Matthew Shepard: The making of a martyr

But there is a competing narrative about Shepard’s life, one grounded in facts rather than perceptions and symbolism, and one the LGBTQ community has, for the most part, refused to acknowledge. In 2004, ABC News aired a lengthy report reassessing the claim that Shepard’s murder was a hate crime. Reporters interviewed Shepard’s killers as well as many of the investigators and witnesses in Laramie. “Matthew Shepard’s sexual preference or sexual orientation certainly wasn’t the motive in the homicide,” former Laramie police detective Ben Fritzen (one of the lead investigators on the case) told ABC. “What it came down to really is drugs and money and two punks that were out looking for it.”

Likewise, journalist Stephen Jimenez. He went to Laramie intending to write a screenplay based on Shepard’s life. He came away 13 years later with a very different story to tell from the one that had dominated the media narrative. Using recently unsealed court records and interviews with locals, Jimenez detailed Shepard’s drug problems and examined many leads that had not been pursued by law enforcement during the pursuit of the murderers. People who knew Shepard spoke frankly to Jimenez about the likelihood that Shepard knew one of his assailants; many also said that it was impossible to separate the drug culture in which Shepard was enmeshed from the homophobia of his assailants as a definitive cause for the murder. The real history of Shepard, Jimenez argued in The Book of Matt (2013), is that he was using drugs, including crystal meth, and he was a well-known denizen of the Laramie party scene, which was rife with criminal activity. “Have we got Matthew Shepard all wrong?” asked a writer for the Advocate after reviewing Jimenez’s book.

Not surprisingly, many LGBTQ activists denounced the book, as did the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which called it “innuendo.”