7. Shot in the Heart
"I have a story to tell. It is a story of murder told from inside the house where murder is born. It is the house where I grew up, a house that, in some ways, I have never been able to leave." -- Mikal Gilmore
Mikal Gilmore's brother was Gary Gilmore. In 1977 Gary Gilmore became the first prisoner in America to be executed after a decade-long span that many thought would lead to abolishment of the death penalty.
Gilmore had been sentenced to death by a Utah state court for two cold-blooded murders. After all appeals failed, the state of Utah tacitly assumed that he would live out his life on death row. But Gary Gilmore knew his rights. He was entitled to an execution if he so wanted, and he was asking for death. Death by firing squad.
|Gary Gilmore was undeniably intelligent; |
and by all reports, so were the other boys.
Mikal is a reporter for Rolling Stone.
He is the only brother who broke
out of the family mold.
The family on the book cover are the Gilmores; the boys, Frank, Gary, and Galen. (Galen also died a horrible, violent death—over time.) The brother who wrote this book, Mikal, hadn't been born when this photo was taken.
Gary looked pretty hardened already.
This is a multi-generational story of a ruined American family living a low-rent life in the American West. There's a familial connection, at least according to family lore, to Harry Houdini. There are sweet but painful stories of the extended family's past, where the ultimate tragedies told of in the book seem foreshadowed.
In the boys' time growing up, there's alcohol, and domestic abuse, and both random and predictable violence. These are children routinely terrified, and terrified of what comes next. Then they are adult men, who model their lives on family history and who carry the outcome of that to the highest imaginable extreme.
Norman Mailer wrote a book about these same events, The Executioner's Song. Won a Pulitzer Prize, it did. It's 1000+ pages, with trivialities like a hotel room described in exhaustive detail over multiple pages. Whatever. Shot in the Heart is much more worth our time.
Photo from date of execution, 1977
Caption states: Sandbags reinforced the chair in which Gary Gilmore died today. Arrow points to blood-stained bullet hole. Hood rests on top.