The police blotter in Palos Hills, a middle-class suburb southwest of Chicago, rarely offered anything graver than juvenile pranks and DUIs. There hadn't been a homicide, said police chief William Shanley, in his 22 years on the force.
But in July of 1993 a nurse named Sheilah Doyle was found dead in the trunk of her car in nearby Palos Heights. And ten days later the murder of 13-year-old Hillary Norskog of Palos Hills wiped out that small community's faith in its own security.
Before going out that evening Hillary had told her mother she would probably be sleeping over with a friend. Marsha Norskog had her own plans, and when she came home around 12:30 she assumed a power outage must have erased Hillary's message from the answering machine. But in the morning Marsha Norskog could not locate her daughter anywhere. She reported her missing at 3 PM.
Hillary's girlfriends had last seen her at a party the night before in the local forest preserve. They told police Hillary drove off around 11 o'clock with a youth named Steven Pfiel from tiny Palos Park.
Marsha Norskog was terrified. During the next few days she couldn't bear to tell her own parents what was going on. "My mother would call and I would just say that Hillary is fine. I would say she was asleep in her room." At night she heard helicopters. Perhaps they were only monitoring traffic, but she preferred to believe they were searching the nearby fields and woods.
On July 17, four days after she disappeared, Hillary Norskog was found lying in a vacant lot grown high with weeds behind the large frame houses of the Suffield Woods subdivision near 127th Street and 108th Avenue. Two residents taking a morning walk discovered the girl's body. Eighty-pound Hillary had been stabbed at least a dozen times. Her body was identified through dental records and clothing: combat boots, blue jean shorts, and a Jurassic Park T-shirt. The family was not asked to view the body.
Marsha Norskog is curled up in a plush leather chair in the corner of her living room. Her dark hair is kept back in a girlish ponytail held by a large bow, and a pink ribbon is pinned to the shoulder of her black sweater. Outside the picture window of her apartment, light rain is falling on the blacktop of a parking lot. The room, like the afternoon, is turning dark.
A fluffed-up cat slinks across the carpet and sniffs at the foot of the chair. Marsha Norskog scratches its stomach and shoos it away. The cat used to belong to Hillary and is one of many reminders of the girl in the apartment. Photos stand in thin frames atop the television; notebooks and yearbooks from junior high are marked with paper clips for easy access. For the benefit of a woman friend who just accompanied her to court, Marsha Norskog reads aloud from a grade school book report and laughs proudly at her daughter's opinion.
Hillary's bedroom at the far end of the apartment stands basically unchanged since her death. The walls, ruffled curtains, and fringed bedspreads are all white and cotton-candy pink. Sympathy cards are standing open on a dresser, near a deflating bunch of silver balloons and a bouquet of fresh flowers. On another dresser Norskog keeps a basket filled with newspaper articles.
Norskog was rummaging through this room when she found a piece of construction paper bearing Hillary's handprint. The grade school assignment was titled "Look How I Have Grown." Hillary was a tiny girl with long dark hair and an olive complexion. Her thin, delicate features made her look younger than her classmates. Marsha Norskog came across a picture of herself when she was four or five. "She could have been my clone. God, we looked exactly alike. I showed the picture to a friend and she asked why I had a black and white of Hillary. I told her it was me."
Two pictures sit next to each other in the living room, one in yellowing black and white and the other in faded color. The same dark eyes smile back in each photo.
A few days after Hillary's body was found, Steven Pfiel, 17, was approached by police while he was cleaning out his car in his parents' driveway. He was brought in for questioning and then charged as an adult with first-degree murder and armed violence. Investigators confiscated a knife, the front seat of Pfiel's car, and some of his clothing.
Pfiel was held in Cook County Jail from the day he was charged until October 8, when his parents posted $100,000 bond. He was kept in Division Ten, a protective custody unit apart from the jail's general population. Pfiel's lawyer, Raymond Pijon, said at the time, "The jail is no place for someone who has not been locked up for a period of time to be. It's not a healthy environment for him to be in with the kinds of people he's locked up with."
The state began running DNA tests of blood found on Hillary's clothes and of stains in Pfiel's car. He told the police they were caused by a Kool-Aid spill.
