If I was Gay Talese, I would have called the police.
The legendary journalist was contacted several decades ago by motel-owning Colorado voyeur Gerald Foos, who spied on his guests’ sexual behavior through vents of his own design carefully hidden atop the rooms. The peeping Tom rationalized his aberrant behavior by assuming the mantle of science, believing himself more Kinsey than kinky. It was self-deception–the cataloging of couplings, the sociological musings he attached to the private acts he’d witnessed, the whole thing. What’s worse is his actions unintentionally triggered a murder, which he watched from above, like a god not given to interfering in the lives of mere mortals. His story is an extreme psychological portrait, but one that doesn’t seem especially relatable even in this age of ubiquitous cameras. Most perverts still draw the line at consent. The ones who don’t, like those who downloaded naked photos of Erin Andrews or hacked selfies from the “Fappening,” can’t talk away their intrusions as Foos does (e.g., the spied upon will never learn they were victimized).
Talese was along for the ride, not only reading the lusty ledgers and allowing the invasions of privacy to continue apace, but also having a peep or two himself during a visit to Aurora. When he finds out about the killing, he still doesn’t turn in Foos, living up to their initial contract that commanded the writer would never speak of his subject’s conduct. Clearly, though, it wasn’t paper but curiosity and fear that guided the reporter’s suspect behavior. “Where was I in all this?” Talese asks near article’s end, but I don’t think he gets to answer that question.
What he saw was a murder. It occurred in Room 10.
He described the occupants as a young couple who had rented a room for several weeks. The man, in his late twenties, was about a hundred and eighty pounds. The Voyeur deduced from his eavesdropping that he was a college dropout and a small-time drug dealer. The girl was blond, with a 34D bust. (Foos had gone into the room while the couple was out and checked her bra size, something he says he did often.) Foos devoted pages and pages to an approving account of the couple’s vigorous sex life. The journal also described people coming to the door of Room 10 to buy drugs. This upset Foos, but he did not notify the police. In the past, he had reported drug dealing in his motel when he saw it, but the police took no action, because he could not identify himself as an eyewitness to his complaints.
One afternoon, Foos saw the man in Room 10 sell drugs to a few young boys. This incensed him. He wrote in the journal, “After the male subject left the room that afternoon, the voyeur entered his room. . . . The voyeur, without any guilt, silently flushed all the remaining drugs and marijuana down the toilet.” He had flushed motel guests’ drugs several times before, with no repercussions.
This time, the man in Room 10 accused his girlfriend of stealing the drugs. The journal continues:
After fighting and arguing for about one hour, the scene below the voyeur turned to violence. The male subject grabbed the female subject by the neck and strangled her until she fell unconscious to the floor. The male subject, then in a panic, picked up all his things and fled the vicinity of the motel.
The voyeur . . . without doubt . . . could see the chest of the female subject moving, which indicated to the voyeur that she was still alive and therefore O.K. So, the voyeur was convinced in his own mind that the female subject had survived the strangulation assault and would be all right, and he swiftly departed the observation platform for the evening.
Foos reasoned that he couldn’t do anything anyway, “because at this moment in time he was only an observer and not a reporter, and really didn’t exist as far as the male and female subjects were concerned.”
The next morning, a maid ran into the motel office and said that a woman was dead in Room 10. Foos wrote that he immediately called the police. When officers arrived, he gave them the drug dealer’s name, his description, and his license-plate number. He did not say that he had witnessed the murder.
Foos wrote, “The voyeur had finally come to grips with his own morality and would have to forever suffer in silence, but he would never condemn his conduct or behavior in this situation.”
The next day, the police returned and told Foos that the drug dealer had been using a fake name and had been driving a stolen car.
I came upon this account in Foos’s typescript a few years after I’d visited him in Aurora—and nearly six years after the murder. I was shocked, and surprised that Foos had not mentioned the incident to me earlier. It almost seemed as if he regarded it as just another day in the attic. But, as I thought about it, his response—the observation that he “really didn’t exist as far as the male and female subjects were concerned”—was consistent with his sense of himself as a fractured individual. He was also desperately protective of his secret life in the attic. If the police had grilled him and decided that he knew more than he was telling, they might have obtained a search warrant, and the consequences could have been catastrophic.
I called Foos right away to ask about the situation. I wanted to find out whether he realized that, in addition to witnessing a murder, he might have, in some way, caused it.
He was reluctant to say more than he had written in his journal, and he reminded me that I had signed a confidentiality agreement. I spent a few sleepless nights, asking myself whether I ought to turn Foos in. But I reasoned that it was too late to save the drug dealer’s girlfriend. Also, since I had kept the Voyeur’s secret, I felt worrisomely like a co-conspirator.•