Since My Brother’s Murder

Posted: August 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

(This article originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com)

My brother was murdered — bludgeoned to death as he lay sleeping in his bed — three years ago this summer. The murder (like most murders) was not a random event. My brother knew his killer. The perpetrator was a young man, Max, who had been kicked out of his family home, and to whom my brother had given shelter.

Max was a Russian adoptee, who, post-adoption — from the age of five — was raised with every advantage that should have (could have) helped him to develop into a stalwart member of society. Yet, this did not happen. He came to the country, settling in New Orleans, with his biological sister two years younger than he. His adopted parents are solidly middle-class, and were able to afford medical and psychiatric care for Max as each became apparent as a need.

Max’s mother describes him as being initially a loving, perhaps even overly affectionate, clinging child. But as Max grew into his teen years, his coping difficulties became more pronounced, and, in spite of all parental and societal attempts to stabilize him emotionally (including psycho-tropic drugs, in-patient institutions, residential rehab stints), Max remained both deeply troubled and troublesome for all those around him (in his own family life, his friends and neighbors, his myriad of schools because of being expelled from several).

Aside from Max’s many problematic exploits (stealing, lying, setting fires, repetitive running away from home, waving a gun around kids), he was, in addition, found to be molesting his sister. It was the molestation that finally led his parents to make the decision that Max could no longer be allowed to live in their house.

At the time of the murder, Max had been living at a rehab center in Utah. Unbeknownst to all, he flew to New Orleans, and upon arriving at the airport, called my brother, whom he had met a year earlier. Max asked if he could stay at my brother’s duplex since he had no other place to go.

My brother had told me about Max. He liked him. He described him (as did my brother’s neighbors) as soft-spoken and respectful. My brother felt compassion for him.

My brother’s death was shocking to me. He was the last living remaining member of the family I was born into. We were close and caring about each other. I went down to New Orleans frequently, and stayed with him. Although I had not met Max, I had spoken to him on the phone.

Immediately after my brother’s death, I found myself with various obsessions. First, I wanted to know the details of the moments of his dying. I have heard that this is not an uncommon reaction for loved ones of a murdered person. When the detective asked me what I wanted to know, I said, “Everything.” I wanted to know what my brother was aware of as he was being struck repeatedly by the hard steel of the arm of his vacuum cleaner. I wondered how long he had remained conscious of the fact that someone whom he had trusted was now killing him: was he utterly surprised, or was there a faint recognition in him — a mortified regret — that he had trusted someone who was inherently untrustworthy? I wanted to know how long it took him to die; how long he suffered. I had those questions, and so many more.

But ultimately, I either got the questions answered, or I didn’t. Some answers I came to feel that I knew, though I didn’t. I heard the sound of his dying voice, his plaintive moan of pain as the first blow hit him. I heard it as clearly as if I had been in the room, and I heard it repetitively for months.

I also became obsessed with studying the nature of psychopathology. I had been given all of Max’s psychological records by a Mitigator. Mitigation is a relatively new profession, begun in the happy-go-lucky fry-’em state of Texas. It moved to Louisiana, not far behind Texas in capital punishment advocacy. In death penalty cases, it is the job of the Mitigator to make the plea, because of mitigating circumstances, for an alternative life-saving life-sentence. My brother’s death could have been a capital crime, which in Louisiana, is reserved for the killing of a police officer, a young person or an older person.

At 67, my brother was considered an elder. With all of Max’s records in front of me, I realized that this kid, from five-years old and onward, had been studied, examined, watched. I looked assiduously through the records for indications that this murder could have been avoided — alternative parental decisions, different professional understandings, altered interventions. I think it is possible that different decisions, resulting in the creation of different circumstances, could have altered the course of Max’s life, and the untimely death of my brother.

But whichever way I looked, I understood that the disturbance of the young man who killed my brother was early and deep. In the end, the Mitigator’s involvement was not necessary. As the closest living relative, I was consulted, and my opinion taken seriously, for what charge the DA would make. We were in agreement that capital punishment should be off the table, and we both preferred no trial.

