The Gene Police
Elliott D. Light
Bancroft Press, May 2018
Before the words “white supremacy” filled the airways, before we learned of American Nazis and the alt-right, before there was a Muslim ban, and before we considered building a wall or knew what DACA stands for, there was eugenics—a pseudo-science that promoted the belief that a race could be improved by controlling who was allowed to mate with whom.
It was eugenics that compelled white doctors to inform Carl and Betty Langard that their new born baby had died. And it is the cruelest of circumstances—the murder of Jennifer Rice—that fifty years later leads Shep Harrington to search for Baby Langard.
As Shep soon learns, the quest brings him to the top of a slippery slope with an ill-defined edge. Question begets question, and the slide down the slope proves inevitable: What happened to the baby? Who took it? Why was he taken? And who killed Jennifer Rice?
When Shep learns that Baby Langard was born at a hospital run by Alton Nichols, a famous Virginia eugenicist, he is drawn into the dark history of the American eugenics movement and its proponents—the so-called “gene police.”
Excerpt from The Gene Police
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I handed the photos back to Reggie. “Let me see if I have this straight. All you want us to do is to ask the Residents if they remember anyone taking pictures at the poor farm or if they saw a woman with a baby.”
“That’s all,” replied Reggie.
“What if Jennifer Rice took the pictures of the poor farm?” asked Robbie. “What if she was the one with the baby?”
Reggie shook his head. “I don’t know. I just need to understand why my cousin’s DNA was found at the house where she died. Where that leads is anyone’s guess.”
We sat quietly for a moment.
“What a mess,” said Robbie. She glanced at me, then at Reggie. “I think we can ask a few questions.”
I can’t explain why those words excited me, but I did my best not to show it.
With the favor asked and granted, Reggie stood up. “Thank you. Some police reports, the photographs, and a CD of scanned versions are in the folder.”
“Promise me you won’t speak with Detective Hunter or the prosecutor without speaking with us first,” I said.
Reggie agreed and left.
Robbie was quiet for a few moments, her attention focused again on the pictures. She showed me the photo of the boy on the pile of bones. “Can you, for an instant, imagine what that was like? I can’t. I can’t imagine people doing this to other people.” She shook her head. “You can’t help but wonder why more wasn’t done to stop it.” She picked up the photograph of the woman with the baby. “Why would the hospital tell Reggie’s aunt that her baby died if he didn’t?”
“It’s a mystery,” I said.
“You don’t think his cousin was actually murdered?”
I shrugged. “I have no reason to think so. If you’re asking me if I believe that something like that might have happened, my answer is yes. The history we’re taught was written by our parents and grandparents, all of whom were white. I doubt they were keen on sharing their generation’s dirty laundry with their kids.”
“Sounds like something you learned in prison,” she said.
“Three years of mostly free time surrounded by some smart, educated inmates can open your eyes to the way the world is,” I said.
Robbie grimaced, then tossed the pictures on the table. “I know you’re worried about Reggie. But you can’t get caught up in the murder of that woman. You just can’t. I don’t want you to, and none of your friends want you to. We can talk to the Residents about the pictures, see what they remember, and tell Reggie what we learn. I don’t see how that can hurt anything, but that’s all.”
I smiled at her. “No,” I said confidently. “That can’t hurt.”