Friday, January 26, 2007

A news update

This Times-Picayune article about what happened earlier this month to my friends Paul Gailiunas and Helen Hill had me absolutely foaming at the mouth with rage (I think it's going to be a long time before I can read a crime novel, by the way, without holding it to a very high standard in terms of its representation of the sheer awfulness for family members of dealing with police and journalists following a high-profile violent crime).

Today the paper printed a plea from Paul asking readers in New Orleans for two things:

First, please, if you have any knowledge of the person who killed my wife, please come forward and speak. Please be brave and tell the police or Crimestoppers what you know.

Help bring this villain to justice for filling my wife's final moments with terror and for taking her away from her baby and her family and friends.

He must not be allowed to hurt more people and destroy more lives. Please be brave and speak.

Second, please do everything you can to heal your desperately broken city.

Helen herself was an innocent victim. But her murder, like so many others, is a symptom of a sickness, a terrible sickness caused by grinding poverty, hopelessness, bad parenting, a lack of respect for human life, pre- and post-hurricane neglect and persistent racism against African-American people.

I am begging you to reach out to your neighbors, across the borders of race and class, and help them when they need you. Don't stand by while people hurt each other.

There has been an outcry against violence in New Orleans since Helen's death. Please do not stop until things improve. I am begging you to find a way to get people out of those hellish trailer parks, which are cauldrons for the kind of violence that destroyed our happiness. The people living there need decent, well-maintained, affordable housing and it needs to happen now.

No one is going to fix New Orleans for you. You need to do it yourselves. Please do these things now, for yourselves and for my poor, sweet wife. I know this is what she would want.


  1. I do so admire your friend Paul - to be this eloquent and compassionate after what he has been going through, most touching.

  2. Anonymous:

    Of course the police should question Paul, and actually, if you had read the Times-Picayune website carefully you'd find that detectives did interview him at least twice before he left New Orleans, including once on tape. They also describe him as practically fleeing town when he stayed in New Orleans until Helen's funeral in her childhood home and has been there with her relatives since--hardly difficult to reach. Paul's anger wasn't at being interviewed but at having his cooperation misrepresented.

    But even in the midst of their grossest errors, the NOPD--who DID interview him--are clear that Paul is not a suspect. Unlike you. If 33% of female homicide victims are killed by their partners, then twice as many are killed by someone else.

    Paul's injuries would be awfully hard for anyone to fake, doctor or not, and the independent report of EXACTLY a "mysterious armed thug" breaking into a room in a bed and breakfast up the block shortly before Helen's shooting gives the cops a much more plausible suspect than Paul. That suspect apparently left the B & B through a rear window and could easily have been in Paul and Helen's backyard a few minutes later.

    Why cook up an elaborate scenario of faked injuries and hidden guns rigged by a man whose lifelong nonviolence is well-documented, as is his devotion to his spouse? Especially when it forces you to dismiss the presence of an actual armed stranger as nothing more than a meaningless coincidence. It also forces you to describe his letter as having "a strange detachment." The letter begins this way: "My wife -- my lovely wife, and the most interesting, original, beautiful, funny person I have ever known -- was murdered in New Orleans Jan. 4" To me that reads as full of anquish. Later he is more reasoned, but he is writing an op-ed, not a journal entry.

    Are you really so invested in all marriages being murderous? Friends' and family's account of their relationship is exactly the sort of thing any intelligent police officer would weigh in determining how likely a suspect a husband is. If the people around them said they fought all the time you'd certainly latch onto it, but you dismiss the reports and photographs that document their devotion to each other. You can't have it both ways.

    Finally, by "common sense" you seem to mean what you think is normal. You would never let a pet out early in the morning in your very safe suburb. Well, why bother living in there, then? If you're going to have that kind of seige mentality you might as well move to a high-crime neighborhood and pay less in taxes and mortgage, since you're paying the psychic toll wherever you go.

    I live in a residential urban neighborhood, safer than many but not crime-free, and my spouse lets the dogs into the yard betwen 5:30 and 6:00 every single weekday morning since that's when her day starts. And my toddler routinely needs a parent cuddling her to get her to sleep (or back to sleep), and of course we doze off sometimes. It doesn't mean either of us has a hidden, murderous need to leave our marriage. It just means we're tired.

  3. I am deleting the previous anonymous comment; it's my blog, and I am making the call that I don't want Helen's friends and family to have to read those words.

  4. Thanks Jenny--obviously Anonymous lit my fuse, so I'm glad not so many other people had to read it.

    The same post showed up on at least one other blog.