by Pat Hartman
(first published at Moving Target, July 12, 2002)

If I were an investigative journalist, here's what I'd be obsessing on, right about now.

In 1987, in a city with an astonishingly low homicide rate, Peggy Hettrick was murdered. Timothy Masters is serving a life term in prison for the crime. Apparently, the evidence against him consists of drawings which depict, in the words of an official government press release, "surprise attacks, gruesome death scenes, and scenes of violence and sex, including mutilation." An expert witness testified, in effect, that anybody who would draw such pictures, would undoubtedly slay a stranger just for the thrill of it.

The day after I first heard of Timothy Masters, my mailbox coincidentally received a splendidly comprehensive catalog from a company specializing in the popular visual arts - especially posters, graphic novels, and comics. It describes the work of the currently hottest star: " can see every gory detail...outrageous weaponry...scandalous costuming...every bit of exposed female flesh...." This artist is at risk for being accused of murder, and so are all his peers. If having a sick imagination is an indicator of violent acts, the entertainment industry is rife with potential serial killers.

I don't know if Masters killed Hettrick. The point here is, I prefer it when a murderer is punished for murder, not for antisocial art. Don't say to me that anyone who produces upsetting art is capable of murder. I take it as a slur against me personally and against nearly every painter, musician, and writer I know.

In grade school, my best friend and I went through a phase of drawing elaborate witch dens with jazzy assortments of whips organized on wall racks, beakers full of eyeballs, and so forth. These art sessions happened at her house, with no comment from her mother. It was a more restrained era, and my friend's mom was a woman of mental and emotional sophistication.

If she had panicked and called in some kind of intervention by social services or the like, I dread to think what might have happened. I could still be in the custody of mental health authorities today. Instead, she let it be. Her daughter and I moved on to other mutual interests, and we both turned out fine, never having tortured or dismembered any creature (except in science lab at school.)
I know the world changes, but some precepts remain true. One of them is: a picture of something isn't the thing itself. Drawing a picture of murder is not the same as doing murder.

My interest in this case started a couple weeks ago, when it went to the State Supreme Court. I don't subscribe to the local newspaper, hardly ever see it, don't know why I had one that day, or why I paused to read the small, unobtrusive article. "What?" said I to myself. "They must have left something out. This can't be right."

So I looked it up online. Scoped a couple of government documents that raised my eyebrows even higher. Began a list of the questions that sprang to mind.

Next, I found the description of an A&E network show. "Police solve the murder and sexual mutilation of Peggy Hettrick when they are finally able to link graphic sexual materials found in the home of suspect Timothy Masters, though no hard evidence was ever found." Anxious to learn more details, I dispatched a message:

"Hello, can you please tell me if it is possible to get a transcript of the Cold Case Files episode aired 6/12/2001?"

Came the reply:
"Thank you for your e-mail to Cold Case Files. We carefully review each story idea and appreciate your suggestions. Thanks for watching Cold Case Files with Bill Kurtis. You can see another edition of Cold Case Files every Tuesday evening on A&E."

Right. How carefully do they review a story idea, when incapable of reviewing an e-mail carefully enough to discern that it's not a story idea? It's a request for information, which I'd probably even pay for. And they blow me off. What kind of way is that to do business? I look forward to their debut on

So I'll just vamp. Who needs facts anyway? This is a rant, not court testimony. If I were really paranoid, I'd think the TV show initiated everything: looked into the murder case first, decided who to blame, and told the police "You had better go reel this guy in, or we'll broadcast it as an unsolved case and make you look like fools. Wouldn't you rather have it publicized as a nice closed Cold Case?"

My confusion may be my fault, though I'm fairly bright in many contexts. It could also mean the major media need to do a better job with clear and lucid reporting. Because plenty of things bug me about this case.

For instance, aren't there some deeds even a hormone-crazed teenager wouldn't do, such as a random killing and carving within sight of his family home? Imagine the Machiavellian deviousness of such a clever adolescent: "Nobody will ever believe I could be stupid enough to bump off some broad right here outside the house. It's the perfect crime."

Here's truly puzzling part: Why the eleven-year hiatus between the murder and the eventual arrest of Timothy Masters?

If I ever wind up behind bars, I hope someone in the free world cares enough to be curious about the circumstances, just as I wonder about the circumstances of this case. Because there just might be something fishy going on here.

(Note added later: This last paragraph in particular caught the attention of the man who became the Angel of the case, and inspired him to persist in his research and, among other things, build the Free Tim Masters website. As of late 2007, that site is still up, but since there's some doubt about its continuing existence, the material from that site is being copied onto this one.)