You aren’t suppose to speak ill of the dead. You’re also suppose to tell the truth.
These two ethical concepts are as conflicted as the life of Matthew Shepard.
You may remember Matthew Shepard as a 21-year-old college student killed Oct. 6, 1998. Shepard left a bar in Laramie, Wyo., with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Shepard was found 18 hours later, brutally beaten and tied to a rural fence. He died a few days later, among rumors that he was killed because he was gay.
Shepard’s death—which became a public cause for politicians and celebrities, and the foundation for a social movement—spawned the introduction and adoption of the hate crime laws that govern us today.
But there’s a lot you probably don’t know about Shepard, including that his sexual preference may have had little or nothing to do with his murder.
In his book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, journalist Stephen Jimenez reports on 13 years of in-depth interviews he completed in 20 states and among more than 100 sources in an attempt to understand the man’s murder.
Jimenez learned that Shepard’s murderers were not strangers to the man, as previously reported. In reality, Shepard may have had a sexual relationship with one of them prior to the murder.
The reporter also learned that Shepard was a drug user who was involved in the distribution of crystal meth. It is likely, according to the author, that drugs and drug-related debt were the real motives behind Shepard’s killing.
In addition, the reporter learned that Shepard had been sexually abused as a child and raped as an adolescent. He also was arrested for molestation in his teens, a criminal record that was sealed to the public almost immediately after his death.
Matthew Shepard was not the innocent man media portrayed. He was a troubled young man who was involved in a strange Wyoming version of an underground sex- and drug-trafficking lifestyle. He spent his life as a victim and had become a predator himself.
But, regardless of all of that, Shepard was murdered. There is no doubt about that. The truth we likely will never know is why.
The Book of Matt underscores the importance of considering critically all of the information we are given. Here’s what I know for sure. Matthew Shepard was murdered. Hate crimes occur. But I’m no longer convinced Shepard’s murder was a hate crime. This book made me wonder if society was looking for a cause and Shepard became an unlikely poster child.