I wrote a story about a double murder in a small Wisconsin town that went unsolved for more than two years because no one – not the investigators, not the victims’ families, not the townspeople who were keenly interested in the perpetrator’s identity because of the scary theories making the rounds – could believe what should have been obvious from day one, that a priest at the parish where one of the victims worshiped was the killer. The way the priest covered up the crime was clumsy and the motive was right there for everyone to see, but nobody wanted to look. At first I attributed that to the killer’s vocation. Who wants to believe a priest is a murderer? But it was way more complicated than that.
The killer became a priest because he was gay. In rural Wisconsin in the 1970s the priesthood was the only closet he could find, but the longer he hid the darker it got. The proximity of adolescent males and the confessor’s role he played proved too tempting when he tried to stifle his sexual urges. He assaulted several boys in their early teens and got away with it because they were ashamed, but the more he sinned the guiltier he felt, and the more false identities he assumed. By the time he committed murder he was pretending to be a virtual saint, living in imitation of Christ; a born-again church conservative on a mission to bring discarded rituals back to the mass; an outdoorsman who lived to hunt and fish; a heterosexual Lothario by nature, whose vows were the only thing between him and a career as a small town Don Juan; and a pedagogue with a calling to teach children about salvation and masturbation.
A cult formed around him, which should have been a clue, and there were many people who saw through him, yet he practically had to confess before it dawned on anyone that he was guilty of murder. The story is “The Hanged Priest” in The Family That Couldn’t Sleep at Night published by Calumet Editions.