God’s Nobodies is the product of my reporting and research, spanning more than four years. In this blog post, I tell how I became interested and began working on the story. Here are more details on my sources:
- interviews with more than three dozen characters in the story and others with first-hand knowledge of the events; I interviewed some multiple times over multiple hours and days;
- public records including police reports, court filings, psychiatric reports, depositions and investigative reports on the fatal house fire, and tax assessor records on the church’s properties;
- letters and journals that the writers or recipients shared with me;
- recordings of the minister’s sermons and copies of pamphlets and books he has written;
- news articles and recordings of reports on the house fire, murder, and prosecution (not so much for a record of what happened, but to show what was reported publicly at the time); and
- scholarly research on matricide, gay bullying, religious movements, psychological defenses to murder, and a host of other issues that gave me a broader context and understanding of what I observed and found (some of this research was performed under my supervision by two talented graduate students).
Where I quote directly from conversations to which I was not a party, I almost always rely on the recollection of one or more participants in that conversation. In a couple of cases, I rely on a second-hand account — when one of those in the conversation described it to my source — but only when the source remembered the actual words with such clarity and consistency, in multiple tellings, that I felt confident in quoting the words.
One source provided copies of Tim Ginocchetti’s private journals and psychiatric reports, but only after Tim consented. For quotes from the journals, I relied on my own reading of his writing, and not on his lawyer’s typewritten transcription (I was unable to obtain that translated version and preferred in any case to trust my own eyes instead).
Because of the divisions and disputes that developed over these events, it’s important to note that any and all interpretations and conclusions drawn from differing accounts are mine alone.
I offer my sincere thanks to:
My interview subjects, starting with Esther Rufo and Tim Ginocchetti, who patiently and bravely answered all my questions about often-painful topics. Whether identified by name in the story or not, my sources have my deep gratitude for sharing their intimate knowledge of the family, church, and other events recounted in this story.
My editor, Dave Blum at Amazon, for giving me this opportunity and for helping me tell the story more effectively for this format.
My editor at O, The Oprah Magazine, Lucy Kaylin, and her colleagues for publishing an earlier version of this story focused on Esther Rufo, which was helped greatly by Lucy’s talents as an editor.
My agent, Miriam Altshuler, whose faith in this project saw it to completion.
My former colleagues at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, for their generous support of my research, including providing me with two talented graduate research assistants, Brian Moritz and Kate Szrom, and that precious commodity — time — so essential to in-depth reporting. Special thanks to Dean Lorraine Branham, Melissa Chessher, and Hub Brown; to my magazine department colleagues, Harriet Brown, Jim Shahin, Aileen Gallagher, Ann Hettinger, and the late Bill Glavin, for their encouragement and advice; to Bob Lloyd, who enabled my escape to Syracuse; and to Dick Breyer, master storyteller and patient sounding board.
My former colleagues at Syracuse University’s Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics, and the Media, where my continuing role as a research fellow has helped me shape the telling of this story.
Countless other former colleagues in journalism and teaching, and particularly my journalism students, for their advice and encouragement from the time I started pitching this to magazines through the last draft of this Kindle Single.
My wife, Nancy Lane, and our children Raema and Dale, who endured far too many conversations about this project (with special thanks to Dale, my in-house editor, whose keen eye saved me from many a garbled passage).
Finally, I dedicate this story about a grandmother’s love to the memory of my own Italian-American grandmothers, Mary Palermo Obbie and Rama Liguori O’Brien, whose love for me and every one of their other grandchildren and children was unconditional and eternal.