I struggled with whether to share this book with you. To be sure, I read lots of books but don’t review them here for various reasons. This book, however, caught me. Stephen Jimenez, came to Towne Book Center & Cafe last night and I was reading his book in preparation for his visit. If you’re unfamiliar with Matthew Shepard, he was a young man murdered in the late 90s and his death was labeled the worst hate crime. Jimenez wanted to investigate further:
What role did crystal meth and other previously underreported factors play in the brutal murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard? The Book of Matt is a page-turning cautionary tale that humanizes and de-mythologizes Matthew while following the evidence where it leads, without regard to the politics that have long attended this American tragedy.
Late on the night of October 6, 1998, twenty-one-year-old Matthew Shepard left a bar in Laramie, Wyoming with two alleged “strangers,” Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Eighteen hours later, Matthew was found tied to a log fence on the outskirts of town, unconscious and barely alive. He had been pistol-whipped so severely that the mountain biker who discovered his battered frame mistook him for a Halloween scarecrow. Overnight, a politically expedient myth took the place of important facts. By the time Matthew died a few days later, his name was synonymous with anti-gay hate.
Stephen Jimenez went to Laramie to research the story of Matthew Shepard’s murder in 2000, after the two men convicted of killing him had gone to prison, and after the national media had moved on. His aim was to write a screenplay on what he, and the rest of the nation, believed to be an open-and-shut case of bigoted violence. As a gay man, he felt an added moral imperative to tell Matthew’s story. But what Jimenez eventually found in Wyoming was a tangled web of secrets. His exhaustive investigation also plunged him deep into the deadly underworld of drug trafficking. Over the course of a thirteen-year investigation, Jimenez traveled to twenty states and Washington DC, and interviewed more than a hundred named sources.
There are many shocking bits to this story:
- Young Matt Shepard’s brutal death
- Laramie Wyoming’s horrific drug problem
- gay and straight sex trade for drugs industry
- potential cover ups by police
With so many items to tackle, this story was bound to be difficult to read. And it was. I felt sleazy and dirty at times but couldn’t put the book down. I’m not sure that I liked the story, but it certainly was interesting to unravel the pieces behind the murder. I still have unanswered questions but what I DO know, thanks to Jimenez, is that young Matthew Shepard’s murder did not appear to be a targeted hate crime. To be sure, Shepard was gay, but that was probably not why he was killed.
Only Aaron McKinney knows the truth.
This story is not for the faint hearted or for kids!