The Murdered and Murderer I’ve Known

I am amazed and disturbed by the recent realization that I’ve known both a murderer and a person who has been murdered (not the same crime). Though each event troubles me in its own way, I’m still not sure which saddens me more.

Eric Gelman (by Brian Sawyer)Yesterday, I received my college alumni magazine, where Lynn Gelman relays the upsetting news that her son Eric

was murdered on Sunday, April 17, 2005. He was working as a waiter in Los Angeles, had just ended his shift, and was on the way to his car. It appears to have been an attempted robbery, a random act of violence.

Gelman (perhaps as a side effect of our common sports naming convention, in which world I was always “Sawyer,” I rarely heard him called by his first name) was a genuinely great guy, who I’m sure is missed by many. I knew him as the life of any party at my school and was grateful to him for welcoming me as an incoming freshman and contributing to my early collegiate delinquency. He did more for me than just buy me beer; he helped make me feel at home in the first place I ever lived that was not my parents’ home.

My heart of course goes out to his family, friends, and the many, many people I assume were close to him. His parents have funded a scholarship in his memory, which I think is a very fitting tribute.

Like many Hollywood waiters, Gelman was a struggling actor, and his mother’s article mentioned that he’d landed a couple speaking parts on the television show Monk. So, last night, I watched “Mr. Monk Goes to Las Vegas” for the second time, since I didn’t remember recognizing him in the episode the first time. Sure enough, here he is in the second minute, as “Paparazzi Photographer,” delivering his line (“Mr. Thorn, over here! One picture!”):

Gelman on Monk (by Brian Sawyer)

I replayed his few seconds several times and wish we all could have seen much more of him.

Thinking of this senseless end to the life of someone I knew in college reminded me that a few years ago I’d learned that a high school classmate of mine had been convicted of murder not long after our graduation and was spending years on death row. I wondered if he’d been executed yet, which a quick search confirmed.

I just can’t believe that this guy sat behind me in homeroom:

Executed Murderer (by Brian Sawyer)Robert Alan Shields Jr., 30, was executed by lethal injection on 23 August 2005 in Huntsville, Texas for murdering a woman after breaking into her home. On the morning of 21 September 1994, Shields, then 19, broke into the Friendswood home of Tracy and Paula Stiner. He waited for several hours until Paula, 27, came home from work. Shields beat her with a hammer, then stabbed her to death. He then stole the victim’s credit cards, checkbook, and car keys from her purse, and fled in her car. Tracy Stiner discovered his wife’s bloody body lying on the laundry room floor when he came home from work about an hour later. There were 28 stab wounds on the victim’s body.

I always knew he was kind of a jerk, but I never dreamed he was a monster. It’s truly frightening to think what some people are capable of. I’m saddened for the loss of Gelman’s life, and I’m saddened by the tragedy inflicted by someone else I once knew. Right now, it’s hard to distinguish between the two types of grief, but I’m not sure it’s a distinction that needs to be untangled.