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The Maundy Monday Newsletter - This Week in History October 9 - October 15.
He wanted to go on a bike ride. He enjoyed being outside and taking in that cold, crisp air of an October night in Wyoming. He didn’t know how long he would go. He’d let the road and moon decide.
He had no thoughts; he just focused on how his feet pushed down on the pedals and how he glided after short bursts of speed. This ride might go a little longer now. It felt good.
As he approached a hill, Aaron Krefilis noticed what he thought was a scarecrow. Not unusual, it was a rural area in a place full of rural areas.
But something inside of him made him stop.
He turned back. “What is that?” he thought to himself. He got off his bike, unbuckled his helmet, and walked slowly toward the figure.
His heart sank when he realized it wasn’t a scarecrow.
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Aaron had discovered Matthew Shepard, a young man who had been beaten, pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a spilt-rail fence, and left to die in the near-freezing temperatures.
It was hours earlier, on that October 6 day, that Matthew was lured to this place under the premise of giving him a ride home. Instead, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson drove Matthew to a secluded land, where they robbed him and beat him to death. Matthew’s skull was fractured, and his face was drenched with blood. Krefilis got the police, and Matthew was rushed to the hospital. His injuries were so severe that doctors determined they couldn’t operate. Matthew slipped into a coma and passed away on October 12, 1998.
McKinney and Henderson were quickly identified, arrested, and prosecuted. As cowards usually do, they turned on each other when the charges went from kidnapping to murder. Henderson wanted to avoid the death penalty, so he agreed to a deal and testified against McKinney, who claimed that even though he pretended to be gay to earn Matthew's trust, he somehow became insane when Matthew reciprocated his flirtations.
The killer’s worthless girlfriends also copped deals after being charged as accessories after the fact. McKinney chose a trial where a jury convicted him of felony murder. While deliberating the punishment that would end his life, Matthew’s family intervened and negotiated that McKinney’s life should be spared. He and Henderson will waste the rest of their lives in a prison somewhere in Wyoming.
Matthew’s death ignited outrage about violence against members of the gay community. New attention was given to hate crime legislation, and in 2009, the Matthew Shepard Act was signed into law by President Obama.
Okay, let's highlight what else happened this week. Here's what I got:
1. The Washington Monument opened on October 9, 1888. Named after our first, but not top-ranked president, it was the tallest structure in the world for about a year when the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris. At 555 feet, it’s made of marble and granite. The cornerstone was laid in 1848, then we got to work in 1880, finished it in 1884, dedicated it a year later, then, I don’t know, forgot to let people in for three years. I walk by this thing daily and have never been inside.
2. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973. The 39th vice president, the most unessential position in the federal government, resigned due to corruption charges that dogged him throughout his political career. He was replaced by Gerald Ford, who would become president without anybody ever electing him on a ballot.
3. The Boston Red Sox won their first World Series on October 13, 1903. In the first-ever modern World Series baseball championship, the Red Sox defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 5 games to 3 in a best-of-nine series. They would win four more over the next 15 years, then experience an 86-year drought that ended in 2004. They have won three more since but finished 5th in the American League East in 2023.
Matthew Shepard's murder struck a chord within me when it happened. He and I were about one year apart in age, around 21 years. Both McKinney and Henderson were the same age as well. The coverage was nonstop back then, and the details of his death were horrifying. Maybe I am too naïve, but I still, to this day, can’t figure out how people my age and younger can commit such disgusting crimes.
Matthew seemed like a good guy who struggled a lot with depression, which I can relate to.
He went out one night seeking companionship and never came home.
I hope Matthew is resting in peace.
Be good to each other.