The Texas town of Coppell has been swallowed by the ever-expanding Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The once-sprawling rural town has been lost in the kudzu-like sprawl of suburbia. Longtime residents tell of a Coppell surrounded by wide-open hunting grounds and four-wheel trails. Where today’s mass-affluent pursue the America Dream, boys used to shoot targets with .22s.
Former mayor Jayne Peters lived near Coppell High School, where I’d taken the field for halftime entertainment. Her large brick house sits on a quiet, generic street, where people from somewhere else gather to be from Coppell. It’s a street where architecture has nothing to do with Texas, whose differences aren’t as important as the similarities.
One can imagine a newspaper sitting on Mayor Peter’s walkway, ready to provide the information a professional politician needs to start her day.
How did Mayor Peters feel when she left her sanctuary and walked down those few steps to get it? Did she feel satisfied, an integral and respected part of her little community? Or did she pause and look out at the empty street, daring unseen neighbors to judge her as she was, without makeup or clever words. Wondering if she fit in. If she was good enough.
On the doorstep now: homemade tokens of sorrow and remembrance.
Most of the notes in this impromptu memorial are addressed the mayor’s daughter Corinne. It’s a reflection of the sentiment flowing through Coppell: that Mayor Peters was the “bad guy,” her daughter the innocent victim.
It’s hard to see it any other way. The Mayor killed her daughter in cold blood. She typed some of the suicide notes on her computer and watched them print out. The first one used a handwriting-style font to create a murderous Miss Manners communication; an attempt to blend formality and familiarity.
To Our First Responders,
Here’s the key for the front door.
I am so very sorry for what you are about to discover.
Please forgive me.
The “main” suicide note spoke of Corinne’s “inconsolable grief,” as if the crime had been a mercy killing. “Corinne just kept on asking ‘Why doesn’t God just let me die?'”
Did Jayne Peters really mistake normal grieving for suicidal urges? The snapshots released to the press since the gruesome event indicate no hidden sadness. Just a normal teenage girl hanging out with her friends, posing for glamor pictures.
Speaking with people around Coppell, I learned that Mayor Peters wasn’t a “people-person.” She was “real austere, real closed,” a neighbor told me. “You couldn’t relate to her.”
Even so, Peters’ final descent into hell follows a familiar arc for many financially-pressed members of America’s upper-middle class. Fun with Dick and Jayne, without a happy ending.
It may have started with Peters’ husband’s death of cancer in 2008. As far as we know, there was no nest egg. No large insurance payout to keep the family afloat. Peters’ mayoral salary was $42,091 per year. Clearly, it was nowhere near enough to keep her in the style in which she’d become accustomed.
Peters’ resulting lie—that she could afford the same lifestyle as her neighbors—was as much to herself as it was to everyone else.
Peters didn’t do anything, it seems, to relieve her financial burden.
She could have sold her home and bought a smaller one. She could have sold her car and bought an older one. She could have quit her job and found something more lucrative in the private sector. She was, after all, the Mayor of Coppell Texas.
Peters had convinced herself that she needed to maintain her status. To project a façade of economic stability that would keep the respect of Coppell’s well-to-do community. How easy it must have been to run that first personal charge through the city credit card.
That was the little lie, that led to a bigger lie: her daughter was going to college.
The morning of the murder, Corinne loaded her car, presumably for college. Later, her mother unloaded it. It’s entirely possible that Jayne Peters had convinced her daughter that she was college-bound.
Corinne certainly convinced her friends that she would be there at UT right alongside them. There’s evidence that Mayor Peters had duped her daughter before: Jayne Peters “bought” Corinne a flashy red Hyundai coupe as a graduation gift. In reality, it was a rental car. By all accounts, Corinne seemed to think it was hers.
Coppell residents’ resentment, their sense of betrayal, is easy to understand. Like Corinne, they had placed their trust in Jayne Peters. They too had been fooled by her foolish pride. By demonizing Jayne and perceiving Jayne as a blameless victim, they can distance themselves from the connection between gullibility and culpability.
Nonetheless, there it is.