Natural Born Killers
Ben and Sarah
Muskogee, Oklahoma, is a small city of just under 40,000 people in the eastern quadrant of the Sooner State. It is perhaps best known for Merle Haggard's late-1960s song, "Okie From Muskogee," that became a pro-American, anti-hippie anthem during a turbulent era in our nation's history. Depicted as a bastion of patriotism where real men wear leather boots and "We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse," Muskogee was home to Sarah Edmondson. She was born on July 26, 1976, just three weeks after the nation's Bicentennial.
But, despite Haggard's boast that "we don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee; We don't take our trips on LSD," by the '90s, young people in eastern Oklahoma were doing just that. Including Ben Darrus and Sarah Edmondson. The drug culture that began in the large American cities and college towns in the 1960s had filtered down to small town America within the span of a generation.
Their lives couldn't have been more opposite. Sarah was an honors student in high school, born into a wealthy and influential family in Oklahoma politics. Her father, James E. "Jim" Edmondson, was a longtime district court judge for Muskogee County, elected in 1983. Her grandfather, Ed Edmondson, was a U.S. Congressman who ran twice for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. Her great-uncle, James Howard Edmondson, was governor of Oklahoma from 1959-1963, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate caused by the death of his predecessor. In keeping with the family tradition of public service, Sarah's uncle, Drew Edmondson, has been Oklahoma's Attorney General since 1994.
Sarah had everything in the world going in her favor; looks, intelligence, personality, popularity, and no shortage of political connections. Had she chosen to go into the practice of law and keep alive the Edmondson family tradition of public service, she would no doubt have received plenty of encouragement and financial support from her prominent, well-connected family.
Ben Darrus' background was very different from Sarah's. Hailing from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, not far from Muskogee, his father was an alcoholic. He divorced Ben's mother twice, then later committed suicide. Ben dropped out of high school and had a history of drug abuse and psychiatric treatment.
Sarah graduated with honors in May 1994 and spoke to her parents about possibly pursuing a career in journalism. However, after three weeks in a junior college, she dropped out and took a job as a waitress to repay her parents for tuition. In January 1995, she tried college again, enrolling at Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah, but she dropped out the following month. In all likelihood, it was while attending college there that she met Ben.
If Ben had a negative influence on Sarah, it was only because the potential was already there. Since her early teens Sarah had a history of drug abuse and psychiatric problems. She underwent "severe emotional stress" following the death of her grandfather, Ed Edmondson, in December 1990. Soon after that her best friend committed suicide and several other friends were killed in an auto accident. She was committed to a psychiatric hospital at the age of 13 and, after an eight-week stay, she continued therapy as an outpatient.
The early warning signs were there when Sarah's parents met Ben for the first time. According to Sarah's mother, Suzanne Edmondson, when they first met Ben he was very quiet and appeared troubled. "He just sat there staring at Sarah. I tried to get him to talk to us but he just answered questions with 'yes' or 'no,' so I quit talking to him," Suzanne recalled.