I’ve always been curious about the disappearance of Lela and Raymond Howard, an elderly couple who left their home in Salado, Texas for a 15 mile trip to Temple and whose bodies were discovered two weeks later and about 500 miles at the bottom of an Appalachian ravine. The couple’s death later inspired “The Way”, a 1998 number-one single by Austin, Texas band Fastball.
I recently got the opportunity to explore the disappearance in depth as part of a freelance assignment, but there wasn’t a ton of details available online. It was 1997 when the Howards disappeared, and a lot of stuff from that era hasn’t found its way into electronic archives yet, so I had to put on my research cap and go digging. And dig I did. It took about a week to hunt down reporters, old public records, and Fastball lead singer Tony Scalzo himself.
The Way” is an incredibly catchy tune, but there’s something a little spooky about it too. The song’s lyrics — about an elderly couple who disappears from their home, finding immortality on the road — seem sweet. That is, until “shadows” on the highway are references. The promises that the unnamed couple will never go home, grow old, or be hungry again seem a great deal less reassuring. Perhaps, the listener thinks, the “immortality” they found on the open road is purely allegorical.
Fastball lead singer Tony Scalzo said that he wrote “The Way” in 1997 after reading an article in The Austin American-Statesman about Lela and Raymond Howard, an elderly couple who disappeared on June 29 after leaving their Salado, Texas home to attend an event fifteen miles away in Temple.
The article, “Elderly Salado Couple Missing On a Trip To Nowhere,” appeared in the July 2nd issue of the paper and was written by Denise Gamino, a former reporter now employed as a freelance writer. She remembers the Howard case well.
Gamino had been assigned to the state desk during her time with the paper, and said that her colleagues preferred to cover politics, a topic that she had grown tired of after working for many years as a correspondent in DC. When an editor came looking for someone to cover the Howard story, she volunteered.
“I always sought out stories about people no one had ever heard of,” said Gamino. “My journalism philosophy was ‘blessed are the nobodies, for theirs is the kingdom of fascinating stories.’”