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Published: 1/15/2002

Former Toledoan speaks beyond the grave in novel

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
`It's an incredible tale,' says Jane Bradley, left, an author and associate professor of English at the University of Toledo, with Penny Carr Britton beside a memorial for Mrs. Britton's daughter at Blessed Sacrament Church. `It's an incredible tale,' says Jane Bradley, left, an author and associate professor of English at the University of Toledo, with Penny Carr Britton beside a memorial for Mrs. Britton's daughter at Blessed Sacrament Church.
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From beyond the grave, Peggy Carr's story begged to be told.

The former Toledoan who was kidnapped and murdered in North Carolina in 1998 will be the subject, and at times the narrator, of a novel written by an associate professor of English at the University of Toledo.

Jane Bradley said she knew she had to write the tale after she met Miss Carr's mother, Penny Carr Britton, a local real estate agent who was selling her a home.

“Right before we were about to close, I had this dream that her daughter came to me and said I had to tell her story,” Ms. Bradley said.

“It's an incredible tale,” she said.

In 1998, Miss Carr, 32, who grew up in Toledo and graduated from Central Catholic High School, was living in Wilmington, N.C., and engaged to be married.

On the afternoon of April 22, she left home to run some errands, leaving a note for her fiance on the refrigerator that read, “Be back soon.” She never was seen alive by her family again.

According to authorities, Miss Carr ran into a pair of convicted felons in the parking lot of a local shopping plaza.

Looking for a getaway car for a robbery, the men forced their way into her Geo Tracker and sped away with her.

Police and area residents searched for seven months before finding her decomposed remains in some brush and weeds near a wheat field 30 miles northwest of Wilmington.

Charged with her murder, as well as that of a convenience store clerk, were Bem Holloway, 21 at the time, and Curtis Cobbs, 19. Holloway also was convicted of the attempted murder of a young woman in Raleigh, to whom he allegedly bragged of killing Miss Carr and others.

Holloway was shot and killed by correctional officers in June, 1999, as he and two other prisoners tried to escape from a work farm.

Writing this story has been anything but easy for Ms. Bradley, the author of two books, and not just because so much remains unknown.

“It's taken me much longer than it should of because it's just too horrifying,” she said. “I dream a lot about killers and graveyards. I have to put my mind and my heart in some very dark places.”

Peggy's mother has given her blessing to the book and shared scrapbooks and photographs but only on the condition that the book does not glorify Holloway.

She said she hopes others learn from it to be more aware of their surroundings, for the sake of themselves and others.

“You don't know what evil people are out there,” she said. “You really need to look out for your surroundings.”

Ms. Bradley joined Mrs. Britton on a trip to North Carolina in May, retracing Peggy's steps and spending time with several of the colorful personalities who helped with the search.

A $6,000 grant from UT helped finance the trip.

The pair visited Peggy's final resting place, marked by a stone angel and a garden stone inscribed “Love,” and planted flowers to draw butterflies.

“There's so much sadness there, and there's also much strength. What struck me is what we can endure,” Ms. Bradley said.

In fact, the UT faculty member said conveying such impressions is one reason she decided to fictionalize the story rather than write a “true crime” book.

“I wanted to make it beautiful. I wanted to look at larger issues of good and evil,” she said.

Ms. Bradley said she expects to finish the book, which she is calling Random Acts, this year, and she is confident it will be published.

While she is eager to read the book, Mrs. Britton said it's not because she expects it to help her deal with the tragedy.

“My help and strength come through going to North Carolina every year” to speak about missing persons, she said. “I have tried to go to different support groups, but nobody's story is like Peggy's story.”



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