How well do you know your best buddy? The guy who works with you? The mother who takes her turn driving the kids carpool to school once or twice a week. Or the neighbor next door you have occasional cookouts with? Sure, you know them. But how much do you really know them? Do any of us really know anyone?
I like to think that I’m a good judge of character, but as this blog post will show, apparently I’m not.
Twice in my life I have known and been friends with men who were killers. One was an airman who was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona in the late 70s. His wife and my wife were also friends, and we had them and their two kids to our house several times. Then one day as I was driving to work, I heard on the car radio that his wife and two little girls had died in an early morning house fire. I was devastated and tried to contact him but was unable to.
Then, when the news broke a week or so after the fire that he had been arrested and charged with three counts of murder and one count of arson, I was outraged. How could anyone believe such a nice man, such a loving father, could do something so terrible? I knew one of the investigators involved in the case and called to tell him they were way off base, but once I heard the evidence, and also compared some things he had told me prior to the fire that were later entered into evidence and proved to be complete falsehoods, it was hard to believe he was innocent.
Autopsies revealed that they died of suffocation, but there was no smoke in any of the victims’ lungs. The autopsy did find a blunt force injury to his wife’s head. When arson investigators tried to replicate the fire, using the same mattress, it would not burn in the manner the fire had, and there were traces of an accelerant on the bed.
Eventually he was acquitted, not because the defense proved him innocent, but simply because of shoddy work by the prosecution. As one juror put it, “They could not get their stories straight or prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it. But no one could prove he didn’t do it, either. Without proof beyond any doubt, we had no choice but to acquit.”
I met the other guy a few years later when my brand new car broke down while on my way to Las Vegas and I was towed into a dealership in Barstow, California. When the service manager saw my Washington state license plates, he said he had always wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest. At that time I owned several newspapers along the coast and happened to know that the dealer I bought my car from was looking for a service manager. I gave him the owner of the dealership’s name and he got hired and moved to Grays Harbor.
We used to hang out and go target shooting together all the time. He was always laughing and joking around, but occasionally he would say something off the wall. I would just blow it off, but later looking back, I wondered if there were signs that I should have picked up on. At that time my first wife and I were going through a rough time that eventually led to our divorce a few years later. I remember complaining about something she did once and he asked, “Do you want me to kill her for you?” I laughed it off at the time, but later was damn glad I didn’t say yes.
A couple of years after he moved to town, he went to a restaurant in Seattle, had dinner, then shot 5 or 6 people there. It turned out he had committed two murders in California 15 years or so earlier and was judged criminally insane, but had escaped from the facility he was in and had lived under a false name for many years.
I had a key to his house so I could feed his dogs when he was out of town and went to see him in jail to ask him what I should do with them. He said he probably wasn’t getting out, so just find them good homes.
Then I asked why he shot the people in the restaurant and he calmly replied that they had pissed him off because they were too loud and had disturbed his meal. He said that’s what you do when people piss you off. Then I had to ask him why, in all the times we had been out shooting together, didn’t he shoot me. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Because you never pissed me off, Nick.” That sent chills down my spine and still does today!
Thought For The Day – We call them traditions, but what they really are is peer pressure from dead people.