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Kristi Anne KOSLOW





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Found guilty of plotting to kill her millionaire father and stepmother to obtain her inheritance
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 12, 1992
Date of arrest: March 24, 1992
Date of birth: February 14, 1975
Victim profile: Caren Courtney Koslow, 40 (her stepmother)
Method of murder: Asphyxiation (when a blow from the crowbar resulted in her larynx being crushed)
Location: Fort Worth, Tarrant County. Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in July 1994
photo gallery

Murder of Caren Koslow

On March 12, 1992, in the Rivercrest area of Fort Worth, Texas, intruders attacked Jack Koslow and Caren Courtney Koslow, a husband and wife, in their house. Caren Koslow's throat was slashed, killing her, while Jack escaped the house and survived.


Authorities initially suspected Jack Koslow. They ultimately found that two people, Jeffrey Dillingham and Brian Dennis Salter, had attacked the Koslows, with Dillingham beating them and Salter slashing their throats. After the attack they stole a wristwatch worth $1,600 and $200 in cash from a wallet.

Kristi Anne Koslow, the daughter of Jack Koslow and stepdaughter of Caren Koslow, had conspired with Dillingham and Salter in order to get inheritance money. Kristi had provided them with the alarm codes so they could sneak into the Koslow residence. Kristi Koslow had promised them $1 million if they carried out the attack.


At the time of the murder, Jack Koslow, a helicopter pilot, was 48. Caren Koslow, a member of a family of petroleum businesspeople, was 40, and Kristi Koslow was 17. Mike Cochran of the Associated Press stated that the Koslows were at the "periphery" of the "social whirl" of Fort Worth.

Dillingham, born March 6, 1973, was an employee at a video store. Dillingham and Salter were both 19. Salter was the boyfriend of Kristi Koslow.

Legal consequences

Salter received a life sentence as part of a plea agreement. In 1994 Kristi Koslow was convicted of murder. She also received a life sentence. Dillingham refused a plea agreement, was convicted, and received the death penalty.

Dillingham, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) #999071, was received by the prison system on August 31, 1993 at age 20. Dillingham was initially located in the Ellis Unit, but was transferred to the Allan B. Polunsky Unit (formerly the Terrell Unit) in 1999. The site of his execution was the Huntsville Unit. Dillingham was executed at age 27, by lethal injection, on November 1, 2000.

As of 2016 Kristi Koslow, TDCJ #00677795, is located at the Hobby Unit. Salter, TDCJ #00678090, is located at the Alfred Hughes Unit.


The Fort Worth Library maintains a collection of newspaper clippings related to this case under "Koslow, Kristi".

The case was documented in "Family Plot," Episode 6 of Season 7 of Power, Privilege & Justice.


Woman Convicted of Plot to Kill Rich Parents

AP - The New York Times

July 1, 1994

FORT WORTH, June 30— A teen-ager was found guilty on Wednesday of plotting to kill her millionaire father and stepmother to obtain her inheritance, and jurors today began considering whether she deserved the death penalty.

Prosecutors say the 19-year-old defendant, Kristi Koslow, had her boyfriend and another youth carry out the knifing of her parents at their home in March 1992. Her stepmother, Caren Koslow, a 40-year-old oil heiress, was killed; the father, Jack Koslow, survived the slashing of his throat.

In final arguments, the state prosecutor, Alan Levy, called Ms. Koslow a woman "consumed by hate" who referred to her stepmother as "stepmonster." The defense lawyer, Mark Daniel, dismissed the notion that his client had masterminded the plot, arguing that she did not "have the intellect or maturity to organize a rock fight."

Jurors deliberated a little more than three hours before convicting Ms. Koslow of murder. Her face reddened as she heard the verdict. Her father, a crucial prosecution witness, declined to comment afterward, although he had previously said that Ms. Koslow, whom he adopted, deserved the death penalty because "that's what she gave Caren."

