The case of the Del
I am writing to you because I have often read that you are a
fighter for justice, and there has been no justice done in my case. I do not
doubt that I deserve some punishment – I did a crime and I believe that I
should pay the price for being caught – but I did not do what I was accused,
and convicted, of. I was not party to it; I did not want it; I did not
commission or encourage it.
You will be, I’m sure, familiar with the Del Inspiro case. Myself and my
associates, Mason, Wilhelm, Guido, Albert, Majik and Gerald, attempted to
kidnap and hold for ransom the passengers of the Del Inspiro, en route from B— to San Francisco. We were tried and
convicted on the charges of conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, attempted murder
and first degree murder. I will be in this cell or another like it for a
minimum of thirty years.
It was Mason’s idea to take over the Del Inspiro. The plan seemed brilliant. We would strike at the
Captain’s Ball, when many of the passengers and most of the crew would be in
attendance in the dining hall. The ball is set up with a PA, so it would be
possible to broadcast our demands of the crowd without creating too much panic.
Three of us would guard the main exits, while Gerald menaced those we had
kidnapped with a “bomb”, Mason gave commands over the PA and I herded the
people up into one end of the hall, the better to control them. (Majik, a
tremendously daring driver, would take us off on board his fast cabin cruiser,
which we knew to be a mile or so behind us.)You should understand, sir, that I
am not a violent man. Mason’s plan appealed to me because of its boldness and
ingenuity: it was Mason’s intention that the bomb would be no more real than
those in spy movies and that the pistols we carried should be unloaded –
indeed, unloadable, replicas, no more capable of doing harm than a water
pistol. The bomb looked real enough. Mason was a keen student of the explosive
arts, and I have no doubt he could build
the real thing if he had need of it.
The ingenuity of Mason’s plan lay in his having calculated
that were the alarm raised, no help could likely arrive within an hour. We were
to strike at the point that the Del
Inspiro would be farthest from shore. Even a helicopter would need half an
hour to reach us, and he believed that even the readiest team would need half
an hour to assess the threat, assemble and leave its base. (Of course, one
would not expect so swift a reaction in any case.) Events of course proved
You might ask – and I did ask – what would happen were any
of the passengers armed. After all, they were mainly Americans, people who
believe that it is their right to go armed and shoot one another if they feel
the need. Mason had an answer. Firearms were expressly forbidden on the Del Inspiro, and we had passed through
customs on boarding, and several times during the cruise. (Our own equipment
was delivered by a friend posing as a lighterman at C—. Because he is still at
liberty, I will not name him, nor will I share the ingenious method by which
the guns and “bomb” were smuggled onto the ship. Our accomplice is in a trade
that will require him to use the same method again.)
Our reward was to be twofold. First, we would take the
oldfashioned approach of relieving the crowd of their wallets and jewellery.
Second, we would abduct some that we had targeted and have them order a bank
wire to our secret account. Even should the second part of the reward come to
nothing, some of the passengers were rich enough that the first alone would
provide a good haul.
At first, things went well. Mason took control of the PA and
the lights went up. The passengers, stunned but not panicking, moved obediently
and reasonably quietly together. You might expect screaming – certainly, I had
thought some of the women might scream when they saw guns – but the calm air of
authority that Mason exuded weaved a spell over the crowd, and there was barely
a mutter, let alone hysteria.
Quickly, unarmed so that no one could be tempted to jump me,
I passed among the passengers, grabbing their effects. They were remarkably
compliant. At the same time, Mason read out a list of names: a dozen of the
richest, who were to become our hostages.
All was passing smoothly, as well as we could have hoped,
when suddenly there was a cry, a flash, a loud bang, then another flash,
another bang, and the dining hall of the Del
Inspiro had become a mass of writhing bodies, bits and pieces of people,
screaming, bloody, mangled… I cannot tell you, sir, because I lack the words to
described what scene from hell there was. I straight away ran to aid some that
were wounded. I could hear Mason bellowing into his microphone that we must get
the fuck out of there, suddenly shrill and tremulous, his authority boiled away
into fear and anger.
