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The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard
     

The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard

3.3 8
by Stephen Jimenez
 

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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

Overview

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
NATIONAL TRUE CRIME BESTSELLER

"A gripping read." People magazine

"Be prepared to encounter a radically revised version of the life and death of Matthew Shepard . . . This riveting true crime narrative will appeal to readers of books such as Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song." Library Journal (★ Starred Review)

"The extensive interviews and dogged investigative research conducted by Jimenez make The Book of Matt a model for journalistic inquiry. . . . Jimenez is revealing today what we should have read fifteen years ago. In the meantime, the media continues to report on some anti-gay hate crimes while completely ignoring others, and thousands go completely unreported out of fear of retaliation. Perhaps the main takeaway from The Book of Matt is that we should challenge ourselves to demand the truth from our media at all times, even if it costs us a tidy narrative." — Rachel Wexelbaum in Lambda Literary Review

"This is an amazing book! A painful story about a horrific event that left one man dead and many lives in pieces. . . It documents the original failure of the media, the community and the criminal justice system to find the real truth. . . . Steve Jimenez has done a remarkable job of removing himself from the story to tell it with pure, heart wrenching honesty and integrity. I know, I caught Russell Henderson the night of the murder. I recovered the gun and washed blood from my hands. . . . The only concern I have from so much more information coming out is it could possibly take away from the exceptional outcomes that have been championed in the name of Matthew Shepherd. I believe a major reason this case so quickly expanded to grab the national consciousness on the inconsistent treatment of our citizens was due to the vacuum that existed there. It is both honorable and appropriate to set the facts in proper order so the truth be known. Can we also acknowledge that vacuum and speak to the need to remedy the situation as well? I would like to believe if we you chose to, we could stop a pendulum mid swing." —  Flint Waters, a former Laramie police officer and drug enforcement agent for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation

"Mr. Jimenez's book is most useful in illuminating the power of the media to shape the popular conception of an event. It shows how a desire for Manichaean morality tales can lead us to oversimplify the human experience. . . . Mr. Jimenez's findings cast doubt on what he calls the Shepard story's function as latter-day 'passion play and folktale.'" The Wall Street Journal

"Fifteen years ago . . . Aaron McKinney swung his .357 Magnum for the final time like a baseball bat into the skull of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was tied low to a post, arms behind his back, in a prairie fringe of Laramie, Wyoming. . . . The murder was so vicious, the aftermath so sensational, that the story first told to explain it became gospel before anyone could measure it against reality. That story was born, in part, of shock and grief and the fact that gay men like Shepard have been violently preyed upon by heterosexuals. It was also born of straight culture and secrets. . . . Now comes Stephen Jimenez with The Book of Matt, and this most detailed effort to rescue the protagonists from caricature is, with a few exceptions, being coolly ignored or pilloried for 'blaming the victim.' . . .  Jimenez does not polemicize or tread deeply into the psyches of the main figures. Rather, he explores the drug-fueled world they inhabited, and evokes its thick air of violence. . . . Jimenez spent thirteen years to tell his story. . . In this story, Shepard and McKinney were neither lamb nor wolf; they were human commodities, working for rival drug circles to support their habits, and occasionally forced to pay their debts in sex. The Matthew Shepard Foundation, the whole machinery that benefited from the story of a desexualized Bad Karma Kid but otherwise happy-in-his-skin Matthew, that used his horrid death as a banner for hate crime laws, have slammed the book. Kinder reviewers have said Jimenez has made the case less political. On the contrary. What impelled McKinney to loathe his desires, and Shepard relentlessly, dangerously to test himself, and Henderson to follow orders? Violence lacerated these young men long before the murder, and it will not be diminished or resisted by myths and vengeful laws." — JoAnn Wypijewski in The Nation

