Matt Baker was the first to pay his condolences when the news came that the body of Jared Whaley, one of his best friends, had finally been found in the desert outside of Las Vegas, on March 2, 2004. The 17 year old Whaley had been stripped naked, shot twice, and some of his teeth had been cut out. He had been missing for four months when ATVers, out on a weekend jaunt, discovered his body. The grave was shallow, and after a week of drenching rain, the feet and skull, wrapped in green plastic trash bags, poked up out of the earth.
Now on this balmy March day, Matt strode into the Las Vegas Valley home of Patricia Knight, Jared mom. Matt and Jared had been a funny pair, Jared with his chipmunk smile and exquisitely worked out physique, and Matt with his skinny, almost concave frame and a face that was all character sharp nose, wide hazel eyes, and smooth black hair combed to a V at his nape. Matt slowly stepped into the living room, with deep shag carpeting, cascading ceiling plants, and needlepoint pillows with sayings like Woman Work Is Never Done, and held Knight hand. He had brought his mom, who told Knight, want whoever did this to fry.
Knight, a bottle blond Avon lady, as emotional as a person can be, was bawling and screaming, nearly hyperventilating. Matt listened patiently, interrupting her only to ask what Jared body looked like when it was found; he drank in the details wordlessly, then bowed his head. He borrowed Incubus and Papa Roach CDs from Jared room to make a mix for the funeral. But a few days later at the service, he showed up without it. He stood near the church door as mourners streamed in, giving Jared grandmother a close hug. you know that Jared always loved you best, Matt said. Knight figured the boy thrived on drama.
Today, Matt Baker sits in a Nevada prison, convicted of murdering Jared Whaley, shooting him in the chest and head with a shotgun. He will spend at least 35 years in prison, a sentence longer than the ones received by his four teenage friends, also involved in the killing. Matt avoided a trial, and the death penalty, by pleading guilty to first degree murder. During the legal proceedings, which dragged on through 2006, as the others involved in the murder, including two brothers, argued over their role in the killing, Matt never explained why he killed Jared.
The agonizing mystery of his crime may explain why it has received little media attention, other than a few sensationalistic stories noting the gruesome nature of the killing, and the fact that Matt seemed to have designed the murder after scenes in the movie About a year after the murder, I traveled to Las Vegas, met some of Matt and Jared classmates, interviewed Matt in jail, and later exchanged letters with him. He was always wary of revealing much about himself or the murder. Or maybe he was just incapable of doing so. To this day, prosecutors remain stunned by the murder. One of them, requesting anonymity, said that the case sickened him more than anything in his recent memory. guy shoots his wife, you know why. Here, adidas yeezy all you have is a bunch of actions and no reason.
In my letters to Matt in prison, I asked him about Jared and the murder. He never answered directly but did begin to show a reflective side. asked me what my happiest and saddest memory was of being a kid, Matt wrote me not long ago, in a light pencil with fine penmanship. happiest memory I can really say, there is no specific moment of time that stands out of the others. I have had happy times and memories, but no one special event. For my saddest though, I would say it was when I was arrested. I was 18 when they arrested me, and for me it marked the end of my childhood.
and Jared met at Silverado High in Las Vegas Valley. The valley is miles and miles of new housing developments extending, tentacle like, from the city neon center into the scrubby desert. It a new world out there, created primarily by Vegas booming when the number of visitors topped 37 million, pumping $8 billion into the local economy anyone who needed a job could find one in Vegas, and a lot of people struggling elsewhere in the country did just that. In the same way that Vegas has always functioned more as a mirage than an actual place, with only a marginal population of drifters and ex cons looking to get lost in the cracks, the valley is its own mirage row upon row of three bedroom homes with very green lawns and very black tar on the driveways rising out of the desert.
Matt moved to the valley from Pomona, Calif., with his mom (he told friends that his dad had died before he was born). She worked as a clerk at a jewelry store on the Strip, living paycheck to paycheck and not always quick to pay bills. the time I was arrested, Matt wrote me, had lived in eleven different places I can recall, but I lived at my grandmother twice so that means I moved twelve times. Six places in California, and five in Las Vegas. I had a good relationship with my mom, but not a very open one; she is not someone I could ever feel comfortable confiding in.
Matt lived in a valley development called Carousel Park, so new that most streets aren even on the map. With bare stucco houses fronted by tiny lawns, it is more sterile and safe than some of the other low to middle income developments, but still not the kind of place where kids play in the street. Neither he nor Jared had a car so they rode a school bus to Silverado High. They ended up walking home much of the time. As the population of the valley has exploded, more and more high schools were built, and the area is now served by 13 schools. Silverado High School is the biggest with 2,600 kids. To be cool you had to be tough. Preps are nonexistent it all Manic Panic hair, studded belts, black Coast Choppers sweat shirts.
