Doug Robinson: Horrific crimes show the thin line between good and evil

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 11:19 a.m. MDT

Crime scene tape blocks entry to a home in Spanish Fork on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, where police believe an officer shot and killed his wife, two young children and his mother-in-law, before killing himself. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Crime scene tape blocks entry to a home in Spanish Fork on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, where police believe an officer shot and killed his wife, two young children and his mother-in-law, before killing himself. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Before seven dead babies were found in her garage, before she became the subject of a murder investigation, before the horrific news reports beamed around the world, Megan Huntsman was considered “normal.”

She could’ve been your neighbor and friend.

She was someone’s neighbor and friend.

“She was just your normal, average, run-of-the-mill person out there in society,” neighbor Aaron Hawker told CNN.

So normal that Huntsman used to baby-sit Hawker’s grandchildren.

So normal she baby-sat other neighborhood children.

Huntsman seemed like, well, us.

Which raises an old question: How well do we ever know anyone? How do you think you know someone so well and consider her so “normal” that you ask her to baby-sit your children and then it turns out she has a murderous dark side?

There was nothing remotely normal about what Huntsman did in her Pleasant Grove house. She is accused of strangling or suffocating six of the seven newborns found in cardboard boxes hidden in her garage.

"She was nice,” another neighbor, Josh Flowers, told Deseret News reporter Pat Reavy. “… I mean, she was always nice. My daughters adored her. ... I didn't notice anything that would have been shady or a red flag."

Ever notice how often, after some heinous crime has come to light, a neighbor or friend attests to how nice and normal and average the perpetrator was?

A man named Tom Kai told the Los Angeles Times this about his young Colorado neighbor: "He seemed to be a normal kid.” His son, Anthony, told the newspaper, “I saw him as a normal guy, an everyday guy, doing everyday things.”

Their neighbor was James Holmes. He fired an assault rifle into a crowded Colorado movie theater, killing a dozen people.

Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon told Reavy this about a friend and co-worker: “He was well-liked, had a lot of friends. … He was a big guy … but just a teddy bear is how I would have described him. Just a mild-mannered personality.”

He was talking about police officer Joshua Boren, who killed his wife, two children and his mother-in-law before taking his own life.

Jon Taylor described family friends for Fox13 news this way: “You would never suspect this of this house and this couple. You never heard them fighting. They always spoke highly of each other.”

His friend, Bret Pepper, killed his wife while their children were in the house and then killed himself.

A Boston man once described his next-door neighbor as “a sweetheart, a young, cute kid.” Another neighbor, Larry Aronson, told CNN: “He was a lovely, lovely kid. He was a wonderful kid.” A classmate told Buzzfeed that the same kid was “a sweet sort of guy.” They were all referring to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one-half of the brother duo accused of bombing the Boston Marathon last year, killing three and injuring about 264.

A Cleveland man named Juan Perez told Cleveland NewsChannel5 that his neighbor was a nice guy who would come around to say "hello."

“He seemed,” Perez said, “like he was a good guy to the kids that were here … I didn’t think anything of it.” His neighbor was Ariel Castro, who pleaded guilty to hundreds of counts of rape, kidnapping and murder and held three women hostage for a decade before killing himself.

People in a Milwaukee neighborhood described one of their neighbors as “a little withdrawn, but not really bizarre.” He was, they said, “an average Joe.” His name was Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered 17 men and boys and cannibalized bodies.

In a Denver suburb, neighbors described Eric Harris as a nice, polite, clean-cut kid. He was one of two teenagers who opened fire at Columbine High School, killing 13 and wounding 23.

Author Richard Larsen wrote a book about a young man who was remembered by his fourth-grade teacher as “happy, well-adjusted.” Ross Davis, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party at the time, told Larsen that the young man — an employee — was a “super bright guy” and an “effective worker.” Davis’ wife, Sarah, told Larsen, “We just all loved Ted.”

That would be serial killer Ted Bundy.

How were so many fooled? Is the line between good and evil — between normal/nice guy and aberrant/sociopath — really that thin? For 25 years Chris Waits grew acquainted with a distant neighbor in the Montana mountains and gave him occasional rides into town. Later, he found out his neighbor was Ted Kaczynski, aka, the Unabomber. Waits would tell the Independent Record, "My biggest question when he was arrested was 'How did I miss it?'”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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