What’s a boy supposed to do?Smashing Pumpkins, Disarm
The killer in me is the killer in you.
This is a true story based on in-person interviews, newspaper reports, and legal documents. I visited Sam Manzie at the New Jersey State Prison at Trenton twice each month for several years. He has never agreed to be interviewed by other reporters or writers.
The afternoon of Saturday, September 27, 1997, Sam Manzie, a sharply intelligent, white, middle-class fifteen-year-old, murdered Eddie Werner, an eleven-year-old neighbor Sam had never met before, first raping him and then strangling him for nearly an hour before hitting him more than once in the head, to ensure he was no longer alive, with the electric alarm clock that was attached to the cord he had used to strangle the boy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice in 2001, the murder rate among 14- to 17-year old white males has varied between .01% and .02% per year for the last 25 years. Cases in which an adolescent male commits a sexual homicide upon another male is statistically very, very uncommon.
Eddie, the first of four children, who was born on Christmas Day 1985, was finally in the sixth grade after being made to take fifth grade twice. He had ADD and a mild case of Tourette’s syndrome and had been held back, not for academic but for social reasons—his parents and teachers had agreed he would benefit from making a fresh start among a younger group of children. A creative, outgoing but emphatically unathletic boy, Eddie had just begun, in the first weeks of sixth grade, to fit in and make friends with his schoolmates after a somewhat difficult year. When his father, who is a lawyer and now head of New Jersey’s Victims Compensation Board, described his namesake to me in a Newark diner in May 2006, I thought he seemed to suggest with his euphemisms of creativity and artistic sensibility that if Eddie had grown up, he might have been gay. He had been out by himself selling candy and gift-wrapping paper to raise money for his private Catholic school. He was a good salesman who connected easily with people and often persuaded them to buy something. He hoped to win the prize for best sales, a pair of walkie-talkies, and when he was killed he had raised more money than any of the other kids in his class. Sam stole the money that was in Eddie’s pockets, about $200.
When Eddie approached the Manzies’ suburban New Jersey house (less than a mile from his own) that September Saturday, Sam was home alone, sitting on the front porch smoking a cigarette. He had, when he was thirteen, molested a three-year-old boy to whom he was emotionally cruel in addition to some physical abuse, telling the boy that his mother no longer loved him, and that Sam was now his mother. And at 14 Sam began a sexual relationship with Stephen Simmons, a 42-year-old overweight man from Long Island. Sam had fantasized (and spoken to Stephen) about raping and killing a child. He had seen what he thought was the portrayal of a child being brutally murdered on television, and the scene had provoked his imagination. On the day of the murder, Sam’s mental health was very ragged; he was enrolled in a day program at a psychiatric facility five days a week instead of going to school. He was depressed, and couldn’t find a compelling reason not to have his way with Eddie when he showed up and a short time later agreed to come inside. When Eddie first approached, Sam has said, he felt “a rush,” the kind of sensation that is said to be universal prior to and sometimes during rapes that lead to murder. But at first he sent Eddie away and went into the house where he called Mary, an obese girl he’d met at Shoreline Behavioral Health Center, the facility where Sam and Mary met. They both dreaded weekends, which they found boring. But while he was speaking with Mary, it occurred to Sam that Eddie represented the chance to have sex with a boy he had been hoping for, so without mentioning his plan to Mary he cut short his phone call and ran after Eddie, telling him he’d changed his mind and might want to buy something after all. They walked together back to the Manzies’ house and went inside. Sam locked the door and said to Eddie, “You’re going to die.” Sam was driven, he says, by sexual need; he did not want to kill the boy, but he believed that if he was going to molest the boy as he had decided to do, it was his only option. He hoped to get away with it, to hide the body and elude suspicion. He was suicidal; he had little concern for his chances of success, and thought of himself as someone who was “born to be institutionalized.” He knew that he would probably go to prison, at least, for his crime. But he didn’t care.
I read about the murder just after it happened and immediately felt a strange identification with Sam. I felt that if things had gone a little differently for me, I could have found myself similarly in trouble as a teenager. My adolescence, like Sam’s, was corrupted by a long-term erotic relationship with a much older man. I too suffered through (and put my family through) some mental-health quagmires, and my entire life until well into adulthood I was terribly lonely and unhappy. I was not the kind of teenager who was at great risk of murdering someone (very few are), but there was a suicidal, raging malice that grew up in me as a reaction to the chaotic life I had at home along with the homophobia and daily meanness I was dealt from most of my schoolmates and some adults in the small towns of Ohio where I grew up. I escaped to New York at age 20 and eventually found my way to a good life. As I matured, the anger in me was transformed into something less prone to outward action, but no less conflicted. By the time I heard about Sam’s murder of Eddie, when I was thirty-one, my inner disorder was a danger only to myself (and I was then at the height of my self-destructiveness). But the murder reminded me of the teenage angst I had experienced and of the miserable loneliness I had felt in coping with it. I wrote to Sam in prison, and we began a correspondence that has led to a close friendship. I like Sam, and I enjoy talking with him, though he appears to lack any capacity for allowing his feelings to come near to the surface of his mind. He knows what feelings are, and he acknowledges their importance in terms of his mental health; he even believes he is often overwhelmed by deep, oceanic feelings. But he does not seem actually to feel sad or lonely or happy or any of the subtler emotions most of us enjoy and abide. I see him, a thick pane of glass between us, twice a month at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. He’s an avid reader (we’re both reading Proust now) and he has a powerful intellect, but I cannot imagine him shouting or crying. I asked him recently when was the last time he cried, and he told me that he had nearly cried upon finishing a book that had moved him, a novel called Towelhead about an Arab-American girl who is sexually abused. But he couldn’t remember the last time he had actually shed a tear. He said that if there were a button he could press that would make him cry, he would press it.
Sam was born in California on February 25, 1982, his father’s third son. Nicholas Manzie had been married before, but was estranged from his ex-wife and their two children, who had moved across the country, to Florida. Nick and his second wife had a daughter, Nicolette, and then, two years later, they had Sam.
While Nicolette was known within the family, during Sam’s childhood, as the troublesome child of the two, Sam did cause teachers and counselors to give him their attention beginning in first grade by behaving violently with other children and disturbing the schoolroom atmosphere with his outbursts, throwing things, hitting other children, and by otherwise expressing his lonely-looking, bitter discontent. His parents were advised to seek psychotherapy for him, and they took Sam to see some doctors, each of whom, over the years, gave a wholly different diagnosis from the others’. Finally, when he was admitted in August 1997 (less than two months before the murder) to Shoreline, the admitting diagnosis was “major depression psychosis.”
Two years before the murder, when Sam was thirteen, he met a 55-year-old man in an early version of an Internet chat room. They began a romance by phone which Sam refers to as his “first case of requited love.” Curiously, he cannot recall even the man’s first name. They talked and talked on the phone; the older man was in Pennsylvania, and Sam’s enormous phone bills were a source of contention with his parents, but they paid the bills, believing Sam was talking to a teenage girl. He had “girlfriends,” mostly girls he met online and never in person, but he considered himself seriously involved with them. He had a whole virtual reality of love and dating and sex. But he craved the real thing.
A year before the murder, Sam met Stephen Simmons, the 42-year-old twice-convicted (and once jailed) pedophile, in an AOL chatroom. In 1996 parents such as Sam’s, Nick and the now-aptly named Dolores (Sam pointed out to me that her name is derived from the word dolorous, or sad), were still unaware of the danger built into the Internet’s capacity for connecting predatory adults to curious children. Sam’s parents believed their son was playing video games and using his own website to sell bootleg copies of CDs by his favorite rock band, Smashing Pumpkins. They were pleased that he had found interests apart from his work at school (at which he had always done well), and they encouraged his inclination to explore computer technology and the Internet. They had bought him his own computer. Sam, a melancholy teenager whose ambition was to become a scholarly historian, was using the Web for many purposes, among them to download images of hardcore pornography, and to look for something he desperately needed, a friend. He was altogether an Internet-generation teenager who was more comfortable online than in person. He was the type of teenager—I was, too—who could not master the art of friendship, and had no real friends at all. Stephen Simmons was very happy to pay attention to Sam, though Sam was not his type, which is embodied best, Stephen says, by the pre-Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio. Sam was an awkward, six-foot-tall, 38-inch waist, dark-haired fourteen-year-old with big ears; he was a nerd, and fey—his nickname at school was Manzie the Pansy—who read books and took himself too earnestly. He was physically, at fourteen, relatively mature according to Laura Mansnerus of the New York Times, who has written about the case and has seen photographs taken by Stephen of Sam nude. “He had all the equipment,” she told me. “He was no child.”