Jared was an unruly kid, but he never been involved in anything really dangerous. When he went missing, his mother figured he run off for a while, pissed at her rules maybe to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he been the previous summer, or to visit a friend in the military in Japan. He wasn a bully as a kid, but he was difficult for a few years, at least as long as he been in Vegas. His grandmother had retired in Vegas, and Knight moved the family there from California after her second divorce. She loved the place. 24 7, gambling 24 7. Who wouldn want to live here? she said.
Hyper but controlled by Ritalin from age 6 until 15, Jared as an adolescent was an honors student and competing gymnast who dreamed of being a Marine. But when he hit puberty his grades went down to C curfews were ignored, and he take pleasure in breaking even the littlest rules, like taking his shoes off in the house, which drove his mom crazy. They had the kind of fights neighbors could hear. much alike, I guess, she said now. Cars were a crux issue: Jared was obsessed with NASCAR, talked all the time about owning a Chevelle SS, yet here he was, without wheels at 17. His mom said he couldn have one till he grew the hell up.
Jared and adidas sneakers Matt quickly befriended some other guys from Carousel Park, all shy, awkward 17 year olds a few merit badges short of Eagle Scout who had recently begun to mature. Up until a year before, they had never drank or gone to parties, but weight lifting in garages and the school gym had made these guys start to swagger. There was Shane Myers, a wrestler and guitar player whose nickname was Shna the Viking because he was so big; Gerald Wilks, a guy who looked like the Incredible Hulk and rarely spoke; and Shane brother Cody Myers, whom they called Play Dough, because he always just went along with what everyone else was saying. When Matt said that he had a neighbor who dealt pot and could get them some to sell, some of the guys were allegedly enthusiastic, and Matt reportedly started bringing it to school, selling dime bags to the kids.
As at any school, the power and protection of this newfound clique meant that they could claim a stake in the school cool hangout, and at Silverado that was the school courtyard. School starts at 7 and is out by 1:15, so first lunch is at 10, but no one cool eats in the lunchroom; actually, no one cool eats, just waits until after school to eat at Taco Bell across the street. What you want to do is stand in the school concrete, barracks like courtyard, worthy of the most inhospitable prison, with your crew. and Jared and those guys were the gangsters, said Abby Freyenhagen, a friend, who looked like Hillary Duff and was clad in a Lamb of God sweat shirt. was their clique. They were wannabe gangsters wanksters.
Kids of tough, resilient single moms, with nonexistent dads, Matt and Jared were selfish to a fault, and became more so the more they hung out. They weren much for responsibility neither one had ever had a job, nor much of a plan of what to do after high school, and now they talked about dropping out of high school too. A lot of what made their relationship work was that Matt was incredibly shy, and he was just in awe of Jared nerve, his ability to say whatever he wanted without caring what anyone thought.
would come over whenever he wanted, just walk right into my house, said Nicole White, a friend of Matt had such a mouth on him. One time he said, you think your shorts are too short? Your ass is hanging out, right in front of my boyfriend. Matt just stood there laughing.
Matt could think the mean, cutting stuff that Jared said, but he could never say it. He wasn big enough or tough enough. Once they discovered the hill, in the spring of 2003, it seemed like they never stopped hanging out. A mountain of desert sand in a yet to be developed expanse of desert near Carousel Park, the drinking hill was the place to be after school and late into the night, especially when they had someone to drive them to Vons or Albertsons to buy beer. Not buy, exactly they reveled in their mastery of shoplifting. Matt always directed the troops: One guy would act sketchy near the cameras as a decoy, one would wait in the car to make a fast getaway, and one guy would load up a cart with big jugs of Captain Morgan and cases of Miller Genuine Draft and walk out the door, nonchalant as can be.
In a lot of ways, the drinking hill was a kind of Strip for teens, a place of no rules, where you could drag race cars, maybe with someone on the top while blazing across the desert. Everybody wanted to be the toughest guy, but no one was a match for Jared. He could never chill out, never sit still he was by far the strongest of them all, taking steroids and working out three hours a day, until he stuck a pencil between his pecs and held it there. He loved setting things on fire, systematically burning to ash every scrubby bush, plus a mattress they had lugged down there. He was always pulling some ridiculous stunt. One time after Jared took Wilks home from the drinking hill to his house in a gated community, he stole Wilks neighbor mailbox, just lifted it straight out of the ground. A security guard saw him and started chasing the car. Jared got out of the car and told him he was going to kick his ass if he didn back off. The guard didn like his chances.
There the Vegas of dreams and the Vegas of reality, and more and more Matt wished he didn live in the reality. He always had a fascination with mobster movies, particularly ones about Vegas, but soon every time you went over to his house he wanted to watch Eleven or one of the He might not have had money or women the way mobsters did in those movies, but he could run this group of friends like those guys. Jared might have looked like the crew leader, but Matt convinced himself that he was actually the don.
