Staying with the dead by Barbara Nadel

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I’ve just been reading the latest news from İstanbul and note that one of what I call those ‘not letting go’ murders has occurred. A 19 year old man identified only as OE killed his father and then apparently lived with his corpse for a week. He put the body in the bath which he then topped up with water and ice in order to stop it smelling. It was only when, in an act of almost unbelievable candour he asked his friends to help him dispose of his ‘dad’, that the crime was discovered and reported to the police. The young man and his father apparently lived alone after the boys’ mother left the family home because of her husband’s infidelities. According to neighbours in the Avcilar district of İstanbul where they lived, the young man was a ‘nice boy’.

So what on earth made such a ‘nice boy’ kill his dad and then, apparently calmly, live with his corpse for a week? Was it sudden anger at his father’s sexual behaviour? Was it the loss of his mother and the hurt and humiliation that she had clearly suffered? Unfortunately there are as many explanations for this type of behaviour as there are stars in the sky.

Many years ago, when I was thinking about what subject I wanted to study at degree level, I lighted upon psychology because I thought that it would provide some answers to questions I had about the human mind. Oh, the folly of youth! What I actually studied was a course in questions. It was an exercise in what we don’t know and how to formulate queries in order to reveal yet more human ignorance. I learned how to think in eighteen different directions at once which, when you consider cases like that of OE you have to try and do.

One classic response I can recall from my degree course was to a question I once asked of my tutor at the time. We were studying sexual behaviours and had reached the subject of the paraphilias. These, for those who don’t already know, are sexual preferences for people/animals/things that most of society find immoral, distasteful or just downright weird. Having discussed shoe fetishism and bestiality, I asked my tutor whether there was anything that people couldn’t find sexually arousing. His answer has lived with me ever since. ‘No,’ he said, ‘if it exists, someone will want to shag it.’ He was right of course and now we have the Internet, some paraphiliacs do like to share some of their preferences with us. A few enjoy being filmed and then have those films broadcast on TV. Only a couple of years ago I saw a documentary on mainstream terrestrial television about one woman who had ‘married’ the Eiffel Tower and another one who had fallen in love with a fairground roller coaster. Well, if that’s what you like and all that…

But where does this get us with regard to OE and why he might have first killed his father and then kept his body for a week? The obvious answer to why he killed his father is because of his mother. But there could have been other problems too. Maybe the father was violent towards his son? Maybe he brought women home and had sex with them when his son was in the apartment? Until we know the nature of their relationship we cannot tell. But still, why firstly, hang on to the body and then further, why effectively confess to your friends? OE had to know that his friends would have no choice but to call the police.

Clearly OE has some sort of moral compass because he told his friends. He asked his friends to help him to dispose of the body but when they went straight to the police, I don’t believe this was any sort of surprise to him. As a ‘nice boy’ he would almost certainly not have the sort of friends who would think that trying to secrete a dead body in the streets of İstanbul was a fun thing to do. There was a need, albeit by proxy, to tell all to authorities that mete out punishment. But still why keep the body and even attempt to preserve it to some extent? Did he kill his father and then just simply not know what to do with his body? Did he keep the corpse in order to continue some sort of dialogue he had been having with his father before his death? Does OE suffer from delusions about his father’s behaviour, his beliefs or even his identity?

I guess that psychology grad or not, as a crime writer it would be pretty poor if I didn’t ask such questions. That’s what we do. We ask fictional questions in order to solve (or not) fictional crimes and the methods we have to employ bring us into contact with theories of behaviour and of the mind. And of course, unless a suspect confesses and gives a full account of why they killed and how, then we will never really know exactly what happened and why. Even in the world of fiction, we only have our characters ‘word’ for why things happened in the way that they did.

Until we can actually ‘see’ inside another person’s mind we cannot ever be entirely sure about their motives. Questions, which further, may not even be the right questions, will always remain. But then that’s the challenge of both psychology and crime fiction. Forensic evidence can only go so far, sophisticated as it is these days. But if you REALLY want to know why someone did something, you have to get inside their head.

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