Ode to Joyous

Stew and I are not big on attending memorial services but on Sunday we went to one for a local American woman who had been murdered a little more than a week before but whom we barely knew. We felt our presence would signal concern about the lengthening string of murders, assaults and other serious crimes in San Miguel that, except for the capture of a serial rapist about about six years ago, remain unresolved.

Worse still, this cold file continues to grow as a contingent of expats appears more interested in mitigating the damage alarming news might inflict on San Miguel’s reputation–read “real estate values” and “tourism”–than in apprehending the guilty. In the minds of some expats, hush-hush apparently trumps closure-closure.

Altar in memory of Joyous Heart. On her photo a message read,
“I will love you forever. You will always be in my heart.”

The victim’s nom-de-Web was “Joyous Heart” but her real name was Joyce Schuman. She was a fifty-nine years old Californian, who had lived in San Miguel for approximately seven years. The circumstances of her death were both tragic and gruesome: Stabbed some forty times and nearly decapitated, one newspaper report said, her body not discovered for a couple of days.

According to the rumor mill the murderer was a eighteen-year-old Mexican woman Schuman had adopted from a local orphanage four years before. The adoptee was said to have a serious mental illness, something along the lines of schizophrenia. As of this writing no one has been apprehended.

Schuman was a devoted New Ager, a practitioner of “creative and healing arts” who had studied “inner child/family healing,” astrology, card readings and hypnosis. On her Facebook page she proclaimed: “I try to find the positive in everything. And learn from my ongoing life lessons. I choose to be happy. I value kindness and compassion.” 

Whether you embraced her worldview or not, there was universal agreement Schuman was indeed a kind and generous person, traits that may have led her to adopt her alleged killer, hoping to still the voices clamoring in the adolescent’s mind.

I got to know her distantly through her numerous postings on one the local internet bulletin board, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Civil_SMA, and which mostly echoed her trademark love-and-kindness take on life.

A sad-looking mutt who lived with Joyous Heart. It’s moving to
the U.S. to live with one of Schuman’s relatives. 

The gory details of this case–and those of a Canadian woman who was stabbed twenty-some times on June 2011; and of an elderly American man who also died of multiple stab wounds earlier the same year; and of a gay couple beaten and left for dead in the wine cellar of their home right in the middle of town more than six years ago; and a member of a gay couple who nearly lost an eye to a machete-wielding home invader two months ago; and of two Americans who were pistol whipped in their home near the center of town last year–have not led to any arrests, or even to sustained demands by the expat community for some investigation, arrests, announcements or other signs of activity by local law enforcement.

Quite the opposite. The woman who made the first posting about the killing–and admittedly got her facts badly mangled–was herself brutalized by some Civil Listers as a hysterical hag.

“You owe the Listeros [members of the Civil List] an apology for frightening them,” one contributor wrote. “This is exactly the information you do NOT [emphasis his] put on the Civil List. Second-hand, scary, violent information. Terrible.”

When someone brought up the details of the murder again today, the same contributor added: “… [y]ou could have omitted the gruesome details on the [Civil List] that reaches 7000 people all over the world.”

There were other postings along the same lines, urging readers to “move on,” or put more crudely, to shut the fuck up already.

Indeed some of these crimes suggest domestic disputes or other special circumstances, not a local reign of terror. I for one will remember not to adopt schizophrenic teenagers or unduly antagonize the household help, just in case.

But wouldn’t it be comforting to the local expats–and I suspect the Mexican population of San Miguel which is after all the victim of most crimes here–if someone were sent to prison for one of these crimes? Or at least arrested? Identified as a suspect? Right now I’ll even settle for some indication these crimes are under active investigation.

At Joyous Heart’s memorial Sunday I met Yolita, a woman in her forties, wearing a vivid, traditional Mexican outfit of a white cotton blouse with embroidered flowers and a red, ankle-length dress. She was standing in front of a funeral altar decorated with flowers, candles, photos and several other items of apparent significance to Schuman, including a glass bowl with a small turtle swimming in it,  and a bottle of white wine.

Yolita was sobbing and conversing with the picture of Schuman. After standing next to her for a while I was inadvertently drawn into the sobbing and conversation. “They should have put a picture of the girl they think killed her, so maybe someone maybe could identify her,” Yolita said.

