On October 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. That is a fact which no one can question, dispute, or deny. The photo of Matt shown on television and newspapers around the country depicted a blond, clean-cut young man with a friendly smile—an all-American boy—whom the nation could love. His tragic death led to multiple initiatives to introduce anti-gay hate crime legislation, as well as increased awareness of homophobia in American society. Few people questioned the possibility that Matt—this nice all-American boy in the photo–could be anything other than a terribly random victim of a hate crime.

Over the years, a stream of journalists, playwrights, and others have visited Laramie, Wyoming to talk to people who knew Shepard. Some of those “East Coasters” went to Laramie with preconceived notions of what had taken place, and the place itself. Those biases often colored their interactions with Wyoming folk, and led the big city LGBT communities to believe that all people from that area were homophobic rednecks. Today, for anyone—especially a gay man—to question “the Matthew Shepard story” is tantamount to questioning Holocaust survivor testimony, or whether or not Jesus was the pure son of God. In The Book of Matt, award-winning journalist, writer, and producer Stephen Jimenez is the gay man who pokes at this sacred cow.

In 2000, Jimenez went to Laramie to research the story of Matthew Shepard’s murder. His original intention was to write a screenplay re-enacting the story of homophobic violence that everyone—including Jimenez himself—believed as gospel. Instead, Jimenez discovered multiple layers of secrets surrounding this case that had not originally been reported by the media. For thirteen years, Jimenez researched the Matthew Shepard case through personal interviews with more than one hundred sources, court documents, police reports, and visits to gay bars and drug trafficking sites in twenty states and Washington D.C., in order to write this book. The extensive interviews and dogged investigative research conducted by Jimenez make The Book of Matt a model for journalistic inquiry.

Stephen Jimenez is an award-winning journalist, writer, and producer. He has written and produced programs for ABC News 20/20, Dan Rather Reports, Nova, Fox, Court TV, and others. He has earned the Writers Guild of America Award, the Mongerson Award for Investigative Reporting, and an Emmy. He was also a 2012 Norman Mailer Nonfiction Fellow. Critics of The Book of Matt have made angry claims against Jimenez, from “sloppy research” to “pandering to the right wing” to making sweeping statements that murders of gay men are not hate crimes. Perhaps I would have believed this too, if prior to The Book of Matt’s publication I did not get to know a University of Wyoming of Laramie employee who is in charge of the Matthew Shepard Archives.

The Matthew Shepard Archives include all of the newspaper articles about Matthew Shepard’s murder and documents about Matthew Shepard while he was a student at the University of Wyoming. I remembered the archivist telling me that a significant percentage of the newspaper articles were false and sensationalized [which Jimenez illustrates in the first chapter of his book]. She had also told me that Matthew Shepard was openly gay as a student, that he was president of the student government, that he was a socially savvy, charismatic individual, and that he was no stranger to bars or gay activities. Jimenez walks the path of other award winning journalists such as Amira Hass, Christopher Hitchens, and the late Anna Politskaya. He dares to tell the truth about what we may not want to believe. This results in condemnation from some people and kudos from others. In The Book of Matt, Jimenez reveals that Matthew Shepard had a drug addiction that tied him to some of the more unsavory characters in Laramie…including his killers. One of the killers—Aaron McKinney—was also no stranger to gay sex. Jimenez was able to discover these things—and much more—because the court case documents and police reports had finally been unsealed. When interviewing his sources, Jimenez could reference these documents in his conversations.

People outside of Laramie may believe what they like about the Matthew Shepard case. One can read The Book of Matt as a masterful work of investigative journalism or intriguing crime fiction if they will not accept other perspectives on the case. What Jimenez makes very clear, however, is that the media is often the least trustworthy source of news you will ever find. Their mission is to keep stories simple and to sell papers. Would we have followed Shepard’s story so closely if we knew he offered McKinney and Henderson drugs for sex? Would his mother have been able to establish the Matthew Shepard Foundation to eliminate gay hate crimes? Jimenez is revealing today what we should have read fifteen years ago. In the meantime, the media continues to report on some anti-gay hate crimes while completely ignoring others, and thousands go completely unreported out of fear of retaliation. Perhaps the main takeaway from The Book of Matt is that we should challenge ourselves to demand the truth from our media at all times, even if it costs us a tidy narrative.

 

 

Further Reading:

ABC News. (2004, Nov 26). “New details emerge in Matthew Shepard murder.” ABC News. Retrieved on October 4, 2013 from http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=277685&page=1

Brinker, L. (2013, Oct 2). “Debunking Stephen Jimenez’s effort to de-gay Matthew Shepard’s murder.” Retrieved on October 4, 2013 from http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/10/02/debunking-stephen-jimenezs-effort-to-de-gay-mat/196229

Hicklin, A. (2013, Sept 13). “Have we got Matthew Shepard all wrong?” The Advocate. Retrieved on Friday October 4, 2013 from http://www.advocate.com/print-issue/current-issue/2013/09/13/have-we-got-matthew-shepard-all-wrong?page=full

