Guilty on all counts.
That was the sentence handed down to Neil Entwistle for the brutal execution of his wife, Rachel, and 9-month old daughter Lilly, on a cold January morn in 2006. That was the verdict delivered by a thoughtful jury of his peers who listened to weeks of testimony, weighed the overwhelming circumstantial evidence and gave voice to the only verdict that could bring some measure (no matter how slight) of justice for the evils this man inflicted. And with the verdict rendered, we no longer have to append the unnecessary ‘alleged’ when discussing Neil’s gutless, spineless crimes.
He is a murderer, plain and simple – not fit to walk the streets of decent society ever again.
As a former Journalism student, I still page through the paper on a daily basis meaning I’m usually well-versed in the crimes and misdemeanors that can afflict our beloved Bay State from time to time (sometimes too often). And, like most of you, some draw my eyes a bit closer (while other stories warrant a glance and then I move on), leaving me silently saying a deep, thoughtful wish that this brand of depraved behavior never darken my doorstop. I think we all do that. We read these true crime stories and hope and pray that the demons never glance in our direction. As a father, my innate goal is to keep my wife and children (and pups) safe from the wicked things that can sometimes come our way. It’s not a feeling you can purchase or barter for – once you make that precious bond with your loved ones, it just manifests itself intrinsically. My job, above all, is to love, cherish and keep safe my family and fellow man.
That’s why, when you read the details of this case, when you see how loathsome some beings can be, it just nails you in the gut. A deadbeat Dad is one thing. A predatory Papa is something else entirely – a beast not of this world.
It’s beyond comprehension. I look at my wife and children and I shudder for fear they ever get a paper cut. How someone can steal a similar glance at their loved ones and then Google “Ways to murder” is simply too far beyond belief. It should be Tales from the Crypt but the unfortunate reality is that these skeletons do rattle in the dark, depraved brain pans of some really sick people. I guess it makes us decent folk strive to be that much better. To hug our wife close. To nestle our children in tight. To be that beacon of light in their lives and forever ward off the darkness.
With the story in particular, I have a more personal stake. I know Rachel’s Mom – Priscilla. Granted, she is an extreme acquaintance (my doctor’s assistant) but I have had the good fortune to say Hello and chat with her on a number of occasions over the last decade plus. When my Mom first called me on a snowy winter’s morning and told me the news, my heart immediately skipped a beat. Knowing bad things exist in the world is horrible enough but hearing that they’ve visited upon people you care for (no matter how slight the relationship) is something else entirely.
At the time, the details were sketchy. The news media was still trying to piece it all together and the details my Mom had were a little more robust than what the outlets were reporting. For instance, my Mom knew that Neil had jetted back to England a few hours before that broke in the press.
It’s that piece of evidence that condemned him in my mind from the moment I heard the tale. A father stumbles upon the murdered bodies of his wife and child and his gut-reaction is to run home to Mommy. (Of course, as we would later find out – it took him 2 days and 365 miles through the English countryside before he finally arrived for tea and crumpets). He doesn’t call 911. He doesn’t stick around to aid the investigation. He doesn’t attend the funeral service and choke out a eulogy. All actions that represent the bare minimum of what a truly devoted and doting Dad and Father would do. Let’s skip the fact that a truly innocent man, robbed of his loved ones, would shirk his better instincts and knowledge of the legal system and head out into the streets with a tire iron and blow torch looking to set right the things that have gone so tragically wrong. To get medieval on the maniac that did this.
But Neal didn’t do any of that. He didn’t aid the police. He didn’t seek help for his loved ones – a last ditched effort to pull off the Herculean and bring them back to the Land of the Living through emergency medical intervention. He didn’t give in to a blood lust and hunt down the real killers. Sure, if he were following the bloody footprints they would have lead in a circle, but he didn’t do any of that. Not even for show.
Nope – instead he juggled a vast array of overdrawn accounts until he could pull down enough scratch to skip the country and headed back to Mother England. A smart guy who somehow skipped a couple centuries’ worth of good relations between our two countries and somehow forgot that extradition of an English citizen to the United States for the High Crime of Murder would be as easy as ordering up Fish n’ Chips takeout. If he truly wanted to escape, he should have shuffled his feet to Iran and offered up nuclear secrets.