"Jimenez is careful to point out that his goal is to understand Shepard as a complex human being and make the fullest possible sense of his murder, not to suggest in any way that he deserved his horrific fate. . . . Jimenez’s problem is that he has trodden on hallowed ground. America, as John Ford cannily observed in his western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is a country that likes to build up its heroes and villains and rarely appreciates having the record corrected to restore them to the stature of ordinary, fallible human beings. By now, Shepard’s story has been elevated close to legend, and Shepard himself to a near-messianic figure who suffered for the ultimate benefit of the rest of us. . . . Many of Jimenez’s central contentions are shared by the prosecutor in the case, Cal Rerucha, and by police officers who investigated the murder." —  The Guardian

“Jimenez takes pains to note throughout the book that no matter what led up to the murder, the event was still horrific. And the end result of his retelling is not to demonize Matthew Shepard—Jimenez is himself gay—but to point out that he was human.” — Yasmin Nair, In These Times

"I will never view the death of Matthew Shepard in the same way. After finishing The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard . . . it is no longer possible to believe the myth that has grown up around the death of this young man in Laramie 15 years ago." — Wyoming Tribune Eagle

"It’s been 15 years to the month since a dying Matthew Shepard was found tied to a fencepost outside Laramie, Wyoming. The narrative that quickly emerged — which Stephen Jimenez spends 360 pages debunking in The Book of Matt — was that Shepard had told two strangers he was gay, provoking the savage attack. . . . Jimenez acknowledges that the national revulsion to Shepard’s murder actually helped the gay community, creating more awareness, legal protections, and a trend toward true equality. But The Book of Matt finds nothing positive in the media’s handling of that case." Seattle Weekly

"There are numerous hagiographies on the Matthew Shepard murder. [Fifteen] years after Shepard's murder, they're being challenged. Are we ready for the tale investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez, himself gay, spins? . . .Jimenez's message in The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, upends a canonized narrative we all have grown familiarly comfortable with. . . .And now with Jimenez's incontrovertible evidence that Shepard's murderers were not strangers — one is a bisexual crystal meth addict who not only knew Matthew, but partied, bought drugs from and had sex with Matthew. With this 'new' information a more textured but troubling truth emerges. This truth shatters a revered icon for LGBT rights, one deliberately chosen because of race, gender and economic background. . . . The anointing of Matthew Shepard as an iconic image for LGBT rights not only concealed from the American public the real person but also it hid the other varied faces of hate crimes in the 1990's. . . . In reading Jimenez's book we shockingly learn that Matthew Shepard, Gay Icon story is a fictive narrative. . . . The cultural currency of the Shepard narrative's shelf life, might now after nearly two decades be flickering out, or it's now of no use to its framers and the community it was intended to serve. . . . I read Jimenez's The Book of Matt as a cautionary tale of how the needs of a community trumped the truth of a story." — Rev. Irene Monroe, Out in New Jersey

"In the tradition of In Cold Blood and The Executioner's Song, this is a work of literary true crime that reaches far beyond the case itself to probe deep and troubling recesses of the American psyche." — Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Hellhound on His Trail

The Book of Matt provides us for the first time with the real story of an American tragedy.” —Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row

"No one should be afraid of the truth. Least of all gay people... Shouldn’t we understand better why and how?" — Journalist Andrew Sullivan

"An award-winning journalist uncovers the suppressed story behind the death of Matthew Shepard. . . . As Jimenez deconstructs an event that has since passed into the realm of mythology, he humanizes it. The result is a book that is fearless, frank and compelling. Investigative journalism at its relentless and compassionate best." Kirkus Reviews

“Jimenez does a masterful job of unspooling this haunted narrative like a puzzle, giving you seemingly disparate pieces that take a while to form a larger picture... Anyone interested in the Matthew Shepard case needs to read this book.” – Jeff Walsh, Oasis Magazine, an online publication for LGBT youth

"What if nearly everything you thought you knew about Matthew Shepard’s murder was wrong? What if our most fiercely held convictions about the circumstances of that fatal night of October 6, 1998, have obscured other, more critical, aspects of the case? . . . None of this is idle speculation; it’s the fruit of years of dogged investigation by journalist Stephen Jimenez, himself gay. In the course of his reporting, Jimenez interviewed over 100 subjects, including friends of Shepard and of his convicted killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, as well as the killers themselves. . . . In the process, he amassed enough anecdotal evidence to build a persuasive case that Shepard’s sexuality was, if not incidental, certainly less central than popular consensus has lead us to believe."  Aaron Hicklin, Editor-in-Chief of Out magazine, in The Advocate

