04-16-2020 - 40 Years Ago, Daily Breeze Reporter and Friend Remembers Brenda Maloney â€˜83
40 Years Ago
Daily Breeze Reporter and Friend Jerry Crowe
Remembers Brenda Maloney ‘83
I cry easily. I'm almost a sure bet at weddings and funerals, celebrations and wakes. Even in theaters.
Like Justin Henry, the 8-year old actor who says he thought of "bad things" in order to cry during some of the more emotional scenes in "Kramer vs Kramer," I seem able to gush forth almost at will.
It's embarrassing, but even during the hokey made-for-television movies, I sometimes find myself fighting back tears.
But last Tuesday, the second day of a week that will forever alter the lives of two my my closest friends, was different. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. I guess I was too angry. Or confused.
I had just heard some frightening news, the kind you think you'll never have to hear, the kind you have nightmares about. Somebody I knew had been murdered.
She was a 15-year old girl, Brenda Jean Maloney, and she had been stabbed to death in her parents home in Hawthorne.
She was the sister-in-law of Rob Fernas, a close friend and fellow sports writer, and the sister of Nancy Fernas, Rob's wife and one of the sweetest persons I've ever met.
A freshman at Leuzinger High, Brenda had been strangled and stabbed several times with a carving fork after arriving home from school. Her father, arriving home from work at about 3pm, found her on the kitchen floor. She was fully clothed, had not been sexually molested (an autopsy revealed later) and nothing had been taken from the house.
There was no motive. If ever there was a murder that was more senseless than another - aren't they all senseless? - this was it.
Rich Connell, a reporter at The Daily Breeze, broke the news to me after inquiring about Rob's phone number. It was so unbelievable. It was shocking.
How could somebody take another's life so easily, so ruthlessly? It all seemed so unreal to me.
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, but then I felt my body go numb momentarily as I started to cry. I had plenty of work to do, but I walked around the building for a few minutes, hoping what I had just heard would go away when I came back.
At that moment, I would have done anything to have been able to call Nancy and her parents and tell them it was all a cruel, sick joke. Or that they had dreamed the whole thing.
To be honest, I didn't know Brenda well. But this wasn't just another murder, the kind you read about every day in the newspaper. This hit close to home. Too close.
Brenda was somebody who had passed through my life, somebody I had laughed with when Nancy graduated from college. Brenda and I were in the wedding party last summer when Rob and Nancy were married.
I thought about Brenda's parents, good people who had raised three other children. I couldn't begin to imagine what was going through their heads.
I thought about Rob, who had practically adopted Brenda as the sister he never had. Rob doesn't show his emotions often, but he made it obvious how he felt about Brenda.
I thought about Brenda's boyfriend, a 16-year old junior at Leuzinger who, like all of us, will never understand why this had to happen.
I also thought about the high school girls at San Pedro and Mary Star I have come to know in the past few months. I wanted to warn them to be careful.
Be careful of what?
Brenda wasn't killed because she was careless. She wasn't killed in an auto accident. She didn't slip and fall off a cliff.
She was killed because she went home from school at the "wrong time" on a Monday afternoon. She probably did the same thing every Monday.
I saw Rob later that day.
"I was pretty shook up when my dad died (a few years ago)," he told me, "but he had been sick. This is different."
The funeral was different, too.
A popular and pretty girl who had hoped to be a model someday, Brenda was eulogized in front of hundreds of her friends and relatives. Several young girls had to hang onto one another for support as they broke down and wept after viewing the open casket.
At the gravesite, I stood apart from the crowd, I still was hoping all of this would go away.
After the service, I stood alone as the crowd dispersed. I thought about my own 21-year old sister, about how this sick thing might have happened to her and I could have been the Fernas' place.
I grew angry again, but this time the tears flowed freely.