Confessions by Assailants

Ms. Koslow's boyfriend, Brian Salter, and another man, Jeffrey Dillingham, who were both 19 at the time of the murder, told the authorities that they had broken down the couple's bedroom door and attacked them with a metal bar and a knife. Mr. Dillingham beat them unconscious, and Mr. Salter cut their throats, they told the police.

Both men were convicted. Mr. Dillingham was sentenced to death, and Mr. Salter, in a plea agreement, received a sentence of life imprisonment.

Mr. Salter testified that Ms. Koslow had plotted the murders, supplied him with a map of the house and given him the code to the burglar alarm. He said he and Ms. Koslow had shopped for the cars they planned to buy with her inheritance: a B.M.W. convertible for her and a Toyota Land Cruiser for him.

Today the jurors began hearing testimony on whether to recommend that Ms. Koslow receive a life sentence or be executed by injection. Barely 17 at the time of the attack, she could become only the fifth woman on death row in Texas. The last woman executed in the state was hanged in 1863 for murdering a horse trader.

Prosecutors called no witnesses when the punishment phase of the trial opened this morning. The defense put on Norma Sue Cook, a Tarrant County jail supervisor who described Ms. Koslow as "an excellent inmate, one of the most respectful and considerate people I've ever known."

Photos: After Kristi Koslow was convicted in the murder of herstepmother, the defendant's biological mother, Paula Koslow, wept in the courtroom. Jurors began considering yesterday whether to recommend a death sentence; Kristi Koslow, who the prosecution says routinely referred to her stepmother as "stepmonster."


Stepdaughter accused in murder of socialite left nothing in will

The Associated Press

August 19, 1992

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - A slain socialite left nothing in her will to the teen-age stepdaughter who is accused of arranging her murder in hopes of collecting a $1 million inheritance.

Under terms of a will disclosed Wednesday, the late Caren Koslow left her husband, Jack, $500,000 in a trust apparently crafted to make sure her stepdaughter got nothing.

The couple were attacked in their Forth Worth home in March. Jack Koslow suffered a serious head injury but was able to run for help. Police found Mrs. Koslow dead, her throat slashed.

Kristi Koslow, 17, was accused of soliciting her boyfriend and a friend of his to kill her father and stepmother in exchange for a share of the girl's inheritance. The three are each being held on $1 million bond on charges of capital murder and attempted capital murder.

Although Mrs. Koslow had no children of her own, she said in a will signed March 30, 1990, that beneficiaries could include "my natural children ... but shall not include stepchildren."

The will, filed in Tarrant County Probate Court in April, stipulates that her husband would not begin receiving the trust funds until after he was released from any financial liability to Kristi, his adopted daughter.

"I don't have any comment," Jack Koslow said in Wednesday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Mrs. Koslow's estate is worth more than $1 million, according to court records.


Murder in Ritzy Neighborhood Plays Like Classic Mystery Novel

Circumstantial evidence indicated that Jack Koslow killed his wife. Then Ft. Worth police got a telephone call.

By Mike Cochram - Associated Press - Los Angeles Times

April 19, 1992

FT. WORTH, Tex. — At 3:41 a.m. on March 12, Jack Koslow stumbled to a nearby home. Dazed, bloody and wearing only boxer shorts, he begged the neighbor to call 911.

Police and firemen entered the Koslow home through a rear door they found pried open. They climbed the stairs and discovered Caren Koslow's body in a pool of blood on the master bedroom floor.

Her face was mangled, her throat cut.

Blood was spattered on all four walls. There was an empty shotgun on the bed, and a bloody knife on the floor, across the room.

Both belonged to her husband, who gave police murky accounts of what had happened--and no clear explanation of how he had escaped her grisly fate.

All the evidence seemed to point to Jack Koslow. But this case, like any classic mystery novel, had an enormous surprise in store.

The Koslows' townhouse embraces the fringes of Rivercrest, an area of stately mansions occupied by many of Ft. Worth's oldest and richest families.

Caren Courtney Koslow, 40, qualified.

Her grandfather was colorful and wealthy Ft. Worth oilman H. L. Brown. Her uncle, Sonny Brown, is a widely known Midland, Tex., oilman.

