Making My Peace with the Past

Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 in Blog | No Comments

featuredimage-jackstrawNews that serial killer Kendall Francois, 43, died last week in a maximum security New York prison left me floundering in a strange wash of emotions, an unlikely mixture of sadness and relief.

A lonely time in my past ended with his death, a memory that has haunted me ever since I ended our correspondence 11 years ago. Ever since I fled.

But I had sought him out. This murderer of eight women my age, size and race would guide me through the mental landscape of cruelty, I decided. He would connect the dots between emotion and impulse and answer questions that had dogged me most of my life.

Kendall, of course, had a different agenda. He would talk with me, but not as a journalist: “You want to go inside my mind and into my past,” he said. “I want a peek into yours. It’s only fair, isn’t it?”

What I learned – through more than 100 letters, phone calls and in-person conversations – was less a mental map of murder than a pointillist painting, a thousand daubs of commentary, criticism and solicitation that, together, formed a shape.

Kendall Francois was a hulking 6 feet, 4 inches and nearly 400 pounds when he sat in the visitors room at Attica, peering into my eyes, yet he had been invisible to his teammates and teachers and friends.

He sneered at that word – friends. They were all fakes and liars, he told me, the guys who reeled out their reminiscences after the bodies of eight women were pulled from Kendall’s home. They’d smiled and clapped him on the back, galloping off to the high school football field for practice, but they never invited him to their parties. They’d never really cared.

I knew that feeling. To my great shame, I could relate.

Kendall had been ugly and huge, as big as his teachers by the time he was 10. He was the fat black kid in a sea of white suburban jocks. He never looked right, never fit in.

I knew that feeling too.

The longer we corresponded, the more confused I became. By any standard measure – race, class, education, family background, heritage, hometown – Kendall Francois and I were as far apart as you could be. Yet, he knew rejection and loneliness and raging frustration in ways that seemed, well, familiar. And once upon a time Kendall had been a child – with dreams, a curious mind, the capacity for affection.

That person died, he wrote in one of our last exchanges, “many times, and many years ago.”

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