One of my guilty pleasure is “City Confidential” a true-crime documentary show on A&E. Today I sat down to watch episode 41 – Ruthton: Tragedy in the Heartland which concerns the murder of two bankers in Minnesota during 1983. As the story progressed and they began to show pictures of the suspected murderer, a creepy feeling came over me. A little Googling confirmed my suspicion:
I knew the guy!
As a teenager I worked as a substitute route carrier for the Brownwood Bulletin, the local media conglomerate in glamorous Brownwood, Texas. It was my first job off the farm. I used my sleek and sexy 1971 Volkswagen fastback to take over the paper routes of the regular carriers while they went on summer vacation. I also performed various duties around the press room and dock.
Sometime during the summer or fall of ’82 I met another kid named Steven who had a small newspaper route. He came to hangout for a few weeks with my little group and briefly dated one of my friends. We found him a calm, easygoing guy with a good sense of humor.
He lived with his father and they were down and out but working to rebuild their lives after a reversal of some kind back in Minnesota. I distinctly remember the Minnesota part. Steven avoided introducing us to his father whom he described as in poor health and of bad temper. Steven always wore army surplus clothing but that wasn’t anything that attracted attention back then. A lot of people wore army surplus just because it was cheap and durable.
I lost contact with Steven after I left the newspaper or he moved away. (Strangely, I can’t remember which.) I vaguely recall reading some news story later that I connected with him but it made little impression on me at the time.
Steven’s loser father, Jim Jenkins, dragged him back to Ruthton, Minnesota where he bullied him into shooting two bankers, Rudy Blythe and Toby Thulin, who had been foolish enough to loan him money to buy a marginal farm. When Jenkins drove the farm into the ground, he blamed Blythe and years later took revenge. When Steven turned himself into the authorities in Texas, Jim committed suicide. [Details]
Steven was convicted for both murders and a year later confessed to being the trigger man. His father’s last request was that Steven let everyone else think that the father had committed the crime and exacted his revenge. He didn’t want anyone to know he was too sick from diabetes to carry out the crime himself. He doesn’t seem to have shown any concern that he was wrecking his son’s life. What a wanker.
Everything that happens on TV, even in documentaries, seems to me to have a certain unreality to it. I never think of TV as a serious medium. So I found it damn strange to set down to watch a national TV show about a semi-famous murder and to suddenly realize that I knew one of the participants.