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Christian Longo (left) led into a courtroom in 2002 before he was convicted of murdering his wife and three children and then escaping to Mexico to party. (PAT SULLIVAN/AP)

This Psychopath Doesn’t Justify a Hollywood Finale

Warning: Some Parts in this Story, People May find Disturbing.

In February 2002,?New York Times Magazine?writer Michael Finkel received a startling piece of news: a young man named Christian Longo wanted for killing his entire family, had been captured in Mexico, where he’d taken on a new identity: Michael Finkel of the?New York Times.

The next day, on page A-3 of the?Times, came another troubling item: a note from the editors explaining that Finkel, having falsified parts of an investigative article, had been fired. Nonetheless, the only journalist Longo would speak with was the real Michael Finkel, and so Finkel placed a call to Oregon’s Lincoln County jail, intent on getting the true story. So began a bizarre and intense relationship?a reporting job that morphed into a shrewd game of cat-and-mouse.

He’s infamous at this point, and sadly, it’s not for good reason: Christian Longo is the man responsible for the brutal murder of his wife and children in Oregon more than a decade ago. He’s also the man that stole the identity of a disgraced New York Times journalist, Michael Finkel, while on the run from authorities. The story of this disturbed man and the writer he wooed his tale of tragedy has been fictionalised for the big screen in the movie True Story.

If you’re not familiar with the story: After standing trial in Oregon for the murder of his wife, MaryJane (maiden name Baker), and children, Zachery, Sadie and Madison, Longo was sentenced to death by lethal injection on April 16, 2003. Now 43 years old, he is currently carrying out the judgement on death row at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. No date has currently been set of his execution.

Is truth indeed stranger than fiction? Maybe so in the case of the movie True Story, based on the real case of Christian Longo, murderer of his wife and children, and Michael Finkel, the disgraced journalist whose identity Longo briefly assumed. The film is based on Finkel?s book (full title: True Story: Memoir, Mea Culpa) recounting the case and his personal involvement with his impersonator. Though Finkel writes at the outset that he feels the need to emphasise the truthfulness of what he reports, truth can, of course, be a slippery concept. Better to stick with the facts.

First of all, Finkel wasn?t always so respectful of accuracy in reporting. Though he had moved into a coveted writing position with the New York Times Magazine by his early 30s, the journalist got himself in a fix with a 2001 story about child labourers in Mali. Investigating reports of slavery on cocoa plantations in the West African nation, Finkel found the reality to be far more complex. His editor at the Times Magazine proposed the focus on one boy?s journey from poverty-stricken village to the squalid plantation. The problem was, there was no single source from Finkel?s reporting that could tell this story. So he invented one from interviews he had done with a number of labourers, giving the story?s subject the real name of a boy he had talked to. The story was published, inconsistencies were spotted, and Finkel was exposed, publicly excoriated, and fired.

A door closes, and a window opens. Licking his wounds at his Montana home in early 2002, Finkel got a phone call from another journalist asking about a case thus far unfamiliar to him. Just before Christmas 2001, the bodies of two children had been discovered in a coastal Oregon pond; their ankles had been tethered to pillow cases weighted with rocks. They were identified as 27-year-old Christian Longo?s two oldest children?Zachery, 4, and Sadie, 3. Several days later, his wife MaryJane Longo and two-year-old daughter Madison were found in the nearby bay. Each had been strangled, packed in a suitcase, and thrown in the water. Christian Longo was traced by the FBI to Cancun, Mexico, where he had introduced himself as Michael Finkel, a writer for the New York Times. Finkel was intrigued enough to contact the now-incarcerated man.

Longo, it turned out, had read and was a fan of Finkel?s writing in the Times, National Geographic Adventure, and Sports Illustrated, and that was why he chose the journalist?s identity as his own. He agreed (against the advice of his lawyers) to allow Finkel to interview him, and the two men began a communication that encompassed weekly phone calls, voluminous letter writing, and a few prison meetings. They were each at a personal low point, although obviously, Finkel hadn’t killed anyone. But he does admit in True Story that “he?d lied many times: to bolster his credentials, to elicit sympathy, to make himself appear less ordinary.”

Longo?s gift for duplicity, however, put Finkel?s to shame. Though he had no documented history of violence prior to the killings, Longo?s young life had been marked by repeated instances of bad judgment, risk-taking, fraud, and larceny.

Christian Longo with his wife Mary Jane, 34, and the couple’s three children ? Madison, 2, Sadie, 3, and Zachery, 4.

