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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.
Guest Review of The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard
By Kenneth S. Stern
Stephen Jimenez’s The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard is a compelling story of a journalist’s determination to ascertain why Matthew Shepard -- a gay University of Wyoming student -- was viciously killed in 1998. The story that had been told in the media, and to some extent in the courtroom, was that Shepard had made a pass at two strangers in a bar, who became outraged, took Shepard to a remote spot, bashed his head in, and left him affixed to a fence, to die. It was the anti-gay hate crime of the century, and while the rationale for including anti-gay attacks under hate crime law was clearly established long before the Shepard murder, his case became a symbol and rallying point for such legislation.
Jimenez, however, uncovered another story, one that was to some extent unappreciated at the time of the crime, but was also intentionally hidden for a variety of motivations. Among those motivations were fear, courtroom strategy, and the desire of media, activists, and others to believe the powerful story of a gay man being brutally killed for no other reason than he made an unwelcome pass at a man he happened to meet in a bar.
Shepard and his killer, Aaron McKinney, were not strangers after all. In fact Aaron McKinney was a bisexual, who had had sex with Shepard. And both were dealers of methamphetamine.
Jimenez makes a strong case that the unappreciated lesson of the Shepard murder is one about the dangers of methamphetamine. This book is a well-constructed narrative of a 13-year investigative quest by a talented author whose passion for uncovering the true story rings clear. Highly recommended
Kenneth S. Stern is the author of Loud Hawk: The United States Versus the American Indian Movement and A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate
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