Pfiel's picture appeared in the Palos Regional, a local newspaper. In this profile shot, the side and back of his head are shaved under a mohawk. His eyes are sleepy and his face is very young. A hint of baby fat surrounds his cheeks and jaw.
He pleaded not guilty.
Twenty-five years ago Palos Hills was a small community, sleepy and sparsely populated, almost a farm town. The area grew as Chicagoans vacated their old neighborhoods for a quiet life in tree-lined suburbs.
Now the landscape bristles with strip malls and fast-food restaurants, gas stations and shopping complexes. They're separated by golf courses, acres of empty fields, and subdivisions shaped by curving, well-lit streets.
Marsha Norskog's father was one of the first builders in the area. She grew up in the south suburbs and graduated from Carl Sandburg High School. Married and divorced once, she says she'll never marry again. The focus of her life, she says, has always been her children, and she did not want any man to take her away from that. Her two older children have moved out on their own. Hillary was the youngest by nine years. Her mother describes the life of local teenagers: "It's not like the city. There are no street corners or parks for these kids to hang out at. Everyone goes to the forest preserves. We have family picnics there, it's a safe place." Hillary was not killed in the preserves, Norskog emphatically points out; she was killed after she left the party there.
Pfiel appeared to be a casual friend. Sometimes he'd drive by the apartment and pick up Hillary and her girlfriends there. Marsha Norskog says she didn't like Pfiel the first time she saw him. She didn't want him in their home and asked Hillary to speak to him outside.
Hillary replied, "You always say you have to give people a chance."
Pfiel's friends say they spent most nights driving in circles looking for a safe place to party, looking for a spot where they wouldn't be bothered by adults or hassled by police. Signs posted at the entrances of the nearby forest preserves announced that they closed at sunset. The kids parked their cars after dark in a subdivision or restaurant lot, then trekked along bike or horse trails until they were deep in the woods. There were different favorite spots--Swallow Cliff, Pioneer, Crooked Creek.
Pfiel's friends wish to remain anonymous and are not forthcoming. No one knows what happened that night. They were not there and they haven't heard.
The murder of a young girl in a peaceful suburb is certain news. Television crews converged on Palos Hills to capture images of Hillary's friends crying against each other's shoulders. As Marsha Norskog was preparing herself to go to her daughter's wake, she heard her own name coming from the radio. She says Don Wade of WLS AM was comparing her to the Schoos, the couple who left their children at home while they went on vacation. Norskog couldn't believe it. She expected sympathy; instead she was being blamed.
"It was disgusting. It felt like the whole world was against me," Norskog says. From some higher moral ground they were judging her when she saw herself as a victim. What had she done wrong? she wondered. She was a single mother who raised three kids. And the youngest, her Hillary, had been violently taken away from her. Was she supposed to know her daughter's whereabouts 24 hours a day? She hadn't killed Hillary. How could this be any of her doing? Now calls arguing the question were coming into the station. She couldn't listen any longer and shut off the radio.
Marsha Norskog digs around for videotapes of the coverage of Hillary's murder. Juggling the VCR's fast-forward and rewind buttons, she finally reaches one of the first reports. She whispers in counterpoint to the voices, one of them her own, coming from the TV screen. Several hours after Hillary's body was found, she says, her own father suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma. For months her life essentially was divided between his hospital room and the Bridgeview courthouse. She sleepwalked through the rest of 1993.
"My grief counselor told me that this kind of shock is a physiological thing. Your body goes through actual changes. I believe it. I could feel it. She said it takes usually 16 to 18 months for the facts to sink in. There is so much denial, and there is a need to talk about it and believe it. I'm just realizing now that my life is starting over. At 47 years old I feel like an embryo. What do I do?"
A year and a half ago this was not a concern. Marsha Norskog was asked by The Oprah Winfrey Show to sit in the audience and tell her story. "I barely remember the show," Norskog said. "I saw the tape later and I don't even look like myself." But the experience was cathartic; she believes that speaking about what had happened was the first step out of her shock.
Norskog's father died the morning his daughter visited the Harpo Studios. "I called after, and they were already taking him to the funeral parlor. Since then I haven't been able to grieve yet for him," she said. "I think I cried once."