At 17 years old, Christian Longo met his future wife, 24-year-old MaryJane Baker. The couple were married in 1993, and long before Longo’s violent turn, signs of trouble began to surface. His employer caught him stealing; a pattern that continued after MaryJane gave birth to their children, Zachery, Sadie, and Madison. Longo opened his own business in 2000, but soon he was forging checks from his customers. The crime escalated further when he rented a car under a false name and took out a line of credit in his father’s name, racking up $100,000 in debt. The law finally caught up to Longo, and the family fled to Oregon. Longo was on probation, broke, and livid that his life had crumbled so terribly. He moved his family to an upscale condo complex in Yaquina Bay, but there was no way they could afford to live there very long.

On Dec. 18, 2001, employees at a motel that the Longos had previously stayed at in Oregon found baby clothes, women’s clothing, family photos, and MaryJane’s ID card in the dumpster. Longo was working at Starbucks at the time, and he brushed off the discovery, saying that the family had left some things behind. He also told his co-workers that MaryJane had been having an affair and that she left him and returned to Michigan with their children. That same day, the car Longo had rented out illegally was found in a dealership. Its contents included a book called?Running From the Law, sleeping bags, and diving gear.

Christian Longo with his wife Mary Jane, 34, and the couple’s three children ? Madison, 2, Sadie, 3, and Zachery, 4.

Christian Longo?s perfect persona was shattered in the worst possible way on a December morning in 2001. On December 19, 2001, the body of Zachary Longo was found floating in Yaquina Bay in Oregon. Shortly after, Sadie Longo?s body was also found. The nightmare was complete eight days later when the bodies of MaryJane and Madison Longo were found stuffed in suitcases floating near the Longo?s apartment in Yaquina Bay. With each new body found, investigators wondered, where was Christian Longo?

On the day that MaryJane and Madison were found, Christian Longo was on a plane to Cancun, Mexico. There, Longo enjoyed himself by taking on the identity of Michael Finkel, a former writer for the New York Times. Longo chose the name as he had been a fan of his work since he had worked for a New York Times distribution company in his early 20s. As Christian Longo lounged on the warm beaches of Mexico, FBI investigators investigated why a seemingly perfect husband had murdered his entire family. The investigation showed that Christian Longo was involved with crime for a long time. After leaving the New York Times distribution company, Longo attempted to launch his own company. This move proved to be a financial disaster. Dealing with rising debt, Longo turned to making counterfeit checks from his client?s checks. Although he now faced debt and criminal offences, Longo continued to buy expensive cars and take the family on long vacations. Longo?s carefree ways were brought to an end when he was charged with making counterfeit checks. He was given a light sentence of probation and restitution.

Despite receiving a light sentence, Christian Longo?s life changed dramatically. Longo was found to be cheating on his wife. He responded to this by suddenly leaving their home in Michigan and moving to a warehouse in Toledo. After cutting off communication with his and MaryJane?s families, Longo moved the family to an upscale apartment complex in Oregon. Although he worked at Starbucks, Longo attempted to show himself and the family as wealthy. In the weeks before his family?s murder Longo told friends that he was having a divorce with MaryJane. Despite this unusual public trouble, friends and families were horrified by Longo?s actions.

Once in Mexico, he told people he was a former New York Times writer by the name of Michael Finkel, a real person who had been discredited after making up a character for a supposedly true story. For nearly a month, Longo travelled around, meeting people and living a carefree life. On Jan. 11, a woman he had met recognised his face on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and alerted authorities, and Longo was hauled in under US authority days later.

Once he found out about Longo’s pseudonym, the real Finkel established contact with Longo while he was in custody. They carried on weekly phone calls and exchanged letters, bonding over the fact that they were both men who had been exiled by their former communities, according to Finkel’s book.

As Longo awaited trial he was visited by the man he identified himself as in Mexico, Michael Finkel. What followed was the development of a weird friendship.

Longo didn’t confess, and didn’t even initially plead not guilty ? he stood “mute” to the indictment. And though he was telling his life story in great detail to Finkel, he did not account for his actions surrounding the murders. Then he pled guilty to the murders of his wife and youngest child, and not guilty in the deaths of the two other children. On the stand during his 2003 trial, he contended that MaryJane, after discovering the extent of her husband’s lies and criminality, had killed Zachery and Sadie, disposed of their bodies, and had also attempted to kill Madison. When Longo found two of his children gone and the third gravely injured, the story continued, he strangled MaryJane and made the agonising decision to also end his youngest child?s life. The jury wasn’t buying: it found Longo guilty and sentenced him to death.