"What’s truly remarkable about this book is not that, like many before it, it exposes the truth behind a useful myth. It is the reaction of the gay establishment to these difficult truths. The Book Of Matt insists on the horrifying nature of the crime; it had no pre-existing agenda; it’s written by an award-winning reporter who is also a gay man. (The Wyoming Historical Society also gave it an award.) What it does is expose a real problem in the gay male world – especially at the time of the murder: the nexus of sex and meth that destroyed and still destroys so many lives." — Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish

"Stephen Jimenez makes a compelling case that this horrific murder was not a hate crime at all. . . . No doubt Jimenez will face criticism for his powerful book. Why did he have to dig around and stir things up? Won’t people who are opposed to equal rights for LGBT people use his exposé for their reactionary purposes? How do these revelations harm those who built programs teaching tolerance based on the Shepard murder? How will Shepard’s family feel? . . . The movement for equality for gay people is important, not because of what happened to Matthew Shepard on an October night 15 years ago, but because no one should be less valued as a human being because of who they are or who they love. . . . When combating hatred and bigotry, the truth is always important." The Jewish Daily Forward

"This is not a left-wing or a right-wing thing. It is not a gay or straight thing, it is not a religious versus atheist thing. It’s a human thing. . . . I admire Stephen Jimenez so much for the courage it took to stick with this story for 13 years, and to report facts that apparently destroy the narrative that he expected to find when he first went to Wyoming to look into the Shepard case. There will be a number of people who will hate him for what he’s done, especially because he himself is a gay journalist. May we all find the courage to follow the truth and to deal with it, no matter where it leads. I aspire to be as brave in my work as Jimenez has been in his. All of us should learn a lesson from his book. It is important to stand up for what we believe is right. But it is more important for us to stand up for the truth.." — Rod Dreher, author of The Little Way of Ruth Leming, in The American Conservative

"I am persuaded by The Book of Matt that we will learn more that is more valuable if we demand the facts, and not a case that is cut to fit a particular agenda... We need a Steve Jimenez to take up the [Trayvon Martin case, to which the book is compared] and devote to it the energy and attention that he devoted to the Shepard murder, to enrich us with the truth." — Marci A. Hamilton, Justia

"The popular image of this event as one where two drug-using homophobic thugs murdered Matthew because he was gay is overly simplistic. . . Matthew Shepard’s memory is ill served by those who wish to present him as a saint and who urge us not to read this book. The narratives are contradictory; read the book and make your own mind up. What is clear is that Matthew was as complicated and flawed an individual as we all are – and that in no way invalidates his humanity, his right to life or the reaction to his murder." — The James Morgan Brown Review