Mandell, S. (2013, Sept 29). “Matthew Shepard Foundation slams new book disputing role of anti-gay hate in Shepard’s murder.” Towleroad. Retrieved on October 4, 2013 from http://www.towleroad.com/2013/09/matthew-shepard-foundation-slams-new-book-disputing-role-of-anti-gay-hate-in-shepards-murder.html

Matthew Shepard Foundation. (2013). Matthew Shepard Foundation. [Official website]. Retrieved on October 4, 2013 from http://www.matthewshepard.org/

Moore, J. (2009, Oct 4). “Murderer: ‘Matt Shepard needed killing.’” The Denver Post. Retrieved on October 4, 2013 from http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci_13464996

Moran, R. (2013, Sept 15). “Matthew Shepard narrative challenged in new book.” PJ Media. Retrieved from PJTatler on Friday October 4, 2013 from http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2013/09/15/matthew-shepard-narrative-challenged-in-new-book/

Nichols, J. (2013, Sept 12). “Matthew Shepard murdered by bisexual lover and drug dealer, Stephen Jimenez claims in new book.” Huffington Post. Retrieved on October 4, 2013 from

 

The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard
by Stephen Jimenez
Steerforth Press
Hardcover, 9781586422141, 386 pp.
September 2013



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  • Michael Craft

4 Responses to “‘The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard’ by Stephen Jimenez”

  1. Chris 27 December 2013 at 8:42 AM #

    You clearly found this book more convincing than I did. You don’t even mention Jimenez’s two biggest charges: that Shepard had repeated sex with his killer McKinney in the months before the murder, and that Shepard was a major drug dealer in Laramie. I find both of these preposterous. The Laramie police laugh off the idea that Shepard was a drug kingpin and even Andrew Sullivan, who supports the rest of the book, has backed off from this claim. But it’s hard to trust a journalist who could swallow such a whopper.

    Jimenez may have spent thirteen years investigating his story, but he tells it very, very badly. The chronology is a confusing jumble, many of the sources are untrustworthy or unnamed, and the pieces just don’t hang together. I do not need to believe that Matthew Shepard was a saint–I never thought he was. But if a journalist is going to challenge an established story, he better make his case clearly and persuasively. Jimenez fails on both counts. That’s why I reject this book, not because it tells an unpleasant, untidy truth.


  2. Ouiser 4 January 2014 at 2:29 AM #

    Rachel – it’s ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA and not Politskaya…


  3. […] Heart. We’ve also released the paperback edition of The Book of Matt, which brought new light to the case of Matthew Shepard’s murder when it came out last […]


