I must have had my head in the sand again this week because I didn’t know that Hans Reiser had finally taken the cops to his ex-wife’s body until I saw an actual newspaper yesterday. I always believed he was guilty, but was surprised to notice myself finally let go of that possibility that she was still alive, that she might be reunited with her children again. I had no idea part of me still hoped for that, but it was deeply sad letting it go.
I also did not realize how many people actually thought he was innocent. The people I know close to the case were on what I think is now fair to call Nina’s side. The Reiser kids went to Clementine’s preschool; some of her teachers had also been the Reiser kids’ teachers, and the parents and teachers at Grand Lake Montessori were, to my knowledge, unanimous in their belief that Hans had killed Nina.
I never knew Nina or her kids. Her younger child overlapped with Clem’s tenure at GLM by a few months (the daughter had left GLM for elementary school right before Nina disappeared), and my only knowledge of them being there was Chris remarking on seeing Hans in the parking lot during one of our first weeks at the school. He knew of Hans through the software community, and after told our friend Jon (who knew Hans at UC Berkeley) that Clem was in school with Hans Reiser’s kid. When Nina first went missing, I remember seeing an article online about a missing Oakland mom, and clicked through not knowing anything about her. The next day, there were flyers in our parent boxes and emails from the school urging us to look for Nina or to come forward with any information that might help locate her. As the days went on, the school really mobilized. They organized several searches for her in the hills, raised money for billboards asking for information, and when Hans was indicted, continued to raise money for her kids, before they left for Russia.
To be part of the GLM community during this time was to witness surreptitious hallway conversations among parents who knew the Reisers, whispered in a sort of code language that developed to keep our children from knowing what we were talking about. The school director reminded parents on more than one occasion how traumatic the idea of losing one’s mother is to a child, and that the kids should be shielded from any knowledge of the case. But it was impossible not to talk about it; parents, teachers, and administrators were being interviewed by the police, and later testified at the trial. I recall showing up to volunteer at the Book Fair one time and the adjoining rooms were being used to counsel some of the teachers who’d testified at the trial. It had been very stressful for them, and the school had brought in a therapist to help them decompress from the whole experience.
The consistent message from the GLM parents and teachers was that Nina would not have run off and left her children (Hans’s explanation for her disappearance was that she had gone back to Russia or Europe). I think this spoke to both the parents’ impressions of Nina as an individual, but also to a sense of our identity as a community: such an act by “one of us” was unthinkable. Obviously some in the open source community similarly did not want to believe one of their own had committed murder, and held out a belief that Hans was innocent despite what our friend Ocean pointed out was an almost comical litany of condemning evidence, right down to the books on murder investigation Hans purchased after she disappeared (which should have silenced the argument that Hans was too smart to have committed murder right there).
Now that the competing narratives have been resolved, I surfed around for blog and twitter entries about the case yesterday, and found some humorous:
As to the many geeks who vehemently defended him, my theory was that they, also being socially inept, saw themselves looking guilty if ever accused, and my advice to them was (and is) not to kill their wives and they’d be fine. I will be looking for contrition from those guys on the Wired boards, and do not expect to find any.
– deathbychichi commenting on Valleywag article
and some righteous:
The impulse to see a lesson in the Reiser case should be resisted. The only thing this case “goes to show” is that the Oakland Police don’t always make a hopeless mess of everything (though the cynical corollary is that they’re capable of solving high-profile cases involving middle class white people when the evidence is overwhelming.) But Hans’ murder of his wife is part of no pattern, and the attempts to connect it to other trends or headlines have been misguided, opportunistic and wrong. The so-called Geek Defense in particular, in which the defense attorney asserted that Hans’s suspicious behavior was the natural result of geekitude, rather than guilt, does a severe disserve to geeks and those with Asperger’s. Thank God Hans was either too broke or too crazy (or both) to hire an attorney who was not clearly somewhat nuts in his own right; if some genius lawyer had managed to get Hans acquitted by virtue of his social ineptitude, the Geek Defense would have a cultural life it has no business having. As one Valleywag commenter says to another:
Indeed, Hans is just an ordinary sociopath and narcissist. His crime says nothing about geeks, Asperger’s Syndrome, or the open source movement; nor does it say anything about the virtue of Oakland Montessori mothers. I don’t think the murder even qualifies as a tragedy in the Greek sense; Hans was certainly no noble hero with a fatal flaw, and while Nina may well have been a noble person, I think she was pretty clearly, no matter how unfashionable the term, a victim. With no sociological trend at stake and no “lesson learned,” I am left where I started: deeply sad. By all accounts but Hans’, those kids had a loving and nurturing mother, whom they last saw when they were only 4 and 6. Unfortunately they also had a father whose final words to the jury that convicted him were “I’ve been the best father that I know how.” If that’s true, that’s even sadder.