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BEHIND THE NEWS: Marriage and murder

October 31, 2008 1:19:50 PM PDT
So what is it about the Leah Walsh murder case that intrigues people? Of course any time a vivacious, caring, talented 29-year-old woman is found strangled and naked in the woods, 10 miles from where her car with a flat tire was discovered alongside a highway, the public is curious and concerned. More than concerned. Scared.

But there's something more - even after her husband was arrested for the murder, even after he -- according to police -- confessed to the crime.

The intrigue I think is about marriages, and relationships. According to the police account, William Walsh returned home late Saturday night from a trip to Atlantic City, whereupon he was reportedly confronted about his marital infidelity by his wife. An argument followed. A bad argument, say police; and it turned physical and violent. William Walsh, say police, strangled his wife.

Then, over the rest of the weekend, the police theory goes, he hatched the plot to have it appear as if his wife had been the victim of some kind of roadside violence. Cops say he slashed the tire of his wife's car -- and left it abandoned on the side of a highway. Her purse was discarded nearby. And, police claim, he text messaged himself from his wife's phone -- five minutes, it would turn out, before her car was found -- wishing himself a nice day. A loving message.

Problem was - and this was apparently a big clue -- the couple's marital troubles were known, and the text message seemed out of character.

The text message angle was played up by Mr. Walsh in his on-camera appearances, where he publicly, and with some attempt at emotion, pleaded for his wife's safe return and for anyone with information to come forward.

Police say the person with information was already in front of the TV cameras.

Back to the intrigue of all this. Murder mysteries are intriguing, I think, on their face. I remember when I was first starting to report, I quickly understood that digging to the bottom of a good story was not dissimilar to trying to solve a crime. You have to gather all the evidence, interview people, see through the bull, understand motive and emotion, and analyze the story or crime from every angle -- sometimes questioning your own belief system in the process.

In fact, I clearly remember thinking that becoming a homicide detective would be a great job. Then I found out I'd have to carry a gun, and I stayed a reporter. But I digress.

The intrigue of marital crime cases, it seems to me, is that we all can relate in a rather loose way. I mean, we all have disagreements with people we love -- our spouses or significant others or our kids or our friends and colleagues. And sometimes we get angry.

But most of us do not get violent with that anger. And few -- very few fortunately -- take it to the level of murder.

So who does that? And can you tell who is capable of doing it?

I'm sure most people who kill their spouse have never killed before, so history may not be prelude.

Are all of us capable of such a horrible act? I'll go on a limb and say no. But let's assume for the sake of argument that William Walsh did this murder. I wonder if he ever thought he was capable of doing this. I bet the answer is no.

But I don't think it's just the "dark side" that intrigues us about these kinds of cases.

I've heard countless times people say, "well, if they're having problems, why not just get a divorce? They don't have to kill someone."

And I think that's what also intrigues us about this case. Why can't people just deal with their problems, painful as that might be, and move ahead as mature adults? And, the logical next question that's raised: Will I be able to deal with problems as a mature adult?

In the end, all these stories we cover on local TV news in some ways always point back to ourselves. That could have been us, we think as we see some crime victim. How would I react, we say when we hear a tale like the Walsh case.

Which is why we, who report and present these stories, react to them, just like you do.

With that in mind, we'll have the latest on the Walsh case, tonight at 11.

We also react, like you, to politics. I appreciated so much the many and thoughtful responses we received this week to our question of whether the media was biased in its reporting of the Presidential race between John McCain and Barack Obama. If you read the messages we published in this column (is "published" the right word for the Internet?), you know that it very much is an eye-of-the-beholder viewpoint.

Meanwhile, the longest Presidential campaign in history enters its final weekend. The latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll suggests that John McCain's strategy of painting Barack Obama as a risky choice for the White House has not captured much traction. The most stunning finding in today's poll: 54% see Obama as a "safe" choice for President.

The poll shows an overall Obama advantage among likely voters of 53 to 44 percent. But the national poll isn't the story - the electoral vote is. And nothing may be more illustrative of this race than word that Obama is spending ad money in Arizona - McCain's home state. Some polls show McCain's lead in Arizona within the margin of error.

We'll have the latest from the campaigns, tonight at 11.

We're also taking a closer look at the computerized voting machines in New Jersey. A team of computer scientists from Princeton is warning that the new electronic machines are too susceptible to fraud -- a not-so-charming thought as Election Day approaches. Our investigative reporter Jim Hoffer has the story.

And on the lighter, wilder side, we're sending Kemberly Richardson to Greenwich Village to cover the 35th annual Halloween parade. Bizarre is what it is, as you'll see at 11.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, right after 20/20.

BILL RITTER


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