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly
11/11/2013
In this radical reexamination of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, investigative reporter Jimenez suggests that the tragedy may have been less about gay bashing, and more related to drug trafficking and methamphetamines. Drawing on 13 years' worth of interviews and investigation, Jimenez pieces together a sequence of events and motives distinctly at odds with the public record. Instead of being the innocent victim of a hate crime, Shepard becomes a complex, flawed individual involved with the drug trade and other dubious behaviors. One of the killers, Aaron McKinney, is recast as a meth-addicted bisexual. Rather than a spur of the moment incident between strangers, there's every indication that Shepard knew his murderers long before that fateful night. As he ultimately notes, "…Matthew was part of an interstate drug-trafficking circle, and that the buying and selling of crystal meth was only one of the activities he and Aaron shared." In claiming that Shepard was killed because of drugs, and the "gay panic" story was offered as a cover and heavily pushed by media and politicians as part of a larger agenda, Jimenez completely changes the meaning and impact of Shepard's death. While Jimenez's argument is thorough and convincing, the controversial aspect may be enough to alienate many readers. (Oct.)
Library Journal
★ 11/01/2013
Indeed, this book holds true to its subtitle. Readers should be prepared to encounter a radically revised version of the life and death of Matthew Shepard, a college student whose gruesome 1998 murder in Laramie, WY, galvanized gay and social activists. According to seasoned screenwriter and investigative reporter Jimenez (ABC News 20/20; Dan Rather Reports; NOVA), the myth of Matt is simply that: a hagiography unrepresentative of the all-too-human man. Jimenez spent 13 years investigating Shepard's savage death, returning to Laramie time and again in order to interview and reinterview the principal players in his life. Ultimately, Jimenez, who also is gay, demonstrates conclusively that Shepard was not a victim of a hate crime and a martyr for the gay cause but rather died because of his heavy involvement in the Colorado methamphetamine scene. Moreover, Jimenez establishes that Shepard was well acquainted with Aaron McKinney, his drug-crazed murderer, and that Russell Henderson, the other man convicted of the homicide, in fact did not actively participate in the killing. VERDICT This riveting true crime narrative will appeal to readers of books such as Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song.—Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., Morgantown
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
An award-winning journalist uncovers the suppressed story behind the death of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student whose 1998 murder rocked the nation. Jimenez was a media "Johnny-come-lately" when he arrived in Laramie in 2000 to begin work on the Shepard story. His fascination with the intricate web of secrets surrounding Shepard's murder and eventual elevation to the status of homosexual martyr developed into a 13-year investigative obsession. The tragedy was "enshrined…as passion play and folktale, but hardly ever for the truth of what it was": the story of a troubled young man who had died because he had been involved with Laramie's drug underworld rather than because he was gay. Drawing on both in-depth research and exhaustive interviews with more than 100 individuals around the United States, Jimenez meticulously re-examines both old and new information about the murder and those involved with it. Everyone had something to hide. For Aaron McKinney, one of the two men convicted of Shepard's murder, it was the fact that he was Shepard's part-time bisexual lover and fellow drug dealer. For Shepard, it was that he was an HIV-positive substance abuser with a fondness for crystal meth and history of sexual trauma. Even the city of Laramie had its share of dark secrets that included murky entanglements involving law enforcement officials and the Laramie drug world. So when McKinney and his accomplices claimed that it had been unwanted sexual advances that had driven him to brutalize Shepard, investigators, journalists and even lawyers involved in the murder trial seized upon the story as an example of hate crime at its most heinous. As Jimenez deconstructs an event that has since passed into the realm of mythology, he humanizes it. The result is a book that is fearless, frank and compelling. Investigative journalism at its relentless and compassionate best.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586422264
Publisher:
Steerforth Press
Publication date:
09/16/2014
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
726,511
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Book of Matt

Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard


By Stephen Jimenez

Steerforth Press

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Jimenez
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-58642-215-8



CHAPTER 1

Father and Son


In February 2000 I went to Laramie, Wyoming, to begin work on a story whose essence I thought I knew before boarding the plane in New York. What I expected to find in the infamous college town was an abundance of detail to flesh out a narrative I had already accepted as fact. I went to research a screenplay about the October 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard — a crime widely perceived as the worst anti-gay attack in US history.

At the time I was teaching screenwriting at New York University and producing documentary films. Like millions of others who followed the news of Matthew's beating and the subsequent trials of his assailants, I was appalled by the grotesque violence inflicted on this young man. According to some media reports, Matthew was burned with cigarettes and tortured while he begged for his life. As journalist Andrew Sullivan later recalled, "A lot of gay people, when they first heard of that horrifying event, felt punched in the stomach. It kind of encapsulated all our fears of being victimized ... at the hands of people who hate us."

By the time I arrived in Laramie I was a Johnny-come-lately. For more than a year the story of Matthew Shepard's savage beating and "crucifixion" on a remote prairie fence had been told again and again in the national media. The murder trials had ended by early November 1999 and Matthew's killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, both twenty-two, had been sentenced to two consecutive life terms with no chance of parole. As far as the media was concerned, the story was finally over.