At the beginning of the school year, Matt was rejected by a sophomore he had a long standing crush on, and it was about then he started on about killing. He was ready to fight anyone, anytime, he said. He IM a lot at night with a friend down the street, Steven Stringfield, when Stringfield ex girlfriend was getting beat up by her new boyfriend. Matt was ready to pounce, IM Stringfield: WHO DO I GET TO KILL???
Matt decided that in his world, there were going to be more drugs sold than just a little pot. There was going to be meth, and guns, and all sorts of heavy duty shit he hadn thought of yet. As Matt conception of himself as a Vegas style gangster unfurled in his mind, adidas yeezy he watched over and over. The Martin Scorsese film was a story of how the mob ran Vegas in the 1970s, how things worked back when Vegas was still part of the Wild West, and how, when they had a problem, the wise guys would turn to men like Anthony Ant Spilotro, as played by Joe Pesci in the movie. Spilotro had buried at least five guys in the desert before he ended up dead in an Iowa cornfield, a made man murdered by those he thought were paisans.
Matt had been a bit of a goth in junior high school and had a lot of black clothes, but now he wore black every day, dressing in an undertaker uniform of clean, neat black shirts and slacks. He was quiet but arrogant, too good for this school, bragging that his shoes cost $250, pouring hot coffee into a glass of ice water to make an iced coffee at Denny He said he wanted to change his name to Scorsese, or at least get a fake ID that said as much.
He didn take the role lightly. His soldiers could screw around, play video games, act stupid, but not him. He had to be like Pacino in Godfather, always on guard, always keeping an eye out for the traitor among them, the one who would fold under questioning. He never stopped assessing and the conclusion he came to every time was Jared. Jared was the traitor. Jared was the rat. He had almost convinced himself that it had nothing to do with an envy of Jared superior prowess to him, adidas adipure trainer south africa it was nothing personal, just business.
Matt learned from those movies that the wuss will always roll over to save himself from doing a dime in San Quentin: Fredo in 2. Henry Hill in Frank in Mr. Blonde in Dogs. Practically every character but Tony in Sopranos. Jared was weak. He was a big guy, talked a good game, but when it came to the heavy duty no blink shit Matt was into, Jared was just a big, scared wuss. Matt was allegedly nervous about involving Jared in the current pot dealing operations. didn want Jared to get caught selling marijuana and he didn want to go to jail for it, because he knew that Jared would probably point the finger at him if he got caught, said Gerald Wilks.
One day at the drinking hill, Matt pulled Shane Myers over to the side. Shane and Matt were becoming closer they were always at Matt house to watch movies. and Loathing in Las Vegas was a recent favorite. Shane liked to think of himself and Matt like that: two gonzo guys getting fucked up and messing with the establishment as much as possible. Matt showed him three bottles of Visine he had in a bag. Someone told him that waitresses add two bottles of Visine to lousy tippers meals because you get the runs, but three Visines can do much more even kill a person, Matt said. They decided to try it on Jared. They put Visine in a beer and handed it to him. Jared did stay home from school the next day because he felt queasy.
Matt became obsessed with Jared. Soon all he could think about was how he could kill him. He read up on the Internet about the easiest ways to murder a person. He ran water through a bunch of chewing tobacco to make a deadly poison, but when he put that in Jared beer, that didn work either. Matt began to wonder if Jared was unkillable like Michael Myers in and little by little, he felt himself losing his nerve.
It was just talk, after all. Anything to do with a real, honest to God murder would probably have stayed that way if another Shane Shane Johnson hadn moved to town. A late bloomer himself, with an easy, joking manner and a taste for being the most outrageous person in the room, even though he had apologetic eyes, Johnson had resettled in Las Vegas from California with his family at the beginning of the school year. The year before, he had transformed from clean cut junior ROTC member when he followed his older brother into membership in a KKK spinoff, the International Klans of America. was fun, he would tell me. went to lots of barbecues, told jokes, ate good food. I had a bad home life, and it gave me a new family.
There were no skinheads at Silverado, though, and Johnson had to fit in somewhere. Shane Myers was the first friend he made, in weight lifting class. Myers was impressed Shane Johnson was the toughest kid he ever met, at least other than Jared. Johnson did cut some figure. He showed up at school with a bruise around his eye that he told a friend he got at home, and he wouldn go anywhere without a 300 volt taser gun. He bought it at the mall with plans to retaliate against an ex friend in California. For now, he just used the taser to terrorize anyone in his path though he taser himself too, just for the adrenaline rush, or wake up Cody Myers with it. Johnson was always talking about how he needed a fight. He had to draw blood from a black guy to earn his red IKA laces.
In Johnson, Matt sensed the real deal a genuine tough hombre who could whack a guy without blinking and would not fold under questioning, the kind of guy Baker wanted to be. One day at Matt house, Matt showed Johnson a bowl of nicotine. He said he dropped some on a spider, and it had died. a spider, said Johnson skeptically. can squish a spider.