I spent much of today at a murder scene, taking photographs and walking the rutted road that the alleged killers took when they brought the victim to the site, killed him and dumped his body. It wasn't a fresh scene -- the body was discovered and removed some six months ago -- but it still brought the truth about violent death into sharp focus once again.
I've been at death scenes -- natural deaths, accidental deaths and murders -- many times. It's part of the job when you're a reporter, and I did that job for 18 years. It's also part of being a true-crime author. Every death is different, but there is one overriding truth in all of them: it is not glamorous. On television, in movies and in music, violent death is high art. The reality is that violent death is depressing and very often degrading.
The elderly victim from the crime scene I visited today was strangled in the middle of a muddy road, and his face was held in a puddle to make sure he was dead. Then he was dragged along the road and up a hill, losing scraps of clothing, shoes, and a cap in the process. Finally, his body was rolled down a hill toward a stagnant, algae-covered pond and left crumpled next to a foot-high pile of empty beer bottles. He lay there for two weeks before police finally located his body.
That place says more about the attitude of the killer or killers than any testimony at trial could ever say. This man's life was no more valuable than an empty bottle, no more than the rusted hulk of an appliance dumped over the hill a scant 50 yards away. The killer thought no more of this man than the jagged shards of coal and slate over which the body was dragged after the murder.
In the wake of the Virginia Teach shootings, attention is focused again on the movies, and music that might or might not incite kids into violent behavior. Rather than attack the movies, I believe a more effective means of addressing young people's fascination with death would be to expose them to the real thing. Real murder victims aren't glamorous. They're dumped with the garbage, or found floating face down in a cesspool.