From the very first reports of the October 6, 1998, attack, major news organizations provided a generally uniform account of the crime and the motives behind it. A sampling of newspaper and magazine stories painted a harrowing picture:

Shepard, 22, a first-year student at the University of Wyoming, paid dearly ... allegedly for trusting two strangers enough at the Fireside Lounge to tell them he is gay. What followed was an atrocity that ... forced the stunned community [of Laramie] to painfully confront the festering evil of anti-gay hatred, as the nation and its lawmakers watched.

The Boston Globe

[Police] investigators turned up the following sequence of alleged events ... Sometime Tuesday night, Shepard met Henderson and McKinney while at the Fireside Bar and Lounge. Shepard told them he was gay. They invited him to leave with them. All three got into McKinney's father's pickup, and the attack began.

The Denver Post

Hungry for cash, perhaps riled by Shepard's trusting admission that he was gay, they drove to the edge of town, police say, pistol-whipped him until his skull collapsed, and then left him tied like a fallen scarecrow — or a savior — to the bottom of a cross-hatched fence.

Newsweek

Albany County Sheriff Gary Puls, who suggested ... that the beating was being investigated as a hate crime, said ... the investigation ... is "aggressively continuing" ... Laramie Police Commander Dave O'Malley told the Associated Press that while robbery was the main motive, Shepard was targeted because he was gay ...

The Washington Post

What people mean when they say Matthew Shepard's murder was a lynching is that he was killed to make a point ... So he was stretched along a Wyoming fence not just as a dying young man but as a signpost. "When push comes to shove," it says, "this is what we have in mind for gays."

Time magazine

While some gay leaders saw crucifixion imagery in Mr. Shepard's death, others saw a different symbolism: the Old West practice of nailing a dead coyote to a ranch fence as a warning to future intruders.

The New York Times


The chilling ordinariness of McKinney's and Henderson's small-town backgrounds reminded me of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, the murderers in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. In glaring contrast, Matthew Shepard was characterized as "well educated" and "well traveled." He was "a slight, unassuming young homosexual," Newsweek said, "shy and gentle in a place where it wasn't common for a young man to be either ... [he was] sweet-tempered and boyishly idealistic."

I was curious about who Matthew was as a person, just as I was bewildered by the warped motives of his killers. But what compelled me as a writer and a gay man to go to Wyoming was neither the brutality of the murder nor its suddenly iconic place in the national landscape. I first began to feel a visceral pull to Matthew's story when I read the words of his father in a New York Times report on Aaron McKinney's sentencing.

In a hushed Laramie courtroom on November 4, 1999, Dennis Shepard delivered a wrenching soliloquy that brought the tragedy home with fresh impact. His words made it clear that his life had been shattered; that nothing could undo the magnitude of his family's loss. With TV satellite trucks and throngs of journalists lining the streets outside the county courthouse, and a SWAT team with high-powered rifles standing guard on nearby rooftops, Matthew's father searched his soul for clues:

How do I talk about the loss I feel every time I think about Matt? How do I describe the empty pit in my heart and mind ...

Why wasn't I there when he needed me most? Why didn't I spend more time with him? ... What could I have done to be a better father and friend? How do I get an answer to those questions now?


Minutes later he faced his son's murderer:

Mr. McKinney, your agreement to life without parole has taken yourself [sic] out of the spotlight ... No years of publicity, no chance of commutation, no nothing. Just a miserable future and a more miserable end. It works [for] me.

My son was taught to look at all sides of an issue before ... taking a stand ... Such a stand cost him his life when he quietly let it be known that he was gay ...

I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney ... You robbed me of something very precious, and I will never forgive you for that ...


That Matthew's parents did not seek the death penalty for Aaron McKinney seemed to be a gesture of utmost compassion. Instead they were instrumental in forging an agreement that would allow McKinney to serve two consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole. Months earlier his accomplice, Russell Henderson, had already received the same sentence after agreeing to a last-minute plea bargain.

