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Jun 27, 2014

Why one widow remembers Chile 1973

Gruesome measures are taken to insure that the Chilean National team stayed quiet about what was happening in their country. A clip from "30 for 30 Soccer Stories: The Opposition."

Forty-six years ago last Sunday, June 22, a young couple named Charles and Joyce Horman married in her hometown in Minnesota. Afterward, everyone went to her parents' backyard for a reception. That's what she remembers, all these years later, in the New York home where she lives now, without Charlie. She thinks about the day they got married, and the one when they met, Bastille Day in the French Riviera. Joyce and a friend stepped off the train into a sea of revelers and confetti. They stood in the madness with their luggage.

"Up from a lighted stairwell," Joyce says, letting herself be pulled back in time, "came this blue and white French shirt. I think it was a pool hall he was walking out of. That was Charlie."

He walked over to them, fellow Americans abroad.

"Can I help you find your hotel?" he asked.

She remembers that he did help, and later they went to Monaco together, and the beach, and Paris, falling in love over onion soup in the 4 a.m. markets of the city. They traveled separately and left messages in American Express offices. They met in London and saw "A Hard Day's Night." They stood together in a Lutheran church in middle America. Then he ended up without her in a soccer stadium in Santiago, Chile, where the military dictatorship murdered him, a journalist, for pursuing the truth. She remembers meeting him surrounded by joy and light, and remembers that he died in darkness and fear, with evidence in his notebook that could prove U.S. involvement in the 1973 coup.

She remembers what so many others want to forget.

The search for Charles Horman eventually became the basis for the 1982 award-winning film
The search for Charles Horman eventually became the basis for the 1982 award-winning film "Missing."

The story of Charlie and Joyce Horman has nothing to do with soccer, except that the most important scene takes place in a stadium, and that it is about politics and Latin America, which, actually, makes it have everything to do with soccer. Chile is in the news because its aggressive, exciting football team is advancing to the second round of the World Cup, which starts Saturday. This means that former dictator Augusto Pinochet is also in the news.

It's been four decades since Pinochet took power on Sept. 11, 1973, more than two decades since he gave up the presidency, and almost one decade since he died. The damage Pinochet did to the rule of law and the national psyche is ongoing and hard to quantify. Many Americans don't like where a conversation about Pinochet inevitably leads. U.S. involvement in Latin America in general, and Chile specifically, disproves some deeply held beliefs about our moral compass.

The arguments for and against our policy in Latin America are broad and often academic, and smart people can disagree on the intent, if not the end result. There is nothing broad and academic about what Pinochet's regime -- with U.S. knowledge and possible complicity, according to declassified State Department documents -- did to Charles Horman on Sept. 17, 1973, in the national soccer stadium in Santiago.

He was an American citizen, and in the last hours of his life, his government let him die to protect a greater national good, or it delivered him to his killers, or, in the best case, it failed to protect him from imminent danger. Maybe this was somehow murkily justified for national security, or maybe it was just cold-blooded murder, but right or wrong, it happened.

It's what our Latin American foreign policy demanded.


When we refuse to look at what happened to Charles Horman, we are killing him again. In the days after Pinochet's violent overthrow of the Chilean government, Horman carried facts damaging to the United States in his notebook. He'd seen U.S. warships cruising off the coast, and talked to U.S. military people on the ground, who took credit for the coup. An American military officer named Ray Davis drove Horman from the coast back to Santiago and dropped him off downtown. Days later, while making plans to leave the country, Horman was kidnapped from his home by the Chilean military. They shot him multiple times and buried his body in a wall of the national stadium. His family searched for him, Joyce and his father, Ed, hoping he was still alive. After investigating, Ed requested access to the prisoners held and tortured in the stadium. Maybe the only moment of inspiration in a saga of death and hopelessness came next, one that's difficult for anyone to read, especially a parent who's imagined how far they'd go to protect their child. According to his New York Times obituary in 1993, Ed took a bullhorn and shouted into the stadium.

"Charles Horman, I hope you are out there," he called. "This is your father speaking. If you hear me, please come forward. You have nothing to fear."

Ed Horman was three weeks too late.

In Sept. 1973, Army troops guarded Chile National Stadium, where more than 7,000 people were being held by the new military government.
In Sept. 1973, Army troops guarded Chile National Stadium, where more than 7,000 people were being held by the new military government.

Joyce always suspected that Davis somehow had a hand in Charlie's death, and certainly had knowledge of the United States' involvement.

One of those declassified documents, which Joyce quoted in an essay she wrote last year for The Guardian, supports her theory: "US intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the GOC [government of Chile]. At worst, US intelligence was aware the GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of GOC paranoia."

Two years ago, the Chilean Supreme Court approved an extradition request for Davis, believing he was living in Florida.

The request was never served.

In September 2013, a New York Times story detailed what the headline called an "enigma." Instead of avoiding extradition in the United States, Davis had supposedly been living in a Chilean nursing home, where he died before the papers could be served. The U.S. Embassy said it didn't know he'd lived in Chile, and found out only when his wife reported his death. She told authorities that he'd been dead for two months, according to Joyce Horman's account, and that his body had been cremated. When Joyce tried to get the State Department to confirm that the correct Ray Davis had died, they passed her along to the Embassy in Santiago. She still hasn't received any confirmation. The U.S. Embassy in Chile forwarded an interview request to the State Department, which didn't respond.

Her suspicion is that the government is again putting national interests over one of its citizens, and that to avoid having a former American military officer extradited to a foreign country to answer questions about the murder of an American citizen, a solution was found. It's something out of a Bourne movie. Maybe she's right, or maybe she's wrong, although by now all benefit of the doubt in this matter belongs to the Horman family. She believes that maybe Ray Davis never died at all.

"I think he could very easily be alive," she says.


Nine or 10 years ago, Joyce returned to the stadium, with a television crew for a documentary. She found herself overwhelmed. The structure remained almost exactly as it had been the day her husband died in it, and she walked through the places where he likely took his last steps.

"I felt surrounded by what I have to call ghosts," she says.

Several months ago, she went back to Chile for the inauguration of a new president. This time, Joyce Horman chose not to visit the stadium. Instead she went to the coast, and looked out at the beautiful sea, blue water and white breakers, the color of a French shirt glowing in the light of a pool hall door.