I attended the plea bargain hearing. It was the first time I actually saw Max. There were many places for my eyes to settle: there was the prosecutor who I had come to know well and like enormously; there was the judge who reneged on our prior plea bargain agreement, demanding that we go back to the drawing board and settle on a tougher penalty (which was then lengthened from the original 30 years to 40 years); there was Max’s mother, who I had met and attempted to have a peaceful reconciliation with. But, in the courtroom that day, where my eyes wanted to go always was back to Max. I watched him at first furtively; then openly; and finally, I suppose challengingly. I wanted him to look at me, to meet his eyes. I wanted him to turn to me, and give me a sign of sorrow, or remorse or even just recognition and acknowledgement of this terrible plight that we found ourselves in together. It didn’t happen.

As the third anniversary of my brother’s death approaches, this is what I am left with. My dreams have irreversibly changed. Last night I dreamt that I was in a school with some friends. There were prairie dogs locked in a cage, but somehow one of them got out. This one animal was vicious with needle-sharp teeth, and he decided to attack us. We were all jumping around, moving as fast as we could to avoid his incessant attempts to bite us, tear apart our flesh. I finally took an instrument and cracked his head open. Seeing the contents of the animal’s brain squashed onto the floor was the strongest image I was left with. I knew I was guilty of murder; it didn’t matter that it was an animal. The dream was awful.

Every night since my brother’s death, my dream-life has become as vivid and memorable as my waking life. They are intense, powerful, intricate stories I create. Most are not as overtly related to my brother’s death as this last one is. I can’t say that I understand why my dreams have become more intense. It is usually as though they don’t belong to me. They seem to plop down into my psyche, unbidden and foreign. Yet, there they are: every night, a different mind-bending experience.

I am left, too, with the forgotten memories of my brother alive. It is his death that has become the most memorable fact about him. I don’t want this to be the case.

I want to remember my brother as the magnificent, loving brother he was. I want to remember the first time he told me he loved me. He had gone to one of those weekend consciousness-raising seminars that was popular in the ’70s, flown to Houston to take it because none was offered in New Orleans. He said he was on the plane coming back home, and opened a magazine. He saw a picture of a family barbequing in their back yard. He said they seemed so warm and loving with each other. Their warmth brought tears to his eyes. And he had an irrepressible urge to tell me he loved me. As soon as he got off the plane, he dropped his dime into the pay phone and called, delivering to me the heartfelt news.

I want to remember the man who embraced my daughter, and loved her the moment they met. They first met even before she and I had met. She was a week old, and he met her at the New Orleans airport, as she was taking her first earthly journey, leaving her biological mother, who had given her up for adoption, to meet her rightful mom, as I awaited her arrival at Newark Airport.

I want to remember the rides she and I had in his car with him, a talking car that was fun and wondrous to my daughter. Imagine, from the point of view of a three-year-old, a car that talks to you, greets you and gives you instructions. My brother made it magical.

I want to remember our sitting together at family events, Passover Seders and his endless pocketful of jokes, always the jokester, always in good humor, but never smiling at his own jokes.

But, these memories have to be reached for, strived for. The murder memories don’t. They are right at the forefront of my brain where I suppose they will remain for the rest of my life.

And I am left with my relationship to the man who killed my brother. It is a unidirectional relationship. I understood from his refusal to look at me at the plea bargain hearing that I, the sister of the man he killed, mean nothing to him. Yet, I continue to think about him, wonder about him and, oddly, long to know him. It is, I suppose, a perverse connection I feel to him, peculiar that I feel that in some distorted way, he remains the most powerful living link I have to my brother.

I am left with the understanding that murder can be an act of intimate violence. I am left with knowing that only Max has the answers to my questions about my brother’s last moments on earth. I am left with knowing that my brother’s killer is now the person in my life with whom I share the most important unanswered questions.