In exchange for life in prison, McKinney relinquished all his rights to appeal. He also agreed to refrain from talking to the media and was required to transfer any future earnings from his story to a foundation the Shepards had established in Matthew's name. For media and public alike, the horrific story of Matthew's murder came to its conclusion that day. As a screenwriter, I, too, saw a natural ending in McKinney's imprisonment for life. Justice had been served, even triumphed, in a fair trial before a jury of his peers in his own hometown. Like many others, I experienced a somber catharsis when Dennis and Judy Shepard demonstrated mercy after McKinney had shown their son only hate.

* * *

On a cold February afternoon in 2000, I picked up a rental car at the Denver airport and made my way north on Interstate 25. I had only been to Wyoming once before, more than a decade earlier, under circumstances that I continued to savor despite my shaky arrival there. The night flight I had taken from Denver to Sheridan ended in an emergency landing after one of the two engines sputtered noisily, then stalled in mid-flight. As the plane jolted and rattled in the inky darkness over the prairie, a lone female flight attendant instructed us to tuck our heads between our legs and grab our ankles tightly because we would be descending fast. No one told us to pray but I could hear frightened murmurs throughout the cabin, including my own.

Somehow the pilots skillfully managed to bring us down on an airstrip in Cheyenne — a breathtaking landing that left no one injured but saw our plane surrounded by rescue crews. Welcome to Wyoming, I remember thinking as everyone on board broke into applause.

The next morning I flew on to Sheridan and began a five-week writing residency at a twenty-thousand-acre cattle ranch in the red-clay foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, home of the Ucross Foundation. Ucross, a speck of a town where a bullet-pocked highway sign still reads POPULATION: 25, has been unchanged for decades. Coming from my native Brooklyn, populated by more than 2 million, I immediately felt my senses being blown open by the boundless solitude and a quiet disrupted only by the lowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep or the occasional truck rumbling along Highway 14.

After several weeks there, an unusual inner tranquility merged with my sometimes-distracted yearning for social contact. Some nights, to offset the lonesome silence after hours at my typewriter, I walked over to Porky's, a homey watering hole just across the blacktop from the ranch. Porky's was also a single-pump gas station serving the local ranchers and people passing through. Along with a handful of other cowboy bars at the edge of the Big Horns, the place was bona fide Wyoming. Icy cold longnecks. An old jukebox stacked with Hank Williams, Vince Gill, and Loretta Lynn. Well-worn pool tables. And on Saturday nights a live musician or band cranking out pure honkytonk. Fresh-faced cowboys and cowgirls barely old enough to drink thought nothing of driving forty or fifty miles for what had to be the sexiest two-stepping in the world.

Even as an outsider it was easy to blend in. People were friendly and unassuming and didn't hesitate to jump into small talk with no introductions. From my spot at the bar I'd watch the couples swaying and gliding across the floor, slowly getting tipsy, flirting coyly like teenagers at a high school dance. A perfectly timed mating ritual, I thought with envy. Most of the cowboys were beefy and well defined. In no time they'd be carrying good-sized guts over their big shiny belt buckles, but right now they were perfect specimens of ruddy virility.

Returning to Wyoming more than ten years later, with still-vivid recollections of its starkly beautiful landscape and bighearted locals, I struggled with the unspeakable brutality of Matthew Shepard's murder. I tried to remember if I had felt safe during my earlier stay in Ucross when I was in my mid-thirties and single. Within the confines of the ranch and surrounding community, yes, I had felt blissfully protected. But I also recalled those nights when I wandered out alone to a few bars and one particular weekend at Porky's when I'd come wildly close to tempting fate. It was my last Saturday night in Ucross, and everyone in the bar seemed to be suffering from a welcome case of spring fever. Brisk wintry smells had disappeared from the air overnight, replaced by something sweeter, more fragrant. I didn't know if it was sagebrush or new grass, but I sucked in the delicious air in long gulps. In a few days I would be back in New York riding the subway.