Both she and her husband were active in the Ft. Worth Ballet, and Caren had become increasingly involved with the glitzy Jewel Charity ball.

Jack Koslow, 48, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, is a former vice president of the bank where Caren once worked. She quit her job soon after they married; he was laid off in 1990, and had been working on setting up his own company.

The two lived comfortably, not at the center of Ft. Worth's social whirl, but at its periphery. He's stocky and fastidious, with chiseled features. Friends described her as "a Yuppie American thoroughbred"--blond, beautiful skin, given to wearing Ralph Lauren.

Kristi Koslow, Koslow's adopted 17-year-old daughter by an earlier marriage, said she could think of nothing that would explain the attack.

"We were as close as a stepdaughter and stepmother could be," she told reporters. "I don't think anyone truly hated Caren. . . . It's really scary."

Koslow told police two intruders, carrying flashlights, kicked in the locked door of his bedroom and attacked him and his wife.

But why?

The house was not ransacked and robbery did not appear to be a motive, though Homicide Detective Curt Brannan and Sgt. Paul Kratz, among the first at the scene, later determined that Koslow's watch and billfold were missing.

Although severely beaten and slashed, Koslow suffered no life-threatening injuries. Bruises and abrasions were visible on the backs of his hands.

Early on, police spotted inconsistencies in Koslow's story. The most puzzling involved the security system, which Koslow said was armed but did not sound; police said it had been deactivated.

Meanwhile, Koslow provided vaguely conflicting, often fuzzy versions of the assault. And police were puzzled by details they found at the murder scene, like the .32-caliber bullet the assailants fired through the bedroom floor, the empty shotgun and unspent shells scattered on the floor.

Investigators also considered it strange that Koslow did not dial 911 from his own home.

The medical examiner's office indicated injuries on Koslow's hands were bite marks, presumably caused by his wife. And an autopsy report suggested that Caren Koslow may have died before midnight.

If so, that would leave nearly a four-hour gap in the time Koslow said the attack occurred and the time he appeared at his neighbor's home.

Finally, a Tarrant County grand jury subpoenaed records of a therapist who counseled the Koslow family, fueling speculation the Koslow marriage was shaky and possibly doomed before the attack.

"Pressure inside the police department was building from the top down," said a source close to the investigation. "Jack Koslow was tried, convicted and sentenced."

Publicly, police denied that Koslow was the prime suspect in his wife's death, though privately they confronted him with their suspicions.

Still, Koslow did not hire a lawyer--hardly the response investigators would expect from a murder suspect. And on the Monday after the attack, a weakened Koslow--his neck and throat bandaged, stitches visible in his head wounds--attended his wife's funeral.

As the circumstantial noose tightened, police received a telephone call from a frightened young man. He said he had a story to tell and wondered why police had not contacted him.

"I've got some things you need to take a look at," he said.

Those items included a bloody tire tool and bloody clothing.

The informant, 20, said a friend had asked him to dispose of them nearly two weeks earlier. He said the tire tool was used to bludgeon the Koslows.

Acting on the March 24 phone call, police converged on an Arlington video store at midnight and arrested a bright, quiet, hard-working 19-year-old from suburban White Settlement.

His name was Jeffrey Dillingham, a kid with a good job, adoring parents and a fiancee whom he intended to marry this summer.

He told police he and a friend named Brian Salter, also 19, broke into the Koslow home, kicked down the bedroom door, killed Caren Koslow and attempted to kill Jack Koslow. The "bite marks" on Koslow's hands were in fact the impression left by the tire tool as it came down on him.

Koslow apparently tried to load his shotgun to ward off the attack, but could not. He was at his assailants' mercy.

But then, investigators say, Salter's .32-caliber pistol discharged accidentally, into the floor. Fearing the sound would arouse neighbors, they fled.

"The gunshot saved Koslow's life," said one of those close to the investigation. "He was real, real lucky the gun went off."

But there was another conspirator.

Kristi Koslow had supplied the two with a code with which they could disarm the security system, Dillingham said. She had offered them $1 million to kill the Koslows, he said.

