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Sunday, March 23, 2008

A WAKE FOR THE GODS

I pity those Bronze Age civilians who suffered living next door to the “heroes” of Greek mythology: what an amazing collection of selfish sociopath lunatics, like Hector and Agamemnon, who looted property, raped and molested women and children, murdered animals, men, women and children, and burned down whole cities to cover their crimes, and who, when they got caught, blamed “the gods”. They sound like a cross between politicians and gang members, don’t they?
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Consider Patroclus: as an adolescent this lunatic murdred his boyhood friend over a game, then did time "up state" guarded by centaurs, where he hooked up with another gang thug named Achilles. These two terrorized half of Asia Minor, fighting a ten year war with a rival gang, who eventually killed Patroclus in a chariot drive by. Achilles avenged his death by killing the rival gang chiefdom and dragging his body all around town. Then Achilles was slain by Paris. What a bloody mess! It sounds almost mythological, doesn’t it? But consider the modern day collision of real heroes at the ironically named “Family Focus Community Center”.
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On February 19th, 31 year old Javor Brooks of Chicago was visiting friends when he was shot and wounded several times in front of a home on Florence Avenue in the suburb of Evanston. Witnesses said they heard four or five shots and then a car accelerating away. Javor was found conscious and transported to St. Francis Hospital, where he died of his wounds 12 days later, on March 9th. To this date there have been no arrests in his murder. On Saturday, March 15th his family gathered for a memorial and luncheon at the Community Center to celebrate Javor passing to Elysiyum Fields, when what might best be described as a Dionysiac Frenzy broke out. (The cops just called it a brawl). After it was all over, according to the Chicago Tribune, “… Elmo Hatfield, 39…was charged with mob action and marijuana procession. Sheldon Morales, 26,…was charged with mob action and obstructing a police officer. Dale Rafael Miguel Richardson, 28,…was charged with aggravated assault. (And) Zipporah Saphire Morales, 24,…was charged with disobedience to police, mob action and obstructing police.” So many arrests at a funeral: it sounds like a funeral rite only someone like Althaemene could appreciate.
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Althaemene was the only son of Catreus, the king of Crete, who had been given a prophecy that he would be killed by his own child. Learning this and loving his father, Althaemene moved to Rhodes. Years later, as he neared death, Catreus sailed after his son to ensure that he inherited the crown. But the fishermen on Rhodes thought Catreus and his men were pirates. The villagers called for help and Althaemene arrived and immediately threw his spear at the intruders without looking or aiming. By luck it struck and killed Catreus, thus fulfilling the prophecy. In his grief and guilt, Althaemene staged a grand funeral for his father, inviting all the kings from the Greek world - including Menelaus, the King of Sparta. And this is why, when Hector and Paris stopped off at Sparta to pay their respects to Menelaus, they found instead, Helen, home alone. So in a way it was the funeral of Catreus that caused the Trojan War.
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When Agamemnon returned after ten years at that war, his wife, Clytemnestra, promised him a huge banquet. But as Agamemnon stepped from his bath before the festivities Clytemnestra threw a heavy robe over her husband’s head and while he fumbled in it she stabbed him to death with his own word. Then she quickly married Aegisthus, who had been her lover for seven years. And if there is one man alive today who might understand how poor old Agamemnon felt, trying to defend himself under that robe, it would be Andrew Scullen, of Hastings, Minnesota, who looked upon the face that launched a thousand ships and two nasty lawsuits.
