In January 1992 Thomas Gray Eastwood Liddell, 28, married Marie Paquin in Washington, D.C.’s Gonzga Chapel. Both were young, extraordinarily energetic people and they radiated love.
Marie came from a Washington suburb, the daughter of a local doctor, and she knew her way around town – was at home in the nation’s capital.
Gray came from an upscale family in Pinehurst, N.C., and had had a wholesome, privileged upbringing. An ardent Dodger baseball fan, he visited the team in Florida during spring training almost every summer as a kid and idolized Tommy Lasardo. He had worked since graduating from college as a sales rep for a Northern Virginia company; Marie worked as a highly regarded paralegal.
They moved into Marie’s apartment in the northwest section of Washington, D.C. after they were married and enjoyed an active social, professional and family life. Urbane and popular, they were a couple for the 90s, right out of an advertisement for the American Dream.
On the evening of Saturday, 30 May 1992, Marie was at her parent’s home helping prepare for her sister’s wedding the following week-end. Gray and his brother, Kim, went to a party at a friend’s town house three blocks from the Capitol. When they arrived about 9:30, the party was in full swing with more than 50 guests in attendance, many of whom worked as legislative aides on Capitol Hill.
With a keg of beer in the kitchen, rock and roll music on the stereo, sporadic dancing, lively chatter, smoke, laughter, it was not unlike spring fraternity parties most of the participants had enjoyed in years past. A government lawyer, Buck Adams, also from Pinehurst, N.C., was at the party and greeted Gray and Kim warmly when they arrived. At 10 pm, Kirk Bell, another home town friend from Pinehurst, arrived and for the next few hours time stood still. For Gray and Kim Liddell, Buck Adams and Kirk Bell standing amidst the swirl of the Capitol Hill party, laughing about old times in North Carolina and boasting about the future, life was very good.
Two AM the party began to break up. Kim and Gray headed out to Kim’s Nissan Pathfinder parked at an intersection nearby and Kirk Bell followed, trying to talk the brothers into going to another party. Gray borrowed a fellow party-goer’s cellular telephone and called his wife, telling her he’d be heading home soon. After returning the telephone, he continued on towards Kim’s car, but he agreed with Kirk to go to the other party. Kirk went back inside to get others who wanted to go and within 5 minutes he was walking back out towards Kim’s car, the music from the fading party following him.
It was drizzling rain and fog shrouded the area, holding down sound. The street light near the intersection cast an eerie light on the tree lined street. A chain link fence, protecting the playground of an intercity school, ran along the sidewalk across from the town house and then around the corner at the intersection. It acted as a backdrop to the sidewalk and as he walked Kirk’s eyes followed the fence to the intersection and then around the corner where he saw Kim’s car, and with chilling suddenness, there amid the foggy shadows, he saw a tall, lean figure in a full length dark slicker with a hood, like a prophet of death, standing beside the car, facing the fence, facing Kim standing more in the shadows. A few feet from the dark figure stood another slender man, wearing a similar full length slicker with hood. Gray was out of view.
Kirk took in the scene in a few seconds – froze the scene in his memory – and knew something dangerous, alien, ominously hostile was unfolding. He tensed, rose instinctively to the balls of his feet, fixed on the shadowy scene to his front, no longer aware of the music behind him.
Coming from the confrontation, there was a voice, maybe from Gray, still unseen, and like a fuse, it ignited the situation.
The nearest figure, a black male with youngish features half hidden under the drooping hood, slowly raised a saw-off shotgun from the folds of his slicker and aimed it where Kirk could not see and without hesitation he pulled the trigger and a frightening loud boom accompanied the bright burst of the shell from the gun.
Thomas Gray Eastwood Liddell saw the gunman raise that awful weapon towards his head and he raised his arms up pleading, “Don’t shoot me,” as the gunman fired. He took the full impact in the rear part of his head and he was blown back up against the fence, and crumpled to the ground almost upside down, dead.
The two dark figures in their full length slickers turned on their heels, got into Kim’s car and coolly drove off into the foggy night.
The Pathfinder was found abandoned two days later. The murderers were never caught.
There were 9 homicides in Washington, D.C. that week-end, more the following week, still more the week that followed and the week that followed that. In time the police file on the homicide of Thomas Gray Eastwood Liddell was marked Inactive, Unsolved.
Your first thought may be that we live in a civilized society, for God’s sake, and this story of a young man gunned down, for no good reason, on the streets of Washington, DC, our national capital, is morally irreconcilable. Senseless, brutal and unjust.
However, if you believe in the primacy of basic instincts, over all else, it makes more sense as a confrontation in an urban jungle – where might makes right – and the fittest, the aggressor, survives. It was as if one upright, fair-skinned animal was caught out away from his herd at night and was slaughtered by predators.
Life in some ways hasn’t changed much, ever. There’ve always been predators and prey.
Civility is a learned, superficial trait.
Here’s something to be learned from that…. You live in a jungle, carry a gun.