The story didn’t end there, of course. Finkel’s book was published in 2005. In 2009, Longo contacted the author from Oregon?s Death Row and said he was ready to come clean. When he could no longer keep up the facade of stellar husband and fatherhood, Longo confessed, he had indeed killed his entire family.

The story of a family?s murder at the hands of the one man they thought they could trust above all else is utterly terrifying. Frustrated with his life of domesticity, and battling serious financial woes, one night Longo strangled MaryJane in their bedroom.

When Christian Longo asked Michael Finkel if he wanted to watch him die, he told him he did. Longo asked him this over the phone, calling collect from inside his prison cell ? the yellow cordless passed down the line, cell to cell, hands reaching through bars ? on death row at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

He said it was only a few hours before, while at work, that he came to a decision. He said he couldn’t see any other solution. He couldn’t call his father and ask for money ?he was too ashamed. He couldn’t kill himself ?he was too weak. He was a failure, he said, “and I didn’t want to leave any witnesses to my failure.” He said he didn’t know how, exactly, he was going to do it, but that he’d made up his mind. “I knew before I came home that night I was going to kill my family. I was locked on that thought.” Maybe I knew this already, but the words still surprised me. Never before ?not at his trial, not in their long correspondence ?had Longo admitted this.

When he came home from work, though it was quite late, MaryJane initiated lovemaking, he said, and soon he was naked and she was naked and they were in the small one-bedroom condo ?a nice place overlooking Yaquina Bay, on the Oregon coast, with his two older kids asleep in the living room on a pull out couch and little Madison in their bedroom, on a sleeping bag on the floor. It was past midnight. He was making love to his wife. She was on top. He said this in a clear, steady voice. And it hit him, he said, it dawned on him right then, that this was the opportunity. This was the time. As they were having sex. And he reached up and took her throat. Longo said that he didn’t see any surprise in her face. He grasped his wife by the throat, grabbed with both hands. He said she didn’t resist at all. It’s possible, he said, that she thought it was a little sudden, sexual kinkiness.

But he never let go. He squeezed and didn’t stop squeezing. Longo said that if he’d had a gun, he would’ve used it, but then immediately he changed his mind. Too messy, he said. He didn’t want to make a mess. He said MJ ?that’s how he always refers to his wife ?didn’t really struggle, didn’t kick or claw at his hands or make any noise at all. He said it was silent. “She seemed to relax into it. She never looked at me. Her eyes were closed. She didn’t fight me, she didn’t seem terrorised.” The TV was on, softly. Longo couldn’t recall what was playing, but he remembered the flickering blueness across the room, across his naked body and hers; he was still on the bottom, he was reaching up, grabbing his wife’s neck with both hands, grabbing so hard his fingers dug deep, forming the scars that would be found when the divers opened the suitcase.

It takes quite a long time to kill someone by strangulation. Like five minutes. Longo said it was long enough for him to think, during the act, that maybe he ought to stop. But then he figured he’d already begun, and if he stopped and MJ survived ?then what? His wife would leave him and he’d still be in trouble.

When she was dead, he got up, put on some clothes, and strangled their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Madison, who was sleeping on the floor. He strangled her with one hand. This was how Longo described the feeling of strangling a two-year-old, her neck so soft and thin: “To hold onto a little girl’s neck is the weirdest, uncomfortable, disgusting thing in the world. It tore me up to put my hands around something that small.” It was so difficult, he said, that he could not strangle the two older children. And in fact, he said he didn’t finish the job on Madison. He said he remembered hearing her gasp and cry through the suitcase as he carried it out of the condo and dropped it in the December-cold water, where police divers found it nine days later.

Longo insisted he loved his family, that he never wanted harm to come to them. To this day, he said, seeing violence toward children on TV makes him angry ?”, and then I remember, Oh, yeah that’s what I did.” Even on the night, he’d decided to murder his family, if he had come home from work and an intruder was there, trying to hurt his family, he said he would’ve tried to kill that intruder.

Returning to the condo after dumping the bodies of his wife and baby, in suitcases, off a dock and into the bay. He had no stomach for strangling anyone else, so he lifted Zachery and Sadie gingerly from their sleep, one at a time, and nested them in their car seats in the stolen minivan, which had the license plate KIDVAN. He knew he was going to kill them, he said, but still, he made sure they were properly buckled in. That was just the procedure. The kids never woke up.

