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franklin county times

How Fay Chaney's son is getting along

By Staff
June 29, 2003
Every once in a while, someone makes an observation you can't put aside. You turn it over and over, and wherever you look, you reinterpret what you see.
I was at New's Restaurant earlier this week, eating lunch with a friend, when he made a remark like that. I don't remember how it came up, or much of what followed, but here's what he said: "I think most people feel ignored."
He didn't say people feel sad or unloved or broken-hearted. Not despised or dismissed. Not isolated or alienated.
It made me think. "Ignored" implies a lack of dignity, anonymity, invisibility, a belittling of people and what hurts their hearts.
And, I think he has a point.
Any port in a storm
The feeling of being ignored or forgotten is what washes a lot of people up on my shore. Some of them over the last year have been the surviving family members of murder victims. So it was a couple of weeks ago when I interviewed Michael Chaney.
Michael is Fay Chaney's only child.
Her death in December 1996 remains one of a handful of unsolved murders still on the books at the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department.
The young man everyone calls "Mikie" was 19 years old when his mother died. He is 25 now and, oddly enough, works at the Lauderdale County jail. Mikie is one of those stoic, monosyllabic Southern men who wears a baseball cap pulled low over his brow.
That's what I was getting during the interview. His wife and cousin had come too, but I had kind of shushed them because it was Mikie I really wanted to hear. Finally, his wife said, "Why don't you tell her what a mama's boy you are?"
What a gauche thing to say, I thought to myself, and then I looked at Mikie's face suddenly transformed. Eyes alight, body unfolding, hat shoved back, smiling now and eager to talk.
About Fay Chaney
As far as Fay Chaney was concerned, the sun rose and set on Mikie.
She opened her house to all her son's rowdy teenage friends. She let them play pool and drink beer and sleep over every weekend because it kept them safe and off the streets. And, in the morning, she cooked breakfast for as many as 25 or 30 people.
Over the next hour, I heard a lot of stories about Fay, told by her son with such enthusiasm and immediacy that she could have been in the next room.
How remarkable. The impact Fay Chaney had in the life of her son was so powerful that his joy in her memory is unmarred by her death.
It makes it more horrible, somehow, that she was killed, almost as an afterthought, by some low-life intent only on getting his hands on enough cash for whatever ignoble enterprise he had in mind that day.
Fay worked at The Body Shop on Valley Road. It was the kind of beer joint that had regulars at 10 o'clock in the morning. One of them found her about 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 12, 1996.
She had been shot in the head.
The bullet entered through her chin and lodged in her skull. Fay was taken to Rush Foundation Hospital with "teeth in her brain" and died just after midnight.
Nobody was ever charged in her death in spite of a videotape of the shooting, recorded by a camera that exposed a frame every three seconds. The quality was so poor the shooter couldn't be identified.
Back at New's
I lost track of what my friend was talking about for a moment. I was thinking about something Fay's cousin, Lorie Francis, said.
Imagine going through life feeling ignored about something as important as this: "It bothers me that I could walk outside and bump into the person who shot her. I could look right in their face and never know it."
She's right.
And, it touches us all. Mikie and Tricia, their two children, the ones Fay never got a chance to see, you and me.
Unless he's in prison for something else, a real possibility, the man who killed Fay Chaney is still walking around. Filling up the tank at a convenience store around the corner from your house, standing behind you in the check-out line, eating a burger at the next table.
Give that some thought.