Penny Farmer is the author of the new book Dead in the Water: My Forty-Year Search for My Brother's Killer. She is a freelance journalist, and she lives in Oxford, UK.
Q: You write that in 2015 you had an epiphany about finding your brother's murderer and his sons. What happened at that point to make you think you could find them so many years after your brother's death?
A: While on a dog walk with my then 91-year old mother I had this conviction like a bolt out of the blue that I could find Silas Boston and his two sons on the internet. To this day, I have no idea where that thought came from or why it should happen some 38 years after my brother, Chris, and his girlfriend, Peta, had been murdered. All I can say is that they have never been forgotten and we still miss them to this day.
I had a firm conviction that if I just looked hard enough and drilled down on the internet that I would find them and, of course, I did. I actually felt cross with myself that I hadn’t looked for them before but we had been told so many times by law enforcement that he and his sons had disappeared off the radar.
Q: You say of writing the book that it was cathartic but emotionally draining. What made you decide to write the book, and what are your emotions now that it's published and people are reading it?
A: To be quite honest I hadn’t actually thought of writing a book until early on in the investigation one of the detectives, who was working on the case at Greater Manchester Police, knowing that I was a journalist, asked me if I had plans to write it up. I was also motivated by the fact that my father, a BBC TV director who sadly died in 2013, some two years before the case was reopened, had always wanted me to write Chris’s story.
I felt it was very much my family’s story to tell and being a journalist and PR consultant it seemed natural that I should write it. I believe and hope that I have written it without prejudice. As the story got bigger, we were approached by many to write it but as a family we feel very protective of Chris’s memory and I wanted to take rightful ownership of it.
My primary aim in writing the book was for it to stand as a lasting memorial to a very dear brother. He was one of life’s big characters, was hugely popular, and touched many people’s lives not just as a doctor but as a friend. It is heart-warming that so many of his friends from school and university have seen the story in the media and got in touch.
My mother and I feel that we have revisited Chris’s memory all over again and know him better now than when he died as of course he had been living away from home for five years at university. The book is like bringing him home.
Q: What do your family members think of the book?
A: My mother and older brother are delighted that I have written it. My only wish is that my father had been alive to know the story and know that Chris died defending someone less able than himself.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: That evil doesn’t in the end pay. You can run but you can’t hide from judgment – after 50 years on the run Boston was arrested and charged with their murders. Boston didn’t stand trial because in choosing to stop all his meds and refuse food and liquids, he effectively chose the coward’s way out.
We were just two weeks away from travelling to Sacramento to give pre-trial evidence when he died, which was a further body blow to mine and Peta’s family. Boston followed in his father’s criminal footsteps and I am glad that [Boston’s sons] Russell and Vince didn’t become carbon copies of their father. I like to think that, though I am not religious, that Chris and Peta showed both sons a better way to live.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have planned my second book and have started researching it but have so far been unable to start writing it as I have a full-time job but I will! I am still heavily involved in promoting Dead in the Water as the BBC have made a major 10-part podcast called Paradise.
For the making of it, I went to Belize and Guatemala in December with the investigative journalist Dan Maudsley and I was stunned to find Chris and Peta’s graves in Puerto Barrios Cemetery in Guatemala when the FBI had failed to find them. It took us one hour of being in the cemetery and the FBI said they had spent at least a month looking for them so it begs the very puzzling question why didn’t they find them?
It is particularly significant given the fact that had Boston not chosen to exit life, we were facing going to trial with a body-less crime. Fortunately, I was able to add this last minute to the U.S. edition of my book.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My website features a lot of information on the case and photographs and videos. I can also be found on Twitter @PennyFarmer18 and my Dead in the Water Facebook page.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb