Let's Talk Tri Delta

"Working for Justice” True Crime, True Sisterhood and True Triumph

Episode Summary

Amy Winnick Chesler, Cal State/Northridge, is a podcaster, advocate, producer and author of “Working for Justice: One Family's Tale of Murder, Betrayal, and Healing,” a true crime memoir about the loss of her mother at the hands of a family member. Hold on tight as Amy shares her unimaginable journey from navigating deep tragedy to becoming a staunch advocate for families facing similar challenges.

Episode Notes

What would you do if years of trauma and abuse culminated into the worst tragedy of your life—the murder of your mother at the hands of your brother? It sounds like fiction but it is Amy Winnick Chesler’s real-life story.

Her response was remarkable: turning to the unwavering support of her Tri Delta sisters from our Cal State/Northridge Beta Beta Chapter. These incredible women stood by her side just two weeks after she graduated from college, and their support remains a pillar in her life 16 years later. Amy’s journey toward healing led her to pour her emotions into writing, culminating in the completion of a book that serves as a love letter to her late mother. But her writing isn’t just about personal healing; it’s a platform she uses to reveal truths and advocate for justice, not only for herself but also for others who have faced similar challenges. 

Join us for an emotional yet beautiful podcast and discover Amy’s inspiring story of resilience, how she channeled her pain into writing and the ongoing and impactful ways she’s fighting for justice and healing.

Episode Transcription

Hello, Tri Deltas, and welcome to another episode of our Let's Talk Tri Delta podcast. I am one of your hosts, Mindy Tucker, and I have the amazing privilege of interviewing our fantastic sisters and bringing you their stories right here on the podcast. Today, friends, we might get a little bit emotional as we sit down with Amy Chesler from Cal Northridge. Amy is an author, podcaster, advocate, and producer. And when you learn about her book, which is called “Working for Justice, One Family's Tale of Murder, Betrayal, and Healing,”

you think it all has to be fiction, but it's real, as she lost her mother to domestic violence two weeks after graduating from college. She is here to talk with us about her incredible journey, how she found solace in her Tri Delta sisters, and how she channeled her emotions into a healing book and ventured into the realm of true crime podcasts. And she emerged as a staunch advocate for families navigating similar challenges. So, Amy, welcome. Thank you for joining us today. 

Thank you so much. And I'm glad you said it's going to get emotional because absolutely I think when I was just chatting with you guys initially I was sobbing, so I apologize ahead of time if there are tears, but 16 years later, yeah, the feelings haven't changed.

And we have to feel the feels, that's part of life. It's not all a bed of roses, we have to feel the feels when we have them, and I thank you for coming to share it and being willing to do that with us today. I wanna start with your Tri Delta journey. I know it wasn't a straight path to get to Tri Delta, but then, I'd love to hear about how you joined the sisterhood.

Yeah, you know, I'm already getting emotional. It was a really interesting journey. I went to CSUN, Cal State University in Northridge, which as a very large campus actually is a kind of a commuter school, if you will. So to get that, you know, experience on campus, you really do have to join a sorority. So that's what I quickly realized when I got to campus. And I rushed in fall, like traditional full force rushing and I actually went Kappa Kappa Gamma. And I was in that house for one week and I quickly realized it was not the home for me. So I one week into, you know, the after rushing and kind of after big, week, I quit. But I waited a whole another year to rush properly and to fall again so I could meet all the sisters each time and after that rush, I just fell deeply in love with Tri Delta. I also preffed Alpha Phi and I remember battling that night at pref, even though, you know, there were the, ties that bound me to Tri Delta were the relationships, all the women just, whew, I found sisterhood almost immediately. And then the other house, you know, of course it was real fun and there were other things that were drawing me in, but I remember that night sitting down to like select, it was like an old school computer that was about this thick, sitting down to click, I chose and I panicked. panicked. I left the room and I called my mom and I remember saying like, "Mom, I don't know what to do." And at that point, this will come up later, but at that point, my mom was not entirely supportive of the sorority experience. She had actually gone to the same college as me. She was a hard worker like me and she was just kind of like, "It might distract you. Why do it?" And so when I called her, she listened patiently, even though she didn't know what to do. wasn't the biggest supporter, like I said. And she said to me was, I think it sounds like you know what you need to do. And that was her way of giving advice. And I was like, Oh, okay. And I walked right back into that room and selected Tri Delta and never looked back and feel I'm getting emotional because I have had that support undyingly since I joined the house and it continues 16 years later too. Some of my biggest supporters. 

