Murder and Photographers — Two Examples
Photographers seldom are exposed to murder. But sometimes photographers get involved in murders because of their photography. This month we investigate two such cases.
Although he lived in a modest two room apartment in Greenwich Village L.B. Jeffries was a world renown news photographer in the early 1950's. The small apartment suited him since he was single and often traveling on assignment. Once, trying to get an unusual photo angle at a car race, he suffered a badly broken leg that confined him to a wheelchair and his apartment during a summer heat wave in New York City.
Bored, he started watching his neighbors across the courtyard of the apartment building through his back window. None of them closed their windows because of the heat. He saw and heard strange things through those open windows. He spied on and also may have photographed his neighbors with his Exakta VX camera with a 400mm telephoto lens. (Illegal, probably.)
It was the death of the dog that convinced him that the wife of one of those neighbors had been murdered.
A news photographer, he had friends in the police department, and he called one. Jeffries explained the husband's strange behavior; the wife's disappearance, his cleaning a large kitchen knife and a hand saw in the sink, and packing a large trunk which Jeffries saw him lug out of the apartment.
When the owner of the dog discovered her dog dead, she screamed and everyone in the complex could hear her. Jeffries happened to be watching the man, who did not react at all. He just kept smoking his pipe. Jeffries concluded, based on the lack of reaction to the scream, that the neighbor knew the dog was dead because he had killed the dog so it wouldn't dig something incriminating out of his flower bed.
The police weren't interested at first. But Jeffries was a busybody. And a voyeur, truth be told. It almost got him killed. The neighbor indeed had murdered his wife. When the neighbor discovered that Jeffries was watching him he thought Jeffries might have been a witness or have compromising photographs, so decided to kill the photographer too. That was prevented only at the last second by the police friend who was convinced that Jeffries, whom he had known for years, might be in danger.
Apparently the episode deeply affected Jeffries because he quit photography and was not heard of again.
Another successful photographer, this one living in London in the 1960's, also disappeared after discovering what may have been a murder. Thomas —Oh, drat, I can't find his last name right now and I'm on a deadline. The editor of this Newsletter is a tyrant and if I'm late he'll probably murder me. Anyway, this Thomas person had achieved a level of success undreamed of even by any member of our gallery. He owned a Rolls Royce convertible! And had groupies following him around! Not even our editor has a Rolls and if he has groupies, I'll be quite surprised.
Thomas was wandering around a London park one afternoon and saw a couple in the distance. Perhaps they were flirting or maybe more. They were too far away to tell for sure. So, he photographed them. Big mistake. Many photographs. An entire roll of film. (Legal, probably.) The woman saw him and his camera. She ran after him, demanding that he give her the roll of film. Thomas refused, but the woman tracked him to his studio. He was famous, after all, so he shouldn't have been surprised. He got rid of her by giving her a different roll of film.
When Thomas developed the film he discovered, in the distant dark shadows under the trees, what looked like a man. He blew the photos up as large as they would go. (Thomas was a photographer obsessed with the process of photography. Today we call them “pixel peepers”.) The enlargements showed a man holding a gun. But in the last photo on the roll, the man in shadows was lying on the ground. What had happened?
Curious, Thomas returned to the park and found the man lying exactly where he had been in the last photograph. The man was dead. Murdered? All we know for sure is that the next morning the body was gone and, with that, Thomas literally disappears and is never heard from again.
If you've stayed with us this far, you may have realized that we are talking about two fictional photographers. Thomas was the protagonist in the movie “Blow Up” and Jeffries was the character played by Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window”. “Blow Up” is a strange Michelangelo Antonioni movie, but everyone should see “Rear Window”, widely acclaimed one of the best movies ever. Many other movies have used fictional or quasi-fictional photographers as protagonists. More about those another time.
*Useless Trivia: Subsequent releases of “Rear Window” landed Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock in a law suit that traveled all the way to the United States Supreme Court. We don't propose to bore you with details of that complicated copyright case that Stewart and Hitchcock lost. If you are curious, here is the case cite: Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990)
Here you will find writings about photography. I write the newsletter for the Albuquerque Photographers'Gallery and will post those newsletters here as well. About once a month, you'll find musings and photography related news and views.