While he neglected to tell Sam he had been in jail, Stephen did not hide his desire for Sam, a virgin who enjoyed the devotion and was excited at the prospect, at last, of physical intimacy and sexual adventure, even if it was not with a person to his taste. Sam had been tortured for years by a powerful desire for sexual contact with other children, but had never been able to negotiate any sort of sexual encounter with a person apart from molesting the three-year-old boy. He and Stephen made a plan to meet on Saturday, August 10, 1996. Nick drove Sam to the Freehold Raceway Mall in the family’s SUV and agreed to allow Sam some time alone inside the mall. Sam kept his secret rendezvous with Stephen, and they went into the mall’s cinema to see Phenomenon, a movie starring John Travolta as a man who is transformed into a superhuman genius whose difference from everyone else serves only to make people afraid of him and to attract the aggressive interventions of the police, an experience somewhat similar to what Sam himself would have a year later when the New Jersey State Police and the FBI went after Stephen and illegally recruited Sam as an operative. (Stephen was arrested three days before the murder.) Sam enjoyed the film, but Stephen, who was nearly thirty years older than Sam, with a large, drooping face, was preoccupied with fondling and kissing Sam, who had already explained that he would only have sex if Stephen took Sam home with him, a plan Stephen resisted. It was a scenario Sam had long fantasized about—going home with an “old man”—and he also cherished the hope to experience the same scene from the other perspective, that of the older man, with another young boy, later in life. Sam has thought of himself as a pedophile since age twelve, when he realized he was sexually different from most people, gay and straight alike. He desires boys and girls equally, but his obsessive fantasies all pertain to children, never adults. He told me that he finds most children beautiful and adults comparatively ugly. He told Stephen (according to Stephen) in a letter (which has been lost) that he had fantasized about tying up and killing Stephen. But his sexual interest in Stephen was to some degree a put-on in order to sustain Stephen’s attention and to gain some sexual experience as the boy in the man-boy scenario. (Sam explains it with the concept of karma: he felt that if he had sex with Stephen despite his lack of desire, then—having paid his dues—he would have earned the right to have sex with a boy later, when he was a man.) In fact Sam had already played the role of the older man, while babysitting for a three-year-old boy whose development was slow and who was unable to talk and still wearing diapers. Sam, at thirteen, fondled the boy in a sexual way, but did not rape him. After telling the boy his mother no longer loved him and that Sam was now his mother, he hurt the boy physically by pushing him to the ground, and was fired. He was, he told me with a disconcerting half-serious pride, “handsomely paid” for his work as the boy’s babysitter; he called it “reverse prostitution.”
Sam and Stephen left the cinema and went into a wooded area behind the mall, where Sam participated in his first kiss. Stephen tried again to engage Sam in sex, but Sam continued to tease him and persuaded Stephen, against his better judgment, to take the boy to his home in Holbrook, Long Island, a three-hour drive from Freehold. Sam’s parents paged him from home while he was in Stephen’s car, still in the parking lot of the mall, but Sam ignored them. Stephen calls himself a “moron” for allowing himself to be persuaded by Sam to take him to Long Island, but he was weak. Sitting opposite me in the dreary visiting room of the Special Treatment Unit in which he is still confined ten years later, Stephen paraphrased Oscar Wilde: “I can resist anything,” he said, “except temptation.”
When they arrived in Holbrook, Sam met “Big Steve,” Stephen’s 59-year-old “husband.” “Big Steve” was openly annoyed that Stephen hadn’t informed him, as they had long agreed to do, that he was bringing home a boy, a not too infrequent arrangement for the two men, though Sam at fourteen was younger than most. After soothing “Big Steve,” who was cooking dinner, Sam and Stephen got into the hot tub in the garage. The three of them had dinner together, Sam worked on Stephen’s computer, then Sam and Stephen took a shower and the three of them met up in the bedroom. But “Big Steve” felt excluded and angrily left the room. A noisy argument between the two men ensued (while Sam waited for his lover in the bedroom), followed by “Big Steve” slamming the door to another room and sleeping there for the night. Sam and Stephen then had sex (which included Sam’s ejaculating into Stephen’s mouth) and they spent the night cuddled together while Sam’s parents searched for him, called the police, and worried.
The next day, Stephen drove with Sam back to New Jersey, stopping along the way for Sam’s favorite breakfast, a chocolate bar and a Coca-cola. Sam called home, but before Nick could get there the police picked Sam up outside the Barnes & Noble store across from the Freehold Mall. He told the police and his parents that he had got lost in Freehold (population 35,000), behind the shopping mall, and spent the night in the woods, where he had planned to meet another boy, a story the police told the Manzies they did not believe. Nor did the Manzies, who had searched Sam’s email during the night and found one Sam had forgotten to delete that referred to his plan to meet an “old man” and spend the night with him, but when confronted by them, he denied that that’s what happened. The incident did lead to a conversation, later, between Sam and his parents during which they asked if he was gay. He said he thought he was bisexual. In fact, though he did not mention this to his parents, he was concerned about his violent fantasies of having sex with and hurting young children. Being merely gay, he says, would have been relatively easy for him.
Stephen was Sam’s only “friend” and the only person with whom Sam has ever had consensual sex. They next met secretly outside an amusement park (Stephen having baulked at paying the entrance fee) and went from there to a motel where they took drugs provided by Stephen, including pot and ketamine or “Special K,” a powerful substance used by veterinarians as a tranquilizer for animals, and had more unsafe sex. Sam’s description of the scene in the motel is of him lying obliviously spread-out naked on the bed while Stephen “did his thing,” which included unprotected anal sex.
Left at home alone overnight, his parents and sister away, in November 1996, Sam invited Stephen to the house in Jackson Township, where they spent the night. But Sam, at 14, was not interested so much in having sex with Simmons (who, as Sam has pointed out, resembles Slobodan Milosevic) as in just hanging out, listening to music, not being alone. When Stephen demanded sex the night he was in Sam’s house, Sam threw the Manzies’ dog down a flight of stairs at Stephen, wounding the dog, and told Stephen to have sex with it. It was not the first time Sam had abused a pet. Stephen slept on the floor next to Sam’s single bed and drove home annoyed the next morning, vowing to himself never to see Sam again—and in fact he never would see Sam again except at his sentencing, where Sam testified in his defense. They continued to communicate often, however, via email and telephone, even after both of them had sworn to Sam’s parents they wouldn’t.
Sam’s mental health had never been stable, but it declined dramatically around the time he turned 15 in February 1997. He lost weight and suddenly lost interest in school. He was attending a private Catholic high school, where he had been a brilliant straight-A student, but then dropped out of ninth grade early in 1997 following a five-week period of illness, which was never diagnosed, but was surely major depression. Sam had been given a standardized intelligence test while in the sixth grade and had ranked nationally in the 99th percentile; he was then asked to take the SAT, the same test high school seniors take to get into college. Sam, at 11, scored 480 in math and 380 in English (the national averages for incoming college freshmen are 520 and 508). But beginning in February 1997 he simply stopped going to school. He became a recluse who seldom left his bedroom. His attention was given largely to his computer, the Internet, and Smashing Pumpkins, whose leader, Billy Corgan, Sam quoted as the source for his own take on the existence of God: “I don’t care if he exists & if he does, I don’t think he cares if I care that he exists.” He set fire to a textbook and punched holes in the walls of his room. He threw a remote control device at Nick, and was generally hostile and cold with his family. He printed out several hundred images of child pornography, hardcore sex both gay and straight, and bestiality, all of which Nick confiscated later that year. Nick hid the pictures in the garage and later told police he had kept them in order to make sure there were no indications of the images having come from Sam’s computer. He said the pictures disgusted him. If so, he should have burned them, but he delivered them to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office in September. The pictures would have contributed to the prosecution’s case against Sam had he not pled guilty.
In June, Sam sent a note to his biology teacher at Christian Brothers proposing to give him oral sex. The teacher alerted the principal’s office, and the school counselor told the Manzies that Sam had serious social and psychological problems and needed to see a psychiatrist before returning to the school. Sam was referred to a psychiatrist, a Dr. Jarmon, who saw Sam twice. Dr. Jarmon reported to the Manzies that Sam’s condition was too serious for him to treat. He was concerned that Sam was “developing psychopathic tendencies,” and he referred the Manzies to Shoreline Behavioral Health Center in Toms River, where Sam started a day program of intensive therapy. Stephen, in an oddly naïve lapse, encouraged Sam to take the therapy seriously, to be honest and open (rather than coaching him to be discreet). Sam’s admitting intake form noted Dolores’s description of Sam as “short-tempered with mood swings, violent with family members, hitting and smashing items, withdrawn from family and school, has no friends and stays in his room, stays up all night, sleeps all day, admitted to suicidal ideations six months ago, denying such thoughts at present, burned girlfriend’s initials in his hand after break-up, and admitted to thoughts of being homosexual one year ago.” Three days later Sam was seen by Dr. Jocelyn Fabila, who completed a psychiatric assessment, according to which Sam was “depressed and isolated since the seventh grade, a condition which had progressed and worsened in the past six to eight months, accompanied by loss of appetite, weight loss, erratic sleeping patterns and low energy”; he was “irritable, isolated, refusing to go to school and failing school.” Her diagnosis was “Major Depression, single episode, rule out Dysthymia” (Dysthymia disorder is chronic low-grade depression—apparently she felt Sam’s depression was episodic and variable). She recommended in-patient psychiatric care.
A licensed social worker at Shoreline completed a “Psychosocial Assessment” of Sam the next day. This report took note of Sam’s history of aggressive behaviors, but also reveals that Nick and Dolores admitted then to their own history of explosive outbursts including throwing objects and kicking holes in doors, and Sam’s report of “physical and verbal abuse by his parents, being subjected to verbal insults and being hit with a belt when he misbehaves.” The Assessment notes that Sam had experienced numerous problems with his peers beginning in the 3rd or 4th grade, was involved in many physical altercations, and had seen a school counselor. The Assessment notes that Sam had used drugs (ketamine and marijuana) and alcohol and had no friends. The Sexual History portion of the report tells of Sam’s admittedly illegal but consensual sexual involvement, at age 14, with a man he met online (i.e. Simmons). The Assessment’s recommended treatment was for Sam to “explore triggers to his depressed mood and anger outbursts and to learn appropriate coping skills,” and for his family to “open lines of communication and help the parents regain control” as the family was “extremely dysfunctional with frequent displays of aggressive, assaultive and destructive behaviors.”
Sam told his Shoreline psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Brancato, all about his sad, lonely life, including his long history of depression and anxiety, his morbid pedophilia, and his relationship with Stephen Simmons. Dr. Brancato did not respond to Sam’s description of disturbing pedophilic fantasies, but, following protocol, immediately asked for Stephen’s age, then his name; Sam provided the information. This confession set into motion a long series of events resulting from Brancato’s disclosure that same day to Nick and Dolores of Sam’s involvement with Stephen, though no one alerted the Division of Youth and Family Services at that time (as they legally should have). Dr. Brancato approved a Master Treatment Plan which called for “addressing Sam’s depressed mood, identifying appropriate coping skills, and working on anger management; to identify triggers and utilize appropriate coping skills to help him refrain from aggressive, assaultive destructive behavior; and to address family dysfunction issues.” He prescribed Paxil.
