed that year. I don't know who it was but one male voice screamed out "Kathy!" after a number of other names were recited. It was a soul-shattering moment I will never forget.

I recall a dream I had in late 1992: Kathy in a black skirt and red shirt, a peaceful smile on her face, her lips closed, her eyes twinkling. I have thought of her from time to time over the years, when there have been leads in her case, when a song or a work of art have reminded me of her talents, when a random prick of fear late at night made me think of the many sleepless nights I spent after her murder. But today, I feel a bit less pain thinking of her. I hope this latest development in her case brings peace and closure to her loved ones. Be at peace, Kathy.


  1. I'd say better late than never; but I'd still like to clock the 911 operator who ignored her call.

  2. she sounds like a wonderful woman. I hope she wasnt intentionally targeted for her religion.

  3. I just stumbled on your blog because I have been looking for my childhood friend also named Kathy Dempsey. My friend was born August 9, 1961; so the age seems right. She had dark somewhat curly hair and was not very tall, a bit shorter than me (i'm 5'4") We were very good friends in Jr. High when we both lived in Provo, Utah for a short time. She and her mom and older sister (Susie) had just moved from Nevada. I keep thinking she will try to find me on facebook because my name is a bit more unusual than hers. I hope I'm wrong and that this isn't her, but please - if the details match up - or even if they don't, would you let me know? -

  4. Ronelle: Kathy was born and lived in Massachusetts her whole life, as far as I know. She was 31 when she died in 1992, which means she was born in 1961. But I would guess it is a fairly common name.