“Do you think they’ll ever catch her?” I asked. Yolita slowly shook her head.

For the sake of Schuman’s joyous memory, I hope Yolita was wrong.


Good news addendum: Yolita’s pessimism–and mine–were misplaced and the young woman who allegedly murdered Joyous Heart was arrested somewhere in Mexico, according to a Santa Barbara, Calif. television news report. Hope this is the beginning of a virtuous trend by Mexican law enforcement and that the perpetrators of a couple of other crimes in San Miguel are similarly caught and brought to justice.

21 thoughts on “Ode to Joyous

  1. Anonymous

    Nice post….my husband, whom I was separated from at the time, was murdered in the Lake Chapala area less than 2 yrs. ago. I hired a lawyer, sued the local police, who would not let me view his body, saying -no blood, no bruises-…huh! I ordered an autopsy, no easy feat, and there was a 98% that he was beaten to death. His treating physician said he died of a heart attack and NEVER saw the body! I never knew blood was involved with a heart attack, I told her…there was NEVER an investigation…his wallet, of course, was stolen…my first clue…also the bashing of the back of his head and all of his ribs on the right side broken….RIP, mi amor…LindaRose…please keep this off the civil list…I don't need any bashings, either…just wanted to share my 21 yrs of living in MX….I love it here, but the justice system sucks….


  2. Well, it's about time somebody started speaking up. I know shit happens everywhere. All you have to do is tune into the news in the USA–but still…at least somebody usually tries to do SOMETHING to apprehend the bad guys.We also knew Joyous slightly–we sold her some furniture a few years ago and she gave my husband a ride into town afterwards. Nobody should have to suffer what she did–it's hideous.But even worse…who will be accountable for it? Or the other violent events of the past few years. Sadly, many move to beautiful San Miguel thinking they are leaving all their troubles behind…or finding a new paradise. And sometimes it's easy to forget how cognizant you need to be.You really just have to be SO aware of what is going on all around the area, and realize that when it gets right down to it–you are on your own as far as security and safety.We aren't there now, or we would have gone to her memorial too. I'm glad you went, and that there were apparently many others who did as well.We LOVE so many things about Mexico…but not this part.And for the poster above, thank you for having the courage to tell your story too. It's important. If nothing else, perhaps it will make a few more people pay closer attention to what is happening.Stay safe.


  3. Anonymous

    Thank you for your candor. There is so little of it in the sea of rumors. Some bloggers are universally “positive” even in the face of horrific, albeit uncommon events. We could always depend on reason from Carol Schmidt, now however, gone. Thanks for being one remaining voice what raises important questions. One flowery memorial does not put issues to rest.


  4. I disagree, Carol Schmidt was exactly the kind of blogger that would have said “but murders happen everywhere,….like the time I was in Detroit…”. And why do is it always emphasized if the victim is gay, as if that's some sort of contributing factor? That bugs me.Thank you for this post.


  5. Dana: thank you for your comment, but with all respect to you and Carol, the logic of “people also get killed in Detroit or whatever” somehow doesn't move me. I don't live in Detroit but San Miguel, and the crime situation in Detroit doesn't affect me here. As for the mention that some victims were gay, that was mentioned as point of information not as a aggravating or exculpating factor in the crime(s). Again, thanks for taking the time to comment .al


  6. As always, a well-written post on a topic that is not often treated realistically. I took on a similar topic on my blog today — why tourists and expatriates are shocked when bad things happen in what they have mistaken as Disneyland. Because it is not Disneyland. It is true that crime happens in Detroit and in Toronto — and in Mexico. Because they are real places. When people die in Salem, the authorities respond with investigations — and seek justice. And we do not pretend that real estate prices and filling tourist hotels is more important than solving crimes. At times, I feel like I am living a remake of Jaws.