At 10:20 pm the night of August 27, Nick Manzie called the police to report that Sam was out of control and a danger to the family. The Jackson police took Sam to Kimball Medical Center’s Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services unit for evaluation. Kimball’s record states that Sam had become enraged upon discovering that his father had attached a “subliminal message box” to the family television and he threw a remote control device at Nick, who moved out of the way. Nick (who did in fact install some sort of device to the TV which supposedly worked unconsciously to foster tranquility and calm behavior) took the wireless phone outside to call the police, and when Sam chased him, Nick got into his car and locked the doors. Sam went in the house and disconnected the phone. Nick drove to a pay phone and called 911. When the police arrived, Nick and Dolores “expressed fear of their son becoming violent with them and reported that he always had difficulty with anger and rages.” The Kimball team completed a “Crisis Team Evaluation” which includes the Manzies’ description of Sam’s involvement with Simmons and of the first night he spent with Simmons a year earlier. This report has the Manzies reporting that when Sam was “about six years old a Child Study Team evaluation found he was ‘somewhat disturbed’ and that at that time Sam saw a child psychologist for his violence towards others and for being non-communicative.” The Manzies told the Kimball team of Sam’s history of cruelty to animals, “pulling the family dog’s tail, flipping him and ‘torturing’ him.” They also said Sam had a history of setting fire to papers in his bedroom and had “caused many burns on furniture and carpet.” They expressed fear that their son would harm them as he was having “increasingly frequent ‘out of control’ rages, having pushed and struck his father, two months earlier striking his father’s head while in the car, and otherwise having been physically violent towards both his father and sister.” Sam denied the history of cruelty to animals and violence to his family, but he reported that they did such things to him and angrily told of his father having thrown a glass jar at him when he was seven years old. Sam was kept overnight for observation and his parents went home. At 7:30 a.m., a Dr. Greenbarg conducted a “psychiatric examination” of Sam and a half hour later, at 8 a.m., Sam was sent back to Shoreline for further treatment. In his notes from the ½-hour exam that morning, Dr. Greenbarg noted that Sam had missed many days of school and had decreased social contact and no friends, that his parents reported his having met two gay men on the Internet, meeting at least one of them in person. His report found Sam not homicidal, suicidal or psychotic. His diagnosis was “Intermittent Explosive Disorder.”
A message was left for Dr. Brancato at Shoreline by someone from Kimball hospital about the circumstances leading to Sam’s spending the night at Kimball’s PESS unit and that Sam’s PESS evaluation was being faxed to Shoreline for Dr. Brancato. The fax was sent, but there is no record of anyone at Shoreline filing or reviewing the assessment. The morning of August 28, Sam met with Deborah Fliller, the social worker at Shoreline, and they discussed Sam’s overnight stay at Kimball. Fliller met with Nick and Dolores, who admitted to their own violent displays of anger: throwing objects, yelling and cursing. And they again expressed fear that Sam would assault them.
At 2 p.m. that day, a call was placed to the Division of Youth and Family Services and then to the Prosecutor’s Office to notify them of the alleged sexual abuse of Sam by Stephen Simmons. That evening, Sam gave a sworn statement to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office with details of his relationship with Simmons, including their four meetings when they engaged in sex. Sam was clear with the prosecutors at that time that he felt the relationship had been consensual and enjoyable, even if what Simmons did was wrong. The detectives asked Sam that evening if he felt that he himself might want to begin having sex with children, to which Sam replied, “Teenagers yes, but not young children.” He admits now that that was an outright lie.
Sometime during the summer of 1996, Dolores received a phone call from “J.F,” Stephen Simmons’s boss. He told Dolores that an envelope addressed to Stephen had arrived in the company mail and he, already suspicious of Stephen, had opened it. Inside he found photographs of Sam. “I must warn you,” he said to Dolores, “that if you don’t know who Steve Simmons is, he’s a gay man and makes believe he’s an adolescent on the computer with teenage boys.” He told Dolores that he believed Stephen was a “shady character” and advised her to keep Sam away from him. When Dolores asked Sam about sending the photographs, Sam said he sent them so that Stephen could scan them for him. Dolores asked Sam again not to be in further contact with Stephen, and again he agreed.
On August 30, Stephen contacted Sam for the last time via instant messaging. Sam printed their conversation with the intention of submitting it as evidence against Stephen. He wanted to punish Stephen, he told me, for paying insufficient attention to him and for not fighting more passionately to continue seeing Sam. Sam’s screen name was XSpaceboy1 and Stephen’s was Spstsg. Simmons opened the conversation by saying they “can’t talk anymore sammy sorry.” He insisted that Sam’s parents were threatening to pressure Simmons’s boss to fire him if he did not cease contact with Sam, which was news to Sam. Simmons complained that it “seems all your problems are my fault its not your doing or mine its just parents i guess.” Sam said he hoped Simmons did not lose his job, and Simmons suggested that Sam could speak to his parents about it and try to persuade them they had never met in person. He said he was not angry, that it was not Sam’s fault that he was in this trouble. He said they would both be fine and that Sam had “turned out ok.” He signs off by asking Sam both to contact him sometime and not to.
On September 2, Sam stayed home in bed all day and refused to go to Shoreline. The next day, he roused himself and arrived late. That same day he was scheduled to take a final exam from the previous spring semester, but he failed to show up for the test, claiming depression and inability to concentrate. Two days later he was informed that he could not return to Christian Brothers Academy for tenth grade. On September 9, Sam told Dr. Brancato that he “never knew what it was like not to be depressed.” Later that day, the Manzies had a family therapy session with social worker Deborah Fliller where the main topic was the “explosive and destructive” behavior of Nicolette, Sam’s older sister, who did not attend the meeting. On September 11, Sam met with Dr. Brancato and they discussed “secrecy within the family” and Sam’s anxiety and confusion regarding his sexuality. Dr. Brancato made a new diagnosis: Depression and Identity Disorder. That evening the Manzies had another family session with Fliller. Sam expressed intense anger with his parents and cursed his father. Dolores was angry and said that Sam himself was responsible for his own problems.
On September 2, the first day Sam stayed home from Shoreline, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office seized the hard drive from Sam’s computer (leaving him from that time on without his computer, which was his favorite toy and the link to his network of “friends”) and the investigation against Simmons was officially begun. Dolores gave a sworn statement to Detective George Noble of the New Jersey State Police. She told him that she and Nick had discovered Stephen by examining Sam’s long-distance phone bills. Nick had called Stephen, who said Sam was merely helping him with computer problems at first, but they had become friends. He agreed to cease contact with Sam, but continued the relationship. Noble asked for Sam’s direct cooperation in a sting operation to bust Stephen, and Sam reluctantly agreed, though he was deeply ambivalent about betraying the person he thought of as his role model and only friend. He now regrets having cooperated with the police, by whom he feels he was coerced. The recruitment of Sam by the New Jersey police was not in keeping with the Attorney General’s Guidelines, which state: “Law enforcement officers shall not recruit juvenile informants who are participating in … counseling programs at the time they are recruited [or] who have a history of treatment for mental illness [or] who are taking medication that increases the danger to the juvenile acting as an informant.”
Sam continued his treatment at Shoreline, but his trust in Brancato had been severely impaired by the doctor’s having alerted Sam’s parents of Sam’s relationship with Stephen, and Sam was confused about whether or not he should continue to confide in him. He asked for medication to supplement the antidepressant, Paxil, that he was on, but would only be prescribed Tegetrol (for bipolar disorder) and BuSpar, an anti-anxiety tranquilizer, after he was arrested and jailed early that October.
On September 15, Nick Manzie gave a statement to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office in which he described the day in August 1996 when Sam disappeared from the Freehold Mall overnight. Nick reported having read Sam’s email and finding a message to a girl in which he said he was going to meet a man but couldn’t tell his parents about it. Dolores called the girl and she told Sam’s mother that he had been questioning his sexuality for a long time and had been speaking with “bad people.” When Sam reappeared in Freehold the next day, Nick reported, the police told him they did not believe Sam’s story about having slept in the woods, but Nick did not insist that Sam tell the truth about his whereabouts the previous night because Sam had “given him the meanest look” and they drove home together in silence. (When Barbara Walters asked Nick on national television in October 1997 why he didn’t insist on finding out more about Stephen earlier on, he replied that he “probably didn’t want to know.”) According to Dolores, Sam said he planned to meet another kid at the mall, but the kid didn’t show up, so Sam was angry and spent the night sulking in the woods. Nick, in his statement to the police, told of speaking with Stephen Simmons on the phone in September 1996 after noticing numerous phone calls to Simmons’s Long Island number on Sam’s phone bill. He described Stephen’s voice as that of an “effeminate, older man.” He believed Stephen sounded scared and that he wouldn’t contact Sam again. Nick told the prosecutors about the pornographic images he had confiscated from Sam’s bedroom and hidden in the garage, and later he delivered the material to the office. The images, according to the police report, included depictions of “young children, boys and girls, engaged in homosexual and heterosexual sexual acts with themselves, as well as adults, as well depicting acts of bestiality.”
On September 17, Sam told Dr. Brancato that he had applied to another private Catholic school, the Monsignor Donovan school.
The police, with the cooperation of the FBI, came into the Manzie home and attached a recording device to Sam’s phone that evening, September 17, ten days before the murder. They asked him to lead Stephen into a conversation a recording of which would be useful in convicting the pedophile in court. Sam talked with Stephen for half an hour as his parents and the police listened and watched. Stephen did say a few things suggestive of an illicit sexual interest in Sam, but he says now that after a while he sensed the call was being recorded and he claims to have switched his persona to one that was casual, friendly and concerned about Sam’s well-being. Given this conversation’s centrality to the whole story, and the insight it gives with regard to both Stephen and Sam, I quote it edited but at length.
