I had the opportunity to finally visit family in Texas last April. This would be my first time seeing my father in about seven years, and my half-siblings (and extendeds) in an even longer period.

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but I was happy to have done it, despite the stress of driving on Texas highways and their many overlaps and cutoffs, despite spending most of the time in suburban enclaves, which are not my thing.

My father’s getting older. He’s over 80 now. One of the reasons I chose to go this year is that I realized that his ability to travel is increasingly getting harder, and it would be presumptuous to expect him to make an appearance in Canada any time soon. His hearing is going, and he’s beginning to walk with a shuffle. Getting older is a thing. A real thing. One of the first things I did when I got back to Toronto was text my brother and urge him to make travel plans in the next couple of years.

There was some unfinished business that I wanted to take care of on this trip, and that was finally putting my hands on my late uncle’s Guild D40 (if you haven’t read about this, you can start here). I realized, when I had the opportunity to handle it that I’ve never held, let along played, an acoustic guitar in my life. I started taking guitar lessons in 2019 but it’s been strictly electric. It was so light and airy compared to either of my guitars. The neck was shorter so I had to adjust where on the fretboard I was choosing to play lest I run out of real estate. Most of all, the resounding dynamics of an acoustic guitar. It was magical, and I was relieved that I had the opportunity to have access to something of my family’s past.

photo of my playing my uncle's guitar

I’ve been working on a piece about my relationship with my father, his past (which I inherited), and my uncle’s murder in Austin in 1979. It will probably be the hardest project I ever undertake.


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.


Update on Michael Cahill

Allow me to turn to a more personal, less literary/artsy subject today…

I was in Chicago on the weekend with friends. I came back on Sunday night, got home, and out of habit checked the stats on this blog – a habit borne of curiosity generally, and my occasional question of whether this is a worthy pursuit specifically. I was stunned to see more than triple the average number of visitors to the site on the weekend.

After more searching through the stats, I discovered that the majority of visitors were coming from search engines like Google, and all were searching the name of my late uncle, Michael Cahill, whom I’d written about here and here.

Noting that this couldn’t have been a random surge, I searched for a while and noticed that America’s Most Wanted had re-broadcast their story on his murder (which I originally wrote about here). Furthermore, a news blog in Virginia recently focused on the crime also.

It’s several days later and I’m still getting a lot of traffic from people, from all over N. America and even Europe for that matter, looking up Michael’s murder. Strange. The whole thing is strange – the incident itself, tragic obviously as it was, and now this surge of interest which more than eclipses all of the previous Michael-related traffic I’ve received since AMW first broadcast the story. I don’t quite understand the invigorated interest, but I’m happy that more people are curious; it means that there are that many more people who may be able to help out in solving the case.

Helps that Berkeley Breathed is involved I guess, which is one of the more hard-to-believe aspects of the story.


UPDATE (April 2020): http://imagitude.com/michael-cahill/michael-cahill-coda/


Note: The "Book of Days Murder" on America’s Most Wanted

Update: the story is up on the AMW site here.

For those who have kept an eye on this blog for the last year, you might remember an article I posted, called “Remembering Michael Cahill“. It was linking to a front page article in the Austin American Statesman written by Denise Gamino: “A Calendar Book, A Guitar, And A Very Cold Case“.

On April 13th, 1979, my uncle, Michael Cahill, had his acoustic guitar stolen from his apartment in Austin. In the midst of the foot chase, Michael was shot in the forehead and killed instantly. His guitar was never found, and – like all murders and killings – the event has permanently etched itself into the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved him.

My family’s history is rather odd – not in a depraved daytime talkshow sense – but odd enough. I’m not going to go into details, but I never got to meet or to know my uncle. I was 8 years old and 2,658 kilometres away on the Friday night he was shot. He was in Texas, I was in Ontario. I remember a few occasions being told by my father how much I reminded him of his little brother, especially when I got glasses for the first time.


In any case, the reason I’m mentioning this is that America’s Most Wanted is showcasing this story in their next broadcast (this Saturday @ 9pm on the Buffalo FoxTV affiliate, WUTV).

If you’d asked me this time last year whether I would ever be watching the story of a family member on America’s Most Wanted…well, like most of you, doubtful would be an understatement. You certainly wouldn’t take the thought seriously.

Aside from the abrupt tragedy itself, what makes the story interesting for the outsider are the strange circumstances that surrounded it, the centrepiece being a community art project called The Book of Days. It was a calendar showcasing the works of local black-and-white photographers, among them Berkeley Breathed – who would go on to create the Bloom County comic strip. It seems some of the photographers included in the 1978 edition of The Book of Days, some of whom were friends with my uncle, had also had some of their possessions stolen. Investigators believe my uncle’s murderer and the peculiar thief who preyed upon Leica cameras are one and the same person.

To be honest, I have a personal stake in this post: I hope they catch the bastard who did it.


UPDATE (April 2020): http://imagitude.com/michael-cahill/michael-cahill-coda/


Remembering Michael Cahill

I don’t normally talk about “me”, because there are more than enough blogs out there that do a much better job at that sort of thing. However, it would be strange if I didn’t post an excerpt from an article that was published today in the Austin American-Statesman by Denise Gamino. It concerns the murder of my uncle in 1979, which has since gone into the territory of unsolved or ‘cold’ cases.

Link: A calendar book, a guitar and a very cold case


Michael Cahill chased his musical dream down the street, around his apartment and through the backyard.

It was the last thing he ever did.

Seconds later, he was shot to death in his driveway, a single bullet through the middle of his forehead.

Cahill was running after his beloved guitar. It disappeared into the darkness in the hands of the very odd burglar whom Cahill startled, and then raced after.

Mike Cahill died in Austin on April 13, 1979.

He was 28.

His murder is still unsolved.

His guitar is still missing.

And his family and friends still mourn a young troubadour whose poetic recordings are preserved on an obscure album pressed posthumously by friends as a memorial.

Cahill’s murder case has been cold now for 27 years, almost as many years as he lived.

It is an old Austin murder forgotten by most. Perhaps it seemed nothing more than an unfortunate, random killing of a University of Texas dropout in love with making music back when Austin overflowed with career-free hippie types marching to their own casual rhythms.

But those touched by the inexplicable killing in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood of South Austin think of it differently.

To them, it will always be the haunting “Book of Days” murder.

Read On

It’s not my intention (or preference) to speak about family or personal matters here, but Michael’s story deserves attention. This is the least that I can do for him and his memory.


UPDATE (April 2020): http://imagitude.com/michael-cahill/michael-cahill-coda/