  4. jonas 11 April 2016 at 9:30 PM #

    I am a gay man in Laramie. A number of people have challenged me with this book, declaring that Matthew wasn’t killed because he was gay. One even told me: “One of your people wrote that book so you should read it.” So, recently, I got a copy of the book and read it.
    I saw my first red flag when I read the subtitle of the book: Hidden Truths About The Murder Of Matthew Shepard. I am a skeptical person so when someone claims to have the truth about anything, I tend to disbelieve them. Then I read the dust jacket on the book, part of which says: “The Book of Matt is sure to stir passions and inspire dialogue as it re-frames this misconstrued crime and its cast of characters, proving irrefutably that Matt Shepard was not killed for being gay…” Wow. It will irrefutably prove that. That is no small order.
    Further into the book, the author says: “Through this work of nonfiction journalism, I have occasionally employed methods that are slightly less stringent to recreate the dialogue of characters—words I did not personally hear; nor could the characters themselves recall every word exactly from memory…” Hmm. The author also admits to showing up in Laramie more than a year after the murder. At that time the trials were also over.
    I am skeptical about any story that gets documented after the fact because I wonder about how stories change over time. Have you ever questioned if all the details of a story you are telling, which happened just a short while ago, are all being accurately remembered? I have. Whisper down the alley in a town that really wants to not be seen as homophobic could easily have changed minds and stories significantly by the time the author, Stephen Jimenez got around to his investigation. But he, one man, has come up with a story that is more factual than the story told by hundreds of people including police investigators, lawyers, journalists, and dozens of interviewers from a theater company.
    The book goes to great lengths to prove its story with lots of hearsay, rumor, and pages of quotes from lots of people, many who asked the author to not use their names for fear of retribution. Retribution? Who is going to seek vengeance on them for saying that Matthew Shepard was not killed because he was gay? The Gay Mafia? Jimenez claims that they fear the Meth cartel of Colorado and Wyoming. The author also adds scenes with him being followed by police and drug lords trying to harm him. It was never clear to me for what? Matthew was long dead and both McKinney and Henderson were in jail. Were the Meth overlords really that paranoid?
    However after reading hundreds of pages of he said/she said, I was starting to be convinced that maybe the author was right. According to his witnesses, Aaron and Matthew were friends, who had had sex many times, they even had a threesome with Doc, a man, who ran a limousine service. Also, Matthew and Aaron were seen in public many times. The author documents at least ten people, who say they saw them in public together before the murder though many of the names are fictitious in order to protect the innocent from the evil Meth drug lords, I suppose. And Matthew was a major supplier of Meth for Laramie so in the end Matthew was killed because of a drug deal or because he crossed someone or because he knew something the drug overlords didn’t want anyone to know.
    I went to bed that night exhausted, wondering how I could have been duped into believing Matthew was killed because he was gay. But then I woke up at three in the morning and pondered things a bit more. Considering all the he said/she said I had just read along with lots of details, well, the descriptions in the book, for me at least, felt like there was a pretty substantial amount of time regarding the things that happened before the murder. But Matthew was in his first semester of school at the University of Wyoming. He lived in Denver prior to moving back to Laramie that summer and when he was killed, only five weeks of classes had passed. Matt was a very busy little bee, wasn’t he? Lots of sex with Aaron, even a threesome with Doc, being seen with Aaron in public many times by close to a dozen people, going to school full time and being a major Meth supplier for Laramie. He was able to accomplish all of that in just a few months. I knew one of Matt’s professors and he said that Matt had a pretty good attendance record. That short skinny boy, who weighed just over a hundred pounds and who suffered from severe depression was actually some kind of super hero, who could jump over tall buildings in a single bound. Or maybe he stayed awake 24/7 on Meth? Or maybe he had a couple of clones?
    Suddenly, the picture that the author, Stephen Jimenez had painted didn’t seem very plausible. It made sense that many of the folks he quoted had fictitious names. In the meantime, the main characters of the show, the murderers, McKinney and Henderson continued to insist that they didn’t know Matt before that night when they met. To this day, they continue to insist they didn’t know him before that night. So, the story in the Book of Matt feels a bit fanciful to me. But I could be wrong. Perhaps Matthew was really that industrious. The story, if true, is definitely one that is stranger than fiction
    I want to note that McKinney called Matthew, the fag and the queer. I used bold above to emphasize how McKinney depersonalized Matt. He made him an object. It is like saying the dog instead of that dog or instead of using the dog’s name and in some small way, it is including all f*gs in that depersonalization. Homophobia is much more complicated and complex than Jimenez or you and I can imagine. The fact that the author didn’t comprehend the way McKinney was using those words feels homophobic to me. Instead Jimenez says that McKinney used those words to sound like a gangster. Really? McKinney refers to himself as homophobic while writing to people from jail long after the trial and his conviction. Perhaps he only does that to protect his ass, literally. But if you’re ass is cute and you are in prison, your ass is going to get violated whether you are homophobic or not so I don’t buy that argument.
    I also seriously wonder why the police and powers that be in Laramie would have opted for having the crime be seen as homophobic rather than a Meth crime. Jimenez seems to suggest that they felt it looked better but most of the residents of Laramie feel that it looks better to have it be a drug crime rather than a hate crime. That is what they have been rallying for since the murder and Jimenez gives them what they have been longing for.
    But even if the dramas presented in the Book of Matt are what really happened, that still doesn’t mean that part of the motivation for Shepard’s murder wasn’t homophobic. Jimenez presents Aaron in way that makes him seem ashamed of having had regular sex with men. Aaron still denies it to this day. If Matt was not killed because he was gay, perhaps he was killed because Aaron was. Or at the very least, part of the murder had to do with Aaron’s internalized homophobia.
    Right wing conservatives have latched on to the Book of Matt as proof of the deceptive gay agenda. How we have fooled America into passing legislation like the federal hate crimes law. I am not sure that Jimenez planned on that happening but it is a by-product of his book. There probably are plenty of martyrs for various causes, who were not who they seemed to be. But does it mean that the positive changes that came about because of their martyrdom are invalid? Jimenez actually talks about that at the end of his book. But it is a slippery slope, isn’t it?
    I may be in denial and/or delusional but calling the murder just a robbery or a drug deal that went bad feels a bit like calling a rape, a date that went bad. Just because a gay man says Shepard’s murder wasn’t a hate crime, well, if Matthew Shepard had been black and McKinney called him, the N***** in the police interrogation after tying him to a fence and completely bashing his skull in, but then an African American wrote a book saying it wasn’t a hate crime, does that mean it ain’t so?
    I think the real story lies somewhere in between the book of Matt, local stories about it, and the Laramie Project. The murder wasn’t simply just a hate crime. It is a complicated puzzle and we need to look at all the pieces of it. But at this point, it might be too late to do that. Whisper down the alley has been at work for a very long time.
    Remember how Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus was really Jesus risen from the dead until he saw the wounds in his hands? That’s how I feel about this book. Jimenez describes looking at numerous court documents, some of which he photocopied like an anonymous letter that came to the Cal Rerucha, the prosecutor, saying that Aaron and Russell frequented gay bars and that Aaron had sex with men for money. He also talks about important emails he received. Some appendixes at the end of such an important investigative work actually showing copies of those letters and emails might have made me more of a believer. He said, she said, the letter said, the email said, etcetera didn’t really work for me even when the letter or email was transcribed into the book supposedly verbatim. I’d like to see the wounds on those hands, i.e.–copies of the original documents.



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