Thanks to news anchors like Anderson Cooper, the issue of bullying is finally front and center in the media. Laws are being passed, programs are being put into place and bullies are actually being held accountable for their actions. As someone who was bullied, day in and day out, from the third grade until my high school graduation, I can tell you that being the target of bullies at every turn is a terrifying and miserable existence. I vividly remember riding home on the bus from high school in my freshman year. Every afternoon we would drive past this huge graveyard on the west side of Cincinnati. I would stare at the thousands of tombstones and envy those people for being dead. I would have written a book about my experiences ages ago but I would have to go into events that occurred in my sophomore year – and I’m not yet ready to commit them to paper. My junior and senior years are a complete blur. I remember nothing. But a bully I encountered as a freshman would come back to haunt me early on in my news career.
My high school was an all boys Catholic high school, Elder, on Cincinnat’s west side. If you’re from the area, it’s not too difficult to figure out the name of the school, but it doesn’t matter, because what happened to me could have and probably did happen at every school in the country. But not every school had Michael Beuke as a student. Mine did. He was tall. He was very intimidating. And looking into his eyes was like looking into a kaleidoscope of anger and rage. And for whatever reason, he hated me. Hated me. I was terrified to be in his presence. He wasn’t in any of my classes but I always ran into him in the cafeteria at lunchtime. Spilling food on me was how he began. And laughing. Lots of pathetic, creepy laughing that was directed at me. After a while, he began cornering me in a small hallway that led from the cafeteria to the main hall of the school. It was always threats.
“I’m going to rip open your chest and tear your heart out and hold it in my hand while it’s still beating”.
That was one of the more colorful ones. Usually, it was more along the lines of,
“You’re a fat faggot and I hate fat faggots”.
Punches, kicks, pushes were often included for good measure. Each time I encountered him, I was sure this was the time I would have some teeth knocked out or be punched unconscious. Neither ever happened, but the fear of it was paralyzing.
Beuke did not return to my school for his sophomore year. I assumed I was done with him. Good riddance. But I was wrong. In May of 1983, I was attending college at Northern Kentucky University, just across the river from Cincinnati. I was also an intern at WLWT-TV, the NBC affiliate there. The bulling had just stopped, instantly, the day of my high school graduation. It was over. I mean, I always knew this was something I’d have to endure through high school, but when it really did just end, it was weird. But the complex post traumatic stress that was induced by the years of bullying is something still with me to this day.
As an intern at Action 5 News, I would often go out on spot news stories like car accidents, shootings, fires, stuff like that. To this day I can drive the streets of Cincinnati and remember how there was a shooting in that house, and somebody was stabbed in that apartment building, and how I had to step over brain matter to get to the scene of a car crash in this spot on I-75 South. That stuff just stays with you I suppose. About this time, a serial killer known as the “Mad Hitchhiker” was terrifying the city. The first victim picked up the killer on a rural road, and when the hitchhiker produced a .38 caliber handgun, he forced the driver into the woods where he shot him twice.
A few weeks after that, the body of a deliveryman who had a habit of picking up hitchhikers was found in a ditch, shot twice in the head and once in the chest. Just a few days later, a man picked up a motorist who had run out of gas. The stranded motorist again produced a gun and told the driver to go into the woods where a struggle ensued, the driver was shot twice but not fatally and was able to escape. In all, one victim died, two ultimately survived.
Weeks later, police arrested their suspect who was found carrying the murder weapon and also had a blood-stained football jersey of one of the victims in his car. The suspect was Michael Beuke.
His trial began in September of 1983. I was stunned that someone I knew was charged as a murderer. I mean, bullying is one thing, first degree murder is another. I would have no way of knowing if Beuke was capable of murder. But as it turned out, he was. I attended one or two days of his trial at the Hamilton County Courthouse, where he admitted to the crimes. It was obviously a big story and I was a tape runner for the station. Beuke and I never made eye contact in the courtroom – although I really wanted that moment. I have no idea if he would even remember me from the high school cafeteria more than six years earlier.
He received a death sentence. 27 years later, on May 13, 2010, he was put to death by lethal injection at Ohio’s Lucasville Maximum Security Prison.
The top black & white photo is exactly how I remember him. With an arrogance and a swagger. To this day, I have no real opinion about his death or of the death penalty. The only people who can decide if the death penalty is a just punishment are victims and their loved ones. The rest of us can only imagine how we’d feel. And imagining is not justification to kill.