Jiminez, Stephen. “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard”, Steerforth, 2013.
A Different Matthew Shepard
I wrote about this book when I first heard it was coming out because I knew it would be controversial and it has been. I waited to write again so that I could hear reactions to it and I must say that it has been much better received than I thought it would be. Regardless of what happened that night, October 6, 1988, Matthew Shepard’s death became a rallying point for the LGBT community and the fight for the end of ignoring hate crimes. The traditional story that was broadcast to us was that “Matthew Shepard, a twenty-one-year-old gay college student, 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”. It just so happened that not long afterwards I met two guys from Laramie who had known Shepard and I heard the story that Stephen Jimenez gives us in the book and I thought to myself that it makes a lot of sense.
Jimenez waited until McKinney and Henderson were convicted and sent to prison and the national media had quieted down before he went to Laramie. He had planned to write a screenplay on what he and the rest of us believed to be now a closed case of violence and hate. What he learned was something else all together, something that many of us suspected but were afraid to speak about. Jiminez wanted to tell the story but what he discovered were secrets and as he began to investigate what happened that night in Laramie, he found himself in the world of drugs. He continued to investigate and that trip to Wyoming soon stretched into 13 years and travels to 20 states and Washington, D.C, and interviews with more than a hundred people.
He learned who Matthew Shepard was and why he was murdered but he was very concerned with knowing whether anyone really wanted to know the truth. The result is this book about a crime and the characters involved and the knowledge that Shepard was not the victim of a hate crime but was killed because of more complicated reasons. This was the very story that I heard from my two friends from Laramie yet this was the story that no one wanted to hear.
The story that the media latched onto and the one we heard was that Matthew Shepard was a gay college student who made a pass at two strangers in a bar and this ignited their anger so much that they took me to a spot far from town, hit him on the head severely, tied him to a fence and left him there to die. Both the media and gay groups immediately labeled this as a hate crime and the case was blown into a rallying point for anti-gay legislation. Is it not strange that the truth was not checked into back then? Was this country so anxious to get this legislation that it did not matter what really happened?
What Jiminez found was a different story altogether and was hidden because of the hunger for the LGBT community to have this legislation enacted. People were afraid of the truth and afraid of what might come out in the courts. The story of a weak gay youth losing his life because he made a pass at another man was just too good an excuse for nationwide outrage. We now learn that Shepard and McKinney knew each other and McKinney, a bisexual man, had actually had sex with Shepard. Both of them were also dealing amphetamines. So the case was not about hate at all but about the dangers of the drug.
What is written in this book is not just speculation. Jiminez spent 13 years investigating this case and interviewed many people including the two convicted men. He has evidence to back every word he has written. It is certain that he will be criticized for what he has written and many will want to know why he has had to expose this information (it is called being a good American, I believe) but I must admit that had I not heard the same story, I am not sure how I would react. The truth here is what is important and Jiminez is not sullying Shepard’s name to sell books. He certainly did not have to write this. By deconstructing what happened, Jiminez puts a human face on it. After all, it is all about being human and it is a lesson to us to always look for the truth rather than capitalize on the sensational. We should not fear the truth but welcome it and admit that errors were made and we must understand the whys and the hows instead of rushing to judgment.
It was a horrible crime but it was also horrible to learn the truth of that night. It means we were caught off guard and for a community that was working so hard to achieve liberation and equality, it seemed like a slap across our collective faces. We did not demand the facts because a hate crime suited our needs.
As another reviewer stated with sincerity:
“Matthew Shepard’s murder is iconic and may even have sped up the gay rights movement in this country, but after reading this book it’s impossible to believe any longer that he was murdered simply for being gay. Has the Matthew Shepard Foundation accomplished a lot of good in his name? Absolutely, but this book makes it very clear that there was much more to his murder than most of us have ever realized and truth matters, no matter what the lie has accomplished. The people of Laramie have lived with this nightmare for fifteen years, when the fact of the matter is that their town had a drug problem–not a homophobia problem. As a gay man, I’ve spent nearly half of my life with the specter of Matthew’s murder in my mind and I can’t even explain what a relief it is to have read this book and realized that what happened to him was nothing so simple as a gay-bashing. The people of Wyoming deserve to have their state exonerated and Steve Jimenez has done just that. This is at times a shocking book. It will challenge everything you think you know about Matthew Shepard’s life and death. And that’s a good thing, because everything you think you know…is a lie”.
