The murders occurred on the eve of a ritual that makes no sense to people who don't hunt. It was August 31, 1993, the night before the annual dove hunt, the beginning of open season on a bird that can be killed but not eaten. There's too little meat on a dove, especially in late summer, when they're at their lightest. But for sport, they have few equals. Twenty million are killed each year, more than any other animal in the country. One in three wounded birds are not retrieved by hunters after they fall to earth.
In Borrego Springs, California, the annual meeting of the dove club was of purely local interest before and after 1993. That was the year the minutes were significant to anyone beyond a small group of hunters and friends. On that night, three members of a prominent San Diego family were present, as usual: Ed Fletcher III, his son Eric, and Ed’s uncle Ferdinand Fletcher. Ed Fletcher III would leave the meeting and drive home with a blood alcohol level near .33. He would find in his kitchen the empty bottles of gin and vodka and wonder who had poured his liquor down the drain. He would go to the room where he kept his guns, select one, and return to the kitchen, where his friends were waiting for the dinner they'd been invited to enjoy.
Out on the desert, where the evening temperature was still 98 degrees, his son Eric was walking off his anger at his father’s refusal to stop drinking. He was watching the mourning doves rise and fall in the night sky. He was close enough to his parents’ house that he heard not only the shots but a woman’s scream.
There's no story more perversely fascinating than the fall of great wealth, and that’s the story the shootings that night could tell: the Fletcher family, great and powerful from one end of San Diego County to the other, from the last century to the present, had produced a man known principally for two things: drinking and shooting. Ed Fletcher III—“scion of a the Fletcher dynasty,” the papers liked to call him--had just shot two innocent, ordinary people, friends who hadn’t wanted to let him down, who hadn’t wanted to leave him alone to face what, in spite of every opportunity in the world, he had become.
What happened? When did the long rise become the beginning of a long fall?