In the summer of 1976, my husband was a 25 year old full-time student
at Brigham Young University, and we were renting a tiny house in Orem,
Utah. Orem was generally a quiet town, where one could lie in bed on a
summer night, with windows wide open, and hear only the noise of a few
crickets chirping and dogs barking, and the occasional buzz of a car
driven by someone who was working a night shift.
In the middle of the night of 19 July, I awoke to the sounds of sirens...lots of them. I knew there must have been some very significant event, for there to be multiple sirens blaring, and wondered if it might possibly have been a house fire. I didn't find out what those sirens we all about until two days later, when a neighbor commented that there had been another murder the night before. That was when I learned that the sirens I had heard were because of a murder at a gas station just a few blocks away. Soon after, the name of the victim became known. He was a 25 year old BYU student, who had actually served in the mission field with my husband, in Brazil. The young man also had a wife and a new baby, and had been working the night shift at the gas station to support his family, while attending college full-time. The victim of the second murder was another 25 year old BYU student, who was working nights to support a pregnant wife and baby, while attending the university.
I will refrain from using the names of the two fine young men whose lives were ended in such a brutal and senseless manner, out of respect for the privacy of their families. But their names remain, in my mind, and I have often thought of them, over the years, and wondered how they were doing; the wives, now in their fifties, as I am, and also the children, now around 30 years old, who were deprived of their fathers by Gary Gilmore's senseless rampage.
I will never forget the first images I ever saw of Gary Gilmore, taken when he was very first apprehended. He looked like a wild man, with an unkempt beard and long hair flying everywhere, with a crazed look in his eyes. Soon after, however, he took on a clean cut look, which certainly would have increased the general public's sympathy. That started America's interest in Gary Gilmore. In the weeks that followed, it seemed that many Americans couldn't get enough of the story of the ex-con and his little girlfriend, Nicole. The media turned it into a Romeo and Juliette story, about the young man from a tough background, down on his luck, and his beautiful young sweetheart. I'll never forget the time that television programming was interrupted for a special report, stating that Gilmore and Nichol had both been found unconscious, following a suicide attempt, with pictures of the two, side by side. It made me ill to see the way the story was romanticized, while two young widows grieved the loss of their husbands.
When Gilmore was finally executed, I was relieved. There had been local talk of him possibly being released from prison on a technicality, if the sentence of execution was not carried out soon, and I was terrified that he might set out to murder another young BYU student. After the news from the execution finally died down, I did my best to avoid thinking of anything to do with Gary Gilmore.
When I heard about the made-for-TV movie, The Executioner's Song, I was appalled that someone would give Gilmore MORE attention. It took me nearly 20 years to finally watch the film. I will say that Tommy Lee Jones and Rosanna Arquette were brilliant in their roles, and the supporting roles were also well portrayed. I think it did a fair job of presenting the story with a minimum of glorification of Gilmore, while calling attention to the victims of his crimes, at least to some extent. I only hope that Gilmore's victims' wives and children benefited from any money made from the film.
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