And so in place of the police’s sordid story line, Ruskin proposes a mystery: “Unless you believe that a woman who’s like a PTA mom of the year decides this is the day I don’t give a damn, I’m going to have eight or ten shots and smoke a joint in front of my kids and nieces, then something else had to happen.” Even if true, went the argument, the behavior doesn’t make sense.
Then Barbara came right at the condemning toxicology report, respinning it. He claimed that the medical examiner’s report showed Diane was not an alcoholic. Barbara exaggerated; the report noted that some changes associated with some long-term alcoholics weren’t present. But Barbara has mastered his métier: On TV there’s no fact-checking. And so he sped on, sowing doubt, weaving friendlier scenarios. Was there a small undetected stroke, or an abscess that somehow traveled to her brain and clouded her judgment and that led to acute substance intake? Then Barbara told Larry King that they planned to exhume Diane’s body for further testing. It was a perfect headline-maker, and another deft tug at public opinion, even if Barbara, as he later tells me, isn’t convinced of the wisdom of that course. “I’ve done Larry King ten or fifteen times, and that was my best performance,” he tells me later.
Mike Bastardi and I talk on the phone sometimes. “More will come out,” he says. He talks to cops and medical examiners and lawyers, pressing the D.A. to call a grand jury, keeping the case, his dad and brother, alive. Like Danny, he’s latched onto the idea that there’s a hidden truth out there.
And so Mike and Jeanne sift and resift the few available facts, suspicious of everything. Danny didn’t even know that Diane had packed the vodka in the car. Diane left McDonald’s with a cup of orange juice, a good mixer. And how about the weight gain? In older photos Mike saw in the press, Diane has a pretty face and dark hair, a lovely smile, and doesn’t weigh 204 pounds, her weight according to the autopsy. (“Don’t we all” gain weight, Danny told me.) To the Bastardis, adding pounds could be explained by steady drinking.
And yet Diane is dead and already a criminal, and so for Mike she’s an unsatisfying repository for anger. He and Jeanne prefer living culprits, aiders and abettors: Danny and even Warren, father of three dead girls.
“They make like it was not even their fault,” says Mike. “I think they knew she was drunk and stoned.” Mike has finally got ahold of the state-police investigation. Detective James Boyle interviewed a couple who said that at about 11:45 a.m. on July 26—23 minutes before Jackie supposedly had that coherent 12:08 p.m. conversation with Diane—she noticed a red minivan pulled over to the side of the road. Diane Schuler—they later identified her through photographs in the press—was bent over with her hands on her knees, “as if she was ... going to vomit.” The minivan sped up, tailgating, honking, and zigzagging; later, another motorist spotted her entering the Ramapo rest stop, driving on the grass. (Jackie refused to be interviewed by the state police, another suspicious fact for Mike and Jeanne.)
“Diane probably drank and drove so often Warren couldn’t conceive it would get this bad,” says Jeanne.
Another home, Another universe. “Diane is a murderer,” says Jeanne Bastardi. “Not even a moment have I felt sorry for Danny. He becomes a man you can’t hate enough.”
Mike started out sad and confused, but grief turned to rage. Danny had insulted them. “Don’t you dare tell me this whole thing happened in that minivan and she was perfect before and after and her whole life,” Mike says. “They threw too much shit out.” For Mike, it’s a pitched battle. “They picked a fight with the wrong people.” He and Jeanne want someone’s head. “It makes me feel like some kind of justice is being done,” he says.
Mike and Jeanne focus on that 1:02 call when Warren learned that Diane was incapacitated. Warren raced in search of Diane. Danny was out of the loop. Warren didn’t call him, though he besieged Diane with calls, at 1:20, 1:24, 1:28. There was no answer. The phone had been abandoned. But Warren didn’t call 911. The first call from the Hances to the state police comes at 1:40, by which time everyone is dead.
“If he’d called 911 immediately, we wouldn’t be here,” Mike tells me. In Warren, Mike sees a kind of depraved indifference. When Warren told a terrified Emma to stay put, the minivan was parked directly across from the state-police barracks.
Would Warren really risk the lives of his three daughters? “They keep trying to make these people into normal-thinking humans,” Jeanne says.
“They should come forward, come clean,” says Mike, and says that would be enough. “And we would feel better. We would.”