About This Tale
This is a story about how the wrong set of circumstances can not only change your life, but can twist and warp everything about you.
Remember that scene in Goodfellas, when the guy gets put away and has the time of his life? Well prison doesn’t really work like that. The connected guys, in my experience, suffer just as much as the rest of us. Except maybe they get to do it in a larger group. Not that there was much mob activity where I did time; Durham nick isn’t exactly Rikers Island.
But as a man who never put his foot out of line, never mixed with the wrong sort, wouldn’t even drive his car without an up-to-date tax disc; this was a whole new world. From the moment I heard the sentence, to the second I stepped in to the place, I felt the fear in my gut, and it never left me. Twenty one months and 13 days inside those gun-metal grey walls, and every one of them creeps by in the same fashion. Fear and anger, living in the shadows, trying not to be noticed. All the while rattling my brains to think of a way out.
Now I’m not one for plotting to escape, don’t get me wrong. My issue was that I should never have been in there in the first place. I was overcome with thoughts of how I could have ended up in this situation – and how the hell I could get out of it now? I convinced myself that I had developed schizophrenia, and maybe that wasn’t far from the truth. Lying awake in my bunk every night for the first 2 months, unable to sleep as every conceivable scenario whizzed through my head.
The facts remained though, just as they had when the judge presided over my case and sent me to hell. On August 11th, two long years ago, on a glorious summers evening, I left my wife enjoying a glass of wine and some trashy book in the garden of our precious home. My beautiful, sweet, loving, lazy wife.
Jayne would often prefer to chill out in the comfort of the garden we had carefully built for ourselves, rather than join me on a cycle along the coast. It was a chore to her – exercise had one purpose, and enjoyment wasn’t it. To me cycling was freedom. Long country lanes, rambling back roads, quiet cliff side pathways along the coast. Allowing the summery sea breeze to fill my lungs, while sweeping past anybody I saw along the way.
It was perfect alone time, which in hindsight proved to be a downfall. Speeding around out there, paying no attention to the folks I was passing by, I became an anonymous man on a bike, and that’s not who you want to be when you are looking for an alibi.
I returned home that evening and my life was changed forever. In most ways – in every significant way you can imagine – it ended there and then, at the very moment I stepped into my own home.
She just lay there. Motionless, while everything shifted in my sight. Everything I’ve been through since is nothing, and nothing I ever come across will ever match that horror.
I was never bothered by gore. I would watch films all the time – horrors and zombie flicks, real bad taste stuff. Jayne would hide her face, cover her eyes, or make her excuses and go straight to bed. She never could handle it; while I chuckled my way through the 21st centuries’ most gruesome works of cinema she was hiding behind a cushion. But this was something different. The gore that afternoon, which stained our walls, and seeped, thick and black and oozing, into our carpet, will stay with me til the day I die.
I can’t close my eyes sometimes. Especially at night when I lie in my cell and the whole world sleeps. If I close them for a second the dark becomes that sickly, dried on blood colour. My periphery fills with lighter tones – the carpet, the foot of the coffee table, more and more. Everything goes back to that place. The worst day of my life. The last day I can remember caring about anything.
Maybe that’s not true. I feel like I cared later, at the trial. Through the seemingly never-ending pre-trial too, when hope was dulled out day by day, and the truth was picked and poked, and chiselled away at until only disgusting lies were left. The feeling passed, and hope died, and here I am.
Some days pass quicker than others. Now and then there’s something out of the ordinary happening – a visitor, a talk, some community funded venture to get us exercising or make us “creative”. I enjoyed most of it. It was a drop of normality in the way that normal used to mean something good.
Normal to me now was grey. Grey rooms, grey walls, grey skies. I could go days without speaking a word in here. If I speak it has to be considered carefully. Upset the wrong person, make the wrong choice, and you could make your life hell for weeks on end. There is so little to do to occupy your mind that some people find great pleasure in picking on one guy, for the most innocuous of reasons, and slowly torturing them. It might be a slow, gradual thing. Niggling comments, a gesture here or there. It would escalate quickly, to the point where tensions got high and something had to give.
