If they had lived, Brian Glenfeldt and Belinda Worley would be in their early 50s now, maybe married and living in South Florida among us, or transplanted upstate and beyond like so many of our classmates from 1970’s Hialeah.
Had their young love blossomed and matured, they might be celebrating their kids’ high school graduation, shuttling them to college, or they might have become already newly-minted grandparents like some of us.
But Brian and Belinda — Class of 1978 Hialeah High seniors who had started dating, he a football player described by his heart-broken father as “one of those star-kissed kids that come along every once in a while,” she “Miss Sunshine,” as a teacher called her — went out for ice cream on a Sunday night and never returned home.
A lifetime has passed since Brian and Belinda were murdered at age 17 by a merciless killer and rapist, John Errol Ferguson, who has been for decades on death row, and whose execution orders were signed by Gov. Rick Scott this week.
The murders of Brian and Belinda, who had innocently parked at a lover’s lane off LeJeune Road and Northwest 128th Street, were just a line in a news story that encapsulated the killer’s deadly path and serial appeals that have kept him from final justice.
But for many of us, their loss — and the unspeakable suffering and terror they endured — are easily conjured by a song on the radio, a drive to Amelia Earhart Park next to where they were murdered, or by our own teen-aged children’s request to go out for ice cream or the park.
Their murder marked our generation, stripped away a layer of innocence from peace-and-love era teenagers who grew up with pep rallies and football games, membership in school service clubs, and that sweet elixir of first love that sent us, carefree, “parking” to make out in lover’s lanes. The secluded spots were all over Miami-Dade — the airport’s perimeter road, Haulover Beach, and for Brian and Belinda, a fatal strip of concrete surrounded by overgrown brush and destined to become a drivers licensing office.
We accept this as a violent world now, and we pry our children’s eyes open to the reality of crime as soon as they can grasp right from wrong, but it wasn’t that way back then. Before Brian and Belinda. Before Ted Bundy’s serial murders of university co-eds. Before 6-year-old Adam Walsh was snatched from a Sears.
“It turned us into helicopter parents,” says Doug Dozier, who played football with Brian and is now a sergeant at the Miami Beach police department, when I share my story of how I hounded my teen-aged daughters with the story of what happened to Brian and Belinda.
I’m not alone, all of us are haunted.
“I tell my children, ‘We have five acres. If you’re going to park and make out, you do it right here,” says Debbie Tatum Armas, who had been friends with Brian since fourth grade and now lives near Orlando.
While their killer has claimed mental incompetence and taken advantage of every recourse to stay his execution, Ferguson didn’t show Brian and Belinda any mercy when he repeatedly shot them dead.
Dozier says the Opa-Locka chief of police at the time gave him “the disturbing details, and I wish I’d never heard some of these things.” I too wish I’d never read that court file.
“Brian was tall, charming and beautiful,” says classmate Sandra Castillo, now a poet and Miami Dade College professor. “There is something tremendously sad and disturbing about knowing he will never grow into himself, that someone could do such a horrible, horrible thing.”
Castillo remembers Belinda “the way one always knows those happy, smiley people that grace any high school, and I choose to remember her just like that.”
Tatum Armas, who has kept the newspaper clippings of 1978, cannot bear to hear the song Dust in the Wind, playing on the radio when she learned of her friends’ fate.
She cannot forget the look of dread on Brian’s father’s face when he came to her house looking for him that night he went missing. She cannot forget the police questions that led to key evidence and Ferguson’s conviction: The glitter found on Ferguson’s clothes came from the Homecoming decorations Brian and Belinda had made and stored in the car Brian drove.
She cannot forget Brian’s father, discomposed, saying he would “pull the switch myself” to execute Ferguson. Regrettably, he passed away seeing Ferguson’s eight death sentences for all the murders he committed repeatedly appealed.
“I was very, very angry and I could not understand why this had to happen to a good guy and a good girl,” Tatum Armas says. “I’ll be happy when justice is served. From a Christian stand, I shouldn’t feel that way, but I’m human. My gut feeling is ‘Finally, his judgment day comes.’ ”