If we have to find brightness in the dark, it’s that often criminals are just plain dumb. I guess if you have enough faulty connections in your wiring that prompt you to cowardly gun down your beloved wife and precious baby girl, then those same synapses misfire and lead you to make a billion mistakes that could have been rectified by paying proper attention to Law & Order reruns. Fortunately for us in the real world, real life often doesn’t follow a script. So when Neil beat his feet, he left his laptop behind with all of his salacious Google searches. Time and an IT department would catch him.
I’ve sat on this story – and this Blog Post – for quite awhile. I wanted to write about it when it was first unfolding, but out of courtesy and compassion for Priscilla and her family, I stifled the thoughts.
Then I got wind of Neil’s mother Yvonne giving voice to the deep stream of denial she has coursing through her conscience. Taking the lead of the defense’s last ditched audible to lay the blame of the murders at the feet of the victim, Rachel, in a bizarre last minute murder-suicide scenario (a laughable end-around if it wasn’t so horrific in the mere mention of it), Yvonne Entwistle buys into the theory without a shred of evidence offered to support it. At no point during the entire year-and-a-half investigation (by both sides) has murder-suicide been floated until the closing days of the trial when the Defense Attorney offers up his What If? – a flawed scenario better reserved for the funny books. It was a desperate, shameful move – the tired old blame the victim approach.
But, that’s a Defense Attorney for you. As horrific the mere suggestion of it is, we sort of expect it.
What we don’t expect is for the suspect’s mother – one victim’s mother-in-law and the other’s grandmother – to immediately buy into the whacked theory as Gospel.
“We know that our son Neil is innocent and we are devastated to learn that the evidence points to Rachel murdering our grandchild and then (committing) suicide.”
It’s one thing if the defense floated a last minute theory of someone else doing the deed, or better yet, built their case around some phantom menace that was still out there, and then having Neil’s Mom, who no doubt loves her son and can’t, for a moment, believe (or want to acknowledge) that her flesh and blood had carried out this craven act, having her believe that it had to be someone else. But to buy into this offensive crackpot conspiracy that Rachel shot herself through Lilly, and then somehow had the strength and presence of mind to then shoot herself in the head, and then Neil stumbled upon the scene and tried to return the weapon to cover up the murder-suicide as a final noble act as a dear, doting Dad – it just reveals scary levels of denial.
See no evil.
I know that it is impossible to put yourself into her shoes. To look upon your son, the boy you raised from infancy to manhood, and for a moment consider that he was capable of such extreme violence – that you had birthed a monster – but there comes a time when ‘scumbaggery’ trumps family loyalty.
Look at the case of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber). The FBI scoured the country, following every lead for decades and never once found him until his brother recognized key phrases in leaked Unabomber letters as evocative of comments Kaczynski would toss around the dinner table. And though he knew that selling his brother up river would tear their family apart and place a magnifying glass upon their family history with every crackpot investigator looking to mine a well of deep family dysfunction, Ted’s brother knew that it was for the greater good. No matter what pain would come his way, he had the chance to end a greater pain.
I don’t pretend to understand what it must feel like to wake up as Yvonne Entwistle. I don’t even want to step in those shoes. Like those dreaded urban legends, we shy away from uttering Bloody Mary five times for fear that we’ll make the horror manifest – but sometimes you have to place yourself in that predicament to judge your own human nature and response.
And my feeling is, no matter how horrible the situation can be, there are limits to loyalty. We live our lives for the bright spots – for the joy we reap from family and friends. To guard those moments. To keep them precious. We have to keep the monsters at bay – especially if the monsters find their way into our homes.
Neil Entwistle’s actions are reprehensible. So horrible that no amount of wishing he awakens to the taunts of “Fresh Fish” each morning he rises in the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, MA will ever take away from the fact that he ruined two beautiful lives in a selfish bid to escape the crushing torture of his own design. We all know there were better ways out (divorce, bankruptcy – hell, abandonment would have been a better recourse) and it makes me angry realizing how sick, stupid and selfish some people can be. Two gunshots tore their way through entire bloodlines. So unnecessary.
And as much as I hate to condemn a victim (yes, I consider Yvonne a victim as well), I find it deeply saddening that this woman cannot confront the reality that exists and worse – has deluded herself in such as way as to disparage the good name of her dearly departed daughter-in-law.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled off is convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”
Yvonne, I’m not so sure about the Devil, but evil is manifest and right now, it wants to come home again.