Friday, March 18, 2011

Seeing Murderers Socially

I'm at work on a suspense novel, as I may have hinted to you all from time to time, set in the present day and in my present town, partly because I have worn myself out doing research for historicals. No more research, I said to myself. It all comes out of my head this time. Piece of cake, right?

And yet, when I sat down to make up my latest story it turned out to be loosely based on something I heard about a long time ago, and I had to go look it up.

For the past thirty years I have read the newspaper every single morning, following politics and other criminal endeavors closely. Particularly murder cases. But in the early seventies, living in another town under different circumstances, I did not do this. Chasing my children around and trying to keep the house in order took everything I had. Even Watergate got past me. So that when I heard from the neighbors that a certain lawyer down the street was defending a famous murder case, I had never heard of the murder case.

I had, however, heard of (let us call him) Joe Flynn.

Joe Flynn, his beautiful wife, their mutual baby and something like six or seven blended-family children moved into the neighborhood that very year, bringing with them whiffs of the elegant almost-counterculture life to which I aspired. She made her own yogurt. Her hand-dyed clothes drifted in the breeze. I felt that she knew what I did not, which was how to live beautifully without money. He was a handsome devil, rather resembling William H. Macy. They had everyone over for cocktails.

A few weeks later the aforementioned lawyer, his wife and another neighbor were discussing in his kitchen the case of the wife-murderer he was defending. If you're old enough you may remember the case. A guy in New York rolled his wife's body up in a rug and threw her in the Hudson. Allegedly, I should say, to keep the lawyers happy. Joe Flynn dropped over, heard the conversation, and said, "Poor guy. I know just how he feels."

Interesting, no? I can tell you we were all interested. But none of us had seen the story of the murder of his ex-wife, how she was found bludgeoned to death in her bed, no sign of breaking and entering, etc. In fact I looked that one up just now. That's where I got the "bludgeoned" part. I thought she had been stabbed and that they were still married.

Of course the rug-roller was guilty as sin. Probably that's how Flynn knew how he felt, because only a few months later the word went around among the neighborhood children that Mr. Flynn had been beating up Mrs. Flynn, the new Mrs. Flynn, that was, and that the cops had come. Sure enough before another day went by Mrs. Flynn, all her children, the mutual baby, the diaphanous dresses, and the yogurt-maker were gone, leaving only handsome Joe Flynn and his child, who was packed off to boarding school.

He remained in the neighborhood. His cleaning lady told tales about him, how the women came and went, how she had to change the sheets on his bed two or three times a day. Those were strange times. My own husband left in the course of things. I was waiting at the bus stop to go to work one morning when here came Joe Flynn, a man I understood to be a murderer of women. He greeted me cordially and said he had heard about our breakup. I shrugged.

"Come over and have a drink sometime," he said. Right. That could happen. When squadrons of pigs fly in formation over the Delaware. You know, if I knew then that he wasn't even married anymore to the first Mrs. Flynn when she was killed, not even living in her house, I would have gotten a dog. So now that I've heard he's dead I'm going to write a story about him. Only actually not. It'll be a different story. But it will have some of the same feel.

--Kate Gallison


  1. Kate, remember what you said about writing scary? I'm scared already. CREEPEEEEEEEEEEEE!!

  2. Shucks, that's nothin'. Wait till you read the book. Or wait till I finish it.