Have you ever met a murderer? I did, and it was only two days before he committed a disgustingly brutal murder. The thing I remember most about him was that he was just so quiet. I know that sounds like such a cliche. How many times on the news have we all seen stories about a psycho-killer where the neighbors all say “but he was so quiet.”
His name is Mark Masters and when I met him he was trying to become a professional photographer. The actual way he made a living was by driving a tow truck and doing various odd-jobs, but his dream was to be a photographer.
I worked at American Healthcare Manufacturing, a privately held company in New Jersey. The owner had hired Mark to prepare a new brochure for the company. The owner said it was because he wanted to give Mark a break. The real real reason was that Mark was willing to do the job for less than half the price anyone else had offered.
The photo shoot was to take place after-hours so as not to interfere with the regular business. It was not one of those exciting photo shoots with beautiful models in skimpy outfits. In fact, there were no people being photographed at all.
American Healthcare made products for hospitals. The products were items such as surgical gloves, gauze bandages, wound dressing kits, etc. The brochure was just going to be pictures of these products, with the prices listed underneath. It was not exactly Vogue magazine.
Somehow I got chosen to be the one to stay late to help the photographer. Mark came in and we set up everything in the big conference room. We covered the table with a green cloth and arranged the various products on the table. Mark set up his camera equipment without saying a word.
It was really boring, since it was just Mark and I alone in the building. I tried to get him involved in a conversation, but I could not get him to talk about anything. It was like his mind was somewhere else completely. He spoke so softly that I had to strain to hear him.
He did not initiate any conversations, and when asked a question, would only answer with a whispered “Yes” or “No”.
The whole photo shoot only took about two hours, but it was so uncomfortable being around him that it felt like it took days. When he finally packed up his cameras and left I was glad to get back home, where people actually spoke.
Two days later, I was in the office when Brian, our sales manager, came in.
“Remember that guy who took pictures for the brochure?” asked Brian.
“Yea sure. Why?”
“He killed his mother-in-law. He strangled her. Then he cut off her hands and tried to flush them down the toilet. Supposedly they all lived together and had been having arguments about who would get the house. He cut off her hands to make sure she did not get her hands on the house even after she died.”
I was shocked. I had been next to this guy for hours in a completely empty building in an isolated office park just two days before. Brian thought that was really funny. Brian has a weird sense of humor. It did not seem amusing to me.
It’s hard to know what sort of lesson to draw from this. The only one I can think of is that you never really know what is going on in another person’s soul.
When I do work late these days, I make sure there are a lot of other people in the building. I also find myself inadvertently checking out where the nearest exits are. Just in case.