The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

And so, with a school loan and a little money her mother had inherited from her own father, she left the farm, her family, the burden of her mother's sadness and, eventually, the style of religion that sustained Donna Humphrey until her dying day.

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By Feb. 28, 2005, Donna Humphrey had started to feel at home in her daughter's home. She talked more openly than ever before about her past, her regrets.

Joan Lefkow had come to find comfort in climbing the front porch stairs after work to see her mother illuminated in the winter window, reading novels or the Bible, keeping the home alive while she was gone.

On the evening of 2/28, Lefkow left the courthouse right at 5. All day she'd felt a pinch of anxiety. She'd called home several times. No answer. She'd phoned her daughter Meg, who'd slipped in after school to get her workout clothes and head to the gym.

"Have you seen Dad and Grandma?" Lefkow asked.

No, her daughter said. She figured they were sleeping.

The house was dark when Lefkow pulled up in the mini-van around 5:30. Puzzled, she scanned the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, checked the upstairs beds. Finally she descended the stairs into the basement, where Michael kept an office.

She flipped on a light.

Saw blood pooled on the floor.

She opened Michael's office door.

Saw his body. Then her mother's.

Her mother, she noticed, was wearing the bright blue caftan they'd just ordered from the Smithsonian.

She pulled the door shut. And listened to the silence.


What do you do with the memory of a murder? Of two? How can you witness annihilation without it annihilating part of you? Write it down, Lefkow's therapist tells her. So on a laptop in her corporate apartment, with the marshals on guard outside, she starts writing one day in late April. Stops. Resumes the day before the movers come to the house in May. She writes in the naked style of a legal brief.

The bodies. 911. The phone call to a daughter's fiance.

She writes of how she called one of her girls that night and shouted, "Come home! Run!" How she reached another in California, told her to get on a plane, now, heard her daughter say, "No. No. No. Mom, you're joking."

She keeps typing.

The ride to the police station. The friends who gathered there to cry. The interrogation, then the ride to the hotel where her family hid for the next two days.