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The Unsolved Murder of Teenager Kaitlyn Arquette

In "Who Killed My Daughter?", a mother searches for the truth behind her daughter’s tragic death.


Losing a child is every parent’s greatest fear, whether it be by illness or accident...or the horrible, unimaginable case of murder. What’s worse is never knowing why.

Such was the case for the Arquette family when their 18-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, was shot in 1989 in a seemingly random act of violence. After years of investigation, the police were never able to determine the reason or culprits behind Kaitlyn’s murder. But Kaitlyn’s family started their own inquiries, eventually discovering that their daughter was hiding some very dangerous secrets.

Kaitlyn’s mother Lois Duncan outlines the tragic events surrounding her daughter’s death—and the additional details they were able to piece together—in her true-crime memoir, Who Killed My Daughter?, the I Know What You Did Last Summer author asks that anyone who has information about Kaitlyn’s death step forward and help her family find the closure they desperately need. Read on for an excerpt, and then download the book.




Who Killed My Daughter?

Our daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, was murdered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Sunday, July 16, 1989.

They got her at night.

I have lived that evening over so often in dreams that by now it has become an extension of myself. When I go to bed it runs through my head like a videotape, the images sharp and precise, the dialogue unchanging, except that with each repetition there are new things I notice.

The setting is always the same, of course; it’s our family room. Although we no longer live in that house, I can picture it perfectly. The rug, a rich rust color, muted by pet hair, as our cat and cocker spaniel shed in the summertime. The brown-and-white couch and love seat with cushions molded into irreversible slopes and hollows by years of accommodating the bodies of sprawling teenagers. Bookshelves, lined with albums that are filled with photographs chronicling ski trips, camp-outs, Christmases, graduations, and birthday parties. A television set across from the sofa. A Navajo rug on one wall. On another, a painting by my stepmother that depicts my late father—white haired, bearded, shirtless—on the porch of a beach cottage, baiting “a fishing hook for a grandson.

I am a writer by trade and am practiced in recreating scenes. It is easy for me to place myself back in that room again. Beyond the bay window there lies a tree-shaded yard, and, beyond that, an unkempt rose garden. When I peer out through the glass, I can see that it’s raining, and the soft gray drizzle produces a premature twilight.

Now that I have set the stage, I will bring on the players.

Kaitlyn, 18, comes into the house. I hear the slam of the front door and the sound of her footsteps in the hallway and immediately know this is Kait and not one of her brothers. Her tread is solid and purposeful and distinctly her own.

My husband Don and I have just settled ourselves on the sofa to watch 60 Minutes. I raise my eyes from the television screen and call, “Is that you, honey?”

“Who else?” Kait answers, and materializes in the doorway. “I thought I’d stop by and say hi on my way to Susan’s.”

“The bad penny returns!” says her father. “You were here all morning. We see more of you now than we did before you moved out!”

“The rain’s depressing, and Dung’s out with his friends,” Kait says. “The apartment feels weird tonight and I don’t like being there.”

She comes into the room and perches on the arm of the sofa. She is dressed in a short black skirt and a black-and-white striped blouse, and around her neck there hangs a chain with a tiny gold cross. She is wearing the sand-dollar earrings I brought her from Florida the last time I visited her sister, Robin. The earrings are rimmed with gold, the same burnished shade as her hair, which she is still determinedly trying to grow back to one length after last summer’s disastrous asymmetrical cut.

Each time I rerun the scene, new details leap out at me. For instance, how perfect her teeth are, straight, white, and even. Her complexion is perfect also, unmarred by the adolescent acne that torments her friends, totally unblemished except for an odd little hollow on the ridge of her left cheekbone. When I caught my first sight of her in the delivery room, I gasped, “My baby has a hole in her face!” but the obstetrician assured me that the dent wasn’t permanent. As it turned out, it was, but we came to regard it as a misplaced dimple and jokingly referred to it as “God’s fingerprint.”

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  • Kaitlyn Arquette and her boyfriend, Dung Ngoc Nguyen.

Kait flashes her mischievous smile, but something doesn’t feel right to me, and I regard her suspiciously. Her eyes are red, and the lids are abnormally puffy.

“You’ve been crying.” I make it a statement rather than a question.

“Like I told you, the rain depresses me,” she says defensively. “Besides, I’m pissed at Dung, and I always cry when I’m mad.”

“Have you two had another fight?”

“Not another one since last night, if that’s what you mean,” Kait says. “The reason I hung around here so long this morning was because I didn’t want to have to go home and talk to him. This living-together business is a crock. Things were a whole lot better when we were just dating.”

“Why don’t you move back home, then?” Don asks reasonably. “There’s no sense staying in a situation where you’re miserable.”

“I’m not about to crawl back into the womb,” Kait responds with characteristic stubbornness. “I love my apartment, I’m just sorry I ever let Dung move in. His weirdo friends are over there all the time. I feel like I’m running a crash pad for half the Vietnamese in Albuquerque.”

“Ask him to move out,” I suggest. The solution seems so simple.

“I have, but he won’t,” says Kait. “He says it’s his place, too, but it isn’t because the lease and utilities are in my name. He still doesn’t understand how things work in America. He says that in Vietnam women do what men tell them. I’ve told him I’ll let him stay until the end of the month, but then I want him out so Laura can move in with me.”

