Life Without Father

The daughters of Dayton James are still dealing with their emotions toward Joshua Beckius.

The two women are still puzzled about what actually happened on the night of their father's death. They know he would have opened the door if anyone had knocked, asking for help. They also know that he'd advised employees to give up the money without argument if a robbery ever occurred: James had been held up once before. "I would say, Dad, doesn't that scare you?" Daytona remembers. "And he would say, Daytona, there's nothing you can do about it."

"He didn't judge anyone," Darcy says. "I remember when he worked at East Colfax at the movie theater. There were gangs and everything there. And I used to say, aren't you scared? And he said, no, they're nice to him."

The murder destroyed Darcy and Daytona's sense that the universe was fundamentally benevolent. Darcy often finds herself afraid to leave her house. "I'll just think, well, I'll stay home because something bad could happen," she says. "Or if anything's off, like your husband's late, or the phone rings at night, I think something bad has happened."

Darcy Priola (left) and Daytona Ferry still struggle over the loss of their father.
David Rehor
Darcy Priola (left) and Daytona Ferry still struggle over the loss of their father.

"For some reason," says Daytona, "I don't know, I cry all the time."

Darcy nods. "Yeah. She cries all the time."

"I can get hysterical over things like...well, my daughter was just at Children's Hospital and when they put her under anesthesia, I knew that the worst was going to happen because that would be my luck..." (Heather had a strep throat that did not respond to antibiotics; she is now fully recovered.)

"Whenever I leave my girls, like for a weekend, I write them letters because we know something like that could happen any time," Daytona continues. "I would love to have letters from Dad..."

Darcy reminds her sister that their father left each of them a small clay figure, and Daytona goes to find hers. She places it on the table. It's a child of indeterminate sex, seated, with its arms folded round its knees. The caption says, "Love the child within."

Darcy and Daytona struggle with profound and complex feelings toward their father's killer.

"You know, I don't really have hate," says Darcy. "He wouldn't want us to hate them. Just...I'm wary of a lot of people. But it's not hate. I don't think I've said I hate Joshua and Charlie Pa..."

"I think I've said I hate what they've done to Dad," says Daytona.

"Looking at them makes me want to cringe."

"Just throw up."

"Sometimes I feel I could forgive them more if they would ever bother to tell us they're sorry," says Darcy.

They talk a little about Beckius's letters to them, and wonder if they were sincere. "It could be his lawyer telling him to write the letter for lighter sentencing," says Darcy. "So I would think if he was truly sorry, he would have wrote again. And the other one just had no remorse at all."

Both women find the prospect of a new trial -- should Beckius win one -- extremely daunting. "We've dealt with it and the pain doesn't go away, we've been able to just manage it," says Daytona. "To me it would feel like we're going to have to go back in time...

"It's nice to know they're in there, doing their time," she concludes.

In a sense, James had a third daughter. Toni Lucci first met him when she was sixteen and applying for a job at a theater he managed. She had been riding her bicycle round and round the building, afraid to go in. "I am who I am because of him," she says now. "I had a tough time growing up. I didn't have a dad. He totally took me under his wing."

Eventually Lucci became a manager herself, and James would tease her: "If I didn't take you off the streets," he'd tell her, "you'd still be riding your bicycle around the theater."

Lucci remembers being snowbound with James in a movie house for ten hours during the blizzard of 1982. "We told jokes," she says. "We put on country music. He was teaching me dance steps.

"He influenced everybody that he worked with. He was very quiet, but with an underlying sense of humor, and you were comforted by him even though he didn't speak a lot."

When James did talk, it was usually about his daughters.

Her mentor's death had a huge impact on Lucci. She continued working as a theater manager, but now she was afraid. "I was at the theater one night," she recalls, "and I could have sworn I heard his voice in my head: 'Be careful.' I saw people outside walking around, and I called security. I know he watches out for me." Eventually, she left the business.

To support Darcy and Daytona, Lucci attended one of the hearings in the murder case, where she saw Charlie Pa and Joshua Beckius. "I didn't want to do that," she says. "I didn't want to see them.

"I can't tell you the amount of anger I have for those two guys. If they had ever worked with him or known him as a person...I don't think anybody who knew him could have done that."

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