The Book of Matt
Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard
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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.
The Book of Matt is sure to stir passions and inspire dialogue as it re-frames this misconstrued crime and its cast of characters, proving irrefutably that Matthew Shepard was not killed for being gay but for reasons far more complicated — and daunting.
From the Hardcover edition.
"The Book of Matt" is a good read; not great, but good. The author has clearly interviewed a lot of individuals associated with Matthew Sheppard's murder and developed some evidence to support his thesis. However, there are several points that the author makes that, to me, appear to based upon the author's suppositions and not strong evidence. Additionally, many of the witnesses come across as self-serving and unreliable, which undermines the author's work here.
That said, I would recommend this book to others, but with the caveat that it will lead to good dinner table discussion. The Sheppard story, at this point, is old news and, unfortunately, not something a lot of people are interested in anymore.
A Bridge to Reality
I grew up in Laramie, but left nearly a decade before this tragic event. Most of the people in this book were strangers to me, some I knew by name only, several I was acquainted with, and a few a knew at some point, but in a totally different time and context. Cal Rerucha, for example. I worked a summer job with Cal while he was at UW, and always liked him as a result.
Prior to reading this book I had only heard about all this from sources at the extremes: The press, especially The Laramie Project, and from friends of mine in Laramie. This left me with a very conflicted view of the whole thing; That Laramie people were just being territorial and protective, and that the media were just interested in selling stories and perpetuating a symbol. Both things have a basis in truth, but this book has allowed me to bridge the two perspectives. Because Laramie is an important part of my life, this book has answered a lot of questions and serves as the most complete and unbiased account of both the incident and the characters involved. For that I am grateful.
The author chose to pursue the truth instead of an agenda, even though it may ruffle feathers on both sides. The result seems to be a very fair look and the incident, and a fleshing-out of the players that is very compelling.
I don't know where to start to write a review of this book. This book was riveting, shocking, and made me understand the lengths activists and politicians will go to further their agenda. The author is to be highly commended for his exhaustive research. A gay reporter researching a highly-charged beating that the media (and those involved) claimed was a hate crime.
I was shocked and angry all through this book. Shocked that all the research Mr Jimenez did couldn't have been done by other major news organizations. And angry that activist groups and the Clinton administration hopped on the hate crime bandwagon so easily.
What the public has been led to believe is that cute, lovable, adorable Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead simply because he made a pass at a homophobic, redneck stranger.
What I came away with was that Matthew Shepard was nothing more than a meth-dealing, meth-using, HIV-infected gay man that may have gotten too caught up in rival drug distribution groups in the Denver/Ft Collins/Laramie area. He new his killer (he had partied and had sex with him numerous times) and was the victim of a meth-induced rage beating in an attempt to steal thousands of dollars worth of meth that he was distributing from Denver to Laramie. The person I really feel for is the killer's accomplice, Russel Henderson.
Anyone who thinks they know the Matthew Shepard story needs to read this book.