Michele Gates Haunts My Dreams
Michele Gates was good at covering her trail, fighting to expunge her juvenile record and then changing her name to Shorthouse. Even the changing spelling of her first name – originally she was referred to as Michelle, later it was Michele. The obsession never seemed to go away, though.
Volunteering as a swim instructor for children at the YMCA pool, how scary is that? Even the murder plot she was finally convicted of had children involved. She was trying to get custody of her boyfriend’s five-year-old son, by killing the boy’s mother.
I wrote We All Scream For Ice Cream six years ago. I like to use it as a writing example, because I am proud of it as a story. And it scares the hell out of me. In essence that’s what all crime writers do. They scare the hell out of us. We’re worse than horror writers that way.
Since 2000 I have dreaded the day that Michele Gates Shorthouse would be released from prison. I had no luck in finding information about her in the prison system, (thanks to Steve Huff and Imahologram for teaching me more about these arcane arts) but I could count. I knew that someday soon she would be free.
Imagine how I felt last April when I got an email from a stranger asking me about We All Scream…. He said he was interested in my story and that he had recently met a woman. She had recently been released from prison… Could she be….
Well, yes. Could be and she is. My email friend said “…in all honesty, you would never think this woman is capable of any of the things that she has been found guilty of… I am also curious about your opinion on whether someone who commits such heinous crimes can ever be truly rehabilitated?”
It took me a while to respond to that email. Just to be that close to being in touch with Michele Gates scared me. He told her he found out about her on the internet. A Google search on her name brought up my blog first. She would definitely know that I have written about her.
Then there’s the question of rehabilitation. My basic belief is that people can change. It’s almost an article of faith for me, if people can’t change then there is really no hope for any of us. Yet my experience tells me that killers who get away with it tend to kill again. You see it over and over. Whether the motive is money or sex or power, if they get away with it, they’ll do it again.
I believe that in the wrong circumstance every one of us is capable of killing. I believe that in the case of Michele Gates, there but for the grace of God go I and you, everyone. I believe that through God’s grace even Michele Gates can be saved and transformed.
But would I trust her with children? Absolutely not. Would I trust her in any way? Probably not. This woman has been presenting us with a terrible challenge for nearly 30 years, what do you do with children who kill?
The Gates case changed the law here in Oregon. No longer can juvenile records be expunged when they involve violence or sex crimes. Under Measure 11, children who kill go to jail. But still Michele Gates Shorthouse is out there. Is she still drawn to children and water?
I hope we never know the answer. I hope we never hear of Michele Gates Shorthouse again.