She blames his heart attack on the news of Hillary's death. She blames his death on Steven Pfiel.
After that first appearance on Oprah Winfrey, Norskog's burden felt a little less crushing. The change in her can be seen in tapes of her TV interviews. What had been frantic sorrow becomes a collected anger. The objects of her anger became Steven Pfiel and the creaking wheels of justice.
Early in 1994 the television show Turning Point ran a program inspired by the Tribune's yearlong series, "Killing Our Children." Sixty-one Chicago-area children under the age of 15 had been killed in 1993. Hillary Norskog was number 35.
The camera lens ran ankle-high through the field where Hillary's body was found. Men walked in a line through dry grass, several prodding the ground with long poles. "Oh, God!" says Marsha Norskog when she sees the video. "They were looking for her like that?" The camera cuts away from the field and Norskog watches her own interview. Then Hillary's girlfriends take turns eulogizing her. They say that Hillary was last seen with Steven Pfiel. They say how scared they are.
The segment returns to Marsha Norskog, who describes the morning Hillary did not come home. She remembers calling the Pfiel house repeatedly and speaking to Steven, who said that he dropped Hillary off at home the night before and did not know where she went after that. She says Pfiel's mother came on the line and told her, "I wish you'd quit badgering my son."
Marsha Norskog stops the tape when Hillary's segment is done. "The people at Turning Point were just wonderful to me," she said. "They were shocked about the things people like Don Wade were saying about me. David, the assistant producer, and the girl who interviewed me, they were very positive and caring. Hillary's story was the second longest piece in the show. And I even got a Christmas card and letter from them. I think that David is now with Nightline, since their show was canceled."
She goes on, "My reasons for being on these shows, now and then, are very different." At first she was trying to help herself get through it all. Now she wants to make sure no one forgets about Steven Pfiel.
"None of this brings her back," she says. "But my worst fear is that he will do it again and someone else will suffer this."
Marsha Norskog brings out other tapes from her cabinet. There are short interviews from Channel Seven, Channel Five, and Channel Two, and her outrage never dims. She asks repeatedly why Steven Pfiel is out on bond. Why isn't he in jail? What is taking so long? She wants some resolution. She cannot go on with her life the way it is. "I continue to remain a victim. I can't go forward now. Where do I go?"
One videotape brings back the eighth-grade graduation at Palos South Junior High. Hillary and her friends are standing in a wide semicircle, waiting for someone outside the frame to snap their photo. The girls hug and kiss.
The tape ends in static. Marsha Norskog goes to an end table and sifts through a small stack of letters and cards. Inside the bottom card is a note from one of the girls. Norskog reads the note out loud and is crying before she finishes. The girl calls her mom, and after a cheerful greeting confesses that she feels Hillary's death is partly her own fault. Norskog adds that a lot of the other kids feel the same way. The girl says others tell her she has to go on with her life, but she does not want to. Ending the letter, she tells "mom" that if you ever need anything you should call. Marsha Norskog folds the letter and tucks it away.
Hillary's friends come to her with problems they feel they cannot share with their parents. "These kids are dealing with so much pain. They just want some kind of relief. They're not bad kids, it's not in their personalities. All these things are surfacing for them at the peak period of grief."
Marsha Norskog says these girls need privacy, counseling, closure. As does she.
The more under attack Norskog feels, the more brash and outspoken she's become. This may not endear her to others but she's following the only course that seems open. "I always worked in public relations and sales. I'm good at it. You can see I'm not a shy, quiet person. There's nothing wrong with that." She's given dozens of interviews, on television and in print, and she senses that those who questioned the quality of her parenting now question the sincerity of her grieving. Asked if the TV appearances have done more good than harm, she answers, "I don't know. I can't tell yet."
She's heard suggestions made about her that range from her marital status to her clothing. "They were criticizing my earrings. Like I dressed up to look my best to be on the news right after it happened. This is how I always dress. I always wear earrings and makeup. Maybe I should look like hell. I feel like it."
She adds, "If you're a single mother and you're not wearing a babushka--then you're a tramp. I can say this because I'm Polish."
