My Mother’s Killer

In 1994, James Ellroy, America’s greatest living crime novelist, finally dared reopen the case of his mother’s unsolved murder.

  1. I thought the pictures would wound me.

    I thought they would grant my old nightmare form.

    I thought I could touch the literal horror and somehow commute my life sentence.

    I was mistaken. The woman refused to grant me a reprieve. Her grounds were simple: My death gave you a voice, and I need you to recognize me past your exploitation of it.

    Her headstone reads “Geneva Hilliker Ellroy, 1915-1958.” A cross denotes her Calvinist youth in a Wisconsin hick town. The file is marked “Jean (Hilliker) Ellroy, 187pc (Unsolved), DOD 6/22/58.”

    I begged out of the funeral. I was 10 years old and sensed that I could manipulate adults to my advantage. I told no one that my tears were at best cosmetic and at worst an expression of hysterical relief. I told no one that I hated my mother at the time of her murder.

    She died at 43. I’m 46 now. I flew out to Los Angeles to view the file because I resemble her more every day.


    The L.A. County Sheriff handled the case. I set up file logistics with S...

The complete text of “My Mother’s Killer” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on

Originally published in GQ, July 1994

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