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Thu May 16, 2013
How Families Cope With Notorious Relatives
What is it like to be suddenly and irreversibly thrust into the public spotlight for something truly horrible done by a relative?
"I could hear my last name being whispered in the hallway, and I heard 'murder,' just under people's breath," says Melissa Moore, daughter of Keith Hunter Jesperson, who was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of at least eight women over a five-year period.
Moore spoke on Thursday to Michel Martin, host of NPR's Tell Me More. She was joined by David Kaczynski, brother of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Their conversation was prompted by recent events in Cleveland, where brothers of Ariel Castro, accused of rape and kidnapping, have strongly denounced his actions, as well as last month's Boston Marathon bombing. Last year, NPR's Alix Spiegel also looked at this issue.
Moore, who was still a child when her father was apprehended, wrote a book about her experiences, Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter.
After her father's crime became widely known, her classmates shunned her. "Then I really started to feel like it's my fault," Moore says. "That somehow I'm guilty by association. That somehow I'm the reason they don't want to be around me."
She changed schools and kept her relationship with her father a secret, "until my daughter finally started asking me questions when I'm a young mother and that's when I started to speak out."
David Kaczynski was the person who turned in his brother after realizing that the Unabomber's published manifesto had eerie similarities to brother Ted's writing.
"There was a great deal of soul searching," he says of the decision to turn his brother in to authorities, adding that he had a feeling of "moral imperative to stop the violence, but [I didn't want] ... to do violence against my brother."
For one thing, he was afraid that his elderly mother would never forgive him.
"I truly feared that I would lose her love if I told her," he says. Instead, she "got up out of her chair and put a kiss on my cheek."
Today, his imprisoned brother doesn't communicate with him, "but I hope he's at peace," Kaczynski says.
He says he's not surprised "that people in similar situations just want to stay out of the line of fire.
"They want to stay out of the limelight. And I think one thing that is different for our family is that having turned Ted in in a sense inoculated us against some of the stigma," he says.
Even so, "I hear whispers at times," Kaczynski acknowledges.