Norskog knows she's not to blame for what happened to her daughter. "What do you do?" she asks in hindsight. "Tell her not to trust her friends?" But she has a good idea of what people wish. They wish that she would mourn silently and guiltily and privately. No one wants to be reminded of this crime.
The Bridgeview courthouse stands just west of Harlem Avenue at 103rd Street, surrounded by apartment complexes, strip malls, and empty fields. Inside the glass doorway, two lines of people have formed at the metal detectors by 9 AM--one line of men and one of women. Police officers waving hand-held detectors surround the entrance and gruffly hurry visitors through the process.
It's June 1, 1994. Steven Pfiel, wearing penny loafers and a cardigan despite the 90 degree heat, shuffles out of a crowd of people gathered at the doorway of courtroom 101. He's let his hair grow out and he looks younger than 18. A slight smile appears as he recognizes a friend from high school. Pfiel and the other teenager step together and speak in bored monotones.
"Nothing. What's going on with you?"
They ask each other how they're doing, what they've been up to. It's obvious that they haven't seen each other recently, but neither mentions that they're both here for a motion hearing leading to a murder trial. This is the first of these hearings at which Pfiel's friend has made an appearance, and he won't be back. "See you later," Pfiel says as he goes into the courtroom, surrounded by his family.
As the cases before Pfiel's are decided, Pfiel sits in the first row between his parents waiting for his lawyer to wave him forward. Marsha Norskog is on the opposite side of the courtroom, chatting with Hillary's young friends and with other supporters. Some of these frequent hearings draw a dozen girls or more to court, and every hearing finds Marsha Norskog grumbling and making asides whenever she hears something she disapproves of said by either the prosecution, the defense, or the judge.
Today brings an argument between assistant state's attorney James McCarter and defense attorney Raymond Pijon over Pfiel's Stagg High School records. Judge Harry Buoscio gives McCarter permission to examine them, but from Norskog's point of view this victory only delays the actual trial. When court is dismissed, she passes out pins with thin pink ribbons in her daughter's memory. Several friends also carry plastic bags filled with the pink ribbons. Some of the girls pin the ribbons to their shirts; others hold them carefully.
Marsha Norskog exits trailed by friends and a handful of local reporters who encircle her when she stops moving forward. Turning from person to person, she expresses her opinion of the proceedings and organizes a late breakfast. The local reporters wait for something they can use.
As the end of 1993 approached, Pfiel's attorney informed Judge Buoscio that the Pfiel family planned to move to Saint John, Indiana. It was becoming impossible for the family to go anywhere in the Palos Hills area, Pijon said, without someone questioning or threatening them. They were moving not for Steven's sake but for their own.
"He brought this on himself," McCarter said in protest. "He's the one who killed that girl."
Pijon assured the judge that Steven Pfiel had no intentions of fleeing. Judge Buoscio was hesitant. He wanted to know the exact location of the new home in Indiana. He didn't understand why the family couldn't move somewhere within the jurisdiction of his court. The judge ruled that Steven Pfiel could not move out of state.
But the Pfiels had already sold their home. So at a January 4 hearing Judge Buoscio agreed to make life easier for the Pfiels. He allowed Steven to move with his family if he accepted stringent conditions. A 24-hour curfew would be imposed and the court would check in daily by phone. Steven would have to appear in court once a week and he would not be allowed outside his house unless he was in school or in court. There'd be no electronic monitoring system at his Indiana residence. It was to be an honor system.
Before this ruling, Pfiel's only obligation had been to make his court dates. He was able to travel anywhere in Illinois. Nevertheless, Norskog considered the judge's decision an indulgence. "No one can make it clear to me why this boy deserves special treatment," she said. "No one is accepting any responsibility."
She decided publicity was her only weapon. "The more high profile the case becomes, the less lenient [the court] will be. The less these unlikely things will happen."
Marsha Norskog perceives herself standing alone against a bureaucratic system that is coddling the accused. "People say I shouldn't worry. I think they're waiting for me to get tired. I've lost my daughter, my father, my health, my business. I am tired. I don't want to keep going to court, none of us do. Why would they?"
