by Julia Buckley
I was contemplating the idea of murderers who get away with crimes--from fictional characters like Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov to real-life controversial figures like O.J. Simpson (who was exonerated in the courtroom but not necessarily in the court of public opinion)--and wondering what it is that allows some people to walk away from a crime and never face consequences, while others are caught, either instantly or after an investigation.
Part of getting away with it, Dostoevsky suggests, is random. His character, Rodion Raskolnikov, commits a murder that is quite bloody. He is almost caught in the act, which compels him to commit another, quite unplanned murder, and then he is almost caught again. The only thing that saves him is the whim of the other person, who decides to go and get help rather than investigate what is behind the door of the apartment.
After that come more coincidences--the fact that there is an empty flat in which Raskolnikov can hide when the police come; the fact that no one happens to be on the stairwell when he comes down, and the fact that the courtyard of the building, at that particular time, is empty. He is able to slide out onto the sidewalk unseen, unnoticed, even thought his clothes are stained with blood. The only thing that leads to his eventual detection is the gradual disintegration of his mind, partly due to the persistence of his own conscience.
If one goes with the theory that O.J. Simpson was guilty, there is all sorts of evidence to support that idea, from previous 9-1-1 calls made by his wife, alleging violent attacks by him; blood and hair evidence linking Simpson to both Brown and Goldman; clues left at the scene of the bloody double homicide; and the behavior of Simpson himself after the murders: strange, erratic, inappropriate. He led the police on a now-famous slow-chase in his white Ford Bronco and left a rambling, self-pitying suicide note implying that he himself had been victimized. One line read, "At times I have felt like a battered husband or boyfriend but I loved her, make that clear to everyone. And I would take whatever it took to make it work" (The Trial of OJ Simpson--selected documents). Simpson's seemingly unconscious alteration of that final cliche could be read as a chilling sign of his obsession and his violence.
Simpson suggested that he was a good person who lived by the Golden Rule and that the media was to blame for the way people perceived him. If he is guilty of the crimes (and several people have come forward since the trial to say he "confessed" to them), he has lived with his own guilt since 1994, first as a free man and later in prison.
So how do killers go on with life and with potentially crushing guilt? The most successful of them are probably psychopaths, according to Dr. Mary Ellen O'Toole, who wrote this blog for Psychology Today. The psychopath has no conscience, O'Toole notes. He or she also knows how to "look normal" and "land on [his] feet." In OJ's case, it helped that he was a national hero, a beloved sports icon whose fans were reluctant to believe that he could do anything so dastardly as double homicide.
Simpson always contended that he would search for "the real killers" of Nicole, but never took steps to do so.
After the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony, whom many believe to be guilty of killing her own two-year-old daughter (and who displayed some of the most narcissistic behavior in the history of accused killers), one might raise the question of just how many murderers walk the streets, undetected. O'Toole points out that "dangerous people do not look any different than non-dangerous people. They can be married, live in houses, and have pets and children."
So, not to turn this into Rear Window--but do you ever look at your neighbors, or at your block, or your neighborhood--and wonder just how many people are getting away with murder?