Haunted by mom's death

Writer finally gets story of murder down on paper
2013-08-11T00:00:00Z 2014-07-01T16:26:44Z Haunted by mom's deathGerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The last conversation Justin St. Germain ever had with his mom, Deborah St. Germain, was a couple of days after Sept. 11, 2001.

He was a student at the University of Arizona studying English and creative writing.

She called in part to talk about the attacks on Washington, D.C., and New York City from her home in Gleeson, a small community just east of Tombstone.

"My grandparents lived in the Philadelphia area," St. Germain said. "She was worried for their safety."

The two shared comforting words with each other before hanging up.

Deborah would be dead less than a week later, murdered by Justin's stepdad in the travel trailer the couple shared in rural Cochise County.

"It was a totally bizarre juxtaposition," said St. Germain, now 32.

"The whole country was in this grieving state because of 9/11, and I had to forget about all of that. I had this whole other personally intense thing to deal with."

After years of obsessing over his mom's murder, carrying the weight of her death with him from place to place, St. Germain put pen to paper.

His book, "Son of a Gun: A Memoir," hits shelves on Tuesday.

The story moves between the months immediately after his mother's murder and a brief return to Southern Arizona in 2009 to interview those who knew her.

It looks back at the memories of Justin's childhood.

St. Germain was a happy kid.

His mom, a former Army paratrooper, moved the family - Justin and his older brother, Josh - to Sierra Vista from North Carolina when Justin was 7 years old.

They ended up in Tombstone.

"It was a wonderful place to grow up," he said. "I would build forts with my friends. We'd ride our bikes around, take pieces of straw and chewing gum and attempt to fish coins from between the cracks on the boardwalk."

But as St. Germain grew older, things changed.

Those childhood activities gave way to the boredom of living in a small town, which led to underage drinking, marijuana and shoplifting from the local tourist shops.

When he was 13, St. Germain was arrested for what he referred to as a "pellet gun incident."

He said part of his bad behavior was due to his mother's restlessness. They moved multiple times while living in Tombstone.

Deborah also bounced from one relationship to another, some of which were both mentally and physically abusive.

"There were all these men, and I didn't like most of them," St. Germain said. "Even those I did like, I knew they would be gone at some point."

St. Germain was on good terms with Duane Raymont Hudson, a deputy city marshal in Tombstone who would become Deborah's fifth and final husband.

Hudson and Deborah met at the Mexican restaurant that Deborah managed.

After a little over a year, they were married. They both quit their jobs and spent their days taking long road trips across the country.

"It never dawned on me that he might kill her," St. Germain said. "I thought that might happen with previous husbands, but I never saw it with Ray. At the time, I don't remember seeing anything that suggested there was any kind of violence."

St. Germain never got to see his mom after her murder. Because of the autopsy performed, the funeral director advised against it.

She ended up being cremated.

"One minute she was alive," he said. "The next she was dead and there was just this brass box of ashes."

Hudson, a former Marine, was found dead in his truck three months after Deborah's death in a remote section of Caballo Lake State Park 60 miles north of Las Cruces, N.M. He killed himself with a .32-caliber Browning Fabrique Nationale Model 1922, a variant of the gun that killed Archduke Ferdinand, triggering World War I, St. Germain explains in the book.

"My actions have set my fate and destiny and also expedited them," Hudson wrote in a suicide note left at the scene. "I have ruined many lives, and I am sorry."

The guilt of missing any signs of trouble dogged St. Germain for years, as he earned a master's degree in creative writing from the UA and a fiction writing fellowship at Stanford University.

He rarely told people about his mom's death. Longtime friends, his college roommate among them, had no clue about his family's past.

"It seeped into every part of my life," said St. Germain, who now teaches writing at the University of New Mexico. "It was affecting my relationships, and it wasn't going away."

It was upon the advice of one of his professors at Stanford, Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, that St. Germain decided to write his story, his first foray into nonfiction.

"He said if I didn't do it, that it would always be circling me," St. Germain said. "I am skeptical of writing as a form of therapy, but I do feel that, since the completion of this book, I've found a place to put this whole traumatic experience where it doesn't emanate through everything else."

While it was helpful to his own well-being, St. Germain doesn't believe the book has provided closure.

"For a long time, I was obsessed with not letting my life be defined by this event," he said. "Now I'm probably more defined by it than ever."

If you go

• What: Author Justin St. Germain will read from "Son of a Gun: A Memoir."

• When: 1 p.m. next Sunday.

• Where: Barnes & Noble, 5130 E. Broadway.

• Admission: Free.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@azstarnet.com or 807-8430.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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