Joyce Horman was 23 when she married Charles Horman. Five years later, Charles was murdered by the Chilean military in the wake of the American-backed 1973 coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
After three decades of waiting, Joyce Horman has yet to see her husband’s killers brought to justice.
Horman came to Yale Wednesday night to introduce “Missing,” the 1982 film about her husband’s disappearance and Joyce’s subsequent search for him in concert with Charlie’s father, Edward.
Horman’s visit coincided with a Davenport Master’s Tea featuring John O’Leary ’69, the U.S. ambassador to Chile from 1989 and 2001. O’Leary played a pivotal role in the declassification of U.S. government documents relating to Chile and to Charles Horman’s death.
Charles and Joyce Horman first arrived in Chile in 1972. Charles had just finished his military service with the National Guard, and the couple wanted to take a trip together. Horman said they each had their own reasons for choosing Chile as their destination.
“I had heard about the great skiing,” Horman said with a laugh. “Charlie was a writer and [Salvador] Allende was the first elected socialist in Latin America. He thought it was an interesting place to go to write.”
Horman suspects his curiosity got him killed. She said Charles had obtained “dangerous information” that made him a threat to the regime that seized power in 1973.
One night she came in to find her home had been raided by the military.
“I was shocked,” Horman said, describing it as ransacked.
When Horman went to the American consul, they asked her what was taken.
“What was taken?” she repeated. “Charles was taken.”
Horman said she was even more upset by her meeting with U.S. Ambassador Nathaniel Davis.
She said she told Davis she thought Charles was might have been held at the national stadium, where the military had been detaining many people.
“[Davis] said, ‘Mrs. Horman, what do you want me to do, look under all the bleachers?’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I do want to do,'” Horman recalled. “He was intimidating and horrible, and there I was in the midst of all that violence.”
After two weeks of searching for Charles, Horman finally found out that her husband had been killed at the stadium three days after his arrest.
“It was just awful. There was no excuse for it,” Horman said.
O’Leary said the film, “Missing,” captures the emotional essence of the events of 1973.
His daughter, Alejandra O’Leary ’04, agreed.
“‘Missing’ is a perfect example of how art and film can throw light on things in a way that my dad never could, things that politicians can only half illuminate,” she said.
Horman has spent the last 28 years trying to get information from the U.S. government about the American role in Chile at the time of her husband’s murder. Finally, in 1999, there was a substantial round of releases.
“We found a document from 1976 that [said] there is circumstantial evidence that the U.S. intelligence agencies played an unfortunate part in the death of Charles Horman,” Horman said.
John O’Leary was one of the principal players in the declassification of these documents.
O’Leary first met Joyce Horman at the Yale Club in New York a couple of years ago. Horman said she was struck by O’Leary’s genuine compassion and concern.
“John O’Leary was obviously someone working for declassification, at getting to the truth. I was very pleased to meet him,” Horman said.
“I thought it was the obligation of the government to give a personal response,” said O’Leary. “[Charles] was an American citizen who died a terrible death, and his family had a right to the facts.”
Both Horman and O’Leary remember vividly the day of Pinochet’s arrest on Oct. 16, 1998.
“It was an extraordinary day,” Horman said.
O’Leary said Pinochet’s arrest and the subsequent ruling in the London courts that Pinochet was not immune as a former head of state from charges of torture was crucial to openness and human rights.
“There is a great irony that the name Pinochet in a historical sense will be increasingly related to human rights,” O’Leary said.
In December 2000, Horman filed suit against Pinochet and the Chilean military officials involved in her husband’s murder at the stadium.
Pinochet’s arrest also started the ball rolling for the declassification of documents in the United States. President Clinton issued an executive order that all U.S. government documents pertaining to political violence, human rights abuses and terrorism in Chile be made available to the public.
But O’Leary believed declassification was not enough. He arranged for the documents to be uploaded to the Internet in an accessible, easily used format so that anyone could read them and make their own conclusions about the 1973 coup.
Horman’s blue eyes filled with tears behind her tinted glasses as she contemplated the events of 1973.
“So many innocent people,” she said. “Charles would have made a real contribution to life.”