I had endured this painful experience more than once now. I’d been jabbed in the back with plastic knifes, and tripped on my face in the dirt. I’d had my head held, mouth open, under a shower head, and my clothes shit on when I returned to my cell after breakfast. It’s all just a stream of torment you either take on board or you drown under. I’d watched newbies come in and last mere days – a brash comment or a misplaced look landing them the attention of some jumped-up thug or other.
I’d seen broken bones and horrific attacks. Ever wanted to witness an eye-gouging to its brutal and bloody conclusion? Then prison might be the place for you. Luckily I wasn’t the type of character who would flinch in the face of it all. I knew the best way to survive was to climb back on to your feet, no matter how many times you were knocked down.
Maybe that’s stubbornness. My wife always said I was stubborn. I never thought I’d need it so badly. I think that is what got me through the early days, and maybe the glimmer of hope that it would all die down. I figured that someday along the line someone would realise I wasn’t fazed by the abuse, and move along to the next victim. It turns out there is always a next victim, but that very rarely meant that they forgot about you.
I guess I’m going too fast here. Writing is supposed to help to release some of the frustrations and hurt. I don’t imagine it can help much, a pile of words arranged on a page. Then I think maybe smarter folk than me have tried and tested it, so what the fuck do I know? Even now I’m proving them right – dancing around the idea of talking about the parts that matter, but not actually talking about anything at all. The truth hurts, and that’s the truth.
So. The truth.
I loved my wife. She bought me comics for Valentine’s day. Who does that? She cared for me when I was at my lowest points, and thrilled with me at my peaks. She would do anything for me, and she meant the absolute world and everything in it to me. If I’m honest, maybe we were never “inseparable” and we had our troubles, now and then. Normal stuff. Nothing’s perfect.
But, if I try to imagine being with someone else, starting up a relationship now, with another person, I just can’t. I can’t see how I could ever find that heart, that connection, the once in a lifetime feeling of being exactly where you are meant to be. Jayne was everything, and my life has been entirely defined by her – before and after.
We’d often talk about death. We’d have long, strange discussions in bed, sometimes drunk, sometimes just sleepless. She told me she couldn’t imagine being in the world without me – and I agreed. Well, I probably made some joke, being the dick that I am. Something along the lines of “Don’t worry about that, I’ll be around long after you”. Hilarious, eh?
That’s the kind of thing people judge you by. If that poor attempt at humour, in the most intimate of moments with the woman who was just another part of me, made it out into the public domain, I would be hanged. They’d string me up in no time. The Daily Mail would have a field day, full cover spread.
Of course I didn’t mean it. I’m soulless now without her. The only consolation is that it’s me suffering this and not her. I would hate to be looking down on her, a broken mess as I am now. But who’s to say what might have been? Had she outlived me, maybe she would have remarried. ‘Til Death Us Do Part’, so it goes. That never sat right with me. If we’re parted in death, does that mean I have to go back to the dating scene? That doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of heaven.
Her last moments haunt me. Her last beautiful breaths, the final agonising minutes when all that was her faded out and nobody did anything to save her. Where was I? Did she scream for me? Could she? I hope she thought of me, I hope she didn’t worry for me. I hope she fought it, struggled against her cruel fate and never gave up til all was lost, hoping to see me again.
Selfish, I suppose. She probably didn’t think of me at all. The doctor told me conscious thought was very unlikely in her final moments. That’s hard to fathom for me though. When you knew someone as such a bright, electric spark it’s hard to think of that being extinguished.
I wish I hadn’t been the one to find her. I dream sometimes that I’m at work, doing my usual thing, when my phone rings. I answer and hear a cold, inhuman voice. They say it’s the police. They say they have bad news. The rest fades into noise, as I know what has happened. But I don’t run home. I don’t go right to the police station, or the morgue. In my dreams I run.
I’m at the cash machine within minutes, and I’m taking out the daily maximum. I’m online in the back of a taxi, booking a flight. I’m at the airport, just me in a cheap suit and a frayed tie, and I’m boarding a plane and I’m running away and everything is ok.