So glad you made that choice.

Yes, me too. 

Well, and I know your mom was skeptical at first, but then she became your biggest supporter in terms of trying to help. You want to talk a little bit about how she made that turn?

Um, yeah, she I think for her image, and maybe it was born from when she went to college there, maybe it was born from like the media, but her image of sororities was it was a party thing.

Well at CSUN, you know, I don't know what it's like on other campuses, but, you know, we were really, really serious about rules. There was nothing condoned by the house that had to do with that, and I was a really good student. It didn't distract me. Of course, it gave me the gift of being social, and I did, of course, have a great time in the house. But it was much more about the relationships, and my mom quickly saw that. And I remember one of my best friends in the house actually had a hospital stay in the middle of our college experience. She had like a mini heart attack almost and the girls rallied around her and we had a pizza party for her to welcome her back out of the hospital. And we had it in my mom's house and my mom saw everybody and she was like, wait, you guys can all hang out. It's not like the movies. It's not like, you know, I'm not, but like booze and parties and I was like, no, this is a sisterhood. And she just fell deeply in love with the house after that and was one of my biggest supporters undyingly in that respect.

Well, and clearly wanted the best for you and saw that you had found it in Tri Delta. So you graduate, which should be an amazing time in your life. You're heading out into the rest of your life and two weeks after the unimaginable happens, can you share with us a little bit about what happened to your mom and what that time was like for you? 

Yeah, you know, you mentioned at the top of this that I lost my mom to domestic violence. It is something that I'd like to highlight, even if we're gonna be brief with the story, I do like to highlight that we experienced about a decade of domestic violence beforehand, before her murder at the hands of my brother. And in writing my book, I would later find out that 50 % of American children face sibling abuse in some form at some time in their life. And that's different than rivalry. And my point is, is that this is not something that just kind of came out of nowhere. We didn't know what it was. And we didn't really have the proper support to name it, identify it and deal with it beforehand. But my mom's murder was a culmination of an immense amount of abuse, physical, environmental, emotional and mental. And it was escalating. In the last few months of my college experience, it definitely was heightening and getting worse. And as I was gaining more independence, there were warning signs. There were a couple of attempts at her life beforehand by my brother. I don't know if... if he had been in and out of jail in that respect for offenses like that. But my mom never kind of gave up on him and never stopped loving him. And we also weren't getting resources from anywhere else. So she kept kind of letting him back in. And that last time, September 25, 2007, he would ultimately take her life. Something I like to highlight about that day is that that exact day, September 25, 2007, exactly became National Murder Victims Remembrance Day in all of America. So that day that her life was taken, I became, I was joined by all other murder victims. And I've kind of taken that as a symbol in my mission, going forward and fuel in my fire. 

You know, there's murder, and then there's, like, murder. at the hand of a family member. So I can't imagine the added emotional toll. 

It's so weird you say that we're actually I'm part of a project that we're pitching right now. We found a gap in the media and we're pitching a project basically about murder at the hands of a family member. It's called familicide. That is the term. And matricide is the term that is given to when someone kills their mother specifically. But the reason why we have terms for them is that it's actually not as rare as you would think. You know, domestic violence rates, we know by looking at statistics that most murders, stalking, abuse is executed by someone you know, someone you are close to. And in that respect. you know, that makes sense to know that the statistics of familicide are not that rare as well. Yeah. 

So you've alluded to this, how did your Tri Delta sisters show up for you in that moment in your darkest place? 