  7. Al: You're a great writer and I'm proud to consider you a friend.I'm sorry to hear about another murder in SMA.The several times I've visited your city, it has been a refreshing break from the B.S. we live with everyday in the States. But I never felt that if I needed help from the Police, that they would be of any use. Can you say “Third World Country”?Americans who chose to live in Mexico are the outsiders and have to understand that they're not in Kansas anymore.Joyce Schuman sounds like she was a good person.But you can't have your head in the sand and pretend there are not evil people in the world.There will never be the “everybody loves everybody” utopian world so many people seem to be obsessed with achieving. Never has been…never will be. It's just not in our genes. We have to accept that reality and learn to protect ourselves from it. Whoops, there I go on my get-a-gun rant again.


  8. That was well said, as always, Al. It's hard to imagine that some of these crimes can't be solved, as there are logical suspects in most instances. But then, perhaps I have watched too much American tv. I didn't really know Joyous, having met her only once, but always admired the positive attitude she expressed on the Civil List, often the one voice of kindness and compassion midst the vitriolic tirades that sometimes go on there. No one should have to end her life that way.


  9. Anonymous

    I just have to add… check out the statistics for prosecutions of crime overall in MX… it is 2%! Mexicans know there is no justice… what about the 60,000+ cartel murders that will never be investigated?You have cited 4 murders of expats over a 2 year period…. out of approximately 10,000 expats living in SMA… hardly a crime wave. And we know for sure this last one was a domestic issue (based on Susan Smith's comment on the CL). All I'm saying is…. get some perspective. Why should expats expect more prosecutions than the Mexican people? This is a country with a VERY flawed “justice” system, if you can call it that. And, frankly, it's not a whole lot better in the US.


  10. Joyous Heart was a friend of ours and went in life by that name – it was not just a web-de-plume but the name she would have wanted to be remembered by. It was a name well suited to her. She was only 55 (born October 31, 1957) when she died. So sad.She had been looking after her adopted daughter for some time before the adoption four years ago. Joyous told us of her love for her troubled daughter who had repeatedly runaway, been involved in drugs, and thought nothing of sleeping rough for days. She never talked about any schizophrenia, but did describe mental and personal challenges for her daughter. Her relationship with her daughter was far from idyllic, yet Joyous was proud of her. When we met her she seemed a normal teenage girl. It is terrible that everything ended this way.We last saw Joyous in Hank's a few days before her death. As always she talked of the issues and problems with her daughter, yet remained optimistic and as always, happy. Joyous carved her own path through life and rejoiced in every day. Joyous loved her home in the country and we could all see the pride and care in every detail of the house and garden.She was always a pleasure to be with. A friend. We will miss her.


  11. Anonymous

    “And, frankly, it's not a whole lot better in the US.”Are you serious?!? Here in Boston the police work on murders with an admirable seriousness and determination. There was a murder last year about a quarter mile from my house in the subway. Within three days the police had tracked down the suspect in Maine and detained him. I should add that F, my partner in DF, was astonished and thrilled at this police alacrity. There was also a community meeting in the wake of the murder with representatives from the police who listened carefully to community concerns, and also provided information to the community about how to help reduce such crimes. This was done in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between the police and the community.I don't know where you are talking about, but wherever I've lived in the USA (Boston, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles), the police take such things VERY SERIOUSLY and respond. Kim GBoston, MA


  12. Anonymous

    In my view, the near-total failure of Mexico's justice system is the country's NUMBER ONE problem. Without justice, nothing else can function correctly. And it's equally sad that most Mexicans take this to be the inalterable status quo and thus don't protest the system. But Gringos know better, and know that a system can be better. (See my response above to Anonymous at 1:41 PM). It's scandalous that they have decided that real estate values are more important than justice. Mexico has a lot going for it, especially if you are a relatively prosperous (by Mexican standards) retiree. But it's not paradise, and has some serious problems. We aren't doing anyone, least of all ourselves, any favors by sweeping this under the rug. Kim GBoston, MAWhere we have the utmost respect for the Boston Police.