Sam Manzie: It’s Sam.
Steve Simmons: It’s who?
S: My God, I was thinking about you today. What happened?
M: With what?
S: You told me not to contact you.
M: Oh, I was talking to this girl and we got to be good friends, and I told her about you, and she didn’t want me to talk to you anymore..
S: I thought it had something to do with your parents.
M: No. So how ya doing?
S: Oh, pretty good. How was your summer?
M: Ummm, kind of boring.
S: You still with her?
M: The girl? Kinda.
S: Why do you give people your…
M: She asked for it.
S: (Laughs) So if some guy asks for your password, you’d give it to him? M: Ummm, depends on the guy.
[Internet dial-up noise in the background.]
M: You signing on?
S: Yeah, just checking my mails.
M: I haven’t been on in a while.
S: I haven’t even, you know, I took you off my buddy list. I thought there was trouble. That’s why I just like, avoided you. Uhh, let’s see, what’s this from Steve? OK, it’s from Big Steve.
M: The old one?
S: The old one, yeah.
M: Is he still in Florida?
M: Who’s living with you now?
S: Nobody. I’m all by myself.
M: Oh, you kicked him out?
S: Rich? Yeah. He moved out to Seattle.
M: What about those other guys?
S: Which ones?
M: The ones from Florida and the one from Texas.
S: Umm, Ryan’s disappeared off the face of the earth. Seth I assume is the one you mean from Texas.
M: Yeah, the one you said you’re in love with.
S: Well, he cheated on me. I mean, he cheats on everybody, and can’t tell the truth. There is somebody else in New Jersey in my life. His name is Oscar. He’s almost, God he’ll be 18 next week. I don’t think he lives all that far from you. He works at Newark Airport. He’s got drug problems.
M: Oh, that sucks.
S: I know.
M: But you do too.
S: No, when I say he’s got drug problems, he’s an addict. I mean, he’s a heroin addict. And I won’t do anything with him until he gets into a program and kicks it. I mean, I can live with a recovering addict. I can’t live with an addict. You know, he’s a wonder, he’s a very smart young man, he’s meant to have gone to Georgetown, graduated 6th in his class, never went to college. Graduated last June. His brother just started, he’s got a twin brother just started Princeton.
S: Graduated 3rdin his class. Nice, really a nice guy but, uhhh, he just got hooked on heroin and can’t get off of it. So, how’s school for you?
M: Ummm, well, I haven’t been going.
Manzie: You know how I said I had to get counseling? Or else I couldn’t go back. S: And you didn’t get counseling.
M: Well I did. But not until like, ummm, a month and a half ago.
M: And they wanted to get me counseling throughout the whole summer. I’m in counseling now, and I’m going like to some program, so I can’t go to school. Simmons: So, you’re in a special school right now?
Umm, it’s more like a psychiatric program.
OK. What do they think is your problem?
Ummm, depression and isolation.
Well we know you suffer both of those problems. I mean, this, you’ve been in for, for six weeks you’ve been in a program and that’s all they’ve come up with? They could have called me, I could have told them more.
M: Like what?
S: Depression and isolation. That’s simplistic.
Well, what else?
Well, basically you, I mean, you’re better than you were.
Yeah. Or are you depressed again?
No, because I’m on an antidepressant now.
Oh, what do they have you on?
Oh, that’s a good one.
Are you on that?
No, I haven’t taken antidepressants in years.
Well, how do you know it’s a good one? I was told that was a new drug. Simmons: Paxil? It’s not all that new, I know people who are on it, or who have been on it. Antidepressants don’t do anything for me unless you actually have a bipolar disorder, which is possible. Did they test you?
Manzie: Well, it’s not…I don’t have a bipolar disorder.
Simmons: Oh, then basically all they’re doing is giving you Paxil to keep you calm.
Manzie: Yeah, it’s a serotonin reuptake inhibitor.
Yeah. OK. Cool. You can beat this yourself, you know that Sammy. How?
By deciding you want to.
Well, I already did that.
M: Umm, well now what am I supposed to do?
Simmons: How long before you can go back to school?
Uhh, till they discharge me.
Simmons: OK. Start getting your life back together. Start doing for you, for your future. Start thinking positive. You have such a fucking good brain. You really do. And you’re basically a good guy. I don’t want to say a good kid cause you’re not a kid. M: Um-hm.
S: You’re a young man. But you’re basically a nice guy. You’re lost, you’re not keen on yourself. We know that. But basically you’re good people, with a good head on your shoulders. You just don’t have any direction. You’d much prefer to get negative attention than positive attention. You know that.
Manzie: I guess so.
Simmons: And you’ve got what it takes. That’s what always frustrated me about you. You have all the tools, but you just leave them in the shed and you let them rust. What was your attitude about school last year?
Manzie: Fuck it. But that was only the second semester.
Simmons: But it doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to say to you is, you have a future. You have what it takes.
Manzie: I know that.
Simmons: Yeah, you do. You have all the tools, you’ve got such a brain. You think a little bit warped, but so do most people. But you’ve got to decide, you’ve got to find a direction. It doesn’t matter what the direction is. Decide on what you want to accomplish between now and the end of the year.
Manzie: Are you trying to be my counselor now?
Simmons: No, I’m trying to give you some tools to work with. I’m trying to get you to think positive. I want you thinking positive.
Simmons: Because you’re a good person. I like you. You’re a friend. I don’t like hearing that you’re not in school because you’re in a psychiatric program, and obviously you’re not happy with the program.
Manzie: I am.
Simmons: Oh, OK. I mean, you sound like you’re jumping for joy.
Manzie: I like it.
Simmons: You sound so down, or is it just from the pills?
Manzie: Umm, no, the pills make me happier.
Simmons: So why do you sound like very, uhhh….
Manzie: I don’t know. Don’t I always sound like that?
Simmons: No. No, you don’t.
Manzie: I don’t know then. I just must be tired.
Simmons: I want what’s right for you.
Simmons: You know that. Yeah, I’d love for you in a few years to sit there and call me up and say I graduate next week, and I’m number 36 in my class, and I’m going to or I just got accepted to, uhh, Rutgers University or something.
Simmons: Well, I just gave that number.
Manzie: Well, if you’re gonna give a number, get one more like 12 or something. Simmons: Yeah, but after you screwed up your first year and a half, I doubt if you’re gonna get that high. But you know…
Manzie: It was only the second semester. Keep that in mind.
Simmons: Yes, but your whole freshman year…..
Manzie: They passed me.
They passed you. What was your average?
I don’t know. I never got a report card. Because I never gave them my textbooks. Simmons: It wasn’t very good. I can assure you.
Manzie: Probably not. They barely passed me.
Simmons: Yeah, but you’re smart. You have a brilliant head. You really do. I mean, let’s be honest, do you think I loved you because you were cute, darling and adorable?
Manzie: Umm, yeah.
Simmons: No, wrong. I liked you because it was fun to be with you because I can carry on a conversation with you because you had a brain.
Manzie: I thought I always pissed you off.
Simmons: Of course you did. You were very frustrating, but you had a brain. I much prefer somebody who’s got a brain to somebody who’s got a cute butt. Manzie: Do I?
Simmons: No, you have a much better brain.
Manzie: Oh, thanks.
Simmons: I mean, you know, it’s like a cute butt is good to fuck, but a brain at least you can make friends with and be with for a long time. It means a lot more. A cute butt will go in time, a pretty face will die in time, but a brain works.
Manzie: I guess so.
Simmons: I mean that’s why I’ve been friends with Jared for so long. Not because he’s cutesy. We don’t cyber and stuff online. We talk. We have intelligent conversations. Manzie: Um-hm.
Simmons: You know most of these other ones, five minutes and they’re gone. Manzie: You know why I called? Cause I miss ya.
Simmons: Cause you miss me?
Simmons: I figured that’s why you called.
Manzie: And I didn’t like sending that email. I didn’t want to.
Simmons: I know when I read it, I honestly thought it was your parents, and I understood, and I didn’t…
Manzie: Yeah, well, it wasn’t my parents but it was Laura.
Simmons: And I thought to myself, damn, you know, because I was actually going to write to you the next day.
Manzie: Well, do you want to see me again?
Simmons: Do I want to see you again?
Manzie: I want to see you.
S: I still think you’re wonderful. OK? Would I ever see you again?
M: Yeah, would ya?
Like, I don’t know. I don’t know what your schedule is.
Well, my schedule is Monday through Friday I go to my program and weekends, Great Adventure is still open.
Simmons: Umm, I can’t do anything for the next few weeks.
That’s what you always said.
Simmons: No, no, no. I can’t, I just don’t have the money right now. Things are very tight. They should loosen up in the next couple of weeks. But you know, this business is starting to take off. We’ve suddenly started getting very busy, but of course we have a cash flow. I don’t get paid till we get paid. And you know, right now I need about $1500 in the next week which I’m barely gonna get just to pay my bills and catch up, but it should be fine by like the first week of October, which is about two weeks. M: So that would be good?
S: For the next two, and I, I will come out there.
M: Yeah, cause I miss you. I want to see you.
S: OK. You still love me, don’t you?
Simmons: I love me. Oh, do I love you?
Simmons: There’s still a, there’s still a spark there, Sammy. You were special. Manzie: Yeah, but what about all the other people?
Simmons: But you were special. I don’t know why you were special, but you were. And believe me, I’m happy to hear from you. I’m smiling right now.
So am I. You didn’t get in trouble at work, did ya?
