R.I.P. Malibu Barbie


How does a toy from my unconventional childhood show up now and make an impact in my career as a Hollywood screenwriter and novelist?

When I told some friends about a very unusual Barbie doll accessory my sisters and I used to play, they wanted proof. Not being able to recall where it last ended up, I emailed my family to ask who was in current ownership of … the Barbie body bag.  

The next day, I received a very distressing photo and email from the Newaygo County Medical Examiner’s office (aka: Mom and Dad). What started as a simple quest to find the bag turned into an unorthodox correspondence.

Before you step into this email chain you need a little background on my family.

#1. My father was a medical examiner and my mother served as his office manager.

#2. They ran the M.E. office from their home. Myself and my two sisters often helped out.

#3. No, Mattel does not manufacture Barbie body bags. The body bag you see in the photograph is a sample version given to us by a vendor.



The emails began….


Subject line:  Miss Barbie found dead according to Newaygo County Medical Examiner report.



We are sorry to inform you that little Miss Barbie was found lying in her case without any obvious signs of what caused her death.  Therefore the medical examiner was notified.  He came to examine the scene and then packaged her up in this adorable “Barbie body bag” to be taken off to the morgue for examination and autopsy. If and when we get a final answer to the cause and time of death, you will be notified. If this office can be of any further help in your investigation, please do not hesitate to contact us. 


Within a matter of minutes emails about Miss Barbie’s demise were bouncing around  between the family.


First came denial …


From: Reporter Dornbush (me)

From the photo you sent, that looks like Skipper, not Barbie. Please confirm her identity.


From: The Newaygo County Medical Examiner’s Office

This email is to correct a grave error on our part about the name and person of the deceased in the white body bag in the pictures that were recently sent to you.  It has come to our attention that we were mistaken in the identity of the person in the body bag.  Records now indicate that she was “Skipper”, Barbie’s little sister.  We do apologize for the mistaken identity and our office will do better in the future to make sure we have the correct identity of the person/s that our office is required to investigate. 


Then came blame…..


From: Detective DeVries (my middle sister)

Reports from witnesses state that Skipper was cat walking down the runway when her arch enemy dropped the disco ball on her. She was rushed to the hospital where her arch enemy switched her IV to pain meds causing Skipper to hallucinate and stumble out into the hallway where a candy striper’s cart struck her and caused a fatal hematoma in the brain.


From: Sherlock Holmes Graeser (my youngest sister)

I disagree with your evaluation of the crime, Detective. During a recent interview, Skipper’s best friend confided that Skipper had an acrimonious relationship with Ken’s new wife, Malibu Barbie. She has reason to believe Malibu poisoned Skipper at their Dreamhouse.


From: Reporter Dornbush (me)

My sources familiar with the matter concur and say they believe Ken had a hand in her demise. He was overheard complaining to his spray- tanned friend, Steven, “I’m tired of driving Skipper everywhere in the convertible. She should grow up and get her own license.”


And then, overwhelming guilt when this answer arrived….


From: The Newaygo County Medical Examiner’s Office

The official autopsy report is in and the M.E. has found that after being shut up in her doll case for over a decade, Skipper died from an acute case of loneliness. She had no one to play with; no one to pay any attention to her; no one to take her places, no new clothes to try on. She languished away from lack of attention until she just gave up the ghost. 


We all speculated that perhaps this was Mom’s way of telling us to get our old toys out of her house.


Finally, we arrived at acceptance….


From: Detective DeVries

Please pass along our condolences to the remaining family of Miss Skipper. We will consider this case closed.


From: Sherlock Holmes Graeser

I am sorry to hear of Skipper’s death, but am delighted to see how well the white body bag goes with her 70s style, flowered halter top dress. She was well-preserved and stylish to the very end.


From: Reporter Dornbush

I accept your official document on this matter, but will continue into the investigation as journalism integrity compels me to do. In the mean time, I will run a flattering obituary in this Sunday’s paper. We ask that you please hold her body and belongings just a little while longer until we can get home to claim them.

Such are the antics of a coroner’s family. The place I called home and once relegated with great embarrassment has now become the cornerstone of my storytelling. I’ve embraced my uncanny childhood and it’s warped influence on me.  But before I began fictionalizing the skeletons in my closet, I spent years trying to keep them there. [And yes, we had a real human skeleton in our family. His name was Sam and he lived in the barn. But that’s for another story.]

A plaque hanging on the wall of my office reminds me: Home is where your story begins. Write from that place. Especially if it makes you cringe.



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