In Cold Blood II

By Romano, Lois | Newsweek, August 29, 2011 | Go to article overview
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In Cold Blood II

Romano, Lois, Newsweek

Byline: Lois Romano

Brooks Douglass was 16 years old when two drifters entered his family's Oklahoma farmhouse, killed his parents, raped his sister, and left him for dead. He survived, and passed a law allowing him to watch his attacker be executed. But it took 30 years, and making a movie reliving the tragedy, to bury his demons.

When I first met Brooks Douglass 15 years ago, he was a restless 32-year-old state senator--the youngest ever elected in Oklahoma. Outside of politics, his life seemed to be a treadmill of small-time deals, but he was barely hanging on financially. His first wife, a childhood sweetheart, had finally thrown in the towel when he sold their home, promising grand plans for a better one--plans that never panned out. He was trying to unload a garage full of latex gloves, another one of his get-rich-quick schemes, when she finally decided she'd had enough.

He had remarried, but the same unfocused energy would ultimately contribute to the collapse of that union, too. "I was just so angry, and I kept adding stuff to bury the demons," he would later reflect. "The result was that I destroyed everything, including my relationships."

On the surface, it could be anyone's pained search for stability and purpose. But his demons were far more formidable, far harder to conquer--and had consumed his entire adult life.

Brooks was just a teenager when he watched his parents die, choking on their own blood. When we spoke, he could recite every detail from the night of the crime, but with unsettling detachment, as if he were a bystander talking of another man's tragedy. Imagine if the gruesome events memorialized in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood unfolded in your living room when you were just 16 years old.

Brooks and his family were getting ready to sit down for dinner in October 1979, at their modest farmhouse in Okarche, Okla. His mother, Marilyn, a gifted singer, was tending to the beef patties and gravy; his father, Richard, one of the state's prominent Baptist ministers, was watching Monday Night Football. Daughter Leslie, 12, the reigning Miss Teen Oklahoma, was outside when a scruffy stranger approached, pretending to be lost. Brooks, just home from his car-detailing business, welcomed the man in to use the phone.

Within minutes, the stranger, an oilfield roughneck named Glen Burton Ake on a daylong booze-and-coke-fueled bender, had pulled a handgun from his belt; his buddy Steven Hatch followed close behind, waving the shotgun they had just stolen. They hogtied the parents and Brooks immediately, and proceeded to terrorize the family for nearly three hours. Marilyn begged for mercy, but none was to come. Ake dragged Leslie through the house demanding to know where the valuables were hidden. Along the way, they yanked out every phone--and ate the family's dinner.

Ake took Leslie into a bedroom, where the men took turns raping her. "We could hear her crying and him jiggling his belt buckle -- as he raped her," Brooks remembers. "He wanted us to hear it."

The assailants eventually brought her back to the living room, hogtying her too. Ake instructed Hatch to go outside and start the car and "wait for the sound." Ake then emptied the six rounds of his .357 revolver into their backs, shooting Leslie and Richard twice, and Brooks and Marilyn once.

They took off with all of $43 and the couple's weddings rings.

Brooks helped free Leslie, who crawled to the kitchen to find a knife to cut her brother loose. Brooks untied his mom in time to watch her die. "Dad, Mom's dead," he told his father. "I love you, Dad." Richard never said another word.

Brooks and his sister miraculously survived, but they have struggled for 30 years to put to rest the memories of that gruesome night. It has tarnished their marriages, crushed their dreams. They would feel relief when the men were sentenced to death in 1980, only to be consumed by rage when Ake's life was spared at a retrial.

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