A good-looking guy named Ron and his winsome girlfriend, Mary Lou, somewhere in their twenties, invited me back to their trailer for more drinking and partying after Porky's closed. Before we left the bar, though, Ron asked me to hop on the back of his motorcycle for a quick spin, while Mary Lou waited. He wanted to show me what a hot bike he had.

Barreling down Highway 14 on that balmy, moonlit night, gripping Ron around the waist as he told me to, I felt exhilarated — all the more so when he pulled off the road onto a dirt trail and cut off the engine. To look at the stars, he said.

Only then, alone with him on the empty prairie, did I realize the danger. It was apparent that Ron was waiting for me to make the first move. Had he ever been with a guy before? Did Mary Lou know this side of him? Maybe he was just shy? Or had he lured me out there to rob me — or worse — under the guise that I'd come on to him?

The two of us stood awkwardly alongside the bike. Even in my light-headed state, something told me to forgo my lust and get back to Porky's as soon as I could. After a long silence I said, "It's amazing out here, Ron — thanks."

He nervously kicked the dirt a few times with the tip of his boot. "Gives you something to remember about Wyoming, huh?"

"We better get back," I answered. "Mary Lou will be sending out a search party."

With a shrug of resignation Ron fired up the bike. "She's back there havin' some fun, I guarantee it."

As we turned onto Highway 14 heading south, the fear lodged in my gut began to dissipate. But there was no way I was going back to their trailer. I'd tell them that I had a lot of packing to do for my trip home.

Back at Porky's the three of us exchanged good-byes with hugs all around. Ron made me promise to look them up the next time I was out that way, but I noticed he never offered a phone number or address.

On my last day in Ucross, I stopped by Porky's to say my farewells to Buzzy, the world-weary bartender, who teased me about "the rollickin' good time" I seemed to be having on Saturday night. I asked him about Ron and Mary Lou. From the way they had monopolized the pool table and dance floor I'd assumed they were regulars.

"Never seen them two before," Buzzy shook his head. "Tell you this, they're not from these parts. No way."


Now as I drove on the outskirts of Cheyenne and veered west onto I-80 for Laramie — a wide-open, gently undulating terrain — I tried to hold those decade-old memories at bay. But with thoughts of Matthew Shepard's beating still churning inside, I was sobered by the knowledge that it could have been me. I also could not shake off what I'd read about "the Old West practice of nailing a dead coyote to a ranch fence as a warning to future intruders."

Several miles before Laramie, the highway curved and descended sharply from a peak I would soon come to know as the Summit, where tractor-trailer accidents are common in icy weather and a massive bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln sits on the top of a thirty-five-foot-tall granite base. As the road dropped, it wound through a rocky canyon, giving no hint of the flat, sprawling prairie that lay ahead until it almost reached the valley floor.

I took the first Laramie exit for Grand Avenue and the University of Wyoming, noticing the usual string of fast-food restaurants, an assortment of suburban-style houses in what looked like a new subdivision, and the ubiquitous Walmart. Sitting smack in the heart of the Rocky Mountain West, Laramie has long been dubbed "Wyoming's hometown." One magazine journalist who reported on Matthew's murder wrote that the town "sits in a flat, treeless sweep of high plains bruised by bad weather," yet she also described Laramie as "the friendliest place I have ever been in America."

But as I drove down the Grand Avenue strip that afternoon, past Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, and Taco John's, I could have been in Anywhere, USA.

Aaron McKinney's highly publicized trial had ended three months before and the entire court record in the Shepard case had recently been unsealed, with the exception of McKinney's and Henderson's juvenile files and Matthew Shepard's psychiatric and other personal records. A court-imposed gag order had also been lifted. Although trial witnesses and other principals in the case, other than McKinney, were finally free to talk, the army of journalists that had inundated the town for more than a year had long since departed.