Oh, goodness. It's hard to answer that because they never stopped. You know, it's been so continuous and so perpetual that my sorority sisters showed up deeply. The night my mom was murdered, I actually stayed with one of them. I obviously couldn't, you know, I went home and found her dead and it became a crime scene. So I left, I spent the night with one of my sorority sisters and in the weeks ensuing they were just so deeply there for me. In the Jewish religion we have to bury people quickly. We have I think I think it's like within seven days of the death.


There was a tiny bit of a delay I believe because there are processes when a murder happens but in that whole you know time it's a little fuzzy for me because again a major trauma had happened but I remember consistently sisters always being there for me. I don't think there was a moment I was alone. I always knew I could call on a sorority sister. My big sis is still one of my biggest supporters and so many of my pledge sisters were the first people to share about my book, to write reviews, to just continuously support me every day. Yeah, if I--anything I post or share, because even though they've heard the story for about a decade and a half, they're still right there with me. 

Yeah. We are fierce for each other, aren't we? 

You know, we develop those relationships and just stick together, which is--I don't want to start crying. Sorry. 

That's all right. Tears are great. good, tears are good. So let's shift a little bit and talk about your writing. You always loved writing and you had some really supportive teachers growing up. Is that right? 

Yes, oh yeah. I've always been a major student and yeah. Even in Tri Delta, they quickly realized my first semester in the house, I was also an artist. I was actually alumnae and collegiate relations officer, which is a really cool experience and position. But yeah, I think that I've always really been an academic and a learner and a writer and a storyteller. And even the house really fostered that in me as well. 

I love that. But it actually took you 16 years to write the book, right? 

So it was a bit of a process. 

Talk to us about why you think you took that time and what that process was like of getting to the point where you could really share the story.

You know, no one's asked me that yet, which is a really, and it's a really interesting question that's coming at this time because I've reflected on it a lot lately. Because not, I'm not veering from the question, but my podcast, I interview a lot of survivors, and a lot of survivors that I interview do media interviews, and a lot of them say, one of the biggest things they would change about their journey is how quickly they told their story, and that's made me reflect on why it took me so long. I've not done that until this year, so thank you for that question. I can finally answer it was the point of that.

It's interesting, you figure out more along the way and it becomes a different story over time.

Well, and also I think in their stories, a lot of them, they're thrown into telling their story because the media is a tool for a lot of people. A lot of people use their books, their interviews, anything to bring awareness to get immediate justice. I, at that time, two thousand was a different time. We didn't have social media like we do now, right? I wasn't really ready to share my story because I was also in the trenches of the justice system. I didn't receive justice for years. My brother, quote unquote, played the system. He abused the system as he did us. He's really shrewd in that way. So I was navigating that. I was so traumatized doing that. I had no answers in that. And I also, I've noticed something about myself, the way I grieve and the way I kind of move along and survive is head down, keep going. And then after a couple of years, I go, "What the heck just happened?" And I think that that part of that was, right after my mom was killed, I found a man that I would marry. I had children not that long after. That distracts us, too, deeply. I also went into a different career. I was a teacher for a bit at the high school that I went to, speaking to those teachers that really supported me, and they gave me a place to be after my mom's murder professionally. And it just took me some time to sift through all that. I think I needed to get a divorce, no joke. joke, to be able to tell my story. My ex -husband was not entirely supportive of my being open about my experiences, but in my journey and as I shared it more and more, I realized I needed to share these facets of the justice system that had holes that needed to be fixed so other victims wouldn't go through the same experiences. So yeah, I think there were just so many layers of that grief and realization about it. Like you graduate from college that in itself and starting your life is a huge life change. And then you put this on top of it. 

I can't even, I mean, that's a lot. Yeah. The decisions you are making, the things you were doing, that is a lot in the midst of all that. So that makes perfect sense to me. Yeah. What do you hope people come away with from the book after they read it? 

