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Harrisonburg Resident Relives The Tragic Murder Of His Brother

Mike Morrison and Debbie Means - murdered on prom night in 1969.
Mike Morrison and Debbie Means - murdered on prom night in 1969.

Fifty years ago, Harrisonburg resident Ed Morrison was shattered when his 18-year-old brother Mike was brutally murdered the night of his senior prom, along with his date Debbie Means, in a small Illinois town.

Ed decided to write a short story about the incident but realized there was much he didn’t know about what happened.  That short story is now a 270-page book called Bad Moon Rising that Ed wrote with his wife Mindy.  They sat down with WMRA’s Chris Boros to discuss this tragedy that's never been forgotten.

Ed Morrison:  I would call some of my brother’s classmates and tell them we’re thinking about writing a story and half of them would cry.  On August the 8th, Mindy looked at me and said “I think you’re depressed.”  And I told her I didn’t want to visit this story every single day.  It was wearing on me.  And Mindy said “You just get the facts down, I can help you write the story.” 

WMRA:  Mindy, how hard was it for you to relive this through your husband?

Mindy Morrison:  I have always been on the outside of this story looking in.  I think I was probably able to write it a little more objectively.  I was just trying to take his information and put it in a story form and make it feel like the reader was a long on the journey researching all this as well. 

WMRA:  When you were doing the research, were there things that you discovered that you didn’t know about, it was brand new information to you?

EM:  Probably half the book.  It was amazing.  I would uncover something, it was just unbelievable.  I really didn’t know anything.

MM:  To me it was like he was a seventeen year old kid still stuck in that moment over all of these years.  Kind of bewildered over what happened.  This bomb exploded in his family’s life.  He was still kind of navigating that debris field somewhat. 

WMRA:  Let’s talk about the person who matters most in the story and that’s your brother Mike.  Can you tell me what he was like?

EM:  Mike was fifteen months older than me.  He was really my protector.  We were best friends from up untill high school.  The murder happened on May 4th and graduation night was May 29th.  He would have graduated as co-valedictorian.  He had the world ahead of him.  And then ripped underneath him that one night on prom night. 

WMRA:  You talk in the book about a fight you had with him.

EM:  The night before the prom.  I thought I had time.  Siblings battle.  We had the biggest battle of our life the night before and never made up.  So that’s haunted me. 

WMRA:  You think about him every day, probably.

EM:  I have this wound on my hand that I’ve had for fifty years.  It reminds me every day of that battle we had.  It’s never gone away.  I still have it. 

WMRA:  Do you think writing this book has given you some closure on all of this?

EM:  This book has been a healing where I think about my mother a lot.  She moved on and I never did.  But now I think I’m kind of moving on.  And even in the book, I talk about some songs that apply.  So I talk about Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be” and I think I just need to let it be.

WMRA:  Speaking of songs, the name of the book is Bad Moon Rising, which comes from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song and that is the song your brother was listening to before he left for prom.  And when you hear the lyrics: “I know the end is coming soon.  It’s bound to take your life.”  That is haunting.

EM:  It is haunting. 

Mike and Debbie At The Prom
Mike and Debbie At The Prom

WMRA:  How long did it take for you to listen to that song and go “Whoah!?”

EM:  I couldn’t listen to it for a long time.  I’d hear it on the radio and I’d turn it off.  But my sister and her husband, and my brother Joe, and Mindy and I, went to see John Fogerty.  And we rejoiced.  We partied like Mike was there and we sang Bad Moon Rising with John Fogerty. 

Ed and Mindy Morrison
Ed and Mindy Morrison

WMRA:  When someone reads the book, what do hope someone takes away from reading about your brother and this story?

EM:  Well a really close friend of mine that I’ve known since 7th grade, he called me after he read it, and he hadn’t spoken to his brother in thirteen years he told me, they were estranged from each other.  He ordered a book for his brother and put a note in there and said “It’s time.”

Credit Find a Grave / Creative Commons
Creative Commons
Mike Morrison and Debbie Means - Buried Together

Chris Boros is WMRA’s Program Director and local host from 10am-4pm Monday-Friday.