.While it's comforting to know that killers are rarely able to abuse the system, the fact remains that there are some instances in which that much-maligned defense works.
One of those, to the regret of those of us who knew and loved Barbara McNeely, occurred in the trial of the man who brutally murdered her in September 1977. Barbara, a good friend of mine through my days at East Newton High School and Missouri Southern State College, was one of the first people to encourage my writing and, for a time, did my typing for me, as I made early efforts to sell my work.
She was only 20 when William McMurray stabbed her to death in the Northpark Mall parking lot. A jury found McMurray not guilty, he was sent to a mental institution, and seven years later, without any notice to the McNeely family, the Missouri Department of Mental Health saw fit to release him.
A few weeks ago, I heard from a reporter in McMurray's hometown of Crawfordsville, Ind., who told me McMurray had contacted him about a book he had written. The reporter wrote me to ask for some background on the murder. After I supplied the information, I wrote about the impending publication of the McMurray book in a post entitled, "Desecrating the Memory of Barbara McNeely."
The post included this passage:
Apparently, 33 years after the murder, William McMurray is ready to cash in on his notoriety, offering another of the endless stream of books authored by those who have done terrible things, gone through a redemption process, and have emerged to lead successful lives.
In this book, the reporter told me, McMurray plans to write about the horrible abuse he suffered as a child, what it led him to do, and how he “turned his life around.”
For this man, who deprived the world forever of the sunshine that was Barbara McNeely, to make money off the tragedy, is a desecration to her memory.
So many times I have been amazed at those who manage to gloss over the most horrific acts with homilies about the healing power of forgiveness.Well forgive me, but I am not buying it. Don’t tell me about the redemptive powers and inspiration that McMurray’s books may offer to those who have been abused as children.
Word of this post reached William McMurray, and Monday, September 13, a few days after the anniversary of his act that deprived this community of one of its shining lights, McMurray sent the following message:
There is no amount of abuse, nor insanity, that could ever justify the taking of an innocent life. I have struggled for years with the knowledge of my actions and know there is nothing I could ever say or do to turn back the clocks. Over the years I have reached out to others seeking to in someway express just how very sorry I am to the McNealy family and the Joplin Community, only to be strongly discouraged. So, I could only hope, by giving to others I may in a small way find some level of atonement for all I took. I know there will be those who, despite what I've done since, will forever define my life because of their loss. I know there will always be those who do not care to know of the childhood issues that brought a break with reality, nor choose to know the person I was privileged to become. Who I am today came only because others counseled and aided me in overcoming those past issues. I can only hope some of you may one day be able to forgive me.
Yes, I was released from the hospital in 1985. But few of you know very little of what I've done since. As an EMT and founder of an emergency medical program that grew to fifty-five medically trained and equipped members in one year, my program helped decrease automobile accident deaths by more than 50% in one Missouri county. Something recognized by the MO Hwy. Patrol in 1987. Despite the recognitions and awards received that year, including a Presidential Commendation from Ronald Reagan, a short two years later I finally realized that no matter how many lives were saved, it would never bring back the one that was taken. So I resigned and continued writing my books that taught projects and programs in need how to organize successful fund-raising events. Books that also raised funds for others with the profits made.
As a fundraiser, the fifty-seven I've assisted and organized have raised nearly a million dollars for children's causes, animal shelters, as well as school and community projects, including the MO Chapter, National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. In all but two of these 57 separate events I've donated my time. I went back to school to become a better provider for the family I feel blessed to have and eventually took over a business until I became severely ill in August 2005.
Now retired, I know there are still more things I can do for others. Even as my physical abilities are quickly diminishing.
As I read these words, this self-serving recitation of good deeds and atonement that McMurray says has marked the last quarter of a century, as well as his efforts to make us feel bad for the hard times he has had, I was filled with a quiet fury. I debated the wisdom of sharing McMurray's words, but in the end there was no question, people need to know that the death of Barbara McNeely is being used, whether coldly and cynically for cold cash, or through some effort to assuage his own conscience for an unforgivable act.
I will not mention where McMurray is living now, not out of any consideration for his well-being, but his family deserves consideration, and this is far more consideration than those who backed McMurray at his trial and in the years following have ever shown to Barbara's family.
My thoughts always drift to Barbara at this time of the year. I wonder what she would be doing today if she had not been in that parking lot more than three decades ago. I imagine the pride she would have felt at seeing her brother Brad enlisting and serving his country with honor, the joy of watching her baby sister Becky, who was born just a short time before Barbara's death, growing into womanhood.
I think of all the things that Barbara could have accomplished and the family that could have been hers.
All of that, wiped out in the span of a few horrifying seconds by a senseless, violent act committed by William McMurray. So spare me your listing of good deeds and the praise you have received from President Reagan and others.
I will leave it to others, others who are far more charitable than I, to extend words of forgiveness.
Time does not heal all wounds, and it will be a cold day in hell before those words ever escape my lips.