The following morning, while looking through stacks of case documents in a busy reception area at the Albany County Courthouse, a stately limestone building in Laramie's refurbished downtown, I recognized Cal Rerucha, the prosecutor who had won McKinney's and Henderson's convictions. A robust man with thinning hair, then in his late forties, Rerucha had come across in news reports as stern and uncompromising. He also had a reputation for remaining aloof from the media. But as I watched him move about the third floor of the courthouse, making self-deprecating jokes to his staff and others stopping by on county business, he seemed warm and unaffected. Still somewhat intimidated, I asked if he had a few minutes to talk about the Shepard case.

Rerucha invited me into his spacious but plainly appointed corner office, ushering me past his secretary and others working at their desks, then shut the heavy oak door behind us.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Book of Matt by Stephen Jimenez. Copyright © 2013 Stephen Jimenez. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

"In The Book of Matt, Stephen Jimenez steadfastly deconstructs one of modern America's more heinous, shocking, and despicable crimes. But as so often happens during great journeys of careful reporting, he discovers that the truth is far more complicated, and far more fascinating, than the headlines ever suggested. In the tradition of In Cold Blood and The Executioner's Song, this is a work of literary true crime that reaches far beyond the case itself to probe deep and troubling recesses of the American psyche."  — Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Hellhound on His Trail

“Stephen Jimenez’s tireless investigation uncovers a shocking new perspective on the murder of Matthew Shepard. A sympathetic but fearless account of what happened on that terrible night outside Laramie, The Book of Matt provides us for the first time with the real story of an American tragedy.” —Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row

Meet the Author

Stephen Jimenez is an award-winning journalist, writer and producer. He was a 2012 Norman Mailer Nonfiction Fellow and has written and produced programs for ABC News 20/20, Dan Rather Reports, Nova, Fox, Court TV and others. His accolades include the Writers Guild of America Award, the Mongerson Award for Investigative Reporting, an Emmy, and fellowships at the Ucross Foun­dation in Wyoming. A graduate of Georgetown University, he has taught screen­writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and other colleges. He lives in New York and Santa Fe.

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The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jimenez is bold and detailed in this gripping account of the Shephard case. As a graduate of the U. of Wyo only a year before this crime occurred, I always felt personally invested. The "facts," as they initially given, never added up. Jimenez dared to dive deeply into this case and expose the craftfully hidden truth. Thank you, Stephen Jimenez, for telling the truth.
jhmJM More than 1 year ago
I did not finish this book. I got about halfway through and realized I was not really interested in the outcome of the story. Matthew Shepard was murdered and those responsible for his death are behind bars. The motive of the perpetrators is not really that interesting.
PhoebeD More than 1 year ago
I lived in the area when this horrible crime occurred, and saw the media hype travesty pushed by the gay rights activists and the liberal media. This book is a refreshing study (written by a gay man) over years following the tragedy, to dig deeper into the people, places, motives and actualities of the Matthew Shepard case. I truly appreciated his willingness to pursue people, build relationships, find truth and take the time to write this book setting many things straight. I hope that many who were propagandized and influenced by the media's lies will read this book and see "the rest of the story."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book jumps all over the place and puts out things that really aren't new, but wants the reader to think so. Not well written and bored me early on. Finished it, but was not capturing my interest. Didn't like it but had nothing to do with the topic. I think this author's facts are not documented well and not backed up but seemed to be chasing random characters. Wonder if they are really affiliated with Matthew. Anyone can say anything after years and author seems to disregard everything that was done in the past by reports and law enforcement, like what he says is the "Gospel" on Matthew's murder. I agree mainstream media went on a blitz and the story was misreported by many.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This Book Could Have Been Better I have only visited Laramie a few times.  I never thought it fair to paint the entire place as a bunch of gay hating rednecks.  Mr. Jimenez started the book with an interesting premise and interviewed many interesting characters.  I can't remember Russell's last name, but it was interesting how he delved into this character's life and how even prison officials feel he doesn't belong there.  He spends way too much time, though, on methamphetamine users, "methheads", who are basically boring people.  I left the book with a dislike for the Shepherd family, basically feeling bad for the lesser known younger brother.  I would be willing to give the author a second try, though.