It was a chilly and wet December night, just a few degrees above freezing. As he started driving, he began to think that maybe he didn’t have to conclude this. “Okay,” he remembered thinking, “the worst is over and we’ve survived.” Maybe just the three of them could go on. He recalled wondering if they’d wake up and ask for Mommy. How would he explain it? How would he get away with it? He couldn’t answer those questions and so decided it was too late, he’d started it and now he had to finish. “I was committed to this thing,” he said. “I wanted a clean do-over.”

He pulled over on a residential street and picked up a couple of bowling-ball-sized rocks. Then he drove to the bridge over a coastal inlet called Lint Slough, stopped halfway across, slid open the minivan doors as quietly as he could, and turned off the dome light so that his children wouldn’t wake up. He placed each rock into a pillowcase. And then, with the weighted pillow case tied in a quick overhand knot to an ankle, he threw one child off the railing of the bridge, walked around the van to the second car seat, again tied on a pillowcase, and dropped the other child off the opposite side.

Police found Zachery?s body floating face down in the water a few days later and issued a warrant for Longo?s arrest. Then police divers located Sadie?s bloated body beneath the bridge. Almost a week would pass before the large green suitcases containing MaryJane and Madison were discovered in a marina not far from the flat the family rented in the town of Waldport.

Using a stolen credit card number, Longo had boarded a plane to Mexico and for the next fortnight told people he met in the resort town of Cancun (including a woman he?d started sleeping with) that he was a New York Times journalist called Michael Finkel.

In November 2001, a month before Longo murdered his family, Michael Finkel was working as a writer for the New York Times magazine and it had just published a story of his about the modern-day slave trade in Mali. But around the same time, Longo was on the run in Mexico, Finkel had been exposed for inventing the main protagonist in his story and was about to be fired from his post at the Times and publicly disgraced.

It wasn?t until February the following year that Finkel found out about the Longo killings. A newspaper reporter in Oregon called telling him about his tenuous connection to the state’s most evil killer in a generation. By now, Longo was in jail awaiting trial for murder.

Over the next few years, Finkel became, in his own words, ?obsessed? with Longo?s story. Initially, Longo hoped the man whose identity he?d assumed would help him get acquitted. Later, after Longo admitted his guilt, Finkel said he wanted to understand how he could have killed his entire family. He spoke to him on the phone for hours, visited him in jail 10 times, and rented a cottage near where Longo?s trial was held so he could hear every word. Then he began work on the book he hoped would vindicate himself as a journalist.

Finkel said he wanted to reconcile a man he had got to know well ? ?the bright and dryly funny person I ? sometimes referred to as my friend,? he wrote in a piece for Esquire magazine ? with the ?man who?d been convicted of the most unimaginable crimes.?

Christian Longo was Penny Baker-Dupuies brother-in-law, she says Finkel is simply profiting from the brutal murders of her sister, her nieces and nephew. To Dupuie, Longo is a monster who has never repented for the most horrendous crimes and should never have been the subject of a book or film.

Not only did Penny have to deal with the violent death of her sister and her sister’s children, there was Longo’s trial and death sentence and the media circus that inevitably enveloped her family. A few years later there was the book, penned by a former New York Times journalist. And then there?s True Story, a Hollywood movie. For Penny, there’s no escape from Christian Longo.

The author Michael Finklel with James Franco on the set of True Story. Credit: Rex

So what has Longo been doing with the time he has left since the trial? It’s complicated. In 2014, he wrote an email (yes, an email) to?The Oregonian, a newspaper. The newspaper gets lots of inmate correspondence by snail mail, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service. But an email from a killer? A man who murdered his wife and three young children? In your Outlook inbox?

Welcome to the digital era, prison style.

Longo wanted to express his opinions on “murderabilia,” the online sale of murderers’ mementoes. The Oregonian has published a?slew of stories on murderabilia, and Longo weighed in. He offered the opinion that inmates seldom make money off their letters, artworks or personal items.

Longo, 40, complained that someone mailed him a letter of support, and when he mailed a letter back, his would-be pen pal used him: “The result was finding my response for sale, as mentioned in your article, for $40.”

But how did?Longo’s email?reach the newspaper’s email system?

Since November 2012, Oregon prison inmates who can afford an MP3 player and a keyboard have been allowed to receive and respond to emails from friends and family, and also receive digital photos, according to prisons spokeswoman Betty Bernt. The emails are subject to electronic monitoring by prison staffers.