Maybe not ok. Just better.
Better than knowing. Better than seeing.
Flying to the other side of the world, and never thinking of that place again, allowing my mind to trick me. I can see me settling down in Brazil or Guadeloupe, finding a solid job and making some good friends. Drinking local beers in some humid bar and thinking of the life I left behind.
I don’t know if the trick would work. But I dream that I could go on, believing that it never happened, and that if I went home now, there she’d be – making some soup, or raiding the chocolate tin for some long forgotten Christmas treat that went uneaten. She’s fine and her life goes on without me.
Of course I’d be miserable to be without her, but the alternative is worse. So much worse that the fantasy beats the reality one hundred percent of the time. I wake up in cold sweats, and try to convince myself that it’s true for a minute. I open my eyes to the cold grey walls and I’m back in this nightmare, the dream forgotten, reality as real as it’s ever been.
They said it was a crime of passion. Apparently they found evidence of “sexual arousal” about my person when they took me into custody. They said the fact that she had no signs of any abuse were proof of my twisted desires – that the act itself was ‘my thing’. I guess they’ve found that to be true before, so I can hardly say it’s ludicrous – but seriously, if you are getting any pleasure from that sort of scene you are in a dark dark place and I have nothing but pity for you.
They presented evidence from all sides, with neighbours and friends doing a fine job of remembering all of the bad things. That argument we had at New Years got dragged up. No mention that it was two years prior and ended in the world’s single greatest make-up sex session. Happy New Year.
They pulled out my working hours – beware, hard working folks of Britain, putting in too much overtime means you hate your wife. Not just a passive hate either; a truly volatile, aggressive brand of hate.
By the second week of the trial I was exhausted. I could see the writing on the wall. They had precisely nothing to show that I did it, but nothing to say someone else did either. Apparently that fact, by default, made me suspect numero uno.
So with that on my mind, and the reams of half-truths, and misrepresentations, I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the charade. When they made some wild accusations about Jayne’s “indiscretions” I found myself letting out a chuckle. A guffaw, I guess? I’m not entirely sure how a guffaw sounds. It’s one of those words that a certain class of people still uses, but nobody actually ‘does’.
Either way, doing it within a courtroom, whilst on trial for murder, was probably not a great move. I was never the best person under pressure. My mind tends to drift away, yearning me to be elsewhere.
The accusations continued. The old hag from down the road saw Jayne with a “dapper bloke” outside the big Morrison’s. A neighbour claimed that a black Range Rover would pull up every now and then, in the middle of the day. Someone thought they had spotted my wife curled up in a corner of a country pub near home, and would swear (under oath, I suppose) that I was away with work that week. The dates were hazy, the details thin, and the truth minimal.
Regardless, the judge laid down my sentence without so much as a blink. Looking me in the eye, he told me in no uncertain terms that my crimes were “Abhorrent, clinical, chilling, cold, despicable and horrifying”. My crimes.
“To calmly lay waste to another human being, your wife no less, was crime enough. But you took it a step further – mutilating and defiling the body of your most cherished partner as part of a sick sexual game, which was all in your own head”.
He makes a good case. I broke down in tears; I fell into the arms of my councillor. I whispered “Sorry,” over and over. I guess that didn’t help me to look innocent. I know it didn’t matter.
The judge told me I would never know freedom again, and that was that. Dismissed without question. A life thrown in the rubbish bin, like my sweet Jayne’s before me.
I should make it abundantly clear now, in case it isn’t already obvious in my ramblings so far – I did not kill my wife.
People who believe that statement have asked me about that day, about receiving the sentence, and knowing that justice would never be done. They want to know how it must have felt, as the weight of the law came crashing down upon me.
To be honest, I didn’t have one single thought for actual justice. I didn’t even think about it, other than in terms of clearing my own name. So convinced was I that people’s minds were already made up, I barely paid any thought to the nauseating truth – the fact that some animal had walked into my home and brutally murdered my wife and was now, quite conceivably, watching from within these walls of justice and correctness.