  13. Anonymous

    Hi, I barely knew Joyous and did not attend the memorial, but I spoke with two people who are better informed than I, and they would make corrections to a couple of things you said.A friend of Joyous's and of the roommate, Dan, who found her body, said there was one knife wound to the neck, and that this account is false: “Stabbed some forty times and nearly decapitated…” Also, you said “her body [was] not discovered for a couple of days,” but according to my source, Dan found Joyous the next morning. Keep in mind I wasn't there, so I don't know what the “facts” are. However, I certainly wouldn't rely on the newspapers, as journalism has given way to sensationalism in today's world, especially when the U.S. media is talking about Mexico. Was Joyous beheaded? Hardly.Also, when a sentence starts out “According to the rumor mill,” I'm sure most readers disregard it anyway. But I spoke with a former boyfriend of Joyous's who spent many hours alone with the daughter, Noemi, and said we need to be careful about saying she had schizophrenia, because that was not her diagnosis. I don't know what it was, and I know she was seeing a psychologist and was prescribed medications because Joyous told me that herself. Joyous also expressed concern about having Noemi in the house because of her unpredictable outbreaks of violence.This situation is horrific and sad, and we do need to question everything repeated to us as “fact” because unless we're standing there while a crime is committed, or unless we're the victims, we cannot know the real truth.


  14. Thank you for your comment. You're right that I got my information from newspaper articles and from talking to people at the memorial. Some of the details I put in the post, such as the number of times Joyous was stabbed, might have been wrong and if so, I stand corrected.However, the two main points I tried to make were the fact that local police are so ineffective and that some expats try to hush up, or explain away, the crimes instead of demanding that the police do a better job. As one reader pointed above, maybe that's just the way the police operates here and we shouldn't expect any better law enforcement than what Mexicans receive. I find it all very frustrating. Thanks for your comment.al


  15. Anonymous

    I'm glad you shared your story, anonymous – my sympathies. And to anyone in the “civil list” (LindaRose?) who thinks they are doing their community some kind of twisted favor by keeping these murders swept under the carpet — you could not be more wrong. What that type of ignorance really does is tells murderers and criminals that they can get away with — well – MURDER in your quiet little town at no cost and with no consequences. Better lock your doors – because word will get out fast. 😦 ~ A former “Gringa”


  16. Anonymous

    “Gay” is mentioned because it could very well have been a hate crime. “Elderly” is mentioned because this means the victim was vulnerable and an easy target (and what a horrific death he suffered) … it would be easy to say these crimes are related until you look at these factors. It's the same all over the world.. SM is not immune to sociopaths, sadly. ~ A former “Gringa”


  17. Anonymous

    To put the “crime wave” in SMA in another perspective: 4 murders – All unsolved… minus the arrest of Joyous's killer, finally.. but there is still a long road ahead to see her pay the price for her crime. I can promise you one thing – Mexican citizens (or any nationality) in the U.S. receive more rights than they do in their own country. Even when they are ordered deported – they don't actually have to go. We have terrorists in Guantanamo exercising their rights as well. Go figure.


  18. Sorry, guys…but I think you missed the entire point regarding my comments on the Civil List after Joyous' murder. As a journalism major, I would never want to cover up an episode like this. Quite the contrary, I believe the public needs to know the facts. FACTS..not the gossip that came from the laptop of woman Listero who claimed within 24 hours that they were “killing gringos” in an area southwest of the town. If we hadn't put a stop to that sensationalist, alarmist posting, there could very well have been mass hysteria here. You know that…or don't you?As for the second post, the gruesome details of Joyous' murder were available in many of the local newspapers here. For someone to ask again for those details on a CL posting, and for a Listero to respond with all the needless, blood curdling information, was not only unnecessary, but very probably offensive to Joyous' family and friends. There is no reason for all of us to relive such a horrid murder through a public list that reaches thousands of people. And yes, the List is read by minors as well.Once again, Common Sense needs to prevail. People have a responsibility when they post information.. get the facts, and think first about how others may react. Words can hurt, and sensationalist comments can do a lot of damage in a small town. Think about it..David


  19. David: There is a persistent effort on the Civil List to paper over facts that people feel might “hurt” San Miguel. As a fellow journalist (Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. '78) I'd rather put the facts out there and let people deal with them without any “parental” censoring or labeling of what's appropriate and what's not. One unpleasant but true fact is that we've had a number of nasty murders in the expat community and the local police–except in the case of the serial rapist (after enormous public outcry) and now Joyous–have proven to be exceptionally inept or disinterested in catching the guilty. Thanks for your comment.al


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