A grieving father's journey to soul-searching
On Oct. 1, 1997, 22-year-old Charles Jaynes offered to buy 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley a bicycle in exchange for a sexual favor. What happened next would shock the public, the close-knit East Cambridge community, and the Curley family, including Jeffrey's father Bob. Jeffrey, "horrified, refused a command he could barely understand. Jaynes reacted with a burst of volcanic fury," beating the boy and holding a gasoline-drenched rag to his face. After a 20-minute struggle, Jeffrey Curley lost consciousness and died.
Brian MacQuarrie, a Globe reporter, covered the shocking 1997 murder and its aftermath, one that resulted in renewed calls for the death penalty in Massachusetts. Among the loudest voices in favor of the penalty was Bob Curley, a mechanic with the Cambridge Fire Department. MacQuarrie spent years interviewing those involved in the Curley case, enabling him to dramatically re-create the tension and sadness of those days.
In the hours after his son's disappearance, Bob Curley did his own investigative work, locating Jaynes at his Newton workplace and demanding, at gunpoint, that he reveal the whereabouts of his missing son. Soon, Newton police arrived and took everyone into custody. MacQuarrie grippingly brings us inside the police interview rooms where Jaynes and his accomplice, Salvatore Sicari, were questioned about the missing boy. After Sicari confessed, police eventually discovered Jeffrey Curley's corpse in a Maine river.
Bob Curley would become an outspoken advocate for capital punishment in Massachusetts. About his son's killers, he'd tell one television interviewer, "Let's go get them and put the hurt on them. Until people are willing to make a stand, it's just gonna keep going on and on." MacQuarrie offers a detailed account of the passionately fought legislative battle over establishing the death penalty. Just when it looked like the pro-death-penalty position had won, one legislator (Representative John Slattery) switched sides and voted against the measure, defeating it.
MacQuarrie describes how deeply involved Bob Curley would become in the battle, as he lobbied legislators face-to-face and even verbally attacked a few opposing State House demonstrators. Upon seeing one man with a sign opposing the death penalty, writes MacQuarrie, Curley "began screaming uncontrollably."
Although Bob Curley and his family would commit themselves to passing the death penalty in Massachusetts, they were psychologically devastated by Jeffrey's death. MacQuarrie gives us a visceral account of how this trauma affected the Curleys, especially Bob.
MacQuarrie writes of how Bob Curley's encounter with a man named Bud Welch triggered a long process of soul-searching about the death penalty. Welch's daughter had been killed in the Oklahoma City bombing committed by Timothy McVeigh, yet Welch opposed the execution of McVeigh, and the death penalty. "I always thought that if you were against the death penalty, you were a wimp," recounted Curley, but clearly Welch was no wimp. Despite his own experiences, Curley would gradually change his views on the death penalty.
MacQuarrie's account, besides explaining the impact of a terrible crime on a family and a community, also describes how it transformed a single man. It's clear from MacQuarrie's account that Bob Curley's rage could have easily destroyed him (or possibly led him to destroy others), but the book's biggest revelation is how Curley got beyond the hate to discover something positive in himself and in others. "The Ride" is a fascinating story of loss, profound anger, pain, and the difficult, soul-searching aftermath of trauma.
Chuck Leddy is a freelance writer living in Dorchester.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, a review of the book The Ride by Brian MacQuarrie in Mondays g section incorrectly identified the Curley family member who confronted murder suspect Charles Jaynes at gunpoint. According to the book, that was Bobby Curley Jr. Jaynes was the only person police took into custody.