Do bad things just happen?


Just like he always did, San Diego high school gym teacher Dustin Hagen went to bed early one Saturday evening in July, 1981. He claims not to know what happened after that, till he awoke in his own bed, a bit later than usual on Sunday morning. Blood spatters on his clothes and car trunk, the weapon, a heavy duty axe of the kind used by lumberjacks, also bloodied and statements from eye-witnesses helped piece together the events that occurred that Saturday night.

Something woke Hagen around midnight. He slipped on his jeans and a light T-shirt and drove off in his Nissan Maxima to his parents’ home in Point Loma Heights. Once there, he parked the car in front of his parents’ home and slipped in through the backyard wicket gate. He disconnected the phone lines from the outside and entered through the kitchen door which he knew to be unlocked so his parents’ cat, Bubba, could go out if he wanted to.

Hagen’s octogenarian parents slept in separate rooms in the second floor. Tonight, Bubba was nowhere to be seen, probably out, busy foraging in the neighborhood. The gym teacher moved silently up the stairs, the weight of the axe tilting his shoulders to the right, the blade scraping the hardwood stairs and striking each step lightly as he went up.

He turned first toward his mother, Cynthia Hagen’s room. She was on her stomach, fast asleep. He used the round shank of the blade to crush her skull, leaving it looking like an exploding melon. The crunch of the strike would not have been heard even if his father had been awake. The old man was in his bedroom, tossing and turning fitfully in his sleep, when the axe swung down, this time, blade first, slicing off his neck, decapitating him completely. The torso heaved and then fell back limp.

Dustin Hagen made no attempt to hide any evidence, such as prints, blood spatters or anything else. He took a can of coke from the fridge, went and sat down on the living room sofa and watched David Letterman for a half hour, before he left, making absolutely no attempt to clean himself up. The walk back to his car was leisurely. At this hour, it was around 1am now, the street was deserted.

Back home, Hagen dumped the blood soaked clothes in the laundry basket, put on a fresh pair of pyjamas and went to sleep like a baby. He was still asleep when the two State Troopers rang his door bell on Sunday afternoon.

Even though the evidence against him was overwhelming, Dustin Hagen was acquitted on grounds that he did not know what he was doing. He told the court that he was sleep walking that night and that he had no knowledge of the two murders he had committed. He produced evidence to prove that he had been undergoing some sort of therapy and taking prescription medication for sleep walking just prior to the gruesome killings.

His defense counsel did the rest, trotting out expert witnesses, statistics, prior judgements and the fact that there was no motive mentioned in the prosecution’s case. Friends and neighbors testified that Dustin Hagen doted on his parents and visited them at least once and sometimes twice a week. He was a teetotaler, had no history of drug abuse or violence and was looked up to, by his students in his gym class.

The court took cognizance of all this. That his therapy had begun just a month prior to the horrific murders was not considered relevant. Within a few months after his acquittal, Dustin Hagen was miraculously cured and the doctors no longer considered therapy necessary. Folk get better, respond to treatment, don’t they? And when they don’t show any grief, why, maybe they are just being stoic and grieving privately.

Round and about the same time Dustin Hagen was getting into bed after butchering his parents, four time zones to the east in Washington DC, hair dresser, cocaine user and single mother Kathy Myers finished feeding her three children, Tom (10), Sandy(7) and Margie(5). Breakfast this morning was pancakes with syrup and glasses of milk. The syrup tasted funny and Margie started to complain. She didn’t carry on long though. After just two spoons, she keeled over, face forward, dead before her forehead hit the table top. Her two elder siblings followed in quick succession.

The police arrived late in the evening, on receipt of a call from her dealer boyfriend and found the three children. Kathy Myers was found on the bedroom floor, over-dosed, barely breathing.

In court, when asked why she poisoned her three children, Myers insisted that she loved them very much and didn’t know why. Unlike Dustin Hagen, Myers went to jail. She is however, up for a payroll hearing which, in all likelihood she will pass, given her good behavior during her incarceration.

In the case of Dustin Hagen, if he really did sleepwalk, were the therapist and those prescription drugs responsible for placing him in that mental frame where he had no choice but to kill the old couple? Were his parents responsible, for leaving the kitchen door open? Was the axe responsible, or Home Depot which sold it or the manufacturer who made it? Was Nissan Motor Company responsible for providing him transportation that night?

Frankly, all these possibilities appear utterly ridiculous to anyone attempting to apply standard logic to events. Or could it all have simply been evil, carefully orchestrated by a being who specializes in flying well under the radar, who acts like he doesn’t exist, whose only motive is to undermine faith?

Take Kathy Myers. The cocaine that charged through her brain like a Visigoth, destroying the one thing she must have still had, a mother’s love. Was it responsible? Or maybe the street-level pusher or his bosses? Perhaps the drug cartels in Cali who had moved the cocaine into the US, a month prior? Or maybe even the peasant who stripped and washed the coca leaves, sitting in a clearing in front of an adobe hut?

Do bad things just happen? Or is there always someone or something that is accountable?

No, I believe that there’s a more plausible explanation to all this. We live within a two-party system, the votes evenly divided. And as in any evenly balanced coalition, a perfect understanding exists between the two sides. At any given point in time, one of them is jerking us all off, you can be sure of that.

Maybe we should start looking at them, God and Mephisto, as just two sides of the same rusty nickel. They are the only two permanent members of some cosmic UN Security Council. They learned to co-exist around the same time that God, with the active connivance of Meph, decided to play that cruel biblical prank on Abraham, requiring him to bring his most beloved son, Isaac, to Moriah and offer him up as sacrifice.

I’m not sure why God demanded the sacrifice. Maybe God was bored with the usual ‘thank you, Lord’ that Abraham offered in his daily prayers and He wanted more…blood. Abraham had not done anything wrong. He was a virtuous man, in God’s own words. Trust me, Abraham predated Moses by 700 years and he already knew all the ten commandments by heart, long before Moe, Charlton Heston or Cecille B DeMille did.

Anyways, on the appointed date, as Abe tottered on his heels, trying to balance the hefty axe high over his head, seconds before it came slicing down on poor Isaac’s neck, I figure God must have realized things were getting a bit out of hand and said, ” Hey, I was only joking, Abe. You can let the kid go. A lamb will do just fine. For now.” The more I dwell upon this ridiculous Abraham-Isaac tale, the more I wonder about the sanity of people who claim to be true believers, including the guy who wrote it into the bible.

Sometimes the two, Yehovah and Diable, are at each other’s throats. At other times they can be very understanding, forgiving and bipartisan, as in the words of that young man, carpenter by trade, who stood on a grassy knoll facing a hundred followers, on a hot summer’s day in AD29, in a small hamlet called Nazareth in present-day Israel and bade his followers to extend an olive branch to the guy on the other side, thus….

“……I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise and shine on the evil and on the good, and makes the rain fall on the just and on the unjust….”

His followers sporadically carried on the torch of forgiveness and reconciliation. Mathew was most eloquent. “Do not resist an evil person”, he exhorted, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also”, he went on, adding,” And if someone wants to take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well”.

Luke didn’t want to be outdone by Mathew. “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back”, he cried.

I think of the 23-year old Delhi physiotherapy intern, Jyothi Singh Pandey, who was beaten and gang-raped and then thrown out of a moving bus, mortally wounded, one night in December 2012  and I know what I’d say to that young carpenter and these two other gents, his followers, Mathew and Luke….

” Are you kidding me?”


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