Originally, she couldn't believe that Steven Pfiel was allowed to post bond at all. Everything done for him after that was absurd. "If Pfiel's such a good kid, then maybe the judge has a daughter that he would like Steve to date," she spat. "How would Judge Buoscio like for this kid to be living next door?
"If he were my kid, I wouldn't have gotten him out on bail. I probably would have killed him myself."
Several days after the January 4 ruling, the Pfiels' plans became known in Saint John. The public there was outraged. National television showed residents lining up to apply for gun licenses. And Marsha Norskog took credit for making the people of that small town aware that an alleged murderer was coming to live among them.
By the end of January the residents of Saint John had collected 600 signatures on a petition protesting Judge Buoscio's decision. This prompted the Pfiel family's first public statement, which was read by their lawyer at a press conference:
"We feel his innocence is not only a statement of his legal situation, but of actual fact. Confident that this will be proven, we will stand not behind him, but beside him, as he establishes his innocence through the justice system." The Pfiels noted that Steven was to be tutored at home and therefore would not be attending a local school. They explained that they were moving to bring them closer to relatives in Indiana.
On March 2, 1994, Raymond Pijon withdrew his client's request to relocate in Saint John. He also asked the court for a change of venue on grounds of "excessive" media coverage. Two months later Judge Buoscio announced that Steven Pfiel's case would remain where it was. He'd decided 12 unbiased jurors could be found. Judge Buoscio said the articles that had been published were not biased and most were informative. Assistant state's attorney James McCarter agreed that jurors did not have to be ignorant to be unbiased, and he said the state was ready to go to trial.
Pijon requested additional time to examine DNA materials the state had collected. Buoscio scheduled another preliminary hearing.
"They keep telling me that he is innocent until proven guilty," says Norskog. But if Steven Pfiel were in jail, she reasons, the defense would not be dragging its heels like this. She cites the case of Sheilah Doyle, the nurse who was murdered a few days before Hillary. The three defendants were black men who did not live in the area and whose fathers were not prominent businessmen. Two of them have already been tried. (One was acquitted, the other found guilty.)
"Why is it that people are protecting the Pfiel family?" Norskog asks. "Have you heard anyone ask where Steven Pfiel's parents were that night? Where were they when he got home and when he was cleaning the blood out of his car?"
Plenty of questions have not been answered well enough to suit Norskog. Before it ever became an issue in court, she suspected that the Pfiels had moved out of Palos Park and out of Cook County. "I think it's my right to know where this boy lives. No one ever answers my questions. No one is giving me logical answers. If he's as innocent as his parents say he is, then let's go to court."
Later she says she's certain the Pfiel family now lives in another county. "Isn't it only fair that I know where the boy lives? They know where I live. I asked McCarter about it and he tells me that they didn't move. I saw the transfer of the real estate listed in the Southtown. When I told that to McCarter, he said that he couldn't talk about it. The state has a gag order to protect the family."
Once, outside the courtroom before a crowd of people, Norskog confronted James McCarter about the many delays standing in the way of trial. She stood toe to toe with him, tilted her head back, and looked him in the eye. She wondered why the O.J. Simpson case was ready to go to trial and Steven Pfiel's was not. Why, she said repeatedly and angrily, does this have to take so long? He nodded slowly, barely getting in a word.
Since last June Raymond Pijon has been looking for a way to discredit the state's DNA tests. To accomplish this, he asked to study the methodology of the laboratory where the state's tests were performed. The judge has given Pijon more time whenever he said he needed it. And Norskog tried to fight the feeling that it was all running away from her.
The entrance to the courthouse has become a point of contention. She's spotted the Pfiels entering and leaving through a back door. Norskog doesn't understand why this is. "I have to stand 30 minutes in line to empty my pockets while she [Pfiel's mother] gets to walk in and out the back door. I never see them get frisked." Norskog mentions this to two bailiffs who say they'll look into it.
Marsha Norskog asks for a reality check. "Am I being one-sided? Do the people outside see what is going on? Am I misinterpreting some of these things?"