S: Uh, we settled that problem, but yes I did. Kerry should have never have called your mother and should have never listened to your mother without talking to me first. I would have told her the whole story ahead of time, but I didn’t know she’d call your mother. Uh, cause of course your mother told her her side, and I would have told her the truth. Other than the meeting part.
M: Yeah, of course.
S: So of course I wouldn’t have looked like an angel in it, but at least when she heard your mother’s end of the story, she would have known part of it already. M: Uh-huh.
S: But that was all solved. It almost got me fired.
M: Yeah, isn’t that what you were saying my mom was trying to do? Yeah. She wanted me dead.
I don’t know.
She didn’t know anything, did she?
No. But of course she blamed me for all your problems. You didn’t go to school because of me, you were depressed because of me, you turned gay because of me, you know we all know it’s bullshit, but of course parents are parents and no parent likes to admit the fact that it could be their fault, or that it’s nobody’s fault. I mean, you didn’t turn gay because of me, and you didn’t turn gay because of them, you were gay because you’re gay.
The depression, you know, and not going to school was as much an effect of your parents as yourself trying to deal with your problems. You know, so that’s cooled down a bit and that’s fine. I was angry at one point, not with you but with your mother, because I wanted to call her up, remember I told you how many times I wanted to call her up.
Yeah, I’m glad you never did.
I’d still like to tell them, but I’ll wait til you’re 18. Then I’ll tell them. OK.
Maybe by then they’ll understand that they haven’t done a bad job as parents, but they can’t blame everyone else for your problems. You know a lot of your problems are
because of you.
Simmons: That’s what growing up is all about, love.
Manzie: Yeah. I really enjoyed the, you know, the times we spent together. Simmons: So did I. OK. Maybe I’ll pick you up out there and I’ll bring you back to New York.
Manzie: Yeah, that’d be cool. Do you, umm, I was just wondering, do you have the pictures of me still?
Simmons: I got rid of them.
Manzie: Oh, good.
Simmons: Alright, my love. I will see you online.
Manzie: OK, umm, yeah but not for a few days probably.
Simmons: OK, I’ll figure toward the weekend.
Simmons: Uhh, anyway. Yeah, I’m really happy you called.
On Thursday September 18, George Noble and Guy Arancio, detectives with the Monmouth County Police, came to Shoreline and asked Sam to go with them to Holbrook, Long Island, to identify Stephen’s house and car. When Sam declined to go, they insisted and essentially abducted him for more than ten hours without his or his parents’ consent. On their way back to New Jersey, the three of them stopped for dinner at an Olive Garden restaurant, Sam’s choice.
The next day Sam locked himself in his room again and refused to come out or speak to anyone, skipping another day of therapy at Shoreline.
The police were encouraged with the evidence against Stephen they were able to gather with Sam’s help. On Saturday, they asked Sam to phone Stephen again in order to arrange a meeting where they planned to arrest him. Sam reluctantly made the call, but cut the conversation short and asked the police for some time to rest before continuing to help them pursue Stephen. They agreed.
Sam’s parents and sister left Sam alone later that day, and he took an ax from the basement and smashed the recording device, then attempted to set it on fire in his bedroom. He attached a Thoreau-like note to the busted equipment: “We must go the way that we know deep down in our heart is right—even if you can get in trouble for that decision or even if everyone else says it is wrong.” He called Stephen and told him about the investigation, advising him to leave the country.
On Monday, September 22, Sam’s application to Monsignor Donovan high school was rejected.
Sam, depressed, irritable and angry, told Brancato about the incident of smashing the surveillance equipment on Monday morning. Brancato’s notes from that day include the observation that Sam’s “behaviors are difficult to explain. He seems to be performing a number of different acts that keep people involved or attention getting and seem to indicate poor judgment.” The psychiatrist phoned Sam’s mother, who was shocked and angry that Sam had destroyed the police equipment and had thereby apparently renounced the effort to convict Stephen. Nick, as was often the case, was away on business. Dolores and Sam engaged in a long, bitter fight; late that day she took herself and Sam to a family crisis center at a hospital emergency room, where they met with a social worker who considered Sam’s anxious, noisy mother to have a far more critical mental-health issue than Sam, who was calm and quiet. Dolores told the social worker that she would “slit her wrists” if she had to take Sam home with her that night. She has told me that she was only behaving so dramatically because no one was paying attention to her or Sam when she was quiet and undemanding. George Noble, the policeman who had become involved in the case, was called in and persuaded a doctor to keep Sam in the hospital overnight. The next day Dolores was required to pick Sam up and take him home. The night of the 23rd Sam spent in a shelter for runaways, but was allowed only one night there because he had not run away and wanted to go home.
The police in the week before the murder continued to be aggressive and insistent about securing Sam’s further involvement in their case against Stephen, but Sam was increasingly definite in his resistance to them. He told me that while he felt fully in control of his relationship with Stephen, he was “manipulated and forced to cooperate” by the police. In fact he would never directly contribute to Stephen’s prosecution again; after that one recorded phone conversation and the trip to Holbrook with the police, Sam changed his mind about betraying him and has been loyal to Stephen ever since (although his testimony that the sexual relationship had been consensual at Stephen’s sentencing only served to clinch the older man’s guilt, since a fourteen-year-old cannot legally consent to having sex with an adult).
Sam’s father found a residential, secure facility for troubled teenagers called Kidspeace, in Pennsylvania, but the Manzies could not afford the $350-per-day cost, and Nick’s insurance would not pay for it. On September 24, the Manzies took Sam to family court, where they appeared before Judge James Citta to petition him for help with placing Sam in a locked treatment facility. A probation officer serving as an intake social worker for the court gave her view of the situation, which emphasized Dolores’s hysteria. She admitted to the judge that she had just met the Manzies that morning. “So I didn’t really have time to get into the details.” From her perspective, she said, it appeared that Nick and Dolores were afraid of Sam but that Sam himself was in no danger at home. Nick attempted to describe his version of their plight to the judge, but without having seen any of the records of Sam’s extensive mental health problems, the documentation of which began when Sam was nine (which by law should have been presented to Citta by the case worker, who herself had not requested to see them), Citta ordered the Manzies to take Sam home and find a way to cope. He told them that “the system” had no way to “accommodate an inpatient.” When he had made his decision, the judge said “Nobody here is going to like what I’m going to do. I want everybody to understand that, alright? And the reason that you’re not going to like it, because it’s not what I want and it’s not what you want. But what I’m going to do is, I’m going to send Sam home with you, and I’m going to give him some very close instructions.” The judge took a few minutes to tell Sam to “do the right thing,” wished them all good luck, and sent them home.
That same day, Stephen was arrested and confessed to having had sex with Sam. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison, but the State of New Jersey, under its Sexually Violent Predator Act of 1999 (two years after Stephen’s arrest), continues to hold Simmons in custody.
Sam appeared to be unusually calm for a couple of days after the family court appearance and Stephen’s arrest. But on Saturday, September 27, three days after his parents had argued in court to have him confined to a locked facility, Sam was again left at home alone all day, now 15.
Sometime after 5:30 p.m. that day Eddie Werner, a neighbor who at eleven years old was 4’8” and nearly a hundred pounds lighterweight than Sam, dressed in black jeans, a black shirt, and black sneakers, walked up to Sam, who was sitting on his front porch smoking a cigarette, and asked Sam if he’d like to buy some candy or wrapping paper to support Eddie’s school. Sam sent him away and went inside the house, where he made a phone call. He decided then, while speaking to his friend, a girl he’d known for a couple of weeks, to have sex with the boy, and he knew instantly that he was going to kill him. He hung up the phone and went out looking for Eddie. He invited the boy back to the house, telling him he was interested in buying something, and asked him to come inside because he had, he said, forgotten his glasses. Once inside, he locked the door. He said to the little boy, “You’re going to die.” Eddie was immediately terrified and began crying as Sam dragged him upstairs to his room. After putting on some loud music, he attempted to calm the little boy by offering to let him play a game on Sam’s computer, but Eddie was terrified and only wanted to leave. Sam then forced Eddie to receive oral sex. He then stripped the boy and forced him to lie facedown on the floor. He raped him anally with his fingers and tongue, but was too nervous to achieve an erection. Giving up his rape of the boy, he set about murdering him. He grabbed an electric alarm clock and used its cord to strangle the boy for nearly forty minutes, then switched to using a necktie because the cord was hurting his hands. He pressed his foot against Eddie’s bare back while strangling him and left a bruise in the shape of his shoe. After falsely believing the boy to be dead more than once—the boy repeatedly revived with a terrible gurgling noise in his throat—Sam hit Eddie in the head several times with the clock to ensure that he was dead. He took a Polaroid picture of the corpse, the electric cord and tie still around the boy’s neck, stole nearly $200 from Eddie’s pants pockets, then packed the body into a suitcase and left it on the porch until when, at 3 a.m., with his family sleeping and Eddie’s parents frantically worried, Sam hauled the suitcase to the woods near the house and dumped the little body near a stream.
An intensive search for Eddie Werner began in the neighborhood the night he was killed. Sam became a suspect the next day when the police discovered his recent history with Simmons and his appearance in family court, but when they asked Nick the night of Sunday, September 28 if they could speak with Sam, he told his father that he didn’t want to “talk to any cops,” and they left the house, suspecting Sam even more than before.
The next day, Sam went to Shoreline. He put some of Eddie’s clothes in a dumpster behind the building. When asked about his weekend, he said it had been “very interesting.” The investigation focused increasingly on Sam, and when his mother asked him on Tuesday if he had been involved in the murder, he confessed, telling her that he hadn’t meant to hurt the little boy, but was trying to kill his therapist, Dr. Brancato, for not listening to him when he described his violent fantasies of hurting and raping children. He gave Dolores the Polaroid and the money he’d stolen from Eddie. She took him to the police, where he was arrested on October 1.
