Kavanaugh-Ford mystery: A room with a view toward a solution

Kavanaugh-Ford mystery: A room with a view toward a solution
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In the beginning, there was a bedroom. Or there was not.

The location, if not the very existence, of the suburban Maryland bedroom where, according to one heart-felt version of the story told before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, an inebriated 17-year-old boy pinned a panic-stricken 15-year-old girl to a narrow bed, forced a hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, groped her and fumbled with her clothes, while his laughing friend watched and music played loudly in the background, is, I suggest, the fundamental piece of the puzzle of the now rapidly conflating Kavanaugh investigation. 

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After all, it will be a daunting challenge, if not an impossibility, to prove a crime without a crime scene. And, even more promisingly, it is the key that can turn the tumblers which will unlock the doors of perception. It is a room that potentially offers a view toward the vista of Truth.

But how do we find this room? 

One internet sleuth, albeit one with an agenda, took Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s few sparse recollections — a house near the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md.; a small upstairs bedroom across from a bathroom; a staircase leading to a living room – ran them through Zillow listings and — presto! – came up with a home a stone’s throw from the country club that belonged to a doppelganger for Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court can prove its independence — or its partisan capture Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood plans M campaign for 2020 | Dem candidates embrace aggressive step on drug prices | Officials propose changes to encourage 'value-based' care Bans on public coverage for abortion are unjustified by science and outright harmful MORE. Yet this theory, one part wishful thinking to another of half-baked inductive analysis, was swiftly and firmly rejected by both Ford and the victimized look-alike. It was an hypothesis that produced apologies, not answers.

But that does not mean that more rigorous and unbiased sleuths asking similar questions, casting an objective as well as inventively searching gaze, would not get to the bottom of things. Forensic Architecture, a British collective based at Goldsmiths, University of London, composed of architects, filmmakers, coders, psychologists and investigators, has had great success in ferreting out the key contextual facts that can lead to the construction of a model that can reveal the solution of a crime. Through their interdisciplinary efforts, they have been able to forge an “architectural image complex” that “sees the scene of the crime as a set of relations between images in time and space.” And while that may sound to the uninitiated as a wonkish mouthful, the results are creditable, and often astonishing.

Take, for one instructive example, the group’s work on a case centered around the Saydnaya prison outside Damacus. At Saydnaya, as the New York Times reported, prisoners lived in a pitch dark, isolated Hell of separate cells; a word spoken, and an inmate was beaten. Yet Forsenic Architecture set out to reconstruct this scene of countless crimes. They interviewed former inmates and coaxed the detainees to offer up a myriad of small and largely repressed details – the noxious smells of daily life, the authoritative thuds of the guards walking through the prison corridors, the maddening wails from the beatings in adjacent cells, the rumble of truck engines as vehicles approached the prison. The memories were often buried deep, hidden beneath pain and trauma. But as the past rose slowly, painstakingly to the surface, Forensic Architecture succeeded in constructing a computer model of Saydnaya Prison. It is a model of a crime scene – and one that will be the linchpin in building a verifiable legal case against the perpetrators of the prison’s atrocities.

Architecture can provide the keystone in the Kavanaugh hearings, too. The FBI is now going about the country asking the people identified by Ford as being in the house that evening to confirm or deny events. But this sort of interrogation, I doubt, will get the job done. It would be a mistake if the agents act as stolid Joe Fridays, requesting “just the facts, ma’am.” They need to coax the facts out of witnesses, to release memories that will allow the past to grow clearer in their minds. 

Consider if Ford, as the initial catalyst for a more probing and thoughtful inquiry involving all the alleged witnesses, is patiently led down a memory lane that includes these stops: On a typical day that summer, how did you get to the country club? You spent the days there with whom? On the day of the attack was your bathing suit still damp when you left the club? Why didn’t you change? Did you normally change? What clothes were you wearing on top of the swimsuit? Can you describe them? What color was the bathing suit? Do you remember sitting in the sun? Working on a particular dive? What was your lunch on a typical day at the club?  Did you sign chits or pay cash for food? Where did you usually go when you left the club at the end of the day? With whom? And how did you get there?

And on and meticulously on, until Ford gets a clearer picture in her own mind of the summer, then the house, and eventually the bedroom where she says she was attacked. And with that room as the anchor of her memory, with a model of it growing clearer and clearer in her mind, the nation – Republicans and Democrats – can perhaps begin to get a focused, convincing image of the events that either did or did not transpire on a fateful evening 36 long years ago. It is a picture we are all waiting to see.

Howard Blum is a writer and contributing editor for Vanity Fair, a former Village Voice and New York Times reporter, and the author of more than a dozen nonfiction books. His most recent, “In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies” (HarperCollins), was published in February.