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Andrew, age 36, married the lovely Kimberly, aged 26, on March 10, 2006. Just five days later he shipped out for Iraq with his National Guard unit. But before he left he granted Kimberly power of attorney, so she could take care of things while he was away fighting a war. However, when he returned home in July of 2007, the lovely Kimberly greeted Andrew with divorce papers. He then discovered that Kimberly had spent all of his combat pay and emptied his savings. She had bought a new car and then let the payments lapse “…giving rise to various fees, penalties, interest and foreclosure”, and destroying Andrew’s credit rating. Kimberly also ran up huge debts on their credit cards, paying for trips with and making straight cash payments to one Nicolas Hale, age 23, Kimberly’s new boyfriend. Andrew is now suing Kimberly and Nicholas to get his money back, (good luck with that) and he is demanding a trial by jury, under the theory, I suspect, that no jury could refuse to convict a petty pretty gold digger like Kimberly. It might make a good plot for Aristophanes’ next play.
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And how could you describe the tragedy of Jeffery Gillham, a 37 year old engineer, except to say it was mythological, but in the original Greek meaning of the term, “Mythos”, meaning a traditional tale. Because, one way or another, Jeffery suffered through a great tragedy in his family home in Woronora, a western suburb of Sydney, Australia. On the night of August 28, 1993, Jeffrey’s father, 55 year old Stephen Gillham, was stabbed 29 times and died in the master bedroom of his home. His body was then soaked in turpentine and set alight. Jeffery’s 58 year old mother, Helen, was stabbed 17 times, and died in the family room. Then her body was soaked in gasoline and set afire. And finally Jeffery’s 25 year old bother Christopher was stabbed 17 times and also died. His body was burned in the fire that severely damaged the family home. But who could have committed these horrible acts?
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If this was truly a Greek Tragedy, one of the gods would be the chief suspect. But the age of heroes has passed, and in our logic driven world chief suspicion fell on the only surviving family member, Jeffery, who by surviving had inherited $916,717.59 Australian. At the time of the murders Jeffery was a 23 year old student earning $8 an hour and had just $8 in the bank. But Jeffery’s version of events confounded the prosecutors. He admitted to chasing down, stabbing and killing Christopher, but only because Christopher had just confessed to murdering their parents. Jeffery could offer no motive for Christopher to murder their parents, but claimed to have even seen Christopher set their mother’s body on fire, just before a rage drove Jeffery to avenge his parent’s death by murdering his elder brother. A jury was swayed by Jeffery’s testimony and he was convicted of manslaughter. He was given a 5 year suspended sentence. And for 14 years his success at swaying a jury proved a Gordian Knot too complicated to unravel.
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But thirteen years after the massacre the Director of Public Prosecutions for New South Wales reversed his two earlier assessments of the case. In February of this year Jeffery was finally charged with the murder of his parents. At trial the jury was lead into the labyrinth of the case. A fireman testified that when Jeffrey met him at the front door his hair was wet and his clothes were dry and clean, but “smelled of petrol”. The Coroner testified that all three victims (including Christopher) had been stabbed in the “region of the heart”, while probably lying motionless on the floor, by an assailant who was probably kneeling over them. He also testified that all were stabbed with the same knife and that the assailant would have been covered with blood. Detectives testified that they had found Christopher Gilliam’s eyeglasses, which he needed to find his way across a room (or defend himself), in the laundry room.
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Under direct examination Jeffery insisted that he loved his parents and had not wanted for money. And he insisted that he had seen the fire spread quickly into the master bedroom, even though a forensic expert had testified that turpentine burns very slowly. But he did admit that he should have thought about helping his parents rather than chasing after his brother. Under cross examination he was asked why, if he had called the fire department immediately after killing his brother (and there was blood splatter around his brother’s body and the room) the only blood found on Jeffery was on his knuckles and fingernails. Jeffery had no explanation. Nor could he explain how Christopher could have murdered their parents without his glasses, or how they had gotten into the laundry room. As they say in the Commonwealth courts, the trial continues.
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And if there is a difference between our reality and the ancient Greek Mythos, it may simply be that had Jeffery Gillham commited his crime in the bronze age he might have been blinded and banished to a slow death by disease. In our more reasoned age, he may only go to jail: assuming this time the jury convicts him. Otherwise, things haven't changed all that much.
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