Before dawn, police staked out the home of Koslow's ex-wife Paula, and arrested Kristi and Salter as they backed a car from the driveway.

Witnesses said the youngsters surrendered quietly, although Paula Koslow, a passenger in the car, was furious at the gun-wielding officers.

Like Dillingham, the young couple gave police statements admitting their involvement in the affair. The two men were charged with capital murder and Kristi Koslow with conspiracy to commit capital murder.

All three were jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail, later doubled to $1 million each when additional charges of attempted murder and conspiracy were filed.

"This case is solved," Police Chief Thomas Windham said.

Kristi masterminded the attack, the teen-agers said in their statements and in police interviews.

According to police, she had planned the attack weeks earlier; she provided Dillingham and Salter with a diagram of the house, as well as the alarm code; the assailants parked their car at her house, five or six blocks from the murder scene, and she had promised them $1 million from the inheritance she expected.

Friends and associates portrayed the chubby young woman as a troubled teen runaway who bounced in and out of private and public schools, skipped classes and spurned parental control. Though she did not smoke or use drugs or drink excessively, she ran with a wild and weird crowd.

Some friends were not surprised. Two of her former classmates, John Okray, 17, and Josh Oderberg, 15, told reporters that Kristi offered them money last year to kill her father and stepmother.

Oderberg said he and his friends talked about Kristi's overtures, but "We never took them seriously, because we never thought they'd do anything," Oderberg said.

But Dillingham, the son of an engineer, and Salter, the son of an accountant, obviously took Kristi very seriously. Their parents are left trying to understand why.

"It just breaks your damn heart," said Jack Strickland, Dillingham's court-appointed lawyer. "This is every parent's worst nightmare."

Dillingham's father, Ray, said his son's arrest was the "earthquake of a lifetime." He recalled that Salter attended high school with his son, but had not been in their home for a month or two. Kristi Koslow was a total stranger.

"We never even heard her name before," he said.

But she was no stranger to Salter, who had attended the University of Texas at Arlington for a year. Salter was "crazy" about Kristi Koslow, according to one investigator.

"Salter killed for love and money," the investigator said.

Evidently, police said, Kristi killed for money alone.


Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth: Jeffrey Dillingham and the Tragedy of Friends with Rich Parents

September 4, 2011

One lazy Sunday afternoon in my local Barnes and Noble I skimmed through a paperback entitled Texas Death Row: Executions in the Modern Era; the book features photos of the men and handful of women executed in Texas since Furman v. Georgia was overturned in 1976.

The faces of the executed looked pretty much as you’d expect: largely African-American and Latino, features distorted by bad dental care and bad nutrition—not to mention DNA which had clearly been culled from the swampy end of the gene pool.

There was one face, however, that was completely different: Jeffrey Dillingham, prisoner number 999071, executed on November 1st, 2000. Clean-cut and corn-fed, Jeffrey looked exactly like the boys I grew up with in middle class suburbia—sweet, somewhat goofy boys who loved to drink beer, watch sports, and listen to Led Zeppelin at a volume loud enough to dislodge your dental fillings.

How the hell did someone who looked like my first boyfriend end up on death row, I wondered? In my experience chubby-cheeked, doe-eyed boys like Jeffrey eventually trade in their cargo shorts for careers in insurance and then quietly go bald in heavily-mortgaged ranch houses; they’re certainly not strapped to a gurney at the age of 27 and euthanized like a feral cat.

At the time of the murder that landed him on death row Jeffrey was a 19-year old college dropout who managed a video store—an obedient son and former honor roll student, the Tarrant County resident was so law-abiding he’d never received so much as a parking ticket.

In the wee hours of the morning six days after his 19th birthday Jeffrey, accompanied by his friend Brian Salter, crept into the pink mansion located at 4100 Clarke Avenue in the exclusive Forth Worth neighborhood of Rivercrest.

Brian, bespectacled and pasty-faced, was engaged to the daughter of the owner of the 4000 square foot residence, a man who was currently asleep inside the home alongside his fabulously wealthy second wife.

