Overkill

The Grand Guignol Murder of a Gay Man In Virginia

Picking my way through the muck and scrub at the river's edge to a place where police believe that Northington met his end, I find myself imagining the degree of premeditation it would require to murder someone with such baroque fury. Fully a tenth of the average human's body weight is located above the shoulders: a bony mass of skull and all the delicate, spongy complex tissue encased within. Heads are heavy. It can't be easy to hack one off and drain it, then haul the thing like a lunchpail through a dark wood.

Although a soft rain is falling this late afternoon, the sun breaks through the gray skies abruptly and lights up the James River. The shallow water in a bankside canal suddenly becomes a long pewter ribbon. It occurs to me that hierarchies of worthlessness are deployed in order to render the killing of Eddie Northington an anomaly, another unsolvable episode in the ongoing Grand Guignol of the South. That its context is plain for anyone to see would hardly appear worth remarking. Yet the question comes up again and again: Was Northington murdered because he was gay? "The problem," says academic Chinn, "is that there's no discursive space left for this guy. What kind of way can we talk about him? How can you discuss his murder and not say it's about him being gay? He was gay. He was murdered."

The hollow ring of tautology that creeps into conversation when people begin talking about specially categorized hate crimes was nowhere to be heard at Northington's memorial. The service was held at Richmond's Grace and Holy Trinity Church. It was attended, say those who were there, by people from communities in Richmond whose lives don't often overlap. Speaking from the lectern, Northington's sister, Deborah Clark, protested the fact that her brother's life and death were being paraded around for the satisfaction of those who "thrive on the grotesque." Eddie Northington had a saying, she told mourners: " 'Live life! You only shoot through once." Sure, Eddie had made mistakes in his life, Clark said. "But nobody deserves something like this. People, wake up! This could happen to you."

Research assistance: Lou Bardel

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