I enjoy a good murder, but I also have to acknowledge that George Orwell was right in his essay “The Decline of the English Murder” that the quality of murder has plummeted since the 1920s. The typical English murderer in the those days was, say, a respectable suburban solicitor who conceived an overpowering passion for a woman not his wife and consequently had somehow to dispose of the woman who was his wife. He had much to lose, a desperate need for concealment, no real experience with knives, poisons, ropes, and guns, but a reasonably sharp intelligence. He usually devised a brilliant murder plan, complete with alibi, to gain his end, but there was always one thing he forgot — that the 8:44 a.m. train from Paddington to Chilham Rise did not run on Saturdays, for instance.
He was doomed, of course, and sometimes his paramour turned against him at the nadir of his fortunes. But there was real pathos in his fate which reached a terrible climax when the judge placed the black triangle cap over his wig and began to pronounce solemnly: “It is the judgment of this court that you be taken from here to a place of execution . . .”
By the 1940s, complained Orwell, this kind of gripping story had been replaced by essentially trivial murders such as those committed in London by a young G.I. deserter and his dance-hall girlfriend who knocked off a taxi-driver in London without much forethought (or indeed afterthought.) These almost motiveless murders, thought Orwell, were simply uninteresting to any person of taste. They were simply events. They lacked the sense of a soul struggling helplessly against the fate he had brought down on himself. As it happens, motiveless murders did furnish material for writers as different as Albert Camus and Truman Capote. Even so I am on Orwell’s side of the taste divide here.
One result of the decline of the English (and American) murder is that murders today have to be made interesting by being made technically complex. That is far easier to ensure in a thriller than in real life. It is impossible to imagine, for instance, a real-life murderer planning the convoluted crime in Scott Turow’s novel, Presumed Innocent, in which an angry wife tries to get her husband blamed for the murder of his mistress by injecting his semen into her vagina. Such things just don’t . . .
Hang on a moment. Here’s a Daily Mail report of a murder in the fashionable Catalan city of Barcelona that depends on exactly the same plot device.
In fact, the plot of this particular murder was even more complicated than Turow’s novel. The murderer was a young woman who, as the murder reveals, seems to have been a cold-hearted psychopathic killer right out of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels. Maria Angeles Molina, described as a “businesswoman,” befriended another young woman, stole her identity, and then took more than a million Euros in bank loans and insurance payments from her accounts. To cover up this crime, Molina then invited the girl to her apartment, sedated her, put a plastic bag over her head and killed her. And to cover up the murder, she then injected semen obtained from male prostitutes in a brothel into the girl’s mouth and vagina so that the police would believe she was the victim of rape and a sexual murder.
Like our more sympathetic English murderer, however, she forgot one thing — well, actually several things. She forgot the CCTV cameras which recorded her withdrawing money from the bank in an unconvincing black wig. She forgot also her victim’s identity papers which a boyfriend found concealed in her bathroom. As a result she has been sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Two aspects of the case, however, surely need to be cleared up in the interests of justice. The first is, ahem, how did she actually get the semen of the male prostitutes? After all, she would want them not to realize what she was planning to do with it. What reason did she give? Or is such a request simply routine in the life of the modern gigolo? (“It’s for my daughter’s science project.”)
And has anyone checked for a copy of Turow’s book or the DVD of the movie in Ms. Molina’s apartment? It would be more terrifying if no copies are found than if they are.