Nov 8, 2013 - By Steven R. PeckGerald Uden is an extraordinary man, in the most terrible of ways
Lots of headlines have crossed our newspaper's front page through the decades, but there has never been a story quite like Gerald Uden's.
Around the time the news-hardened staffers at 421 E. Main St. might be feeling that we have seen it all, something new arrives to prove us wrong.
This fall, that "something" is Gerald Uden.
He has tested human comprehension with his story of family, of murder, of lying, of concealing, and of a weirdly impressive ability to carry a ghastly burden for most of his lifetime.
Everyone who reads it must venture into a private realm of imagination, applying Uden's circumstances to ourselves, wondering what it would take to get us to kill the woman we vowed we loved, to do the same to two little boys whom we had agreed to raise and protect, to go to the extraordinary lengths to move their bodies, to remove them3, and to hide them again at hard labor and extreme risk.
Even if we imagine some circumstance under which we might find such capability in ourselves, we wonder whether we could have withstood the pressure of an all-out law enforcement investigation, whether we would have broken under the combined drags of inner guilt and outward suspicion, whether we could keep our wits about us while almost unbelievable coincidences of misdirection and luck combined to keep the law at bay.
And what if we had found a way, through our actions and the near misses of others, to weather the initial storm, only to be confronted by the prospect of a long life ahead, each day inked and shaded by the thing we knew we had done?
Uden told the court that his ex-wife, Virginia, had "become intolerable." Did shooting her in the head, doing the same to her two grade-school boys, pushing them down a mine shaft, dragging them back out two months later, twisting and breaking and forcing their bodies into steel barrels, hauling them to a deep mountain lake a hundred miles away, and sinking them to its depths -- did all of those things make his situation more "tolerable"?
Was the gnawing, scraping, drill-biting memory that greeted him every morning and tucked him in every night for 33 years tempered in his mind by the thought that "at least Virginia isn't bothering me anymore"?
Or, in the years that encompassed the last of his youth, conveyed him through his middle age and ushered him into his dotage, did every day seem longer, every season heavier because of what he knew he had done? Was he really free of Virginia's bother at all?
We all have our secrets, but on the long highways Uden traveled as a trucker, did this enormous secret gradually become unmanageable for him? Did it sit beside him in the truck cab, tapping him on the shoulder, disturbing his peace, practically making conversation with him?
Because, in the end, something finally cracked Uden. As he moved into his 70s, a thousand miles separated from the scene of his crime, the men who had pursued him no longer in power, his former mother-in-law, who had done her best to keep the case alive, now passed from this life, and the public's attention dimmed by years and distraction, Uden might well have held out until the end, going to his grave having committed the perfect crime.
But he didn't. Instead, finally, he told. Knowing that it would mean being an old man in prison for the rest of his years at best, that it would lead to his public execution at worst, still he came forward. He confessed. He stood in a courtroom in Lander and recited awful chapter and grisly verse. It is a blockbuster. Exactly why he chose to emerge from the shadows only adds to the mystery that separates him from the rest of us.
Now he sits in a penitentiary cell, where he will remain for whatever amount of time constitutes forever in his life. A sense of relief follows our public surprise, along with the head-shaking attempt to comprehend all that he did, and all that he endured afterward. We wonder if even he knows how he did it -- all of it.
Gerald Uden. An extraordinary man in the most horrid way. His story is unlike any we have ever covered. Pray that it will forever be one of a kind.
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