High School Confidential
With 800 people about to be laid off at Salt River Project, Marlene Dibble of Gilbert is updating her resume. She enjoys her work as a customer service representative who negotiates the electric needs of small businesses, but Marlene is afraid that because Arizona's economy is disintegrating, she may be forced to move on. Although she has been with the utility company for twenty years, Dibble does not expect preferential consideration; she suffers no illusions about the nature of the relationship with her employer. Not that she's cynical, not at all. It's just that Marlene Dibble is a woman who has her feet on the ground.
Despite her brisk, no-nonsense demeanor, you'd be mistaken if you guessed that Marlene lacks a sense of adventure or romance.
In a life as commonsensical as the knitted afghan upon her double bed, Marlene Dibble grasps at the spirited gesture. She has taken Jesus Christ into her heart and joined the billboard-
promoted Grace Community Church in Tempe. "It's very alive and not at all like the Lutheran church of my childhood, which was not very active."
Marlene Dibble has also, in the past year, struck up a relationship with convicted double-murderer Gordon Grilz, who is locked up for life plus 21 years in the state prison in Florence, Arizona.
Two days before Christmas of 1980, Gordon Grilz, then a professor of humanities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, filed for divorce from Linda Marie who worked as a checker at the local Safeway.
Less than two weeks later, on January 5, 1981, at approximately 9:15 p.m., he walked in the back door of his estranged wife's trailer. Linda Marie, 26, and a friend, Kim Collier Hopfinger, 25, were sitting in the kitchen.
Armed with a .30-30 rifle and a .22-caliber automatic pistol, Grilz began shooting.
Hopfinger ran out the front door toward his truck and was shot three times. Grilz then walked up behind the fallen man and fired a shell from his rifle into Hopfinger's skull.
Returning to the trailer, Grilz found his wife calling for sheriff's deputies. He fired four times and blew her away.
The couple's two children, Derek Snow, four, and Margeaux Athena, eighteen months, were in a bedroom in the trailer during the shooting.
A tape recorder at the Sheriff's Department of Coconino County picked up a message from Grilz exactly two minutes after his wife's aborted call. "Oh, God, help me, please help me. I've killed them both."
Hopfinger had been something of a jock, playing on the nationally ranked Arizona State baseball teams of Jim Brock. He was employed at Bradshaw Mountain High School as athletic director and coach of the football, basketball and baseball teams. At Hopfinger's eulogy his old teammate, Seattle Mariners pitcher Floyd Bannister, declared, "Hop wouldn't want frills said about him. He was a simple guy. But he would want one thing said--he's a Christian."
It would take confinement to prison, but eventually Hopfinger's murderer, Gordon Grilz, would become a Christian, too. Born again, Grilz counsels cons about to leave the prison, edits the state pen's Christian newsletter and plays in a religious rock band behind the walls of Florence.
Last year Gordon Grilz received a "Thinking of You" greeting from Marlene Dibble. Her card was the first effort to round up almost 300 people in the Chandler High School class of '68 for their twentieth-year reunion, which Dibble and the committee she chaired were organizing at the Sheraton San Marcos on November 25, 1988.
After the initial contact, Grilz and Dibble began to correspond. Then she was added to his list of approved visitors. The face-to-face meetings went well, and today Marlene thinks the prison system ought to be reformed so that Gordon might be paroled.
"He's not a threat to society. He's not running around robbing Circle K's. . . . I have an empathy for people who've gotten themselves in trouble and I have a different outlook on repentance. At what point do you stop punishing and allow that person to be forgiven? I'm a Christian. I think if a person really and truly is heartfelt sorry . . . ."
Dibble feels that Grilz's tragedy resulted when he was unable to control his abuse of liquor and drugs.
Marlene gained this insight when she attended Al-Anon meetings, which are organized as instructional support groups for the families of substance abusers. She went to the meetings when a twenty-year-old nephew wouldn't "accept responsibility and carried on like he was fifteen" with booze. In an effort to understand her nephew, oddly enough, she also learned to relate to double-murderer Gordon Grilz.