Brian’s girlfriend Kristi Koslow loathed her father and stepmother; her pet name for her father’s new wife was “the step-bitch.” Narcissistic and entitled, Kristi was enraged by the unreasonable demands of her father Jack and his new wife Caren; the tyrannical couple actually had the audacity to demand that Kristi stay in school, seek employment, and become a productive member of society. Oh, the humanity!

A child of privilege, Kristi had no intention of doing anything so mundane as working for a living; apparently having a somewhat skewed idea of the laws of inheritance she instead concocted a plan to murder her father and stepmother in order to inherit their respective fortunes, thereby forever escaping the indignity of steady employment.

A born shirker, Kristi also had no intention of sullying her hands with the actual homicide; after being rebuffed by her first choice for hired assassin she proceeded to convince her fiancé Brian to perform the ghastly deed in exchange for her undying gratitude and a healthy cut of her inheritance.

Brian had been raised in far more humble circumstances than Kristi; unaccustomed to opulence he was intrigued by the glimpse of grandeur his connection to Kristi afforded him.

After Brian agreed to murder Jack and Caren he and Kristi toured million dollar mansions and perused luxury car dealerships, unable to wait until the blood spatter was dry before choosing the toys and trinkets they would purchase with Kristi’s greatly-accelerated inheritance.

The only thing that stood between this impatient, materialistic couple and a life of bliss and leisure were Kristi’s father and the hated step-bitch; poor Jack and Caren Koslow’s fates were sealed tighter than a coffin lid.

Seeking backup, or possibly hoping to ensure the presence of at least one friendly face at the murder scene, Brian recruited his friend Jeffrey Dillingham to assist with crime; in exchange for his participation Jeffrey was to be paid the princely sum of one million dollars.

The course of the crime reminds me of poison coursing through a bloodstream—first Kristi, then Brian, then Jeffrey were infected; then Jack and Caren, then both killers’ and victims’ families and friends—the contagion of the crime traveled like an infectious disease through an immunosuppressant populace.

Brian Salter’s motivation for murder is clear to me; cajoled into the crime by his vaguely porcine girlfriend, bedazzled by his first glimpse of profound affluence, Brian sought to please Kristi and his own materialistic longings in one fell swoop. Although his involvement in the scheme is both evil and unforgivable his motive is classic, closely mirroring that of the protagonist in Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

To me, Jeffrey’s involvement in the crime is less explicable. Described as an archetypal nice guy by all and sundry, Jeffrey did not appear to be a budding sociopath; had he not become embroiled in the Koslow murder he was eminently unlikely to have left a trail of swindled, battered corpses in his wake.

Although a million dollars is undoubtedly a strong motive I believe Jeffrey’s allegiance to Brian likely played a large part in his enmeshment in the crime as well. In my experience friendships are paramount to young adults; as we leave our parents’ nest we seek new support systems, and for most of us it is friends that fill the familial gap.

Promises made, promises kept.

In the early morning hours of March 12th, 1992, Brian and Jeffrey, armed respectively with a knife and a crowbar and fortified with the alarm codes and a map of the floor plan, entered the Koslow home intent on the devil’s business.

The crime was brutal.

Attacked while they slept, both Jack and Caren were repeatedly stabbed and bludgeoned; Jack attempted to retrieve a shotgun kept in a nearby closet but was no match for the two younger, weapon-equipped men. I wonder what went through Jeffrey’s mind as he repeatedly wielded the metal bar against two living, breathing human beings; this was not a quick crime—it was lengthy, bloody, and hard-fought. It is reported that Jeffrey had never engaged in any type of violent behavior before that misbegotten night; when he imagined how the crime would transpire did he accurately envision the thud of cracked skulls, the smell of blood, the sight of gaping, pierced flesh?

Did it terrify him? Sicken him?

I am reminded of Nathan Leopold’s famous utterance during the murder of little Bobby Franks: “Oh God! This is terrible! I didn’t know it would be like this!”

