by Meryl Neiman
Okay. I admit it. I'm a little obsessed with the Jon-Benet case. Not obsessed as in I have my own web site or I've read the actual autopsy reports. But obsessed as in, if someone told me I could find out who killed Jon-Benet or whether there's life in outer space, I'd have to go with who killed Jon-Benet.
When they dragged that crazy guy back from Singapore, my curiosity rekindled. On the one hand, certain clues point to one of her family members. Who else would know the exact sum of her father's bonus? Why would a "kidnapper" not bring paper on which to write a note with him to the scene? How would a stranger know to take Jon-Benet to that isolated basement room? But, on the other hand, the child's body was brutalized in a way that seems inconsistent with a parent gone out of control and there was unidentified DNA under her fingernails.
This is a story without an ending.
I think her case fascinates me, and lots of others, for several reasons in addition to the complicated crime scene. First, the little girl's heartbreaking beauty. Second, the strange world of child pageants. Third, the parents' decision to lawyer up right away.
But, most of all, I'm fascinated by evil. I find people endlessly interesting. And, of all people, I find those that are most on the fringe of societal norms the most fascinating. As a law student, I loved criminal law, that unique combination of legal principle and human drama. Unfortunately, there wasn't a career path in criminal law that suited me. I didn't want to be a prosecutor, committed to a political system that often offers an attorney little discretion. Neither did I want to be a defense attorney, working to free defendants who might go on to commit other horrific offenses.
So I became a litigator. I defended class action securities cases, toxic tort cases, and employment discrimination cases. I litigated on behalf of large corporate clients as they sought to hold their historic insurance companies responsible for environmental remediation costs. The work was intellectually challenging, if not emotionally engaging. But when I reduced my schedule to part-time to raise my young children, things changed. I couldn't manage complex litigation cases on a part-time schedule. The resulting piece meal work became boring.
So here I am, a recovering lawyer. Agented, but as yet unpublished. Striving to carve out a career in criminal law. Not as a prosecutor. Or as a defense attorney. But as a writer. In this profession, I can indulge my fascination with evil. I can explore the darker side of human nature and the justice system without commiting myself to an unbending stance. My stories have endings. I know who committed the murders in my books and I know why.
I only wish I knew who killed Jon-Benet. If any of you out there know who did, please let me know.