I really hope that. Well, first of all, I like to mention it is a true crime memoir, so this is not your traditional true crime book where you're going to get it read like a written like a detective writing it, you know, this is my journey. I don't honestly share too much of my brother's journey because it's not mine to write about, you know, in that. sense. So knowing that, I really do hope people take away, like I said, 50 % of children in America face sibling abuse in some facet. So I do want people to read my story and know that it is representative, the worst, kind of a tale that's too, that's kind of old as time, you know, that doesn't, that is perhaps very extreme, but also applies to so many other people. And I, that awareness is the first step to change, I think. And so I really do hope my book is working for justice. It's not just for myself. I do want everyone to receive ultimate justice. And hopefully as we tell these stories and the awareness comes, that justice can be. swifter and swifter and swifter in that sense. Yeah. 

Yeah, I hope so too. So this has catapulted you into the true crime space. You brought up true crime. You majored in psychology. At one point you wanted to be an FBI profiler. Now here you are with these two true crime podcasts. One of them is called What Came Next and the other one is Something Was Wrong. Can you talk about your passion there and sort of how that came about and what the mission of those two podcasts is?

Well, yeah, to be clear, Something Was Wrong is not my podcast. I do work on it. I am a producer on Something Was Wrong. I also, my story was highlighted on Something Was Wrong, season seven as well. It is my best friend's podcast. She is amazing, but she launched that show all by herself years ago. In two days, it'll be five years. And that is, she has reached so many people with her show. That show is incredible. And it does kind of highlight the fact that, you know, my story was on it was perfect, because it highlights the snowballing and cyclical kind of unfolding of an abusive relationship. After doing my show, or after doing my season with her, I was impelled and moved so deeply by her work and her and her methods that I pitched the show What Came Next, which is the podcast that we created together. And you know, it kind of evolved over time. But it's been a wild ride to enter that space. Again, it actually took me 16 years to be able to consume true crime stories. And that's why when I saw and started consuming these stories, because I was a quote unquote fan of the genre many moons ago, my mom and I, we did consume true crime. And I think that when I was able to kind of take it back in, I saw the holes I saw the misrepresentation of victimhood and survivorship. I saw that a lot of these shows focused on completely the wrong thing. Like there are shows about called Like How to Be a Mafia Boss, things like that where it's like, no, we don't want to perpetuate this. 

Right. We don't want to become that. We don't want to become that. 

Yeah. And I think that, you know, what I learned in psychology and what I learned in college and what I learned in my storytelling and my sorority, our words are important and the way we tell stories are important. And if we end on that and always focus on that, we're doing a detriment to society. So with What Came Next, we're hoping to tell you know, kind of the sort of the, the other side of some of these very notorious crimes throughout history, the side of the victim, as well as maybe perhaps really commonplace crimes and the side, you know, the viewpoint of the victim. And it's been really fascinating, like I mentioned before, just to even, it's almost like I'm creating a sorority and a fraternity with my guests, because it's a really small, tight-knit group of people that are incredible. And I just feel a deep sisterhood and brotherhood to all of them, really. 

I love that.

That's just that idea of community and how it builds around things like this. Just to speak to community that is the one thing I always ask my guests like what carried you through because what might work for one person might not work for the other and I like to share everybody's options because you never know what will touch you and most people will say that community saved them and so I just think that's another goal is just to share these stories in a way that even if for the people that aren't sharers and the people that can't put themselves out there, there's so many people still going through massive trauma and different variations and levels and, you know, gradients of trauma that I think it's so important to share these stories. 

Oh, that's, I think that's important. So your Tri Delta community, we know it's for a lifetime. We tell that to women in college and they sort of look at you like what does that mean? But what does it actually look like for you today? Are you still, you alluded to this earlier that it's been continual since this happened or since you were in college?

You know what Tri Delta and sisterhood and community looks like for me today is still, I think I talk to a sister probably every single day, a different sister, perhaps, and some more than others. Again, they're some of my biggest supporters. I will be honest, my one of my most pivotal episodes of my podcast most recently, I highlighted the sister of one of my sisters, her father, you know, her half sister, her father was murdered. So they're even part of my community, you know. And it was a very careful or, you know, delicate story, because it had been told without their consent before. So to for them to have me help them tell it was really, really impactful. So even to know that my sorority sisters come to me with their, you know, this is a sisterhood in the sense that like, they're not just there for me, they're allowing me to be there for them and it is true community. 

