When I first read the remarkable story of Lori Ruff, née Kennedy, aka Becky Sue Turner, aka Kimberly McLean, I knew it would make an excellent basis for a unit on argumentative writing. Students would find it compelling and would also learn valuable Gregg_Texas_Jane_Doe_December_2010_DL_picresearch skills by studying copies of actual documents, such as birth certificates, driver licenses, and passport applications. They would use higher order thinking to infer what must have happened during the two years Lori totally went off the grid with no paper trail. They would use new organizational skills to create timelines, label maps, and create documentary videos. And finally, they would learn how to document sources that go beyond what the ordinary term paper requires.

In short, this unit will help students learn how to evaluate evidence, fill in any gaps, and think critically. This is important because good thinkers make good writers.

Project Resources

Here are several resources to get you started on your case research. Good luck!


Maureen O’Hagan, the author of the Seattle Times articles on Lori Kennedy and Kimberly McLean, published “The Woman In the Strongbox,” a compilation of her two articles that appeared in that paper. You can get it on Amazon (free if you have Prime, $1.99 if you don’t). You can also listen to it for free with a trial of Audible. I finished it a couple of days ago, and it’s well worth your time. There’s information in there you won’t find in O’Hagan’s other articles, such as Lori’s inheritance or the problem Jim McLean had that probably lead to his divorce.

Documents and Articles

Read the Original Seattle Times article, 2013 first. It’s excellent reporting.

Essay/Script Requirements

  • Essays/Scripts MUST be
    • Double spaced
    • Have Times New Roman font, 12 point
  • DO NOT BOLD ANYTHING – even the title page
  • Photos are okay, but any photos must not take up more than 1/4 of the page, either separately or together.
  • Document your sources in a Works Cited page. Here’s the PowerPoint we went over: Citing Resources Works Cited (W2 research)-Middle

Documentary Video Guidelines

  • Make sure you understand the rubric: evaluation_rubric_for_videoproject
  • The sequence should generally follow the one for the MOAR. (See the MOAR breakdown above.) You’ll have some sort of introduction/teaser/hook, then start with Becky Sue Turner (#3 above) and continue on to the conclusion.
  • Time limit: Five to seven minutes. While this may change, you should plan for at least that much.
  • What should it look like? Below is an excellent example. It isn’t too long, has a pretty good introduction, and adequately addresses the facts. There isn’t any speculation, but that may not have been the purpose of the video. I especially like the way the pictures help tell the story.

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