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do we ever really know who someone is?


Twenty five years ago, I was teaching a group of elementary students with emotional and behavior disorders. Many of these students were bright, but their behavior kept them out of the general education classes. My goal, besides teaching them academics, was to help them learn coping strategies, social skills, and acceptable classroom behaviors. In other words, “how to do school.”  

And the best teachers of acceptable behavior were peers. Which brings me to my dinner with a serial killer. You see, a dedicated special-ed teacher would do just about anything to get his or her students mainstreamed.  The 4th grade teacher, whom I will call CIndy, took an immediate liking to me (mostly because I was pregnant and she had a thing for babies). She offered me a place for my students, and dinner at her house. As I munched on Ritz crackers and Velveeta, my husband bonded with Cindy’s husband (whom I will call George), over their love of carpentry, and the very cool hammer collection he had.  

Dinner was not memorable, but after dinner we were ushered into their velvet-walled  bedroom to watch their cheesy wedding video on the Hornblower yacht. We said our thank-yous, and made our escape as quickly as we could. A year later, I was no longer teaching at that school, but my dear friend had taken over my class, and pretty much begged me to have Cindy and George over to dinner with her and her husband. After all, I was the one with the baby Cindy could oogle over. And think of the mainstreaming opportunities.  

I  acquiesced, and invited everyone over to play “How to Host a Murder” a popular game in the ’90s we had gotten for a gift. I knew things were going to be strange when Cindy showed up at my house in a full-length mink coat. My only other memory of that night was when George was revealed as the murderer in the game.

Ten years later, my husband was reading the Sunday Chronicle, and yelled for me to come quick. On the front page, was a large picture of George. He looked a little older, and fatter, but we both recognized him immediately. The headline said that he was arrested for attempted murder of a prostitute. You see, according to the police, he had raped her, beat her with a hammer and thrown her into San Francisco Bay thinking she was dead. What he didn’t count on was her faking her death to get away. As disturbing as that was, what really did us in was the fact that George was linked to numerous murders of prostitutes spanning 20 years and yes, he had killed all of them with his nifty hammer collection. He got a 375-year sentence, and we got a story to share.

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