"I wasn't afraid of the idea he'd committed a crime," said Dibble. "Anybody could freak out and do what he'd done. Anybody could do that. He goes to see his children, she wouldn't let him. The boyfriend piped up, getting involved where he shouldn't have.
"He couldn't deal with real-life pressure like the breakup of his marriage because of his involvement with drugs. Drugs have something to do with your development abilities. You freeze at the point you start doing drugs. Your maturing process stops."
If Marlene is correct, then Gordon Grilz's maturing process ran into a roadblock in Chandler High School, where he first began to experiment. Gordon Grilz was not just another kid passing through. Extremely popular, he was the president of both the junior and senior classes.
At Chandler High there were two groups worth belonging to, the Toads and the Cowboys. Gordon was one of the hotshots in the Toads.
In 1968 a Corvette Stingray was about as cool as it got. Clint Eastwood was starring in For a Few Dollars More.
It was a time when teen-agers were caught in confusing crosscurrents as one era died and another began, a confusion reflected in the airwaves where the sappiness of "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees and "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro fought for space on the charts with the Beatles' "Hello Goodbye" and the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Madras gave way to tie-dye and the fallout from the Summer of Love left agitated teen-agers across the breadth of America.
In Chandler, school administrators tried to keep the lid on by enforcing the dress code: "All buttons on shirts, except the top buttons at the neck, are to be kept buttoned. Dark glasses are not to be worn at any time in a building on campus. Unusual haircuts, beards and bizarre make-up are not acceptable because of its implied defiance of authority."
As popular American culture went off in one direction, long-time residents of Chandler, cotton farmers, dairy cattlemen and servicemen stationed at Williams Air Force Base, went another. The kids at the high school were caught in the middle. While students elsewhere marched against the war, the seniors at Chandler High picketed to demand school parking for their cars.
At one point the football coach gathered members of his team around him and said these damn Toads had been raising too much hell and he expected his players to kick their butts, if necessary, to keep the Toads in line.
That was really rich. Most of the guys listening to the coach were Toads.
Marlene Dibble was neither a Cowboy nor a Toad, though she says she was friends with both groups.
"I was pretty shy in high school," recalled Dibble. "Gordon was always popular. I wasn't socially friends with him. We were both in accelerated English classes together. We attended the same church, Holy Trinity Lutheran. Because I was so shy in high school I never developed a friendship with Gordon . . . or a lot of people. I had a quiet respect for him. I looked at him from afar and I liked what I saw."
In Gordon's senior year the Toads were seen hanging out with an older guy, a longhair who rode a motorcycle. Once in a while, one of the Toads would show up at school with the hippie's bike.
Right after graduation a whole pack of the Toads enlisted--though not Gordon.
Vietnam was raging on living-room televisions in the small, rural community of 16,000. The mass enlistment was just about the most noble event the town of Chandler saw in 1968.
Twenty-one years later, most people still don't know that the Toads had all been busted right before graduation for smoking dope. The older, longhaired guy with the motorcycle had been a narc. In a quiet deal worked out with the judge to spare the parents any embarrassment, the young Toads were allowed to go to war for smoking marijuana. Not that these young men were anything less than patriotic. Given their choice, several of the Toads joined the Marines. They were just that red-
blooded and just that young.
Gordon Grilz was able to avoid the service because, as luck would have it, he wasn't around when the bust went down. When his buddies went overseas, he went away to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
The next time Gordon Grilz was spotted in Chandler, his hair was halfway down his back and he was running with a guy called "Reds" whose nickname didn't have anything at all to do with the color of his ponytail. It was about this time that Gordon began dating Linda Marie. She was the daughter of the one cop in Chandler who had the reputation for being a real hard-ass.
Marlene Dibble's path was a lot straighter and a lot narrower.
