A few weeks ago, I wrote about my violent nightmares. And now I shall unclasp a secret book and write about real-life violence in my life -- to be exact, about a murder and an attempted murder.
In the middle-1970s, I exchanged jobs, homes and automobiles with a faculty member of a university in England. I will call this person by the fabricated name of Maurice Shaper. Although I certainly profited from teaching in a new setting, and I loved the city in southeastern England in which we lived, Mr. Shaper himself was a disaster. He missed half of his classes and was cruel to my students when he did present himself. He fled town early, leaving behind stacks of unread papers, distressed students who had not received grades or credit for the work, and a mess that took me a full year to resolve. Moreover, Mr. Shaper, who had a friend on the west coast and was commuting 1200 miles bi-weekly, put 60,000 miles on my Dodge station wagon before smashing it into another vehicle on a rainy California road. Within an hour of our arrival home, we were greeted with a summons and a lawsuit -- as owners of the car we were liable -- from the occupants of the maimed vehicle. It was a lawsuit that took a number of years to run its expensive course. In short, I must admit that I nursed more than a little antagonism to Mr. Shaper. Anger, I'd say, but something less than murderous rage.
Some five years later I returned to England. The morning after I arrived, I was standing on the steps of the British Museum in Bloomsbury waiting for the building to open when an acquaintance came up to me with a newspaper. "Have you seen this?" he asked, and showed me an item in The Times. "University Lecturer Murdered." And sure enough, Mr. Maurice Shaper had been killed in his own home -- the home in which I had lived for a year. Although it didn't say so in the newspaper, I was later informed that he had been in the habit of picking up young men on the Dover Road and bringing them home. He must have misjudged his quarry, because he had been slashed in the neck with a broken liquor bottle and had bled to death in his bathroom. His Peugeot and his camera and a few other items had been stolen and the presumed murderer had disappeared. What was so odd was that he had been killed just a few hours after I arrived at Heathrow.
That's the murder; now the attempted murder.
In my second year at college, I had a roommate (let us call him Peter Dickerman) with whom I was in perpetual conflict. I'm not generally short-tempered, but once, I was so angry at him that I actually picked up a carving knife and waved it in his direction. Eventually we came to a truce of sorts; although we inhabited the same rooms, we didn't speak to each other for the last months of the semester. Mr. Dickerman then went his way and I went mine.
Thirty years later, I was in Washington DC for a couple of weeks doing some reading at a specialized library when I read in the Washington Post that someone had attempted to murder a northern Virginia psychologist. The victim, Peter Dickerman, had received a letter-bomb in the mail. He had opened it, there was an explosion, and he was burned over 60% of his body. The story was a sensation for a few days but gradually faded from view. It's my understanding that Dickerman did not die. (I've now googled him under his real name and I see that he's still practicing psychiatry in Virginia.)
So two times in my life, a person with whom I've been in serious conflict has been violently attacked. And both times, I've been close at hand. A little creepy, isn't it?
The man who murdered Maurice Shaper was arrested and convicted. The identity of the person who mailed the letter bomb to Peter Dickerman is unknown to me.