Dear Prudence: Family considers buying house with grisly past

  • Article by: EMILY YOFFE , Slate
  • Updated: August 27, 2013 - 2:20 PM

Dear Prudence: My husband and I are looking to purchase a new home. We lost out on our first choice, but the second is still a possibility. Then we learned that the house was the site of an extremely grisly murder — a husband dismembered his wife. We would be the next occupants. I’m taken aback by the strong negative reaction from members of our extended family. Their biggest concern, and ours, too, is our kids, who are in junior high and high school, who we haven’t told about the house. Thanks to the Internet, we know all the horrific details of the case, and that information will be just as easily accessible to them. Are we crazy to think that one bad night in a house’s 100-year history is simply that, one bad night? My husband is a pastor and I am a mortician, so who better to buy this place?

Prudence says: I understand you’re worried that others may taunt your children about their haunted house, or that the kids may be freaked out by the gruesome events. That’s why, if you decide to make an offer, you have to tell your children truthfully, with a minimum of graphic detail, that there was a terrible murder at the house. I agree that you two sound like the perfect couple to restore this property to its purpose as a family home. You are not squeamish in the face of death; your husband has an inside line on matters of the spirit. You can tell your children and your extended family that you understand why some people might be uneasy about moving into such a place. But you are the right ones to do it. If you move in to this house, you should have a ceremony in which your husband leads prayers for the victim. Then you can say to doubters that while a terrible thing once happened there, all of you feel you are honoring the memory of an innocent person by making the house a place of contentment and peace.

Dear Prudence: I posed to my girlfriend the following hypothetical situation: Would you rescue from fire and certain destruction the last surviving copy on Earth of the complete works of Shakespeare or a puppy? My girlfriend says that she would rescue the puppy because it is a fellow living being. She is highly educated and claims to have great respect for Shakespeare. But I think her choice is wrong. I would rescue the Shakespeare, not just because of the aesthetic enjoyment we get from his work but also because of all the moral insight it provides us. We’ve argued a lot about this. I cannot take her answer seriously, but I find it rather disturbing nonetheless. What is the best way for us to defuse this situation?

Prudence says: Perhaps you are aware of the Bard’s propensity for having his characters fall into psychological traps of their own making. Well, here you are, having set up your girlfriend with a trick choice. In your mind her only acceptable answers were either you were a fool to come up with this game, or that she’d save the Shakespeare. Instead she chose the puppy, which now has you raging like Lear on the moors.

I suggest you apologize. Start with this quote from Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing”: “Remember that I am an ass.” Let’s just hope things haven’t gone so far that she replies, “I do desire we may be better strangers.”

Please send your questions for publication to prudenceslate.com. Questions may be edited.

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