A journalist revisits the unsolved mystery surrounding the 2000 death of a controversial Catholic priest.
Los Angeles Times contributor Goffard (Snitch Jacket, 2007) probes beneath the headlines in this nuanced, multilayered account of the life of Father John Kaiser, an American former paratrooper who joined a Catholic missionary order and served in Kenya for more than three decades. During his life, he was considered something of a crank—he always carried a shotgun and hunted big game and was conservative on matters of Catholic doctrine yet appreciated the role played by native witch doctors—but he was admired for his courageous stand against the corrupt Kenyan dictator Daniel Aratrap Moi. Goffard believes that Kaiser, who before his death became “a symbol of national conscience, a source of hope, a galvanizing force,” was murdered because of his campaign to bring one of Moi's top henchman to trial and bring the dictator himself before the Hague Court of International Justice. Kaiser did not have the support of his Catholic superiors, who feared reprisals against the church. While the case for murder is certainly plausible, the author also considers the possibility of suicide because of Kaiser's fear that he would be forced to return to the United States. Plagued by malaria and other ailments, including several bipolar episodes, the 67-year-old priest almost appeared to be courting martyrdom. That he staged his suicide to look like murder is also possible, although his Catholic beliefs speak against this possibility. In 2002, the Moi regime was finally overthrown.
Goffard makes a convincing case that although the circumstances of Kaiser's death remain a mystery, his legacy is incontestable.