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Remembering the victim of Petaluma’s sad unsolved murder

Her name was Georgia Lee Moses.

But no one knew that yet.

When her body was found in a grove of trees in South Petaluma, on August 22, 1997, almost no one even knew she’d been missing. The troubled 12-year-old African-American Santa Rosa girl had disappeared from her Santa Rosa home on August 13, but no mention of her absence appeared in local papers until after the body had been tentatively identified. By the time we all learned her name, she was already long dead, her (presumed) kidnapping and subsequent murder a crime that remains unsolved to this day.

Twenty years later, many questions remain. Would Georgia Moses still be alive had news of her disappearance been widely disseminated? Was law enforcement slow to act because the victim was black, a middle school dropout, living with her disabled mother in poverty? Why hasn’t her murder been solved after all these years, her killer brought to justice?

Those answers may never come. Georgia Lee Moses’ name may never be much more than a sad statistic. According the Polly Klaas Institute – named, of course, for the local child who was kidnapped and killed in 1993 – many other kidnapped children have lost their lives in America at the hands of others since Polly Klaas’ death. On the Institute’s ‘In Memoriam’ page, the name Georgia Lee Moses is listed alongside 135 others from around the country.

As for Georgia Moses’ name, once it was learned, and the stark loneliness of her life and death had finally became known, the community of Petaluma claimed Georgia Lee Moses as their own. The place where her body was discovered instantly became a potent symbol of all lost and abandoned and neglected children, a makeshift memorial drawing mourners and supporters from all corners of the Bay Area.

Anchored by a metal sculpture of an angel, created by two Petaluma firefighters, the memorial remained until 2012, maintained all that time by volunteers moved by the story of Georgia Moses. When roadwork in the area forced the removal of the sculpture and other elements of the landmark, the sculpture was relocated to a spot under a tree outside of Petaluma City Hall.

In 2006, inspired by Moses’ story, Lia Rowley founded Santa Rosa’s The Children’s Village, a home for neglected and abused children. The non-profit lasted for ten years, but was closed in early 2006, having lost crucial funding resources.

In some ways, Moses’ most lasting memorial/legacy is the song “Georgia Lee,” written by then Petaluman Tom Waits, released in 1999 on his “Mule Variations” album. A spare, heartbreaking tribute to Moses’ herself, the song also serves as an elegy to forgotten children everywhere.

“Cold was the night, hard was the ground

They found her in a small grove of trees

Lonesome was the place where Georgia was found

She’s too young to be out on the streets

Why wasn’t God watching?

Why wasn’t God listening?

Why wasn’t God there for Georgia Lee?”

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)

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