She married, gave birth to a daughter and, one year after graduation, landed a good job at Salt River Project. By the time the war in Vietnam ended, Marlene Dibble had settled down. As happens in a well-ordered life, twenty years passed and the next thing she knew it was time to start thinking about the reunion.
One of the first to respond to Dibble's inquiries was Gordon Grilz's good friend, Tex Goins. The cover of Goins' note was a cartoon of an alligator in a courtroom witness stand testifying, "Well, of course I did it in cold blood, you idiot! . . . I'm a reptile."
Once a Toad . . . It seemed like damned near everyone made it back for the reunion. The foreign-exchange student returned from Australia. Members of the armed services came from overseas.
There was old what's-his-name who tried to commit suicide by putting a cherry bomb in his mouth. A beard covered the scar tissue.
Cheryl Lynn Caudhill Kahoun told people she'd become an aesthetician. Asked what had happened to her in the last twenty years, she replied, "In 1972 I was captured by refugees from Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters while jogging on the beach in San Luis Obispo. I have spent the last few years in a deprogramming rehabilitation center trying to erase from my vocabulary such words as boss, groovy, bitchin', far-out, sock-it-to-me, tuff, psychedelic, mod, tune in, turn on, drop out, fab, cool."
A surprising number of the class of '68 had nothing at all to say when confronted with a written form that asked, "Remember when . . . "
Others, like cosmetologist-
homemaker Peggy Ann Drake Kurisky, recalled events in words that sounded as if you were eavesdropping on a teen-ager's conversation at Emmick's Drive-In: "A carnival came to town. Rhonda and Regina Stone, Kathy Shawver and I got on the Tilt-a-Whirl ride. Regina sat behind Rhonda and Kathy. When Rhonda got sick, it hit Gina and I in the face--YUK!!"
The night of the reunion dance, Marlene Dibble approached the microphone and read a letter from Gordon Grilz to his classmates.
" . . . I would like each of you to know that in the midst of my troubled circumstances, I have found the peace, love and joy that I was always searching for. I despaired while looking in the wrong places. The answer in my life has come from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ . . . . If you are still searching for that fulfillment in your life, I encourage you to try Jesus. So many of us didn't hesitate to try anything
else . . . ."
If there were those in the audience who were given pause by the revelation that religion had given peace of mind to a double-murderer as well as brought the class president and a shy student from the back of the bus together after twenty years, no mention of it was made to Marlene Dibble.
"I think some were frightened off by the religious overtones of his message," said Dibble. "They don't know how to handle someone who went from where he was to where he is.
"I'm sure a lot were terribly unforgiving. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I was in the minority."
Seven months after the twentieth-year reunion of the class of '68, Marlene Dibble sits with a plate of Mexican food in La Fonda recalling all of the memories. More than mere nostalgia, there is just the odd hint of deja vu. Because while it's true that the Toads are only a bit of ancient history, the Cowboys continue on as the status clique in Chandler. In fact, Marlene Dibble is just slightly concerned that her daughter Tamara Noelle, now a senior at Chandler High, is running with the Cowboys.
A month ago her daughter was busted for drinking at a boondocker with the Cowboys after school. She gave the police a phony name when questioned.
"A year ago she couldn't stand country and western music and now she's out drinking with these guys. Yeah, it's scary. You don't know if it's a passing thing or if it could lead to something else."
Although divorced from her husband for thirteen years, Dibble is still in close touch with the man because he is raising their daughter.
After the drinking incident, Marlene asked her former husband why Tammy was still out running around.
Dad responded that he'd given the girl a little extra rope because she'd been under so much pressure.
"Isn't that too bad?" observed Marlene Dibble. "Life is full of pressure. If you don't learn how to deal with pressure, you'll never grow up. Her dad, meanwhile, is down at the local bar watching the basketball game."
Marlene Dibble has forgiven Gordon Grilz. But she still isn't done with her ex-husband.
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