A provocative account of the December 1986 slayings of members of the Robert Gates family in East Chatham, N.Y., and of the...

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A provocative account of the December 1986 slayings of members of the Robert Gates family in East Chatham, N.Y., and of the subsequent acquittal on murder charges of self-confessed killer Wyley Gates. Skillfully adapting his novelist's skills, Gelb (Playground, 1987; Columbus Avenue, 1984), who lives in the county where the murders occurred, offers a disturbing examination of a bizarre killer and of the judicial system that failed to bring him fully to justice. Known as a quiet young man, Wyley detested working at his father's road-salt supply garage. Ranked second in his class, he preferred working with computers, which did not sit well with his physically oriented father. Wyley also did not hide his animosity toward Cheryl Brahm, his father's longtime live-in girlfriend. Still, says Gelb, many found it hard to believe that this shy, intellectual boy committed the coldblooded murders of his father; Cheryl; his older brother, Bobby; and his three-year, old cousin, Jason. Others weren't so surprised, As Gelb shows, Wyley and a few friends, including Damian Rossney, had rather openly planned the murders for months. They had made several prankish ""penetrations"" of the high school and stolen a few computers. Calling each other ""Wile E. Coyote"" and ""Black Maxx,"" Wyley and Damian, along with class clown Miles McDonald, allegedly burglarized the Gates home and removed several guns, most notably a Walther PPK automatic pistol that proved to be the murder weapon. Wyley made a half-hearted attempt to cover his tracks. But in the hours after the shootings, he gave a detailed confession--without an attorney present--to a polygraph examiner who then announced, ""Well, that's it"" and failed to administer the lie detector test. Police did not test Wyley's clothing and inexplicably failed to take fingerprints from the gun. Despite his confession, Wyley pled not guilty to--and was acquitted of--four counts of second-degree murder. He was, however, found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Based in part on Gelb's talks with Wyley at the Elmira Correctional Facility and on their correspondence, this is an alarming look under the surface of small-town America.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 1990

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990