"I hope to complete this journal before I die (soon) or turn myself in," wrote registered sex offender Joseph Duncan in the final, May 13 entry of his online diary, Blogging the Fifth Nail (here's a mirror site in case the original is taken down). Two days later, Brenda Groene, her boyfriend, and her 13-year-old son were beaten to death in their Idaho home, and Groene's 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter disappeared. Six weeks after that, the girl was found with Duncan at a Denny's in Coeur d'Alene (where Duncan was arrested and charged with kidnapping), the boy's presumed remains were found in nearby western Montana, and the curtain fell on another missing-child spectacular, distinguished only by its grisliness and one dubiously historic first: The lead suspect was a blogger, and a disturbingly visible one at that.
Even before Duncan's arrest, there wasn't much Google couldn't tell you about his life and crimes. Soon after, webheads feverishly documented his many online traces: post-prison resumé ("I am a 'go-getter'"), public offender-database profile ("RAPED A 14 YEAR OLD BOY AT GUNPOINT"). But it's the blog that brings him, heart-sickeningly, to life. Through 15 months of self-righteousness and self-doubt, bitter prison memories and hard-won bourgeois cheer, cute anecdotes about his cats and well-researched rants against offender registration, Duncan orbits the final catastrophe like Raskolnikov circling his final judgment. The narrative makes a near-convincing case for the redemptive power of introspectionthen in the last entries demolishes it, conceding victory at last to Duncan's "demons" and announcing his intention, never quite repressed, to "harm society as much as I can, then die."
It's a gripping readand that, ultimately, may be what's most depressing about it. If the most we can say for a blog this powerful is not that it saved the Groenes or even Duncan but that it's a real page-scroller, then fuck it: the Web's about as revolutionary a medium as the Post-It.
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