Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reporting the homicide of Anne Gaffney

There is a spirited – perhaps “angry” would be a better characterization – posting of opinions about some of the background material written into our initial and ongoing reporting on the killing of Anne Gaffney.
The substance of the early report was established by me – I was the one who received the state police announcement of the homicide and arrest around 7 a.m. and wrote the early version of the story – so I guess I owe an explanation.
No, our use of background material about Ms. Gaffney was not/is not an attempt to blame the victim. No one deserves to be murdered.
No, this was not/is not an effort to “spice up” the story to increase reader interest or to “sell papers,” as we are forever being accused of doing for every decision with which others disagree. A story about a woman being murdered in a small community needs absolutely no help attracting interest. That story rides its own wave, whatever it is.
As the person who wrote the initial report my thinking was and, as managing editor ultimately responsible for subsequent reporting, remains this:
  • A 54-year-old woman was murdered in the community by a suspect who was described by police simply as “a tenant.” On first blush, it seemed like a random, tragic act. Certainly, that’s the way it seemed to me as I read the state police release. 
  • But a check of the Freeman archives revealed that the victim for at least five years had been running afoul of the law. Recently she was picked up on a bench warrant for failing to appear in court to answer a charge of welfare fraud. In 2006, she was accused of running an illegal boarding house, whose tenants included at least one violent sex offender, according to town authorities. 
  • Again, these matters don’t make Ms. Gaffney responsible for the crime, but they do suggest her life was untidy in ways that may have put her in harm’s way. That’s important because the crime alleged appears less random, though not necessarily any less tragic. It also suggests her boarding operation not only put herself in danger, but also the community around her.
That’s the rationale in its entirety.
Readers are free to accept that background, to shrug their shoulders, or to say they don’t find it at all germane. But I think it would be unjustified for the Freeman to make that judgment for every one of its readers by withholding the information it possesses.
I am sure that there are plenty of readers with first-hand knowledge of the chain of events that led to this tragedy and I’d be happy to hear from them so that we can report more thoroughly on this story.
Please do send your comments to or or post them on this blog.


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