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“What’s suddenly gone so wrong between you and Dung?”

“I don’t want to get into it now, it’s just too heavy. I’ll tell you about it sometime, maybe later tonight even.” She glances at her watch. “Well, I’d better get going. I’ve never been over to Susan’s, and it may take time to find it. I thought I’d “stop on the way and pick up some ice cream. She’s cooking the dinner, so the least I can do is bring dessert.”

“Where does she live?” Don asks.

“It’s down around Old Town. I’ll either spend the night there or come back here. If Dung calls trying to find me, don’t tell him where I am.”

“That’s cruel!” I exclaim, shocked by this display of callousness. “You may be breaking up with him, but you’ve been going together for a year and a half, and whatever your problems are, you know Dung cares about you. If you don’t come home, he’s going to think you’ve had an accident.”

“Mother, you don’t understand—”

“I do understand! What you don’t understand is how horrible it is to worry about somebody!”

I consider myself an authority on that subject. Even after our five children were all bigger than I was, I insisted that Don and I dovetail our business trips so that one or the other of us was always home to keep an eye on things. When Kait was an infant, I was chronically reeling from sleep deprivation from checking her crib throughout the night to make sure she was still breathing, and despite the fact that my fears were never substantiated, I didn’t get any better when the children became teenagers. They knew that if they missed their curfew by as much as ten minutes, they could expect to find me pacing up and down in the entrance hall, fighting hysteria as I pictured a blazing car wreck with beloved bodies mangled and strewn across the highway.

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  • The Arquette family: Kerry and Brett (back row), Don with Donnie, and Lois with Kaitlyn and Robin (front row).

I’d expected my paranoia to diminish once the nest was empty, but now, as Kait starts toward the door, I realize that it is stronger tonight than it has ever been. Here in this familiar room, on a damp, sweet summer evening that couldn’t be less threatening, I am suddenly overwhelmed by such a surge of panic that I can feel the pounding of my heart in my fingertips. I sense the vibrations of a tidal wave rolling toward us as we stand on a peaceful beach with our backs to the ocean.

Common sense took precedence over instinct, and I confined my admonishments to telling Kait to drive carefully.

“I always drive carefully,” she said.

That wasn’t true, and we both knew it. Kait was an aggressive driver, given to risk taking, but traffic was light on Sunday nights, and it wasn’t as if she was going to be driving on the freeway. The easiest route to Old Town was straight down Lomas, an east-west street that ran one block south of our home. There wouldn’t be many drunks on the road on a Sunday, and her plans for the evening were certainly simple and harmless.

She’s going to be fine, I told myself. I’m being ridiculous.

Still, I said, “I want you to leave us Susan’s phone number. That way, if you don’t come back, we’ll know where to start looking for you.”

“Honestly, Mother, there are times when you’re just unreal!” She indulged me by scribbling a number on the back of a magazine. “Now, you do something for me. I want you to promise that if Dung calls here you won’t tell him I’m at Susan’s.”

“I promise,” I said reluctantly, with the mental reservation that, while I wouldn’t divulge Susan’s name, if Dung did call, frantic with worry, I would tell him that Kait was all right and was sleeping at a friend’s house.

Kait raised her hand in a comical half salute.

“Later! I’ll see you guys later!”

Those were the last words we were ever to hear her speak.

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  • Kaitlyn's car with bullet holes.

The call from the emergency room of the University of New Mexico Hospital came just before midnight. The woman who called said Kait was there and had been injured but would give out no further information over the telephone.

Don and I threw on our clothes and drove to the hospital. I sat in the passenger’s seat with my hands clasped tightly in my lap, the nails of one making gouges in the back of the other, living a nightmare 18 years in the making. I wanted to pray, but I didn’t know what to pray for. I hated to press my luck by asking God for too much and offending Him with my greediness, so I couldn’t ask for the call to have been made by a prankster or for Kait to have suffered nothing more than scratches.

I finally decided to confine my prayer to the request that she not have a head injury. Two years ago my stepsister’s teenage son had been in an accident that had left him brain damaged, and Kait had gone into hysterics when she learned about it.

“Poor Andy!” she’d gasped through her tears. “He was always so smart!”

Kait’s tough, I told myself. She can deal with almost anything—fractures, disfigurement, even with life in a wheelchair—but, please, oh, please, don’t let anything have happened to her brain!

The space in front of the emergency room was reserved for ambulances, so Don dropped me off at the door while he took the car across to the visitors’ parking lot. The nurse who had called us was standing in wait in the doorway, and I knew that it had to be bad when she took me in her arms.

“You’re sure it’s Kait?” I whispered. “There’s no chance it’s a mistake?”

“It’s Kait,” the woman said. “There was a picture ID in her wallet. She’s alive, but in critical condition. You need to prepare yourself for the fact that you may lose her.”

“A car wreck?” I couldn’t conceive of any other possibility.

“Your daughter’s been shot in the head,” the nurse said quietly.

The sand of the beach slid out from under my feet, as the tidal wave struck the shore and I was sucked under.

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All photos courtesy of Lois Duncan