She has sued WLS radio and Don Wade for libel over the comments she says Wade made on the air when Hillary was killed. This lawsuit was filed, says Norskog, because "the media has to be held responsible. Anyone I talk to in the media has to be. It's incredible that this man uses me as a target and blames me for my daughter's death."
A memorial service was held for Hillary Norskog at Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills last July 25, what would have been her 15th birthday. About 30 or 40 of the hundred or so people scattered throughout the pews were friends and classmates of Hillary's. The others were the friends and family of her mother. Father George Clements attended. Norskog has supported Clements's "One Church-One Addict" program and has been involved with his fund-raisers.
Marsha Norskog and Hillary's close friends all spoke that night. One girl sobbed at the microphone while giving the first reading of the mass, and another girl read a poem that Norskog would say described exactly what she'd gone through. "If my tears were blood / I would have bled to death." Norskog was shaken and nervous. She thanked the parents who attended for sharing their children with her and then thanked the children, asking that they not leave her alone with her grief.
Father Clements stood in the pulpit when his turn came and suggested that the crowd do what Hillary would have wanted them to. And after a dramatic pause he began to sing "Happy Birthday." Once they realized what was happening, his audience sang along.
Several TV stations covered the service. Norskog praised each one, but she thought Channel Two was the best. "You could tell they really cared. And Kathy Brock at Channel Seven was very nice." Channel Nine reported on the service during each of its news broadcasts that day, Norskog observed; Channel Five for some reason came but didn't interview her.
"Everything happened so quickly for these girls," Norskog said, explaining why she'd wanted the memorial service. "Some of them were on vacation, away for the summer, when Hillary died. They got back and we already had the funeral. I wanted some kind of closure for these children. Everything was left hanging for them.
"It was nice," she reflected. "It was the only thing that didn't revolve around Steve Pfiel."
She was surprised that Father Clements sang "Happy Birthday."
A few days earlier, an article drawn from a three-hour interview with Marsha Norskog had appeared in the Daily Southtown. One year after the murder, it was titled "I Haven't Been Able to Properly Grieve." Throughout the article Norskog defended herself and attacked her critics, whom she addressed (as she still sometimes does) as "all these perfect parents."
Last May Norskog proposed building a new public park and naming it after Hillary. Village officials turned her down. She says they were concerned about perpetuating memories of Hillary's murder. They didn't want their town identifying itself with the crime. They say there was no space for a new park, and besides, a park memorializing someone should be funded by whoever wants it memorialized.
Marsha Norskog accuses the village of trying to create a false sense of security. "They want to keep crime quiet out here," she says. "If they can't get rid of it then they at least want to keep it out of sight. God forbid that the property values go down."
One parent who has a daughter Hillary's age and who believes Norskog is guilty of grandstanding says, "You don't want to judge her, and God forbid that you end up in her shoes. It can happen to anybody. All of this diminishes the girl's memory, though. You try to act respectful for the girl, but it's tough."
Norskog has encouraged Hillary's friends to come over. On the night of the 1993 homecoming dance the girls, by then freshmen at Stagg High School, stopped by to show off their dresses. Just before the memorial service Norskog held a sleepover. But even a telephone call makes Norskog happy.
"When I can't go on anymore, one of the girls will call to see how I am doing. What do you say to these children? They have been devastated." Norskog says Hillary's friends support her as much as she supports them. When Christmas comes, she receives letters and cards from the girls. "They were just beautiful and caring letters from these children. My friends have been incredible.
"We have to stick together," she explains. "That's why we all go to court as much as we can."
Norskog wants the support of a large crowd at the hearings. The court, she says, has to know it is being watched. The judge has to know he will answer for his decisions.
She's frustrated by acquaintances who call her at home after the hearings instead of adding their bodies. "They don't show up in court," she complained after clicking off her portable phone, " and then they call me to see what happened."
Last September Joan Lovett of Channel Two came to the apartment to interview Marsha Norskog. "As soon as it was over," Norskog admits, "I started throwing up. I had the flu all week and thought I was going to be sick. I was so glad it was over." Offhandedly she continues, "Next I'm trying to get Walter Jacobson."
There's no excitement in her voice. She's tired of everything and often talks about resting for a few days. But a friend mentions that she's busily trying to get Marsha onto Jerry Springer.