Penny Baker-Dupuies thought that Esquire article, published in 2009, a few years after Finkel?s book came out, was sickening. The main thrust of it was a plan Longo had come up with while on death row to donate his organs after he?d been executed. He was inspired, he said, by the Will Smith film Seven Pounds, in which Smith kills seven people in a car crash and by way of reparation, pledges to donate his own organs, saving the lives of seven others, after committing suicide.

Longo said that he was now ready to be executed and wanted to donate his body parts. Unfortunately, Finkel discovered, the lethal injections that would kill Longo would also render most of his organs useless.

Longo wanted Finkel?s help starting a nonprofit he called G.A.V.E. ? Gifts of Anatomical Value from the Executed. Longo told Finkel that lethal injection rendered organs inviable, but that a change in the execution procedure could change that, and he wanted to confront the ethical issues that still stood in the way of condemned men and women donating their organs after death. If he was successful, Longo told Finkel, he would waive the rest of his legal appeals, speeding up his own journey to the death chamber, but he was continuously denied.?Finkel agreed to Longo?s request on the condition that Longo tell him the full story of what happened that night back in 2001. The result was a feature story that goes into forensic detail about Longo’s life on death row ? his pornography collection, prison etiquette, even the snacks he eats.

Longo’s existence,?like that of the other thirty-one men on Oregon’s death row, is largely confined to a six-foot-by-eight-foot cell, with three walls of pale white concrete and one wall of steel bars interrupted only by a tray slot through which meals are pushed. Inside is a narrow bunk, a porcelain sink and toilet, a stackable plastic chair, and a tiny metal desk. The floor is unpainted grey concrete. A small bulletin board is the one spot where photos or decorations are permitted to hang. The sole splash of colour is on the fourteen bars ? down the three long hallways of death row the cells’ bars alternate pastel hues: “canary yellow bars, powder blue ones, & sea foam green,” in Longo’s precise description. His cell, which he always refers to as his “house,” is number 313, with blue bars. There are no windows.

Except for two brief daily walks, during which an inmate can pace the hallway outside the cells, and a ninety-minute break in an engaged outdoor weight room or rec yard, the day is passed alone ? no one has a cellmate on death row. “All of the in-cell time is horrible,” Longo wrote me. He’s jealous that another wife murderer, Scott Peterson, is incarcerated in California and “only stuck in his place for 19 hours/day.”

Longo keeps his cell spotless and meticulously ordered ? every spice bottle, every jar of lotion and shampoo, every book (Bible, dictionary, encyclopaedia, a couple of Vonneguts,?Infinite Jest) has a particular spot. Other cells, he writes, are littered with “remnants of the previous meal, salt & pepper flakes everywhere, a half dozen roll’s of partially used toilet paper, a pile of plastic items in the sink, an unmade bed at 4 pm & and nothing but a menu on the bulletin board.” Still, there are general rules of etiquette. It’s polite, for example, to mask particularly audible flatulence by simultaneously flushing your toilet. An odour repellent is also essential. Inmates tear out scent strips from magazines, or spread deodorant on their bars, or hang popsicle sticks dipped in frankincense. Frankincense oil is purchased ($4.99 an ounce) from the prison commissary; it’s on the order sheet under Religious Items, alphabetically categorised between Elder Futhark Runes ($19.97) and Haindl Rune Oracle Cards ($12). A tallith is $35.99. He also bought his television at the commissary, for $216; deliveries to death row are every Wednesday. Funds are transferred from a prison account, in which outsiders can deposit money.

Some inmates, whom Longo in his death-row taxonomy calls “slugs,” essentially do nothing all day. They eat, watch TV, sleep. The “kids,” on the other hand, are generally “argumentative, disrespectful of everyone, short tempered, dirty.” The “matures” ? Longo considers himself somewhere between the kids and the matures ? obey the rules, pursue prison-appropriate hobbies like learning the guitar, playing chess, and creating elaborate pen-and-ink drawings, and have sensible workout routines. (The kids just try to lift the heaviest possible weight. Longo says he spends so many hours in his cell doing sit-ups, push-ups, and toilet-seat step-ups that his resting heart rate is as low as forty-six beats per minute; at times he also avoids “bread, desserts, butter, gravy.”) The remainder of the inmates are “sailboats.” They “go with the prevailing wind, not really fitting in anywhere.”

Everyone, though, seems to agree on the importance of porn. On Oregon’s death row, there are no contact visits ? you’re sealed behind a pane of bulletproof Plexiglas ? so for the rest of your life you can’t so much as hold a woman’s hand. Longo’s porn stash, he writes, is relatively tame: “Where I might be content with the?Playboy-esque spreads, somebody else needs something involving fists.” The inmates sell it to one another; the going rate is between fifty cents and a dollar per page.