David’s Yahrzeit

Posted: July 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

August 1, 2014 is the 4th day in the month of Av. This is the date according to the Jewish calendar that David died. Thus, this is his authentic yahrzeit, beginning July 31 at sundown and ending August 1 sundown.
This is a day to do things in his merit, special, for his soul to be enabled, to be elevated to higher places in the heavenly world. 

Meeting Louise

Posted: April 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

MEETING LOUISE

I never know what is going to happen when I go to sleep. Since David’s death, my dream life has become as vivid as my waking life. They are bizarre, imaginative dreams. Some redeeming; some disturbing. The last dream I had was about Max. Doctors had discovered that there was something wrong with him and that an operation would correct the problem. After the surgery, presumably, he wouldn’t continue to be violent.

This is my wish for Max: that his future would be that he was no longer violent. This is my wish for his past, as well: that he would not have been violent and that my brother would still be alive.

The dream before that one was that David’s murder was not just conducted by Max. In the dream, there was a film being made in New Orleans (land of the birth of conspiracies). David had been involved in helping with the production of the film. I was watching the still-unfinished film, and I saw that my mother’s prized antique baker’s rack had been used; too, her Dzigurski painting was being used as a prop. In real life, both of those items had been taken from our parents’ home by David upon my mother’s death; and now they both reside in my own home; they are a legacy, from my mother to my brother to me, passed down as though they were blood linking us together in death as we were in life.

Watching the film (in my dream) revealed evidence that Max had killed David, but he had done it at the bidding of powerful forces that had ordered him to do it.

Both dreams indicate to me the same meaning; they both say the same thing in different ways. They said that the murder wasn’t entirely Max’s fault. Max was the agent of death, but that hidden forces were responsible for the deed as much as were Max’s own hands that he had used to bludgeon David to death.

This idea – that there are hidden forces that propel us to do acts that our rational minds would never allow – is, of course, the basic premise of Freudian psychoanalysis, out of which the entire field of psychotherapy and much of psychology has grown. It has also become an essential part of the groundwork of our modern criminal justice system. We cannot be found guilty of a crime if we remain blissfully ignorant of the wrongfulness of our act. (Great Britain takes the concept even a step farther; no mother can be found guilty of murder for the first year of her infant’s life, though she may have killed her child.)

Aside from the pain of losing my brother’s company in this lifetime – the mourning that his loss has propelled me into — the question of Max’s culpability has been the most difficult issue that I have struggled with. Coming to know how I think and feel about this issue has been important for me personally; but it has also been important throughout the criminal investigation and proceedings in the determination of the legal consequences for Max. To what extent can Max be held responsible for his act of murder?  What magnitude of damage could be attributed to genes, or early environmental experiences? To what degree is he a product of a failed upbringing? What might be the relevance of legally prescribed psychotropic and medical drugs that Max had taken from a young age? In short, how culpable should a 19 year old teenager be held for his actions, and for how long?

Various research studies have documented that there is a genetic/constitutional component to criminal behavior. Brain-imaging techniques have given us a wealth of information about these factors in criminals: Researchers have accurately predicted who is most likely to commit a crime after release from prison; anti-social behavior has been linked to low presence of an enzyme (MAOA) that results in a smaller amygdala – the emotional center of the brain; impulsive murderers have been shown to have lower functioning of the prefrontal cortex—the “guardian angel” that keeps the brakes on impulsive, disinhibited behavior and volatile emotions. (Serial murderers, on the other hand, do not show this damage, as they need a strong pre-frontal brain to be able to regulate their behavior carefully in order to escape detection for a long time.)

And, we know, too, that early environment plays a role. While we know nothing about Max’s genetic history, we do know that he spent the first five years of his life in a Russian orphanage. He was almost five when he was adopted; his sister, Tatiana, adopted at the same time, was three; both were adopted by a middle-class New Orleans couple.

It is well known that the Russian orphanages are outrageously terrible places. Many of the children who come out of these institutions are severely emotionally and cognitively damaged. A few years ago, a mother put her adopted child on an airplane to Russia, sending him back as though he were a pre-stamped return package. So – yes – I do understand this. But genes do not always rule, and sometimes the negative effects of difficult and damaging early years can be ameliorated or even undone by better later years.

