The Garden of Peace is no walk in the park

Winter 2006

Dominic Chavez, The Boston Globe

It’s unfortunate that the Garden of Peace, a little- known memorial to homicide victims, got its 15 minutes of fame for a nasty squabble between the families of those memorialized and administrators of Suffolk University. As The Boston Globe reported last fall, Suffolk plans to build a 31-floor dormitory just yards from the 7,000-square-foot park designed to ease grief and inspire quiet contemplation.

Suffolk promises to buffer the park from the noise of students, but even today a walk there can be anything but peaceful, at least for the attentive. The central feature of the Garden of Peace—adjacent to the plaza at 100 Somerset Street, just a few steps from the State House—is a winding, dry streambed of about 1,000 smooth river stones, 400 of which are engraved with the name, along with the birth and death dates, of a murder victim.

The football-sized stones are similar in shape, but like the victims they honor, no two are identical. They were pulled from a river on the New Hampshire property belonging to the family of Chris Maki, one of the victims whose memory is preserved in the garden. His sister, Amy Maki, is president of the nonprofit corporation that maintains the park and raises money to perpetuate its upkeep. (All of the people commemorated here either lived in Massachusetts or had loved ones here.)

The inscription on the polished dark granite pillar at the entrance to the Garden of Peace calls it “a living reminder of the impact of violence.” Two of the first stones to greet you are those for John and Robert Kennedy, men whose lives and deaths will never be forgotten. Not far from the Kennedy brothers are stones for people whose lives we know nothing about, but with nicknames like Fifty Cents, Biggie, and Hiz Skiz Tru etched into stone, it’s painfully easy to speculate about their deaths.

Many of the stones bring up immediate and sometimes graphic memories of the victims. They never made it to adulthood, and their killers have never been caught, but who doesn’t remember the names and all-too-similar fates of Molly Bish, Sarah Pryor, and Holly Piirainen?

Massachusetts victims of September 11 are also well-represented in the garden. More than 30 stones bear that sad date, including those for Captain John Ogonowski, pilot of one of the hijacked flights, and former Boston Bruin Garnet “Ace” Bailey, one of the passengers.

There are stones for other people whose lives had a lasting impact, owing mostly to circumstances that led to their horrific deaths. Take Jonathan Rizzo, for example. In 2001, Rizzo was one of three people murdered by Gary Lee Sampson—after Sampson, who was wanted in North Carolina for a series of bank robberies, failed in an attempt to turn himself in to the FBI via telephone.

The engraving on Joseph Fournier’s stone tells us that he was born on July 6, 1957, and died on October 26, 1974. What it doesn’t say is that his death factored into the making of the president in 1988—or the unmaking of then-Gov. Michael Dukakis as a candidate. Fournier was killed by Willie Horton, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole but was later convicted in Maryland for a rape and armed robbery he committed while on a weekend furlough.

Some of the stones bring back the saddest memories, like the one for Matthew Eappen, whose English-born nanny, Louise Woodward, was convicted of second-degree murder, later reduced to involuntary manslaughter, for having shaken poor “Baby Matthew” to death.

There are stones remembering women who died at the hands of strangers, like Alexandra Zapp, who was murdered in a restroom on Route 24, and Melissa Gosule, killed by a stranger who disabled her car while Gosule biked along the Cape Cod Canal and offered her a ride home when the tow truck she called took too long to show up.

There are stones for women who possibly knew their killers. Remember Karina Holmer, the Swedish nanny? What about Susan Taraskiewicz, who worked at Logan Airport and stumbled upon a ring of thieves among her co-workers? Their murderers have never been caught.

Then there are the stones for women who knew their killers all too well, like Janet Downing, who was murdered in 1995 by her son’s best friend, Edward O’Brien Jr., and Carol DiMaiti, who was killed by her husband, Charles Stuart, in 1989.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Garden of Peace is the realization that some families have lost more than one member to homicide. Charlestown resident Jimmy Boyden IV was killed on March 2, 1992. Ten weeks later, May 14, 1992, his father, Jimmy Boyden III, was murdered. The stones for Hugh and Ruth Mahoney and their 15 year-old son, John, all show the day they were murdered, December 31, 1975.

Damien Funderburg died on August 13, 1992; a youth program at the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry was established the same year in his memory. A leader of the Black Hawks gang, Funderburg convinced his friends and fellow gang-bangers to look to the First Church in Roxbury for help in ending gang violence. Not long after, he was killed by a rival gang member.

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The Damien Funderburg Youth Program’s offer of a “safe space and family-like atmosphere” to help inner-city kids “escape violence and find a better way of life” is a living testament to his desire to escape gang life. But it couldn’t save everyone. The stone adjacent to Damien Funderburg is for a man killed in 2000, three days after his 34th birthday. His name was Eric Funderburg.

In the end, it’s not the 400 stones engraved with the names of homicide victims that is the most haunting thing about the Garden of Peace. It’s the chilling thoughts that come to mind when considering how many of the stones in the dry streambed are blank, waiting to be engraved. Could this stone have my name etched on it one day? Might that one there have yours?

James V. Horrigan is a freelance writer in Boston.