Judge Robert A. Fall ruled in February 1998 that Sam would be tried as an adult. In order for him to have been tried in juvenile court, his lawyers would have had to convince the judge that Sam could be rehabilitated before reaching the age of nineteen. But Sam, having just turned 16, took the initiative and against the adamant advice and wishes of his lawyers and parents, pleaded guilty to murder. (In New Jersey, a criminal defendant of any age can plead guilty to any crime despite the strongest objections from his lawyers. David Ruhnke, one of Sam’s lawyers, pointed out in an interview that Sam could not legally purchase cigarettes or vote or serve on a jury, but was permitted to plead guilty to murder.) In exchange for his plea, nine other counts against Sam were tossed out, including aggravated sexual assault which, if prosecuted together with murder, could have resulted in a mandatory life sentence without parole. He was sentenced to seventy years in prison.
In November 1999, Sam appeared at Simmons’s sentencing trial and made a statement in which he said that Stephen had been a “positive male role model” for him and was his only true friend. Seven of the nine charges against Simmons had been thrown out because Sam was the only eyewitness and he refused to testify against Simmons, for which Sam was found in contempt of court and was himself sentenced to an additional six months in prison (a sentence which was later rescinded). During the Simmons sentencing, Sam, reading aloud from a written statement, said that Simmons “encouraged me to stay in school, get counseling, and mend my relationship with my parents.” When the police began to investigate the Manzie-Simmons affair in 1997, Sam said, the erotic phase of the relationship was already “a fond memory” for him. He agreed to cooperate at first because authorities threatened to prosecute him as an accessory to Simmons’s sex crimes if he didn’t, but later had a change of heart because he felt bad about turning on Simmons to spare himself. “I decided to make it up to Mr. Simmons by getting myself in trouble,” he said, referring to his destruction of the recording equipment that had been attached to Sam’s phone and his alerting Simmons to the investigation. He had advised Simmons at that time to leave New York. “I don’t know why you didn’t,” he said directly to Simmons at the hearing. He then asked the judge to be lenient with Simmons’s sentence. “Your honor, in sentencing Mr. Simmons, please keep in mind that he never was violent toward me, he never forced me to do what I didn’t want to do. Your honor, please keep in mind that I never regretted the relationship.”
Following Sam’s appearance, Simmons himself was allowed to address the court. He called the chain of events leading up to the murder of Eddie Werner “a one-in-a-million happening.” He admitted that he had committed a crime and surmised that if he had not met Sam, Eddie would not have been killed. “If I could sacrifice my life to bring back Eddie Werner,” he said, “I would do so. I am not an evil person.” He pledged to stay in touch with Sam and to fight on behalf of gay teens and against “aggressive investigations.”
In the New Jersey State Prison, Trenton, Sam, in protective custody, has spent most of his nearly seven years there (he was held in a juvenile detention unit until his sentencing in 1999) alone in his cell, which has served the same function since it was built in the 1830s and resembles, according to Sam, a dungeon, for 23½ hours each day apart from three hours per week outdoors. He reads a great deal (his favorite book is Walden; he also reads novels and memoirs, particularly books by women about their childhoods, religious texts, including a correspondence course on Hinduism called “In Search of the Soul,” the New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker), writes letters which he deliberately procrastinates sending out (giving himself ample time to change his mind and revise his thoughts), and practices yoga. He will be considered for parole in 2027, when he is 45. He is now 24.
The tragic actuality of a cold-blooded murder is the crux of this story, and it will always be mysterious to some extent. It is impossible to say with authority why a teenaged boy, home alone one Saturday afternoon, brutally raped and murdered an eleven-year-old child the teenager had perhaps seen before but only from a distance, one of the many bicycle-riding neighborhood boys in Jackson Township, New Jersey. The murderer, Samuel A. Manzie, as he signs his letters from prison, was a deeply troubled fifteen-year-old; but there are thousands of troubled teenagers in New Jersey alone, and very few of them commit murder. I was a troubled teenager, and I was in many ways similar to Sam. But the murder sets us completely apart, and sets Sam radically apart from almost all other people. Not because most of us have never been or are not now capable of murder—everyone is capable of killing in dire enough circumstances—but because Sam has killed, and we haven’t. He is on the other side, both literally, because he is in prison for a long time, and because the experience of killing has corrupted him fundamentally, as it does everyone who kills for whatever ostensibly justifying reason. To kill a person, especially to murder an innocent child, is to become a lesser human being, a ruined entity. This is perhaps not a provable thesis, but it is something I believe. Sam has never granted an interview to a writer other than me; but after dozens of meetings with him, not much light has been shed on an explanation of the murder: Sam himself is just as much in the dark about it as anyone else is. He’s like a devout Christian who doesn’t know why he sins despite his fervent belief that he’ll go to hell.
When a teenager commits a murder, it’s a critical sign of a dangerous rottenness in the lives surrounding the juvenile culprit, which is not at all the same as saying the parents of the kid are rotten. They may or may not be. But the blame for a murder committed by a child is never monolithic, it is panoramic—everywhere you look, there’s another grownup to blame under your breath if you’re so inclined. Sam’s parents, who divorced after the murder, seem always to have found him to be a lot of trouble; they were actively hopeful that their only son wouldn’t turn out to be gay, but they have both always been willing to accept him whether he was gay or not. They were not fully competent to manage their very difficult son (who was and very likely still is psychotic). But what parents are fully capable, and are they even expected to be? Sam’s older sister was an honor-roll student planning for college. She resented Sam’s attention-grabbing misbehavior and apparently she was not fond of her brother, who like many teenagers was probably not very likable at the time. She lives now with her father in the house in which Sam killed Eddie. According to Sam, his sister was always, until the murder, considered the troublesome one in the family, prone to tantrums and violence, and it’s on the record that Sam’s parents exhibited their own symptoms of emotional uncontrollability. But as far as I can tell the Manzies are decent people. They have tried, in their way, to get help for Sam, both before and after the murder, but the system—other grownups—have failed them repeatedly.
Stephen Simmons has confirmed for me what he told Perry Brass in a 1999 interview published on a website called “Gay Today,” that Sam had been sexually molested several times before he was five years old and that Sam’s father “beat the boy from the time he was 6 until he was 12, when Sam began to hit him back.” Sam denies these accusations against his father; his only memory of ostensible sexual abuse is a very vague, and possibly false, memory of abuse by an older girl or woman.
Simmons also says, “If an adult takes it upon themselves to get involved with a child, no matter what the kid’s age, they must be responsible for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s sexual or platonic.” He claims to have been married. He, like Sam, seems to feel that gender is almost irrelevant. “I have never found a good lover. I’ve had lovers who were both younger and older—for different reasons—but my own fantasies are more satisfying for me than any partner I’ve ever had.” He says that he and his relationship with Sam have always been misunderstood. “Nobody will ever understand,” he said, “how much of a dilemma Sam was for me.” Following are more quotations from Simmons in Brass’s remarkable interview, none of which Simmons wishes to retract now: “When I first met Sam online, he thought I was what he had been looking for. He said so in his statement to the police. He had tried for two years to get an older guy to meet him and take him home. I’m not convinced I was the first or last…. That [first] night he cuddled next to me—not naked, either—and fell asleep. I never in my life fell asleep holding anyone, but I did that night…. Over the next two weeks, Sam told people online different stories, depending on his mood. One day I was the best lover in the world. The next day I sucked. He hated me the next day. He was mine forever the next day. The next day I raped him. This went on every other day. One day another kid said [to Sam] he was a virgin until he had anal sex. So Sam told people we had anal sex. I never knew what to expect when I went online with him. It was obvious he was pushing me to see how far I would go before I left him. Everyone left Sam. This was my first insight into his history. He’d been badly hurt and expected it from me.”
In fact, no one left Sam, and no one, until Stephen, abused him unless the mysterious female of his early childhood molested him. But there is little content to Sam’s memory of sex abuse (if it is a memory) and he himself is suspicious of its connection to the reality of what can only be described as Sam’s fairly good childhood. He was incapable of making friends, but his family gave him many advantages over the majority of American children. His father spanked him with a belt a few times (for specific misbehaviors), but he does not remember being physically abused by his parents or anyone else. Whether or not Sam was emotionally abused by his parents is the kind of question that tends to remain open forever, but in any case it doesn’t appear prima facie that any very extreme abuse occurred.
Several books have been particularly influential in my thinking about this one. Most obviously, In Cold Blood, which continues its long reign as the leading masterpiece in the genre of the non-fiction crime novel.
Crime and Punishment was a dark revelation when I first read it in 2004. Raskolnikov’s murders of the two women were as absurd and irrational, and seem in the context of the novel as real, as Sam’s murder of Eddie, and Dostoevsky’s account of the young man’s inner life is, of course, masterful and heartbreaking.
James Blake’s The Joint, published by George Plimpton’s Paris Review Books in 1974, a memoir of increasingly long periods of incarceration in prisons, is unique in its expression of Blake’s scary drive to be punished and imprisoned, to live only among other prisoners, to make no decisions in the course of a day, to have no freedom. His beautiful narrative makes a compelling argument for the underlying purposefulness of felons who somehow need to be in prison for the long haul.
John Dewey’s philosophical classic, Human Nature and Conduct, is a rare application of reason and careful thought to the messy subject of moral behavior and habit. “Courses of action which put the blame exclusively on a person as if his evil will were the sole cause of wrong-doing,” he writes, “and those which condone offense on account of the share of social conditions in producing bad disposition, are equally ways of making an unreal separation of man from his surroundings, mind from the world. Causes for an act always exist, but causes are not excuses.”