Their victims seemingly vanquished and unable to find the large stash of loot Kristi claimed would be secreted in the closet, the boys stole $200 in cash and Jack’s wallet and wristwatch. This would be their sum total take for the crime—so many lives destroyed for an amount of money that could easily have been earned in a few days behind the counter of any fast food franchise.

Unbelievably, Jack survived the vicious attack; at 4:15AM he managed to stagger to a neighbor’s house and summon police and paramedics to the scene.

Alas, it was too late to save his wife; her windpipe crushed, Caren died in a pool of blood on her bedroom carpet, her life snuffed out for a couple of hundred bucks and a secondhand wristwatch.

Jeffrey’s actions after the crime were a veritable check-list of things one should not do if one hopes to get away with murder. Rather than simply discarding the murder weapon and his bloody clothes in an out-of-the-way dumpster Jeffrey asked a friend, to whom he also confessed, to dispose of the items.

This friend, citing an attack of conscience, took the items to the police two weeks later. The police were astounded—Jack’s fortuitous survival and Caren’s substantial wealth had convinced many in law enforcement that Jack was in fact the perpetrator of the crime, his own wounds simply staging.

Hewing to his post-murder not-to-do list, when confronted by detectives Jeffrey confessed in grisly detail, implicating Brian and Kristi for good measure.

Did Jeffrey understand, I wonder, that as he signed his confession he was also signing his own death warrant? I try to imagine what it feels like to confess to murder in a police interrogation room but I can’t quite grasp it.

By all accounts Jeffrey was not stupid—did he understand as the details of the crime spewed forth he would never go home again, never see the night sky, never hug his parents or walk barefoot over grass? Did he? Did he confess because his shame at the horrible deed he’d committed bubbled up inside of him and demanded to be released, damn the consequences?

Or did he confess because, ever the good and obedient boy, his urge to please authority figures compelled him to answer all the detectives’ questions, no matter how damning, in a thorough and truthful manner?

I suspect the entire interrogation process must seem like a dream—this is a situation that occurs solely on television, you must think, never in reality; so how could it possibly be happening now?

There’s no question in my mind, however, that the first time a pair of handcuffs are clamped onto your wrists there can be no more denying—your world has cataclysmically changed, and not a whit for the better.

Jeffrey’s parents were agog at his arrest. “We thought it was a mistake and would be cleared up,” his father told The Dallas Morning News. His mother described her feelings upon learning of Jeffrey’s involvement in the crime as “being thrown up against a brick wall over and over again.”

It must be horrifying to learn that the child you brought into the world has crushed the windpipe of a sleeping stranger for financial gain; if there’s a litmus test for failed parenting, you must think, committing murder for money is it.

Jeffrey’s parents divorced in 1997; the stress of dealing with Jeffrey’s incarceration became too much for the couple to bear and they were no longer the same people they had been prior to their son’s arrest.

The human wreckage from Caren Koslow’s murder radiated ever outward, tiny ripples on the surface of a pebble-struck pond.

As the cherry on his sundae of poor murder-related choices Jeffrey rejected a prosecution deal that would have spared his life in exchange for his testimony against Brian and Kristi.

I am touched by his loyalty, misguided though it was, particularly in light of the fact that it was a friend, the confidant to whom he’d entrusted the murder weapon, who had initially fingered him to police: Jeffrey’s respect for the bonds of friendship withstood his own betrayal.

At the same time I am puzzled by his ill-fated decision not to testify; Jeffrey had freely implicated Brian and Kristi in his confession, and by 1992 the death penalty in Texas did not simply exist in theory—by that time convicts were dying at a fairly regular rate.

Did Jeffrey understand that he could, and would, be among them? Did Jeffrey refuse the deal because he couldn’t bear to sign the death warrants of his friends, couldn’t bear the onus of two more homicides on his conscience?

Or did he refuse the plea because he’d come to understand how monstrous his actions were on the night of the murder and strove to take full responsibility for them?

Brian had no such compunctions about accepting the prosecutor’s deal; in exchange for a life sentence he testified against Jeffrey and his onetime fiancée.