I suppose it was stress related blindness of some sort. A kind of blinkered outlook that was born out of survival. I had to focus on something to get me through, and the most important thing at that time seemed to be my freedom. Of course, this monster was out there and was absolutely peering in on all of this. How could they not be?
I imagine the fear never leaves you when you have murdered another human being. The thought in the back of your mind that today might be the day when someone might just crack the case, and you’d be bundled off in handcuffs before your last bacon sarnie as a free man.
So, with that playing on your mind I suppose the elation at some useless sap standing trial for your crime would be of some relief. You would want to be there. I would want to be there. You would want to witness this glorious miscarriage of justice. To know that you are free, to shake that monkey off your back. That pesky murder monkey. Pouvoir tout se permettere.
I can’t explain it any better than that. For a couple of weeks I was led in and out of a roomful of my lords and peers, and led through the gruesome details of the murder of my wife. And all the while I never once considered that the man who killed her was in the room. Sickening in itself, but ever more galling when I think how he must have laughed inside as every piece of non-evidence was wedged into the box marking me as a guilty man.
So I did my time. A seemingly endless shuffle towards the inevitable. This cell was almost certainly the last place I would ever set my eyes on. A visual catastrophe in grey. The world outside moved along while time stood still for me – only showing signs of its existence in the fact that I’d still find myself in need of a shave every now and then.
I can’t say I enjoyed a single moment of the whole experience, until the day the letter arrived. After endless months of back-and-forth discussion with my ever-changing, and ever-more-weary, legal representatives, I had entirely given up hope. The survival instinct had kicked in and was screaming for my freedom. Sadly, the legal system doesn’t listen to personal pleas.
The letter changed everything. I still remember the blue biro cursive scribble, the 2nd class stamp on the envelope. I recall this vague feeling of apprehension – wondering if it was the forgotten penmanship of some family member who couldn’t resist letting me know how much I had disappointed them. I had seen enough of those for a lifetime – no more please.
It was so simple. The white A4 sheet of paper inside with a simple statement scrawled on it, as if it were nothing. It gave me information that would have ruined me many years ago, but filled me with a thrill that I can’t explain.
I’m sorry to be writing to you in this way. I don’t wish to make this any harder than it will be anyway. You need to know.
Your wife slept with my husband. He has done some truly awful things.
That was it. Barely even a note. A not-quite-a-letter which set my soul aflame, and gave me my hope back.
I responded immediately. I swayed between sheer anger at the accusation – my sweet wife, who could not defend herself now – and that hope. A pale, dimly lit hope, barely visible to the average man on the street, but blaring like a beacon in the night sky to my imprisoned mind. I lay awake that night and prayed that this woman would not back down and disappear into the night. I begged every god I had ever heard of, and heretofore never believed in, that this was it.
Four days it took her to write back. We tentatively became pen pals for weeks. Neither of us said a lot at first; just details, times, dates, faded memories trying to connect faded dots. The picture became clearer as the letters grew longer, and soon I knew the truth, as painful as it was to come to terms with. I had to accept it.
My wife was having an affair. It seems she had been carrying on with this lady’s husband for at least 6 months before her death. The black Range Rover, and the dapper suit made sense now – no longer figments of a nosey neighbours’ fantasy. The guttural pain I felt at the thought of my Jayne engaged in any physical contact with this guy made me sick. And yet, the rush of what it all could mean to me was what kept me going through the long nights.
This man, this parasite, had finally slipped. My beloved was simply one of many for this deviant. He had been caught out by his wife, at last, and she exposed dozens of secret affairs. From one tiny loose thread she unravelled a seedy map of business trips and whores he had hidden from her along the way.
His biggest mistake had been his cockiness. Not satisfied with a string of women, married and professional alike, he set his eyes on something much more deplorable. She was only 14 when he had started speaking to her.
One of the worst things about being locked up, for me at least, was morning television. Ridiculous, I know, but hear me out. These mindless shows, with their constant caterwauling and the procession of “experts” on everything from how much sugar is in your morning latte to how you can resolve your husband’s droopy cock problems.
