The blurring lines between fantasy and reality



Detective Jeff Gomes had lived with death and violence for 20 years, but had never got used to them. He hid his real feelings underneath a wisecracking shell and his colleagues in Seattle police department regarded him as a pretty tough nut. Now, with King County Deputy Prosecutor Patricia Eakes, Jeff Gomes was driving through the upmarket Seattle suburb of Bellevue, on the misty afternoon in January, 1997 — and  secretly dreading the moment when he would have to tell unsuspecting parents that their daughter had been murdered.

The body of 19-year-old Kimberley Wilson had been found an hour earlier by children playing in Water Tower Park on the outskirts of Seattle and identified by a chequebook in the pocket of her tartan windcheater. She had been beaten up and then strangled. Gomes and Eakes volunteered to find her family and break the news, which was how they came to be in 21st Avenue South East, a smart suburb, parking beside an elegant modern glass-clad house with three cars in the driveway.  Bracing himself to impart the dread news, Jeff Gomes, knocked on the frontdoor and rang the bell. All was silent inside the house, but the presence of the cars surely signified that several people were at home?

However bad Jeff Gomes had imagined the next five minutes would be, the reality was beyond belief. Finding the front door unlocked, the detective drew his gun and slipped inside. The house was neat, quiet and expensively furnished.

"No one here," Gomes called to Patricia Eakes. Then he saw the bodies. There were three — mother, father and daughter, lying on the sitting room carpet. They would never know of the fate of Kimberley Wilson. Beaten savagely with a heavy weapon, they were lying dead in pools of their own blood.  Soon police, detectives and forensic scientists were swarming over the house. The dead victims were Bill and Rose Wilson and their daughter Julia. With Kim already dead in bushes half a mile away, the whole Wilson family, friendly, hard-working and popular, had been wiped out.

"They were a decent American family, anxious to make the best of their potential," Jeff Gomes said later. Bill Wilson, at 58, was a partner in a successful real-estate firm, and an active cyclist, tennis-player and hiker. Rose was a firm but kind, mother, a supportive and loving wife, an expert scuba diver and a stalwart of the local girl guides. Their daughters were active church-goers, members of youth clubs, enthusiastic amateur musicians and keen on swimming and tennis.

Why should anyone want to harm a family which was almost a prototype of the wholesome middle class American dream? A week after the killings, police were no nearer finding an answer to that... until they began questioning pupils and staff at Bellevue High School where both Wilson girls had been students. It was when detectives interviewed two sixth form students named Amryn Decker and Danielle Berry that they finally got the lead they had been praying for. Both were ex-girlfriends of a 17-year-old Bellevue school dropout named David Anderson — and both remembered a disturbing conversation they had with him when they were "going steady".

Anderson had apparently told them both that he planned to commit murder. He spoke of it in great detail, saying he would use knives and a baseball bat and if he did it before he was 18 he wouldn't have to spend his life in gaol. Questioned at his parents' home, David Anderson was relaxed and cool. He said he knew nothing about the murders apart from hearing about them on TV and had spent the evening of the killings with his friend Alex Baranyi, where they had played a video game until 5am.

When interviewed later, Baranyi was similarly relaxed and was friendly and co-operative. He showed police his collection of ornamental swords and expressed regret about the death of the Wilson family. "This was such a peaceful neighbourhood," he said. "What crazy people would do a thing like that?"

Friends subsequently told the police that Baranyi and Anderson were pretty crazy themselves — obsessed with swords, fighting and martial arts TV games, they lived in a world of fantasy in which they fought ferocious battles against largely imaginary enemies.       

Having given the police convincing alibis, Baranyi and Anderson assumed they were now in the clear. They were wrong: the more information detectives gathered about the pair the more they became convinced that they were implicated in the Wilson family murders.

Particularly when they discovered the alibis were faulty – witnesses were found who would testify that at the time of the killings, Baranyi and Anderson were not at Baranyi's home. Alex Baranyi maintained his sprightly confidence when Jeff Gomes took him in for questioning. Four hours later after relentless interrogation, he finally cracked.  "I did it," he told Gomes. "I killed Kim and the rest of her family. I did it because I didn't like them. No one told me to do it. I strangled Kim and killed the others with a baseball bat.

"I took some money and a record-player and video. I had always been fascinated by killing and now I've done it... But no one told me to do it..."

While Alex Baranyi poured out his confession, David Anderson was sitting in another police interview room saying nothing. But police felt they had enough evidence to implicate him in the killings.

They were certain, for instance, that it was David Anderson who had lured Kimberley Wilson to Water Tower Park so that Alex Baranyi could strangle her. And that, in the eyes of the law, made Anderson a murderer, too.  When, a year later, both youngsters, now 18, appeared before Judge John Ramsdell and a jury at Seattle District Court, the prosecution claimed that Anderson had been present at all the killings — blood from the victims had been found on his boots.

Indeed, the boots became major witnesses at the trial. They were held up to the jury by Prosecutor Jeff Baird who told them: "These are the best witnesses — these boots were right in the thick of it. They are overwhelming evidence."

In his closing speech, Jeff Baird said that Alex Baranyi had committed the crimes under the malign influence of David Anderson. "It is a story of senseless multiple homicide by bored and evil youths, outcasts of society and interested only in fantasy games and doing nothing...." He said that Baranyi had at least tried to explain his crimes, but Anderson had said nothing, expressed no remorse, and given no explanation.

But the jury had made up its mind.  Both youths were found guilty of aggravated murder and given four life sentences without the possibility of parole. The judge said that David was as guilty as Alex for being present at the crime regardless of what part he may have played in the murders. While psychologists had told the court that David Anderson and Alex Baranyi had been victims of the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality, detective Jeff Gomes had a less complicated view. "I saw what the pair had done to good and innocent people," he said. "The fact that they were both only 17 and so escaped the gas chamber is something that I will regret for the rest of my life..."

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