Another writer whose books have guided me is Janet Malcolm, particularly The Journalist and the Murderer, with its obsessive skepticism of the moral justification for writing about something so serious and impossible to get perfectly right as a real-life tragedy. I have wondered about my own motives in—and the morality of—taking this on as a writing project. More important to me, I must admit, than any social or moral value this book could conceivably have is that I see here a good story and an opportunity for me to gain as a writer from what is for the Werners and Manzies pure loss. The first time I met Sam, he explained the murder with a parable about selfishness. “If you’re poor,” he said, “and you need to rob someone, a decent person would just take the money and run. The risk would be going to jail for ten years if you got caught. But if you’re so selfish that your freedom is more important to you than the other person’s life, you’ll kill the person and hope to get away with it.” My intention here is not to take the money and run, much less to kill my victim, but thievery is sometimes merely a matter of perspective, and I am warily conscious of how this project may be perceived by the Manzies and particularly the Werners.
My impulse is to use the Manzie story further to comprehend my own childhood and adolescence, which is in certain respects similar to Sam’s. I too was molested by a much older man when I was fourteen and fifteen, a man I thought I liked; as with Sam and Stephen, everything we did was consensual, but I was a kid and he was a man who should not have been contributing to the fucked-upedness of an already-fucked-up adolescence by having sex with me in his sleazy, porn-filled back room, the opera recordings I loved him for blaring on his sorry little boombox. Like Sam, I was a troubled kid with no friends, growing up lonely and disturbed by the homophobia, the stifling conventions, and the aesthetic and moral tawdriness of my surroundings. Sam lived in a far nicer house than I ever did, and his parents, unlike mine, did not divorce while he was living at home. They were merely Catholic, not fundamentalist Church of God charismatics like my extended family, but they were religious Catholics; Nicholas, for his sins, whatever they have been, is a deacon. Sam is fifteen years younger than I. He grew up in other places—first in California, then Florida, North Carolina, and New Jersey. I lived in Ohio. I never felt quite murderous, though I have been suicidal, which may not be so very different. Sam told me he was “always” suicidal from 13 to 17; he said he “just didn’t like being a person.” In many ways I believe my experience of being a teenager was much like Sam’s. It was a vast, seemingly endless century of painful isolation, uncertainty about all things, and utter hopelessness about ever transcending the wholly unsatisfactory present. Sam, when he murdered Eddie that September Saturday, presumably had a psychotic break, a splitting of some dark entity of rage and need from his more rational self. I had, at the same age, a milder case of such a break. Mine was not quite psychotic. I simply fainted, on a hot summer day while standing outside in a field, then vomited, after thinking about the movie “The Exorcist,” which I had recently seen. I was hospitalized, but they found nothing wrong with my health. I told the psychologist with whom I met just one time while in the hospital that I had been taken over by the devil, and I meant it. In time, my conviction that I was “possessed” faded, but not until after I left a girlfriend, telling her that I wanted to protect her from the devil inside of me. She sensibly fled.
I believe there is potentially, at some stage of life, a killer in many of us, a part of us that waits for exacting enough circumstances to spring into action and wreak havoc, killing and destroying and roaring to appease the devil inside us, who wants his day in the sun. I know there could have been a killer in me—a latent fury that could conceivably have been provoked to get its revenge for all the injustice and abuse I had seen by mercilessly taking the life of an unsuspecting sacrifice in the form of a person. I will never kill a person, but I would have been far more likely to have killed during adolescence, when being myself was incomparably harder and life was a hundredfold more stressful than it is now.
On April 4, 2006 I drove to Trenton, which must qualify as one of the ugliest and most depressing cities in America, to meet Sam for the first time. I sat outside the prison in my car until the visiting hour, 6:00 p.m. At 5:45 another car pulled up alongside mine, and I recognized its occupant to be Nick, Sam’s father. I went inside the prison lobby and introduced myself to him and said that I hoped it was alright that I had shown up there without warning, and he kindly said it was OK. He explained that Sam was allowed just one visitor at a time, and only for one hour. He volunteered to give half his hour to me if Sam wanted to see me, and he said it was reasonable to assume he did since he had put me on his list of approved visitors. Nick said he did not want me to write a book because the added notoriety would do no good for him or anyone in his family or for the Werners. He is asked every year, he said, to appear on “Oprah” and every year he turns them down (though he and Dolores did appear twice on “20/20” with Barbara Walters). Sam himself has been asked by many prominent journalists for interviews, but he has always declined. He is in protective custody because pedophiles are considered at high risk inside a maximum security prison, and my book, Nick said, would just serve to remind inmates who might hear of it that Sam, who is already well-known in the prison, should be a target for violence and rape or worse. But immediately after Nick’s suggestion that I should not write a book, he began talking to me, and as we waited nearly forty minutes for Sam to be available for his visit, Nick told me quite a lot about himself and his relationship with Sam, his youngest child.
He referred to himself as a “conservative Republican.” He works in “upper management” for a trucking firm and must often travel to an office in Elizabeth, N.J., nearly an hour’s drive, during which time he is seldom able not to think about Sam, and not to feel painful regret. He went bankrupt in order to pay for Sam’s lawyers’ fees and just got out of Chapter 13. After the sentencing, Sam’s lawyers offered to appeal at a predicted cost of about $150,000 and Nick had to say no because he couldn’t afford it. The lawyers decided to do the appeal work pro bono (and managed to have Sam’s sentence reduced from seventy to thirty-to-seventy years).
He said that he and Sam were much closer before Sam was 12, when Sam was confirmed in the Catholic Church. Just before his confirmation ceremony, Sam told Nick that he wanted to kill himself because no one liked him and he thought no one ever would. He said he hated his mom and all the women in his life. Nick feels that Sam was suggesting then that he was gay, but, he says, he ignored that aspect of the talk. He told Sam about the biblical figure of Job, whose faith was tested so severely. Sam responded by insisting on taking Job as his saint name for confirmation, and in fact Job has become one of Sam’s longstanding interests. Nick agreed that whether Job was a saint or not, he would be Sam’s saint. Sam, who says he’s gone from Catholicism through atheism to Hinduism, told me he’s read many different versions and translations of the Book of Job as well as several extended commentaries. The other book in the Bible he likes is Ecclesiastes, which Sam urged me to read; he especially responds to verse 1:15, “That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be supplied.” The book ends with a stern warning: “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
Nick told me that Sam had confessed to him that he was certainly a pedophile who could possibly kill again and that he should never be released from secure institutions. Sam has applied repeatedly for a transfer to another facility where he would get treatment for his pathological sexuality but would never have the option of leaving. His applications have not been accepted because he was convicted only of murder, not a sex crime. The extent of his treatment in the State Prison is to see a psychiatrist (a man for whom Sam has little respect) twice a month. Nick agreed with Sam that it would be appropriate for him never to be set free. When I spoke to Nick about what the State of New Jersey failed to do to assist the Manzies in getting help for Sam before the murder, he was not interested in discussing it. He said he had decided that Sam was ultimately the one to blame, and he said Sam agrees. The degree to which Nick (and Dolores) feel themselves guilty for the murder is not likely to be the kind of thing that can be known by others.
In The Joint, which consists entirely of letters by Blake to his friends on the outside, he replies to a remark made to him just short of a year into his first incarceration: “You speak of my ‘good institutional adjustment.’ You could call it that, but it’s the understatement of the year.” Like Blake, Sam appears to have adjusted admirably to being incarcerated. He claims to be “fully institutionalized” already, a process he said often takes much longer than the nine years he’s been imprisoned. He’s been “written up” only once, for sending a $20 check to Stephen. He presents himself as calm and intelligent, with penetrating eyes and soft-looking hands which float and drift as he talks. He’s prescribed 40 mg daily of Paxil, and regularly asks his psychiatrist for a higher dose and more medication. He said that whereas the other inmates complain that they’re being controlled by meds, Sam would like to be sedated and controlled and wishes his prescription was for much more powerful stuff. Ideally, he said, he’d be on high doses of Ritalin and Prozac. An experimental treatment by Dr. Fred Berlin of criminal pedophiles using Depro-Provera, whereby a man’s sexuality is shut down and (as long as he continues to take the medication) he is “chemically castrated,” is of great interest to Sam, who says he will volunteer to take the drug if he is ever released. He explained to me that he practices yoga in all five of its aspects (postures, breathing exercises, meditation, chanting, and devotional service, incorporating yogic principles in daily life). He aims for “equality consciousness” in which, he says, dirt, rock, and gold are all considered to have equal value. Sam told me that a guard had recently slapped him hard in the face for no reason at all, and he was able to feel only compassion for the guard. He would like to be moved from the Protective Custody unit into General Population because those inmates are allowed more liberty and have fewer restrictions. He says he is not afraid because his religion has taught him non-violence and fearlessness.
Toward the end of my first meeting with Sam in the prison, I asked what I could send him. I asked if he wanted any pornography. His eyes lit up and he excitedly told me about Tight, a magazine featuring young women who look underage. This led to a curious conversation about gender and sexuality in which Sam disclosed that he likes to look at girls because he fantasizes not about being with a girl, but being a girl. Anyway, he said, you can’t send me what I would really like. I knew what he meant, but I asked in order to see what he would say. Girls and boys together, he said, aged 2 – 12.
In a subsequent interview with Sam, on April 18, he told me that a CAT scan in the prison infirmary had revealed a spot in the lower portion of his lung. He was being referred to a pulmonologist and was worried that he could have lung cancer. He said he had smoked about twenty hand-rolled cigarettes a day for more than a year before he was arrested. Since that visit, he has been prescribed an antibiotic inhaler, but has not received it, and the question of the spot in his lung, a month later, is unresolved.
We moved on from that alarming beginning to many other topics. He told me he had masturbated that morning to the children’s TV show “Barney,” which features a small group of young children in each episode. He mentioned a little black girl who was missing one hand, and made a nasty remark about her. He has just been hired, he told me, as the Protective Custody unit clerk so that he is now able to spend more time each day out of his solitary cell organizing the paperwork for the unit. He was selected for the job by one of the officers in charge, a “big fat Buddha” named Pagan with whom Sam discusses religion. He said he was enjoying his new relative freedom immensely. I told him I had visited Stephen Simmons. He asked how he was, and I said he wasn’t happy because he was still in jail. “He could still love his life,” Sam said. “I love mine. I wake up every day feeling grateful for another 24 hours to do my reading and writing. I broke my record today in the yard by running for forty-five minutes. I love life.”