One of their favourite crusades was to promote all those internet guidelines and rules to protect vulnerable young teens from the world wide web of vile predators, that was certainly going to get your son or daughter, one of these days. It is scaremongering at best, or something much more sinister at its worst. The thing with these sorts of things is, parents aren’t paying any attention, and kids couldn’t care less. In fact, the very people these warnings are aimed at should be at work and school when these God awful programs are being shown.
Luckily, for me at least, the warnings had been entirely ignored in this case. Although, looking back, I feel sorry for the girl. Just another victim of this whole mess, but one whose story blew my world wide open.
He had played the game well, they said. He gained the girls trust, and provided the supportive voice a rebellious teen might like. Fourteen years old. Christ, I can’t even imagine the naivety I possessed at that age. This girl – no more than a child – was lured in for weeks on end and, when she was ripe for the picking, he set the date and time and made his move. Unfortunately for him, his wife was already on his case.
She had found an email a month earlier which had peaked her interest. She delved deeper, and soon found her husband’s secret life unravelling before her eyes. She became her own private investigator, monitoring his movements, checking his emails and call logs.
All of which led her to some dingy old pub in some dingy old town on some dingy old Wednesday night. She came, she saw, she called the police.
By the time they arrived the young girls’ innocence was lost. They hauled him out of his car, pants around his ankles, but arrived too late. That’s regretful, but somehow made the story just that bit more meaningful to me. His suffering started then, and there really is no end of suffering for men like him.
It didn’t take long from there, it really didn’t. As soon as I told this tale to the lawyers, I knew I could sit back and try to gleam some enjoyment from this sordid situation. I had the feeling of a man in the path of a giant avalanche, roaring down a snowy hillside to sweep me away to where I wanted to be.
The lawyers said there was “a chance” at first. That was quickly upgraded to “a strong possibility” within days. By the time DNA evidence was first mentioned it was “a genuine hope” and nothing could stop the momentum then. I was careening down that hill, lost in it’s vast whiteness, no power in the universe able to stop me.
They pulled the evidence bag from some dusty shelf, and they scraped and scrutinised every inch until they found it. The Holy Grail. My wife. The love of my life, the reason for my being. The downfall of all that I was.
On the day she died she was wearing the white and pink knickers, with the faded-lace trim that had seen too many washes. Inside those typical, none-more-boring, pants lay the semen of another man.
Not so long ago I would have jumped from a very high bridge if I’d found out this fact.
Instead, I stood motionless. I went into shock. I stood in the courtroom and nodded and forced a smile and could not comprehend the enormity of it all. It was a match. An infallible match, in the eyes of the law.
The lawyers were up in arms. Why wasn’t this tested at the time, what had the police looked for if not something so out of the ordinary as this? I didn’t care. At that moment the life I had endured for so long came to an abrupt end, and all that came before now lay meaningless and burning in the rubble at my feet.
Peter Benedict had visited my house on August 11th. Peter Benedict had spilled his disgusting seed into my beloved wife. Then Peter Benedict, 99.99% likely according to the forensic scientists, had cut her insides out and left them smeared across the cosy carpeted furnishings of my cosy carpeted home.
They let me go that afternoon. I wandered into the sunlight outside and felt the breeze on my face. A free man. There’s no breeze like the “I just got out of prison” breeze, I can categorically tell you. But don’t go trying to find out for yourself.
The next day or so was a blur. Life refused to slow down, now that it had been handed back to me. They explained that I was free now as the evidence did not hold up against me. They were at great pains to explain that this did not mean they were absolutely assured of my innocence. I didn’t exactly get an apology, but at least they were admitting that it might have been someone else.
The case was reopened and Benedict was put under pressure. He was serving a laughable sentence for the incident with the girl, and they used his current predicament to turn the screw. I didn’t care anymore. The matter was over in my eyes. He was the killer . He knew it, they knew it, and it was all I needed to know.
