Michael Cahill, Coda

Let me begin by saying that this is the short version…

For those who haven’t been following my blog, my uncle, Michael Cahill, was shot and killed in 1979, in Austin Texas. This happened as he came upon someone burglarizing his apartment, who fled on foot with my uncle’s prized possession — a Guild D40 acoustic guitar. As I covered in 2006, this sad episode in my family’s life was resurfaced by journalist Denise Gamino of the Austin American-Statesman (Gamino is now a former staffer and her very excellent article is no longer on their site, however I’m linking to a copy of it here). Fortuitously, a producer from America’s Most Wanted came across it and reached out to my aunt for permission to spotlight this cold case on one of their episodes. And so, in 2007 I got to see the story of my uncle’s murder not only re-explained and re-contextualized, but also recreated with actors on broadcast TV.

And then…nothing happened. I wrote about it here and here and that generated interest. People reached out to share their theories, sometimes the odd story about Michael. Over time — especially given the cancellation of America’s Most Wanted (and the erasure of its online presence which wiped out all of the stories they covered, a crime in itself for families whose only hope for justice was the information that site provided) I grew ambivalent to any suggestion that I should be hopeful my uncle’s murder would find any sort of resolution.

On February 7th of this year, I got on a plane to Tulum, Mexico, for a vacation. When the jet landed on the tarmac of Cancún International Airport, I saw that I’d received a voicemail. I ignored it, assuming it was work-related, or maybe just spam — it was from an area code I didn’t recognize — until I returned to my office on the 18th. It was a Tuesday.

The message was from Randy Crafton the owner of Kaleidoscope Sound, a recording studio in New Jersey. While doing an inventory of their music equipment, they looked up the serial number of one of their studio guitars. Unlikely as it may seem, even as I write this, that serial number was the same as the one my uncle died chasing in 1979. It had likely changed hands many times; at some point I’m sure someone will investigate this.

This past Friday — Good Friday — the guitar was delivered by UPS to my father in Houston, just in time for the 41st anniversary of my uncle’s death. My family down there is, to say the least, ecstatic, and I am still gobsmacked at how this all came to be. Let’s face it, the probability is beyond calculation. I’m grateful, which feels like a tremendous understatement. Grateful to the people at the studio in New Jersey. Grateful to everyone who has shared Michael’s story (including that serial number!) on the web. I will most likely write something more comprehensive about this, because there are so many moving parts — names, places, people — and the story is much larger than what I’m able to encapsulate here. But I’ll get to that when the dust has settled.

Guild D40



As mentioned in this blog’s archives, not only was my uncle Mike the victim of a fatal interrupted burglary in April of 1979 (Austin TX), but I had the absurd experience of watching this played out on television in 2007 when the producers of America’s Most Wanted chose my uncle’s cold case to spotlight.

For a while there were people getting in touch with me, most whom had benevolent intentions: tips, recollections, perspectives on my uncle’s murder and the cultural scene of the time. I’ve also had a couple of troglodytes holding “vital” information over my head in the hope that somehow I would allow them the glory of solving this case.

Very recently, however, perhaps because the 40th anniversary came and went, I’ve been receiving a new stream of emails from people who have known Mike. And as much as I appreciate it, I have to admit that I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not talking about tips or any bits of info that would solve the case. I’m talking about personal memories of Mike the human being.

It’s draining.

I’m a psychotherapist. I stickhandle a lot of deeply personal information on a daily basis, but at the end of a session (barring a particularly resonant narrative) I’m not processing the information. It stays in the session. These days, when I receive an email recounting a lot of personal information about a relative I never had the chance to meet, who died tragically, and whose case will probably never be brought to justice, I find myself left…well, numb. I have a natural respect for those who wish to share their thoughts and feelings about my uncle, but I don’t know what to do with it. I can only imagine what it’s like for families whose tragedies are caught in the public eye who receive torrents of public well-wishing. It’s heart-warming and overwhelming, then after a while you begin to feel like a cipher for others’ projected feelings.

Anyhow, just giving y’all a little taste of the glory that is having a dead relative on TV.