Yeah, that's beautiful. So what's next for you? We hear there might be a new book coming, different from the first book. 

Yeah, you know, I think there are probably some things I don't even know yet that are coming. I'm hoping! So there's always something happening. There's always something kind of some brainstorming into a new project, but I am working on a new book. It is a lot different than the first book. I am a deeply, I am a fully fleshed human, I like to say. So yes, although my first book was a true crime memoir, the next one will likely be an erotic memoir because again, I'm human. I have so many different variations and paths in my journey and my divorce was really pivotal in my healing and dating after my divorce was really healing and it was really pivotal in my healing. So I think there's a book there that I've already started kind of forming and pitching and perhaps, you know, I'm sharing more stories of you know, my podcast What Came Next and then, you know, there are other projects in the works in the true crime space as well for me that I can't really talk about yet, but I'm just so excited about, yeah. And I know it sounds sad to say or a little mismatch to say I'm excited about projects in true crime, but I'm excited about the fact that I'm being given this platform to advocate for more people.

Well, I know, I wanna make sure people know where to find you, Instagram, Twitter, all the places to buy the book. Where's your podcast all the things if you want to share a little bit about that for our listeners 

Yeah, um, thank you. You can find me virtually anywhere on social media at Amy B. Chesler. There are a couple of platforms where it's not me and it's actually a catfish. So you might want to check, but no, definitely mostly like Instagram and Facebook, you can find me there. And my podcast is available, What Came Next, on all platforms. You can hear more of my story specifically on season seven on Tiffany Reese's podcast, Something Was Wrong. And my book can be found anywhere, books are sold. It's called “Working for Justice,” as you mentioned. Yeah, I am just really excited about all the things unfolding. And this continued support from Tri Delta, thank you. I didn't mention in my pre -interview, and I thought about it, and it's coming up. And I know it's not at the right time or whatever, but I also have a Tri Delta tattoo. 

I love it. I love it. 

Yeah, I'm covered in them now. I got it, actually, I got it inspired by and I'm supposed this can be kind of he's cutting in my wall. I hope that doesn't

It's all good. It's post COVID. No one cares what goes on in your house while you do a podcast. It's all good. 

I totally told him though that I was recording. But I was really excited about sharing this but in the weeks following my mom's murder and the months I was inspired to get our open motto on my foot Asfalos Agapomen Allaylas and, you know, because I thought that I would be with all the love in my life I would you know the steadfast love I would be strong and stand on my own two feet. So I got it on my foot.

But you have to send us a picture and we'll share it. 

Okay, I'll have to get a cute picture. We love Tri Delta tattoos, like some got the most beautiful stuff.

I get so many questions on it too, though, because nobody knows what it is in Greek, right? So yeah, it's beautiful. I love it so much. And every time I see it, I think of my sisters and the support they give me and gave me and and the gift that, like the gift of Tri Delta never stops giving. 

Well, you have shown that beautifully today. Thank you for sharing your story, for being vulnerable with us. You're such a great model of strength and resilience. And we Delta Love you. So we wish you the best and we hope you'll keep in touch with us and we'll be watching for all the great things that you're doing. Thanks so much for joining us. 

No, thank you, of course. I appreciate the space. 

And there are so many Tri Deltas like Amy who inspire and teach us and if you're aiming for personal and professional growth, you have to explore the LEADDD Network. It's a global networking group of Tri Deltas. We connect with Tri Delta members worldwide. We gain insights from these amazing women during monthly sessions and lots of other Tri Delta perks and opportunities, but it's only available in LEADDD Network. So I hope you'll join that today, if you have not already. If you have not liked, subscribed and rated our podcast, go do that now. There are three stars in our crescent, but we love those five-star ratings. So bring them on. Thanks for joining us today. And until next time, Delta Love.