Closure is a strange beast. On the one hand, I was glad to banish the doubt and the suspicions, which occurred every day, about every significant person in my life. I was also happy to be free, and I tried to live it as much as I could. However, pain doesn’t magically disappear. The thoughts of my wife flood back every time I make dinner in the evening, or buy a bottle of wine. I’ve given up trying that one. I stopped drinking entirely, which is the opposite of how most people deal with trauma, or so I’m told.
My every waking thought was her, and the more I tried to hate the scheming, cheating woman I now know that she was, I only remember the loving, beautiful woman I married. I found myself tracing her steps, wandering the streets of the neighbourhood where she worked, and visiting the places I’ve been told she met her lover.
I don’t know if I knew it would happen.
I look back now and feel like it was all an accident, but in the back of my mind I know it was too perfect. In fact I know there was nothing accidental about it at all.
It was too perfect that I was there that evening. Too perfect that the streets were clear and the car pulled up right on time; it was always so quiet here, at this time of night. It was perfect that he parked it right where he always did, and if I follow that thought through, it was more perfect still that I was waiting when he came back out of the corner shop with his newspaper and his customary two packets of chewing gum.
The look of recognition on his face was almost enough. Almost. The fear that shook his every fibre in that moment was exquisite, and filled me with a high I can’t explain. I’m not sure I knew any more than he did what I was going to do at that point. But I know that the first impact of my fist against his sickening face was sublime. I felt it through every cell in my body. Sheer joy.
The pain quickly masked his look of surprise, as he staggered backward into the road. I wondered if I might need to take another shot but I held back. Let him suffer. I stared into his eyes in that moment and I knew he felt it. Repentance is a funny thing, and I guess I’ll never know if he was sorry for the things he had done. In that moment, no matter how sorry he might have been, I felt nothing for him. I felt only a thrill coursing through my veins, and I couldn’t have stopped myself even if I had wanted to.
Utter despair washed across his face when he saw the blade. I’d learned things in prison that he would never understand. I wondered then if he and Jayne had spoken about me. What things had my darling wife said in her private moments with her filthy lover? Had she told him I was weak? That I was a good man? Maybe he would never have tried it on with her if he had known what lurked beneath my surface.
The funny thing is. I would never have known either, if it hadn’t been for him.
I had never been a violent man. I can’t remember getting into a single fight, other than childish joshing with my brothers and the like. I was the least violent man in my circle of friends, by a long way. But I carved Peter Benedict up, piece by piece, without giving it a second thought. I was a flurry of hatred, thinking about every inch of my own wife’s mutilated body. The body I had loved so dearly, which he had carved up like it was nothing, so long ago now.
I wonder if his release from prison had felt as good as mine? Was that another joyous feeling that we shared? Alongside the loving, tender embrace of my wife?
He struggled back, gaining his senses. Bloodied my nose. It wasn’t enough. I don’t believe anyone could have stopped me that day. I was possessed by something I could never explain, and never would try.
As the red haze withdrew, and the struggling died down, I began to see the scene in front of me for the first time. The familiarity of it all made me wretch, and the difficulty of the task made me hate the man even more. This was no passionate act of killing – this was bloody, vicious and violent. When he had carried out the same task he had been methodical and meticulous and disturbed. He had taken his blade to my wife with a purpose. The man was a monster and I was glad that he was dead.
I dropped the knife in the roadside and fell to my knees. My blood stained hands were dripping red, while the black sticky mess oozed across the tarmac, gathering in pools. I made no attempt to flee the scene. There was nothing left for me. I waited another ten, maybe fifteen minutes, before anyone passed. It was another ten before the police arrived. It didn’t matter; time was all I had now.
The trial was smoother this time around. I didn’t hold on to hope, and I didn’t plead for mercy. I got what I deserved in the end. Although I’m not sure that’s true, in the grand scheme of things.
I sit in my cell now and remember her. My world. The cell is my world now. I try to imagine her in his arms, in his bed. I try to imagine the black soul that would drive her to do that, to break my heart and destroy my soul and take everything from me. I try. But I fail every time. Every night I fail, and every night I pine for my dearly departed wife.
Every night I slouch on my bunk, that pesky murder monkey on my back.