The judicial process is torturously slow for Marsha Norskog. She wishes that the trial would come and go; she doesn't want to think about it anymore. "If I had to do it over again, I don't know if I'd want to bring another child into this world." Her voice cracks slightly with this admission.
Last November Judge Buoscio gave Raymond Pijon a carefully worded warning. He wanted to set a trial date soon. But Pijon asked for more time to study the results of the state's DNA tests. "Aw, come on, your honor!" James McCarter blurted out. "I'm asking you to draw the line somewhere." McCarter pointed across the room at Pijon. "He could do this stuff forever."
Pijon's complaint was that the test results had been given to him on a printout instead of on the computer disk he'd asked for. The judge said Pijon could have what he wanted.
The next issue raised was Pfiel's new address. In an attempt to appease both attorneys, Buoscio ruled that although the address would not be made public it would be given to the court and kept in a sealed envelope.
Hearing this, Marsha Norskog slumped forward and hid her face in her hands. Someone patted her on the back but she did not sit up until the judge called for a two-minute recess. As Steven Pfiel walked to his parents' bench, Norskog stood. In a stage whisper directed at Pfiel she suggested, "Why don't you go kill someone else? You're already killing me."
Pfiel kept moving as if he hadn't heard the woman. And by the time he had taken a seat next to his mother, Norskog was glancing around the room with an expression of disbelief, as if asking someone else to stand and say something, anything.
Half the courtroom emptied when recess was called. Norskog walked out herself, and as she passed the huddled Pfiel family she let out another stage whisper. "It doesn't matter. I know where you live anyway."
This time Pfiel's mother jumped abruptly from her seat and was yanked back down by her husband and son. She awkwardly tried a second time and was again coaxed into her seat. Norskog slipped out the door, where a bailiff chastised her.
"I don't want any fights in here."
Out in the hallway Norskog thanked the state's attorney for raising his voice. She felt that McCarter's outburst proved he was now on her side instead of just doing his job.
It's early afternoon and all the lights are off at home. It's quiet and still and the heavily cushioned sofa would be perfect for a nap. Rain falls lightly at the window but Marsha Norskog cannot relax.
As worn as she appears, she keeps talking. Her thoughts slip back and forth between her children, Steve Pfiel, the court system, herself. "I've always been the strength of my family, being a single parent. Then this happens and I don't have anyone to turn to. It's very hard to sit and grieve without this being over. I don't sleep at night. I get a few hours and cry. I'm up all night just listening to the traffic and the helicopters. I wish it had been me instead. The hardest part is knowing how she suffered and fought without having a chance." She says the police have evidence that shows how hard Hillary fought for her life. They told her some kind of metal had been bent by the force of the girl's struggle.
After taking a breath she changes the subject to someone who irritated her in court by eating M&Ms. Then she reflects on crime in America. "This country wants crime, it must, because the victims are never protected. Criminals are not being properly punished. Think about all the money that's involved. All the people who would be out of jobs if the criminals were just put away. There's attorneys and judges and reporters who would all be out of work without crime."
She can't stay away from the subject of Steven Pfiel. No matter how hard she tries, he keeps coming back to mind. He's at the end of all her thoughts.
"I don't see how anyone in their right mind could not find him guilty. My main concern is that he will get a soft sentence." But no trial date is even in sight. The next hearing doesn't come until mid-April.
Marsha Norskog said that Hillary's friends asked if they could come by to help her celebrate her 47th birthday last September. But none of the girls showed up, she said. They all had things to do that night.
The girls do not want to talk to outsiders about their friend Hillary. "It is too hard for them," Norskog explained. "One of the girls called me up crying. She heard one of Hillary's favorite songs on the radio. It was that one song, I think it's called "Night Train.' I don't know who sings it."
Norskog watches the judicial proceedings that she believes have belittled her daughter's life. From an increasing distance she watches the other girls get older. Two of her own birthdays have passed without Hillary.
At night the Norskog house is empty, the phone has stopped ringing, and Hillary's bedroom sits carefully kept. Marsha Norskog is unable to sleep and every so often she can hear a helicopter passing far overhead.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Lloyd DeGrane.