And of course there are the detractors:
“Mr. Jimenez is angry at someone or something or maybe he just wants a fast buck. This book was hard to stomach all the way through. The author’s “Operation Carhart” was reminisce of something out of Barney Fife’s school of covert operations. In fact, if I had to grade his investigative work, I would classify it as elementary…as in grade school. It appears the author has some vendetta against the state of Wyoming and in particular the town of Laramie. What I found most preposterous was his supposed investigation findings that the Laramie law enforcement were some type of “cop Mafia” or leaders of an elusive underground drug trafficking conspiracy always involved in some sinister cover up. I mean, really? Defaming an entire quaint college town and townsfolk, (which is in fact, situated in the beautiful Snowy Range mountains), is just downright disgraceful. Why mock Wyoming? What did it do to you, Mr. Jimenez? Bad things happen everywhere. Bad things have happened in Laramie, Wyoming. No one purported Matthew Shepard to be a saint. To even think about his life problems and mental anguish brings distress in anyone’s mind. The facts are he was killed in a manner and sequence of events that is so ghastly most can’t fathom. The crime scene speaks out for the type of crime it was classified as and the bill partially named after Matthew, which was enacted, was a positive movement in justice. His parents started a foundation to help people. They named it after him. That’s another positive movement in the humanitarian department. There is no reason to degrade any dead person or drag his parents through more mud. There is no reason to throw egg on the face of those that put in countless hours of investigating this crime…both on the side of the prosecution and the defense. Let’s remember this. Only three people know the truth. One is dead. Two can spin a story any way they like. Somewhere the police put the puzzle together as best they could with facts and evidence. A pretentious author can also spin a yarn many will be certain to believe because so many people think everything is a “cover up” or a “conspiracy”. I hope anyone with any common sense can read between the lines. I encourage those to do some fact checking. Mr. Jimenez should classify this book in the fiction section under “satire” because purporting it as “true crime” is just a travesty. Perhaps the author could donate his proceeds to a charity to benefit victims, but I fear he just wanted to have some quick fame and fortune, even at the expense of a dead young man and a small town in Wyoming”.
“This is absolutely disgusting. The right’s sick attempt to declare the Matthew Shepard murder was not a hate crime is not just pushing a bigoted political agenda, it is a slap in the face to his memory and his family. That boy, found dead, beaten and tied to a fence in the snow, had his tears frozen to his face. These monsters are disgracing his memory by purporting this for some twisted political gain. A book like this belongs only in your fireplace”.
We just need to read the book to see which of these three people have expressed sane opinions and we can see that in the way they are written. It does make us sit up and take notice when a case that was resolved is turned upside down. But we see that conclusions were drawn on scant evidence. Some of the people who take the opposing view have probably not read the book and others will pooh pooh it because Jiminez tells us that what got him involved in the case was an anonymous letter that he found in the once sealed court records. What that letter said was that Aaron McKinney had been a male hustler and was known to have sex with men. People were upset that a book could be written based upon an anonymous letter. What those who dismissed this did not look at was the rest of what Jiminez found.
Jiminez wrote a book about a story that no one wanted to hear. No one can really gain anything from the book (aside from a look at the truth). The two men accused of the crime are locked away for life with no chance of parole and the defense did not go anywhere near the drug angle. The book has been slammed by many and it has been called a story based on innuendo and rumor. That people, including the Matthew Shepard Foundation could be so afraid of the truth is alarming and to consider that Shepard is a saint that is based upon lies is foolishness. What is really important is that after believing for so long that Matthew Shepard was a saint and a martyr, we learn that he was a flawed person. Had he been murdered because of a drug deal gone badly, we would probably never have heard his name and his murderers would probably be out on parole.
I have gone on long enough—now it is up to you to decide what you believe really happened that night.