The Fantasy of Justice: Laurie Wardein, Elf Queen

Posted: August 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

“I know a girl from a lonely street / Cold as ice cream but still as sweet” —- Blondie (1979)

[Note: all quotes courtesy of the Arizona Republic.]
 
She contained multitudes.

At home she was Laurie Jeanie Wardein, a record store clerk too timid to drive a car and still living with her mother at the age of twenty-six.
At science fiction conventions she was Tempest, an elf who frolicked with fellow fantasy nerds in an Elfquest fan club called Silverwood Holt.
After dark she was Cortina Bandolero, an artist who wrote punk band reviews for the Phoenix New Times and never missed a midnight Rocky Horror screening.
All were snuffed out in the early hours of June 10th, 1985.

“She spent a lot of time alone. She just didn’t know how special she was.” Laurie’s mother Elsie Wardein, September 15th, 1985

At 9:15am the Phoenix Police Department received a phone call summoning investigators to 815 East Bethany Home Road. The Wardeins lived in unit A-119 of the Place Three Apartments,
a first floor rental located across from the pool next to the laundry room.
Elsie Wardein had returned from an overnight nursing shift and discovered her daughter crumpled on the floor of her blood-spattered bedroom, stabbed repeatedly in the neck, chest and stomach.
The precise number of stab wounds, indicia of sexual assault and Laurie’s state of dress when slain have never been publicized.

“When Laurie died I died with her. Cortina died. Tempest died. Everyone died.” Elsie Wardein, September 15th, 1985

Laurie had spent her final evening enjoying dinner and a movie with a male friend who dropped her home at 1am;
according to a newspaper article published shortly after the crime investigators do not consider this person,
who they declined to name, a suspect in her slaying.
The night of the murder tenants socialized poolside into the wee hours and the Wardeins’ next-door neighbor returned home at 11pm—no one noted any strangers in the complex or signs of disturbance.
Nothing had been stolen during the commission of the crime and although a window was ajar the scene lacked overt evidence of forced entry.

Crime scene exterior present day

“You have a young lady who was a very gifted artist and very active in the Greek Orthodox Church and we can’t give her family any closure on why this happened.” Phoenix Detective Bob Brunansky on the aspect of the case he finds most troubling, June 3rd, 2005

Investigators reportedly have a person of interest in Laurie’s slaying but have refused to share any identifying details;
a recent Arizona Republic  article speculates she may have been killed by someone she “went on a date with
but it’s unclear if this refers to a previous romantic partner
or if her final companion—the male friend who last saw her alive—has come under renewed scrutiny.
Thirty-three years after her death Laurie Wardein’s murder remains unsolved; her mother Elsie passed away in 2015 never knowing the identity of her daughter’s killer.

“We don’t want to jeopardize our investigation. We let anything out and this guy—or girl—could make up some kind of fantasy story we would have to disprove.” Phoenix Police Department spokesman on his rationale for declining to identify the person of interest, September 15th, 1985

Self portrait as elf

Ever since I first read about her murder in a 2005 cold case retrospective I’ve felt a kinship with Laurie Wardein.
Although she was a decade older and dwelt on the opposite side of the country she and I were living a parallel existence:
in 1985 I too worked in a record store and frequented hardcore shows and fantasy conventions.
Every year when Comic-Con rolls around I think of Laurie and all the things she’s missed in the last thirty plus years;
our nerdy subculture grew into a financial and cultural juggernaut and she didn’t live to see it.
Punk rock became mainstreamed and monetized and she didn’t live to see it.
She didn’t even live to see the defining moment in geek culture, the birth of the almighty world wide web in 1990.

Cover art by Cortina Bandolero

“Woman’s Alter Ego Unmasked by Murder.” Arizona Republic headline, January 16th, 1989

While reading the 1980’s-era coverage of her death I was struck by the salacious spin the media cast on Laurie’s affinity for science fiction—as if a running around a hotel convention center in a leotard and elf ears
was comparable to performing live sex shows or working as a dominatrix.
We live in a world where someone can repeatedly stab a 26-year old woman in the throat forever ending her life and her art and spend not a single day in jail.
Laurie missed all the technological marvels of the last three decades but there’s a good chance her killer didn’t.

No wonder so many people are eager to retreat into fantasy.

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