The Accidental Truth
With a newly released book, a Manhattan Beach native delves deep into uncovering the real story behind her mother’s disappearance and death … and discovers a lot about herself along the way.
- Written byJennie Nunn
Nearly nine years ago, Jane Kling—mother of Manhattan Beach native Lauri Taylor and her three older sisters, Sherri, Debbie and Kim—vanished without a trace. Jane, who grew up in Pennsylvania and lived in Vista, California, managed two consignment stores before she went missing in San Felipe, in Baja, California.
Her story and apparent murder case were the subject of several headlines and news stories, and it became Lauri’s four-year mission to find the real answers behind that life-changing day in March 2006. Jane’s bed at home hadn’t been made, and her two dogs were left behind unattended. All they had were clues: a border crossing video (at the furthest border from her home), their mother’s green minivan, a hotel clerk who remembered her (accompanied by another mysterious woman)—all followed by autopsy reports and conclusions that Jane had in fact been murdered.
But perhaps one of the hardest factors was that Lauri, who hadn’t spoken to her mother in three months before the tragedy, was left with the guilt that she wouldn’t be able to ever say goodbye. Lauri worked with detectives and police in both Mexico and California, and four months ago released her first book, The Accidental Truth: What My Mother’s Murder Investigation Taught Me About Life (SelectBooks) with a foreword by former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, whom she hired to further unravel the case.
“I’m a crime show lover,” says Lauri. “I watched every minute of the O.J. Simpson case, and crimes that are neatly wrapped up in an hour show.” But when it came to her own life and her own mother, she admits it was more than a bitter pill to swallow.
“There was still a lot of mystery, and my three older sisters were ready to put it behind us. But it was how I felt in control,” admits Lauri, who wrote the book around the time her two children—Clark, 23, and Katy, 21—were going off to college. “The book was a gigantic leap, and I think it gave me a sense of identity. Some people looked at me like I was out of my mind, but my mom gave me these great gifts and taught us to write out goals. So whether it was to be a detective or a published author, I believed that about myself.”
But, she continues, “Putting myself out there as a first-time author, I envisioned the English teacher with the red Sharpie and glasses. It’s a ‘get it’ or a ‘don’t get it.’ It’s a true crime, and I can’t embellish it.”
SISTERS Clockwise from top left: Debbie Richardson, Kim Harjo, Lauri Taylor and Sherri Holmes
A Life Interrupted
On this particular August afternoon over coffee in Santa Monica, it’s hard to sit across from Lauri and imagine the excruciating, grim personal journey she endured over the past several years: dealing with her mother’s death, being viewed as a potential suspect, visiting a morgue in the middle of nowhere in Mexico with her sister, Deb, to identify their mother’s body, and single-handedly stopping at nothing to help piece together the case.
“For every one fact in the book, there are three,” explains Lauri. “I do leave people hanging in parts as a tiny taste of what it was like to never get to an end with all of these rabbit holes.”
But underneath her pretty countenance framed by caramel-hued hair, Lauri—who attended Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach and majored in business marketing at
Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas—is nothing short of tough. Throughout the book she recounts a strained relationship with Jane (from the repercussions of coming home super-late one night from a party in high school to not naming her daughter, Katy, after Jane) and her internal struggle of self-acceptance and justification of what happened and how to deal with the loss.
Jane taught Lauri and her three older sisters to uphold a certain public image. “We were taught that we don’t cry,” says Lauri. “I put stress and pressure on myself, and one of the things I try to point out in the book is that I thought I had built the fairytale, but it was a very difficult time.”
In writing the book (she took a writing class at UCLA Extension and worked with writing coach Jennie Nash) and spending years searching for her mother’s apparent killer, Lauri found closure. “My nephew Adam, who worked with my mother in the consignment shop, said, ‘Auntie Lauri, did you ever think of doing this as a career?’”
Yet she and her sisters definitely never expected to find the answer they did. After hunting down and securing photos taken after the body was discovered in a remote area and having them analyzed by forensic analyst Dr. Michael Baden, there was an entirely new twist to the case. There was no killer.
“I was searching for a criminal, and there was no crime,” says Lauri, of her mother’s post-mortem diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. “People still stigmatize suicide, and had we known, we would have gotten her help.”
The case, now solved, in the most unexpected way imaginable was the most gut-wrenching aspect, not to mention explaining the truth to a host of people who already concluded it was a violent murder crime.
“I exposed the truth, and there’s no shame in being ill,” Lauri continues. “I had to live with the guilt and the blame and shame that I hadn’t spoken to my mother in three months, and that I missed the opportunity to say goodbye. My mother gave us these gifts and tools, and I really thought it was the last chance to make my mother proud.”
PIECES OF THE PAST Clockwise from top left: Lauri's book cover; Jane with Sherri, Debbie and Lauri; Lauri's graduation from SMU; Jane and the girls with their paternal grandmother, Blanche.
Beyond The Page
With a newly released book, Lauri is busy juggling a tour and book signings this fall in cities including Dallas, Chicago and San Diego. She also hasn’t entirely abandoned her “detective” hat. She has been contacted by several families, and sometimes offers practical advice.
“The most help I can offer, though, is I have good intuition and credibility,” says Lauri. “And it’s about really being there for people to vent and say, ‘I’ve stood in your shoes.’”
Now helping others is Lauri’s mission. She will deliver keynote on September 17 for Smart Women, a fundraising arm of Working Wardrobes made up of influential women and philanthropists in the community. With close friend Sue Curran, she is also developing an anti-stigma, suicide awareness campaign to introduce on college campuses in honor of dear Pi Phi friend, Marsha Dea Davis, who lost her battle with chronic depression and died by suicide in January 2014. There are over 1,100 successful suicides on college campuses annually and suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst college age kids. SMU is not yet confirmed as the first test location.
“The suicide rate is highest among young adults ages 19 to 25, and there’s a big stigma,” says Lauri of her current crusade along with her close friend, Sue Curran. “My desire is to reach college students with a group called Sisters Against Stigma.”
Knowing the truth, however, about her mother’s mental illness, death and disappearance now offers Lauri some peace of mind, although she explains it will never be easy.
“I get private Facebook messages nearly every day from people thanking me for telling my story,” she adds. “At almost every book signing people come up to me to talk after. I think people make assumptions about struggle, and people say there’s something about when you get to the 50-age mark. This whole experience was empowering in the oddest way. You aren’t defined by where you’re standing at this minute, and I’m not that exceptional. I worked hard, and I cared a lot. I’m really lucky.”
She continues, “I have closure, and I’m very thankful. When we suffer a huge loss, you try to find some meaning. It was a blessing that they found the body. It was a blessing to work with Candice. It was a blessing that the sergeant let me be a part of it. Things like that don’t happen.”
Lauri also attests that being the “baby” of the family, she wanted to make her older sisters proud by telling their story. The sisters, who reside throughout the South Bay and Southern California, regularly get together for birthdays, holidays and “sisters’ dinners.”
“We are stronger than ever,” says Lauri. “The greatest moment for me is when Kim, a voracious reader, after reading the book, looked at me and said, ‘You wrote a real book!’ We all started laughing.”