Also, Longo says, you get to claim your favourite actress or two, and once you do, it’s understood that no one else on death row can have her. Longo has dibs on Jennifer Connelly and Alyssa Milano. “Every time a movie comes on with one of our actresses,” Longo writes of the prison film channels, “it’s common courtesy here to yell it down to the one who’s claimed her. ‘Hey Chris,?A Beautiful Mind?just came on 3!’ ” If there’s a nude scene in a movie, the men will count down the seconds out loud. The second-most-prevalent obsession is food. Longo says he actually has two photo collections: nude women and gourmet cuisine. His letters are filled with food cravings: “a salt bagel with a full plain cream cheese schmear from Einstein or Brueggers ? toasted, of course”; “a Cinnabon with a good cup of coffee”; “a pizza”; “honey-dripping baklava.” To make the institutional meals more palatable, the men sometimes hold death-row dinner parties. Several inmates will pass their trays down the row to one cell ? frequently, to Longo’s. He’ll combine all the food together, add commissary-bought items like hot sauce, peppers, and shredded cheese, then rebuild the plates “Cadillac style,” as it’s called, and send the trays back.

Real death-row parties, however, require a batch of pruno, the prison hooch: Take the grapefruit that comes with Saturday breakfast, peel, crush, and place in an empty milk carton. Enzymes remaining inside the carton, combined with natural yeast from the air, trigger fermentation within a few days. Dump into a garbage bag and add a pound of sugar and a pound of canteen-bought prunes per person. Let sit for a week, occasionally (and when no guards are around) burping out excess gas. Strain pulp through a sock. The alcohol content, Longo says, is as much as 12 percent, and the taste is about what you’d expect from something filtered through a sock. Still, if you can stomach a couple of twenty-ounce cups, pruno provides “a good escape.” Generally, Longo says, everyone on death row gets along, at least on the surface.

“There’s a weird pseudo-cordiality thing here,” he writes. “But you know that given the opportunity to get away with it a few here would have no compunction about stabbing someone where they sleep.” In truth, he writes, nobody trusts anyone. Several men were transferred to death row from the general prison population after murdering other inmates. A few are serial killers. “I’m surrounded,” Longo writes, “by so much degeneracy and perversion.” The death-row Barber, Dayton Rogers, was convicted of killing six women (though he may have murdered more) and liked to cut off the feet of his victims with a hacksaw while they were still alive. I once asked Longo if he thought anyone on Oregon’s death row was innocent. “No,” he replied.

In some ways, Longo says, you get to know the other people on death row extraordinarily well ? their favourite fishing hole, the name of their childhood pets ? but it can be challenging to separate their real lives from the fantasy version. One inmate told Longo, in intricate detail, how he’d scuba dived in Lake Michigan to see the shipwreck, Griffin.?But Longo knew this person “never got out of the state of Nevada until they were 18, where they were promptly arrested for murder & have lived here since.” He’d also just watched the same show about the?Griffin,?on the Science Channel, from which the inmate had cribbed every fact. The reality, Longo writes, is that on death row “nobody is what they seem.”

As?Finkel wrote in an article for Esquire, this project gave him new life. Once content to forgo his appeals, he began to actively pursue them again in order to spend more time on building up G.A.V.E. and, in the process, “likely putting off his execution date by at least a decade.”

Surprisingly, the man whose identity Longo stole,?Finkel, told The New York Times?in an article on?True Story?that the two maintain contact. “He calls me the first Sunday of every month. There?s always this internal tug of war over whether I should pick up the phone or not, but I usually do.” It turns out he can?t resist a good true-crime tale. ?I was way too emotionally involved this story, and I want to see it play through,? Mr Finkel said. ?Despite the fact he?s a sociopath and a quadruple murderer, Longo is also insanely perceptive and eloquent, and his descriptive abilities are amazing. So yes, I pick up the phone. I?m a journalist.?

Finkel writes that Longo’s fabricated life extends behind the prison walls as well. He’s told fellow lags he’s a stock market wunderkind, still making big bucks via a broker on the outside.He even wrote an op-ed piece?for the?New York Times?about his quest. And now, like Michael Finkel, Christian Longo can truthfully say that he has written for the?New York Times. Longo is currently incarcerated on death row at Oregon State Penitentiary, where capital punishment is legal, but there has been a moratorium on executions since 2011.

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