If you’ve ever told a story about your childhood in the company of family members who were there at the time, you know how much memory varies. Often it sounds like the tellers are describing totally different events. In writing about the Brannon murders, I am not as concerned about the acts of murder themselves as I am about the stories of the people who were involved or affected by that event. Every story ever written about an event is really a story about the people. —And every story I have been told about the case is different in so many ways.
Mary Ann Meyers Weiss is Sherry Ann Meyers Brannon’s identical twin sister. The photo above is Mary Ann and her husband Steven Weiss taken in recent years. I found it on her Facebook page which I studied because I have been unsuccessful in reaching out to the Meyers family directly. The photo stunned me: It is as if I am seeing Sherry Brannon as she would have looked today, very much like she looked 21 years ago. Mary Ann and her mom, Dolly Meyers, are the living people who were closest to Sherry and knew her best. They could tell me what sort of little girl she was. Was she a spitfire like her daughter Cassidy was or more reserved, like Cassidy’s older sister Shelby? I want to hear stories about ordinary or funny or interesting things she did when she was a child and a teen and a young mother. What was she like in nursing school? How did she behave getting ready to marry Dewey? A cousin of the Meyers girls chastised me severely on this site for even asking anyone to talk about her family. She falsely accused me of writing this book for money. Sherry’s estranged husband, Dewey, does not want to talk about his now-dead wife either. I think both people feel that talking about her would be painful.
I’d like to hear some stories about the dead girls, Cassidy who was four when she was murdered and Shelby who was seven. If I could hear about some quirky little habit one of them had or something cute they said, I could picture them more clearly and present them in a three-dimensional way. Every story of an event is a story about people. Sherry and her two daughters are the centerpieces of the book, and yet of the many people involved, I know the least about them.
Writing this book is difficult because the murders happened in 1999 and local memories have faded, people have died or moved away, and some people, as I previously mentioned, just don’t want to talk about the people or the case. From news articles and investigators’ interview transcripts I’ve been told that Dewey Brannon and Bob Meyers, Sherry’s father, were as close as father and son and that Sherry’s grandparents loved him too. Dewey himself said he did everything anyone in that family ever asked of him. I’ve also been told that he was unfaithful his wife throughout their 16-year marriage. He described himself as a brawler when he first met Sherry and a man whom his coworkers confirmed had a bad temper, yet many others commented on what a caring and gentle father he was. One of Sherry’s coworkers at St. Anthony’s Hospital told detectives that Sherry told her Dewey had threatened to hurt the kids in front of her on her birthday (the day Sherry was killed) and that she’d be “surprised at what he could do with a knife.” No one else reported a similar incident, yet investigators could find no evidence that the woman had a history of instability or any reason to lie. Dewey and Sherry built and worked together to finish their “dream house,” yet three months later Dewey left his family because he had fallen in love with another woman. Can all these things coexist in one life? The more I learn and the longer I live, the more I think so.
Larry Parks, the confessed murderer, was pretty consistently described by those who knew him as an alcoholic heavy drug user, sexually perverse, and a man who disliked and abused women all of his life. Yet Alicia Ruiz (not her real name) dated him for more than a year and said he was mostly a perfect gentleman: clean, hard-working, generous to her family. On their first date he took her and her two daughters to the Strawberry Festival, and he went to church with her on Easter. Was Alicia telling the truth about her relationship with him, or was she protecting her own reputation? Larry’s three sisters and estranged mother had a very difficult time reaching the conclusion that Larry actually committed the Brannon murders. One sister insisted for years that he had not acted alone, and implied that Dewey Brannon had been involved. Larry’s stepmother had warned Alicia that he was dangerous. I saw crime scene photos and can attest to the fact that Larry’s house was filthy and cluttered and showed signs of long-term neglect, yet his father accused detectives of making the mess when they exercised a search warrant there. Who did people think he was, and who was he?
After all these years and a successful investigation with a conviction under their belts, as memories fade, some Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators remember Sherry’s body as being face down, others face up. Their transcripts reflect that Dewey said once he touched Sherry with his hand, and in another interview said it had been with his foot.
It’s my job as a writer to sift through the mountain of details and decide which are true and which are suspect, which are important parts of the story and which are not. I do not forget that I am as subject to misinterpretation or failed memory or inserting my own perspective into the story as any other storyteller. And we are all storytellers,… even you, Dear Reader!