The Inexplicable Final Act of X (Part 2 of 3)
When firefighters arrived on the scene at 5:15 AM, they found no forced entry into the house. Instead, a severely burned X was staggering out to his driveway with a deep gash on his right arm (apparently from trying to make the incident look like a botched robbery attempt by breaking a kitchen window before setting the house on fire) and his gasoline-smelled clothes. Initially he suffered second- and third- degree burns over 30 percent of his body. Later a neighbor reported that X had recently obscured the house number on the curb with spray paint, perhaps in a deliberate effort to delay the arrival of emergency vehicles. According to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department arson investigators, overwhelming physical evidence points to X as the suspect.
Law enforcement officials had hoped that X's condition would improve so they could interview him. Eventually he contracted severe pneumonia and other complications and died in July 1995. My assignment was to translate X's diary from Indonesian into English for the insurance company’s investigators. He had left his diary in a locker at his work place in Los Angeles. Investigators hoped to find some incriminating evidence in the diary which could have proven some premeditation, planning and preparations.
After spending two full days to translate the diary cover to cover, I came up empty handed however. Nothing in the diary could be linked to the uxoricide (killing his wife), the triple filicide (killing his three sons) and the homicide (killing his housekeeper) — directly and indirectly. All I found are just mundane daily entries written by a typical husband and father. Instead of a plan or scheme for the crime, the diary contains entries about intimacies shared with his wife, slight disappointments why his sons would not study harder and spend more time to do their homework, and his paternal obligations to bring a son to a birthday party on a certain date, or attend parents-teachers conference — all typical family stuff. Nothing surprising, nothing incriminating.
What was more surprising, or even shocking, to me is the stress I felt afterwards. Sure, I had heard about translators being exposed to the usual occupational hazards: mental fatigue and carpal tunnel syndrome. Throughout the years I have had my fair share of depressing assignments, but nothing equals the translation of X's diary. I might have experienced some emotional trauma usually suffered by social workers or healthcare professionals who may become emotionally affected by their clients' or patients' cases. Instead of sifting through the horrendous crime scene, I sifted through the perpetrator's mind. Even after the translation delivery I was still upset, so much so that I was not able to fully concentrate on other assignments for the following week. If only I could find something incriminating in the diary, I might have consoled myself by saying: “That’s it, he had planned it, he is guilty and met his death with some karmic justice!” But entering X's mind that came alive through his diary’s entries, what I could see is just the regular mind of an innocent man. Nothing sinister, nothing diabolical. And that made the whole case even more upsetting.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter