How do you mourn someone who has cast his family aside to serve a pedophile and murderer?
Nico’s father lies in his hospital bed, curled up, shaking, and unresponsive. His heart is failing, his kidneys are failing. He will unlikely finish the day.
He is, or was, a rocket scientist. Literally. Nico’s father was a brilliant man with no social skills, someone who could engineer the space shuttle but not maintain a relationship with his children. He lived on Diet Pepsi and nicotine. He had all the quirks I see in my autistic sons: rocking, ritualistic behaviors, sensory sensitivities, social deficits. His children and I are certain he is an undiagnosed Aspie.
Yet, for all his brilliance, the man was somehow gullible. It makes no sense at all to me, no matter how much I try to reason through it. This man with an outrageously high IQ got duped by a child molester. How on earth did it happen?
In 1984, when Nico and I were about 11, a girl just a few years younger than us disappeared on her way to the mailbox—she wanted to mail her aunt’s birthday card herself. After 20 minutes, her mother began searching. She found her daughter’s bike, but not her daughter. She never saw her daughter again.
The Vicky Lynn’s disappearance shaped our childhood. Every day on TV we heard about her abduction and the search for her. At school we were rounded up for assemblies to teach us about stranger danger. At home we were tethered to our parents who no longer dared allow us to leave their watchful eyes for even a moment.
A twenty-eight-year-old man was spotted on the young girl’s street that day, a man who was on probation for kidnapping and molestation in California. Two hours after the little girl went missing, several neighbors at his trailer park saw him in blood-covered clothing (he claimed it was because he’d stabbed a “double-crossing drug dealer”). He immediately fled the state.
The police found him in Texas. With paint marks from the little girl’s bike on his bumper.
Somehow, I’m not sure how, Nico’s father got involved with the defense. In his day job he back-tracked evidence, coming in when something went wrong with an airplane or space shuttle and figuring out from the wreckage how the events unfolded. So that’s what he did here.
I don’t know if the idea that he was smart enough to disprove the police went to his head or what, but he became convinced that there was a conspiracy to convict an innocent man. After staring at pictures for thousands of hours, he was sure that the FBI somehow planted the paint on the bumper in Texas, that photos had been doctored, that the county sheriff’s department and the FBI and the justice department and the judicial branch all colluded because they needed a conviction in the case, even if they were convicting an innocent man.
Sitting bored at the trial, the defendant sketched a map to where he left the little girl’s body in the desert. Most of us doodle nonsense when we’re bored; he doodled memories of his horrific acts. His defense attorney held onto it and put it in the file. Nico’s dad saw the sketch through his work as a consultant.
A few months after the trial, a woman walking her dog in the desert stumbled upon the body in the same place the murderer had mapped at trial. There was yet another trial, this time for murder, and in 1987 the murdering douchebag was sentenced to death.
It was the same year Nico and I started high school. Nico and his family were a fixture in my high school life, but I always found it strange that his family’s house downgraded every year or so. When I first started hanging out with Nico, he lived in a Spanish-inspired house on a secluded acre. The house was sprawling, large enough for Nico’s father to have his own laboratory. A couple of years later, though, they moved to a modest house in a twenty-year-old cookie-cutter neighborhood. By our senior year, they were in an apartment.
What I didn’t know was that the housing decline was directly linked to the 1987 murder conviction. Nico’s dad was convinced that an innocent man had been sentenced to death, and he became obsessed with freeing him. He was going to write a book to expose the scheming between law enforcement and the justice department!
He left his job to do just that.
For the next twenty-five years, Nico’s dad would write for a couple of years, run out of money, pick up a contract for a year to get some money, quit to write for a couple of years. Twenty-five years and one bankruptcy dedicated to writing a book to “save” a horrific human being.
For the next twenty-five years, the child murder hung out in prison while his lawyers mounted appeal after appeal. He earned a college degree. He got married to a crazy nut who started off as a prison pen pal. He came to Jesus, finding faith through a Greek Orthodox priest. And then he wrote not one, but FIVE books about faith under a pen name. Yep, a child murder is a spiritual guru for the lost.
College, marriage . . . Vicky Lynn didn’t get to experience these things.
Move forward to 2011. Nico’s father has yet another heart attack, and the doctors didn’t think he’d make it. And yet, somehow, modern medicine was powerful enough to bring him out of his coma. As he awoke in a room filled with his siblings, children, and wife, he looked at the doctor. “Doc, you’ve got to let me live,” he implored. “There’s an innocent man on death row.”
He didn’t want to live for all the people loving and surrounding him; he wanted to live for a child molester.
He got the gift of a year. His cardiologists put him on a medicine pump that would keep his heart beating. They said it would give him an extra three to six months until the drugs killed his kidneys. He got a year instead—that’s pretty good.
He got a year, a precious gift of time, a gift most of us would spend righting wrongs or embracing life. He spent the year on his book.
Last week he went back into the hospital. Kidney failure. We knew it was coming.
Visitors came to the hospital. Mostly family, with a glaring exception—the murderer’s wife and priest.
The wife was ever thankful to the only other person who believed in her husband’s innocence. (A quick aside: how fucking gullible do you have to be to fall in love with and marry a man on death row for murdering a child? She herself admits that yes, her husband did kidnap and molest children in California, but he did his time for his crime. But now he’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit! Um, even if you thought he was innocent of the crime he’s currently in jail for, how the fuck could you marry someone who you know molested children? God, I want to punch her in the face.) She was so thankful to Nico’s father that she wanted to save his soul.
Here this man of science, someone ruled by rationality, someone who derided Christianity, was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. He set aside his plans to be cremated and have his ashes spread in the sea. Instead, he was going to have the monks build him a casket and he was going to be buried at the monastery near the prison where his hero was sitting on death row, waiting to join him in a plot at the same monastery. The murderer’s wife even offered to pay for the funeral because she and her husband were so grateful to Nico’s dad.
The wife and the priest continue to visit. They bring with them the murderer’s books on spirituality to comfort the family. (I forget the pen name—Anthony of Desert or something like that?) They pray with Nico’s father.
How do your mourn someone who has cast his family aside to serve a pedophile and murderer? I don’t know, I really don’t. For his part, Nico has decided not to go to the funeral. He’s been to the hospital and said his goodbyes, and he will not go back.
All I feel is sad, sad for an old man who squandered his life on a lie, sad for his children who lost a father a long time ago, sad for a little girl who lost her life in 1984 and still hasn’t seen justice.