I asked Sam why he had photographed Eddie’s body after killing him. He said that he had been part of a network of pedophiles who shared pornography over the Internet; at one point, he said, he had 3,000 pornographic images on his computer, mostly of children. He knew one man, who lived in Vermont, who asked Sam if he had any “snuff” stuff. Sam didn’t know what that meant, but when he asked Stephen, he was intrigued by the thought of seeing a naked child who had been raped and murdered. He said he photographed Eddie’s body in order to share the photograph with other pedophiles who might enjoy it.
Sam tried to persuade Eddie that he wouldn’t hurt him. Eddie asked Sam to “pinky swear” that he wouldn’t; they hooked pinky fingers. Sam asked Eddie if anyone had ever done anything like this to him before; Eddie said no. Sam then used his tongue to penetrate Eddie, who complained that it hurt. Sam decided then to give up the rape and instead of letting him go, to kill Eddie and hide the body, hoping to get away with his crime.
Sam believes that his pedophilia is a type of synesthesia in which his natural (and normally healthy) nurturing instinct, the inclination to care for and look after small children, somehow got “crossed” with his sex instinct, so that when he sees a small child, rather than tending to the welfare of the child, he responds sexually; and the taboo against having sex with children adds a violent aspect which can result in rape and murder. He said he had read that in the grand scheme of human evolution, cuteness was a factor that helped children to thrive by attracting attention from adults. He feels no hope of being cured of his pedophilia, and said he is proud of it, just as gay people should be proud of being gay. I understood him to be saying that he was proud of having admitted to his pedophilia, which he knows to be inherently pathological and therefore nothing to be proud of.
When I asked Sam why he killed Eddie rather than simply attempting to have sex with him and letting him go, he said that he was afraid he would get into trouble and decided that his only hope was to kill the boy and hide the body. He said it had been “hard work” and that he was sweating during the hour it took to kill him. He said he was surprised at how long it took for the boy to die. When I asked if he was sorry he had killed Eddie, he replied that he wishes he hadn’t done it, which did not strike me as remorse.
He told me he looks forward to being murdered himself, since that alone will release him from the spiritual weight of killing Eddie. Being transferred to General Population in the prison would certainly increase the likelihood that this hope will be realized.
Sam has one friend apart from me and his family, a man named Arthur Bloom, who lives outside Philadelphia and visits Sam regularly along with several other inmates (befriending and visiting prisoners appears to be Bloom’s main occupation now that he’s retired from teaching; he lives with his wife, though Sam told me that Bloom is “not quite heterosexual”). I spoke to Arthur on the phone and he agreed that we should contact one another if anything ever happened to Sam. Two weeks later, he called and left a message saying that “we have a problem.” When I called him back, he explained that the prison had neglected to give Sam his Paxil one day recently and Sam had become very agitated and started throwing things around his cell and causing a disturbance, attracting attention and refusing to calm down. He was taken from his cell, stripped of his clothes, put into a “paper gown,” and placed into psychiatric observation, a euphemistic description for solitary confinement in a tiny cell with a glass wall through which the prisoner is watched continuously. He has a roll of toilet paper and a toilet, and nothing else. The idea is to prevent his killing himself; there is no pretense of therapy. It is, Arthur told me, a common cause of suicide, this solitary treatment without any of the usual clothes, books, TV, or visitors. Even his parents were unable to see him while Sam was in “psychiatric observation” for several days.
The surprise I felt upon hearing of this latest incident (which has passed; Sam is back in his own cell) is consistent with the feeling I have about Sam generally; there is a shocking difference in this kind of behavior from that of the well-spoken, calm, intelligent young man I’ve come to know, just as the murder of Eddie Werner itself is an almost unbelievable anomaly in the life of the person I am tempted to think of now as a friend. When I’m with Sam, in the visiting area of the prison, he appears to be a fairly normal, somewhat chilly but engaging person who is fully capable of reason and deliberation and forethought and self-control. When I ask him how he’s feeling, he is upbeat and cheerful, and tells me he enjoys his life: “I enjoy every minute of it,” he recently said. Whether or not I was expected to believe him when he said it, I did not know, though of course I sensed a deep irony to his avowal. I don’t know how anyone could enjoy a life like Sam’s, with so few pleasures, so little freedom, so little opportunity, such limited hope for making a life most of us would consider good. But Sam claims to have embraced the prisoner’s institutionalized life.
When I visit Sam, we talk frankly about his situation, about sex, books, and Sam’s past. He tells me about the latest scandals inside the prison. Last time I visited, I had met a woman from Camden whose husband was an inmate; she was with their son, an 8 year old boy named Rafael, who was talkative and friendly. To visit a prisoner, we must sign in and then wait to be called, sometimes more than an hour. This woman told me, with Rafael listening closely, that her husband had been in General Population but had been “cut eighteen times” in a fight and had just been moved to Protective Custody, though he did not want to be there—he said it was “for punks.” Rafael, hearing these words, which he had clearly heard before, began chanting them: “Yeah, for punks, man.” He sounded like a boxer psyching himself up for a big fight. When we went inside the visiting area, Rafael’s father was the only prisoner of the dozen or so there who was kept inside a small metal cage during the visit so that he couldn’t possibly interact physically with other prisoners. Sam told me that it was the fight he had either caused or defended himself against (Sam didn’t know which) that had caused the prison to be secured and shut down for the week previous to my visit, so Sam, on account of the timing of the shutdown, hadn’t seen his parents for nearly a month. He told me the prisoner was a gang member who was increasingly notorious for starting trouble, fighting, and stealing from other inmates. When I looked over at Rafael, he was just a little boy talking sweetly with his dad on the phone that communicates between the thick plexiglass wall.
There is no mystery in this case about who did it; the mystery is why he did it, and what led to the murder. Predicting violent behavior is notoriously difficult; few professionals attempt it. I asked Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and author of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, if he believed Sam’s mental-health problems are likely to have been caused genetically. “It’s possible,” he replied, “but the evidence is circumstantial. Certainly schizophrenia has a very strong genetic component, as do conscientiousness and aggression. But it’s also possible that developmental accidents played a role—in individual cases it’s very hard to tell. Advances in genomics will help, but given that even identical twins can be discordant for schizophrenia or homosexuality (and since their environments are the same, the explanation won’t be found there), I think there will always be a huge role for chance, contingency, and accident in brain development.” Human beings are on some level essentially unpredictable. The most abjectly deprived and abused teenagers will become excellent adult schoolteachers and therapists, while the most pampered and privileged can turn murderous or hopelessly despondent. Nonetheless it is worthwhile to consider the full gamut of circumstances leading to a tragedy on the order of Sam’s gruesome killing of Eddie Werner. We stand open-mouthed in horrified speechlessness in the face of such an ugly and depressing chain of events as that which led from Sam’s teenage loneliness to his long term incarceration and the unspeakably awful loss of Eddie Werner. A decade is perhaps just enough time for the dust to have settled so that a clear view of the crime can come into focus and we can begin to tell ourselves that an unflinching account can be productive of a humane understanding. There is no “meaning” in murder, but of course it does always mean something when a murder happens.
For me the replacement by ugliness and endless loneliness where there should be beauty and love is as depressing as anything else about the fates of Sam and Stephen, not to mention Eddie, the four parents, and their other children and relatives. We will never know what Sam’s life could have been like if he had gotten past an adolescence that was characterized primarily by mental illness and had been able to grow into a healthy enough adult. But given his love of reading (which is bolstered, no doubt, by an abundance of solitude), his very sharp intelligence, and the decency and friendliness I have seen in him in addition to a large capacity for reflection and self-analysis, I believe he could have had a good life outside of prison. When I think of Sam and his future, of the fact that I will be nearly 60 before he can possibly be released, I have to pause and recover from the terrible shock of that reality. My one-year-old nephew will be a full-grown adult by then. Eddie had aunts and uncles as well as parents and siblings and grandparents. He would have had lovers and friends and perhaps children of his own, and he may have made all of them a great deal happier than they will ever be without him.
When I told Stephen Simmons, in my first interview with him, about Sam’s surprisingly sanguine view of prison life, he sadly shook his head and told me that because Sam has always been depressed he has always wanted to sleep his life away. Whether or not he should have the luxury—or be forced to suffer the misery—of sleeping his life away is one among the myriad questions that swirl around a case as complex and multi-layered with motive and cause as that of Sam Manzie’s murder of Eddie Werner.
I believe the less arrogant among us do not know quite where we stand on the moral issues of punishing child murderers on the one hand, and on the other, the obligations, responsibilities and rights of adults in looking after the young. We’re apt to think about these matters only when forced to do so by the media’s most horrifying sound bytes of the day’s most lurid bad news. But part of being an adult is the instinct and ability to give our attention to apparently abstract ideas in the context of human behavior and human life and death. When we consider Sam Manzie and the murder of Eddie Werner, there is no hopeful-happy ending; neither my “friendship” with Sam nor any other aspect of this story can begin to compensate for the hideous awfulness of the crime—it was utterly base and depraved, and Sam deserved to be punished for it. But what interests me most about the Sam Manzie story is the telling tension the case exposes between the possible good in all of us and good’s opposite, between what vitalizes each of us and what in ourselves threatens to bring us down; between the creator in us, and the killer.
[Sam pled guilty to murder against the advice of his parents and lawyers, and he was sentenced to 70 years in prison. His sentence was later reduced to “30 to 70 years” with the possibility of parole in 2027.]