Kristi also escaped the executioner’s needle, despite Jack’s plea to the jury that she be given a sentence commensurate with Caren’s; sending young, well-mannered blonde girls to death row is an anathema, even in rootin’ tootin’ Texas.

As life sentences in Texas at the time provided the possibility of parole Kristi and Brian will be eligible for release in 2027; they will be in their mid-50s.

Jeffrey will have no such option; but then again, neither will Caren, so although the arguably-least guilty conspirator received the harshest sentence an argument can be made that justice, if such a thing exists, was served.

I choose not to speculate about Jeffrey’s seven years on death row, although I’ve seen enough episodes of Oz on HBO to know that young middle-class white men generally do not fare well in such circumstances.

His appeals dwindling, Jeffrey embraced Jesus, seeking comfort in the arms of He who is not bound by the Texas Department of Corrections’ niggardly visiting hours and strict no-contact rule.

Finally, on November 1st, 2000, fortified by a hearty meal of cheeseburgers, lasagna and chocolate milk, Jeffrey was strapped onto Huntsville prison’s lethal injection gurney.

He then thanked his parents, apologized to the Koslows, name-checked his heavenly father and, ever the affable and obedient son, went gentle into that good night. Kristi Koslow’s plan to evade the indignity of gainful employment had claimed its final victim.

Jeffrey’s story resonates with me because the first few years after I completed my undergraduate degree I was completely lost—I had a succession of menial jobs and spent all my free time with a posse of wastrels and ne’er-do-wells, many of whom were freshly paroled.

One evening while we were lounging around smoking pot and drinking beer one of these pillars of the community announced to the group, apropos of nothing, “I could kill somebody for the money, but first I’d have to know that they were a real asshole.”

There followed a momentary lapse in conversation.

I understand now that in that moment of silence my life hung in the balance. If a single person in the room had said something akin to, “My father’s a huge asshole and I’ll inherit a fortune when he dies,” there’s no question in my mind I would’ve found myself planning a murder.

Obviously, I understood that homicide is illegal and morally reprehensible, but at the time I was definitely too immature to understand the complex issue of accomplice liability—I wouldn’t have thought myself truly guilty lest I personally wielded the metal bar of doom.

More importantly, even as I plotted and planned I would never have believed a murder would truly take place; my crew of layabouts and deadbeats were all talkers—there was nary a doer in the heavily-tattooed bunch.

And this, I believe, is how people like Jeffrey Dillingham become embroiled in a fatal conspiracy; they agree to do the unthinkable but it’s all bluster—they never believe the crime will actually come to fruition. How could it?

Murders happen on movie screens, not in real life. But somehow, some way, the unthinkable begins to gain traction in reality; and eventually the only way to extricate yourself from the crime’s tarbaby-like grasp is to back out at the last minute, thereby betraying your friends and revealing your own cowardice, the stigma of which is barely conceivable to fragile young adult psyches.

Next thing you know it’s 4AM and your all-black outfit is covered in blood.

At the time of my friend’s potentially fateful comment the esteem of my social circle was of the utmost importance to me; I was profoundly insecure—if my friends thought I was cool then there was a chance, albeit slight, that I wasn’t the huge loser I suspected myself to be.

That I would’ve participated in the murder of a stranger to solidify the approval of my peers sounds ridiculous now, but at the time it wasn’t entirely out of the question.

I knew murder was wrong, but I also believed letting down my friends would be an unpardonable sin; it’s entirely possible that in my approval-hungry mind the latter may have outweighed the former.

In hindsight I realize it was sheer luck that my friend’s comment hung in the air, bereft of response—in this crowd of riffraff there were no wealthy parents to be had, my own included.

Eventually, after a few seemingly-endless seconds someone broke the silence by retorting, “Oh please, you’d kill Mother Teresa if the price was right;” laughter broke the spell and our normal banal chatter resumed.

Jeffrey Dillingham was not so lucky—although the woman he murdered is the person most deserving of sympathy part of me mourns for Jeffrey as well.

There but for the grace of god and the absence of friends with wealthy parents go I.



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