I could not clearly see what was going on. The room was
filled with smoke and people were stampeding for the exits. In the chaos, I
could see Wilhelm kneeling on Guido’s chest, punching him in the face and
screaming something at him. I ran over to them.
Let’s get the fuck out of here, I was yelling.
Wilhelm turned to me, his eyes streaming tears. This stupid
fucker, this mad fucker, he was saying. I had no idea what he was talking
about. I pulled him from Guido.
There’s no time for this, I shouted. Let’s get.
I stooped to pick up Guido, half conscious on the floor.
Leave him. Just leave him, Wilhelm was saying, grabbing my
sleeve. He did it. He did all this. Just leave him. God. We’re fucked, that
fucker. Man, that fucker.
I still didn’t know what he was talking about but I had the
presence of mind, at least, to telephone Majik. I gave him the word and turned
Okay, let’s just go, I said. Let’s get the guys.
But there was no way to find the guys in the smoky mess of
the dining hall. We picked up Mason, still standing by the PA, but the others,
I didn’t know where they were.
Mason was rigid with shock. It was all I could do to drag
him from the hall and out into the passageway. I do not think anyone could have
pulled him up the stairway to the outside deck. I had to leave him. I regret
it, not only because I considered him a friend and was uncomfortable with
abandoning him to an uncertain (although surely bad) fate, but also because he
turned state’s and gave our names and details to the law. (Even so, it saddened
me to learn that Wilhelm caught up with him in the exercise yard at F—, and,
having been apprised of his treachery, repaid him with a shiv three times in
the guts, which killed him, slowly but surely.)
It was only when I had reached the relative safety of the
small harbour at M— that I learned from the television news that Guido had
thrown two live grenades into the packed crowd, killing 27 and injuring many
others. He, Mason and Albert were apprehended at or near the scene. Gerald disappeared.
He was not named as a casualty, so I do not know what became of him. Even the
grapevine here in A— has passed on no news of him. It is as though he became
vapour and drifted away, but perhaps he was able to do what I was to attempt,
and absconded to some distant shore.
I would have succeeded in that too, had a Mrs Pennyheimer
not been struck with a bad case of civic duty in St G— park. Despite my hair
dye and thick spectacles (an obvious disguise but given that most people
recognise one another by the shape and position of the eyes, and by the
hairline’s relation to the face, a good one), she recognised me from the photo that had been prominently
featured in her daily paper. She alerted the authorities, in the form of a
patrolman. Why, I don’t know. What was it to her? Had I harmed her in any way
(I cannot see that I had, if you put aside the abstract small harm that each
member of society suffers from the criminal’s wrongdoing)? Surely, the harm she
was doing me by aiding my capture was not justified? I am not a philosopher.
All I understand is harsh reality, which in this case was that I was
apprehended and put on trial on the charges I have noted. I was mere hours from
an appointment at which I would secure a fake passport, which would allow me, I
hoped, to pass out of this country on a flight to somewhere I would not be
known and no one would care whom I had or had not kidnapped or killed.
Sir, I understand the principle of joint commission (my
lawyer explained it to me) and I accept that I was guilty of attempted kidnap
(although how I could be convicted of kidnapping having had to abandon the
attempt, I do not know). But who did I murder? Who did I help murder?
I did not have a grenade. I did know Guido had grenades, nor
did I have the faintest notion that he intended to harm the passengers. I had
not known even that he was unstable. I did not know him well, so if I have
erred, it is in not taking enough care over who I associate with.
Sir, a rapist can walk after two or three years, if he is convicted
at all. A man who kills his wife, in this state, might serve a dozen years, but
rarely more. I have hurt no one, except to cause them some alarm, and I will be
here for thirty years as a minimum, if I live that long. Attempted kidnap would
barely have brought me three-to-five. I do accept that I should be imprisoned
for up to five years.
But I didn’t even have a working firearm! It was far from my
intention to harm anyone. Indeed, we took great risk on our own account to
avoid the chance of harming others, going unarmed into an adventure that could
bring us up against others whose guns were loaded and fireable.
Sir, I am not a good man. I tried to do a wrong (although I
did fail, I was certainly pursuing an evil course). But I am not so bad that I
do not deserve justice. I implore you to consider my case.