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  • Jan Flynn

The Nicest Murderer I’ve Ever Met

I wrestled with whether or not to post this. It’s a disturbing topic, and one that could so easily become prurient, and I don’t want to go there.

Questions of guilt and redemption, of what events shape a life indelibly and whether or not one can truly heal the rent in one’s soul caused by a heinous act . . . these have long fascinated me. And they all came up last week when I met a famous author.

Who turned out, I later learned, to also be a famous murderer. Anyway the murder itself was famous, decades back when it first happened.

This is not going to be a long post. There will be no links nor, I hope, glaringly obvious clues to the identity of who I’m referring to, because, (a) that’s not the point and, (b) . . . well, we’ll get to (b) later. Meanwhile I am concealing names to protect the guilty. If you’re so curious, you figure it out, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

This brings up the first question: is Famous Author still guilty? This individual was little more than a child when the murder was committed. They (herein I am adopting the currently PC device of employing the gender-neutral pronoun “they” even when I’m referring to only one individual) have served their time (has served there time?), and by their own account it was hard time indeed. They have (has? See, we need a new pronoun) gone on to forge a new life, a creative and productive one with a vast readership who clearly feels enriched by reading Famous Author’s work. Isn’t this enough to expiate one isolated deed committed nearly a lifetime ago?

Or are there some acts whose nature render them fully forgivable only by God and the people who were directly affected, but not by society at large? If so, is that society’s fault, or its strength?

Because, I’m telling you, this was no mere slip of control, this murder. No moment-of-passion, gun-going-off-by-accident, if-only-I-could-take-that-one-second-back kind of thing. This was a premeditated, brutal killing of an entirely innocent, if heartily resented, victim. It was not self-defense. It was an act right out of Lord of the Flies, except there was no crowd egging it on. It rattles my foundation to accept that anyone so young and by all accounts otherwise unremarkable could be capable of such savagery.

Since Famous Author is, or was, capable of a monstrous act, then what about me? And if I’d done such a thing, would I ever be able to clear my own internal record?

If you were to meet Famous Author you would encounter a person who is delightful to speak to, who is engaging and encouraging and generous with their writing advice and their time. Their work gives their readers great enjoyment and much that is worthwhile to think on, as it treats of these same themes: guilt and judgment, crime and redemption, justice and compassion.

It strikes me that if I had committed such an act anytime within the last three decades here in the U.S., even were I so young as Famous Author was at the time, I’d have no doubt been tried as an adult and would still be languishing in jail. Would that benefit society?

Now we’re getting to (b). While I’m still wrestling with this, I am coming down on the side of accepting redemption as the better possibility. What courage would it take to discard the ruins of one’s past and emerge from the wreckage to build something good and life-affirming from the remainder of one’s days on Earth? What would it take to accept freedom and live life to the full?

Does it still give me a shiver to think that this nice person who I was so thrilled to meet once sent someone to an early grave, in a manner that was neither excusable nor gentle? Indeed it does. But so do all foundation-shaking experiences, and all brushes with life’s greater mysteries. The hope is that our foundations are the stronger for it.

I would love to know how all this strikes you. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

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