When assistant District Attorney Ernie Chen asked me if I would be willing to speak to a social worker who had studied Max’s case, I agreed with interest.

The social worker was John Muggivan, and as well as being a social worker, he is a former priest.  John Muggivan is also a man not unfamiliar with murder. He co-authored a book about a murder in Ireland. In New Orleans, where he currently resides, he has been called to assist in Capital 1 (death penalty) cases. His usefulness in these cases is because he has training in Mitigation. Mitigation is a relatively new profession, started in Texas, but now spread to Louisiana, the two most gung-ho death penalty states in the country. Mitigation (as opposed to Mediation which has an entirely different meaning) comes into play only in a Capital 1 offense. In the state of Louisiana, a Capital 1 offense is reserved for the killing of a police officer, or for a heinous murder involving killing the very young, or the elderly, defined as over the age of 65. My brother was 67 when he was killed. The DA’s office could have charged Max with a Capital 1 offense. With that possibility looming, Max’s parents hired John Muggivan to study Max’s psychiatric/medical/criminal records and to meet with Max in order to prepare a defense for the possible eventuality and outcome of a trial. The worse case scenario (for both myself – a death penalty opponent — as well as for Max and his family) would be that Max would be found guilty, and that he would receive the death sentence. Muggivan’s job then would have been to show the jury mitigating circumstances in order to save the life of his client.

After a few back and forth brief emails, Muggivan and I began a series of lengthy dialogues, both phone conversations as well as emails. These dialogues with Muggivan were extremely helpful to me. I was reeling from the loss of my brother. I was overwhelmed with not understanding how this fate had come to be my brother’s final destiny on this earth. I was confused, wounded, and uncomprehending.  Muggivan was sympathetic, smart, and had a keen eye and ear for nuances. He also had some original theories about the meaning of growing up gay in the South.

David was gay. I knew he was gay for as long as I have memory. Being gay was no picnic in the south. I remember one time David and three of his friends were driving around the city. David was not yet 17 at this time. The car was stopped by the police; the car was searched, and gay adult porn was found in the truck of the car. All four were arrested. David had supportive parents to call; the rest didn’t. David got out of jail that night; without parental intervention, the other teenagers were sent off to Mandeville to a psychiatric facility for an indefinite period of time (an early 1960’s southern-way of forcibly imprisoning them without the need for criminal prosecution).

Within the course of my conversations with Muggivan, it became clear to me that Max had been a troubled kid, and had grown into an even more troubled teenager who had spent a lot of time – in fact, most of his teenage years — in facilities, state homes, and rehab centers. But I also had the impression that he was not a “thrown-away” kid. His parents were clearly devoted to him and his sister, and had gone to great lengths to try to get both of them what they felt were appropriate therapies.

It was soon established between Muggivan and me that Max’s parents and I had a mutual interest in meeting each other.

The leading question I had – the information that I would be looking for in my proposed meeting with Max’s parents, Louise and Don – was: who is Max? Why had Max become who he had become? And what had happened in this family that might have been related to Max becoming a person capable of unprovoked murder. Friends have asked me about this interest of mine; some consider my desire to understand Max to be an almost morbid interest. My only defense to the inquiry is that essential to whom I am, fundamental to my identity is my need to understand human motivation, human urges and impulses, and the thoughts and feelings that accompany these. It has been my life’s work as a professional mental health practitioner. And, even with this devastating emotional experience I have lived through on a personal level, the sudden and dreadful loss of my brother, I cannot turn away from this aspect of who I am.

My other motivation for wanting to meet Max’s parents was that I thought there could be a healing. As I had come to think about it — a meeting of grief (mine) and guilt (theirs) — that would soothe each of us. I had come to feel compassion for this family, and the plight that has befallen them because of Max’s actions. My sympathy was most especially extended out toward Louise, as she and I shared the common bond of motherhood. I understood from listening to Muggivan speak about Max’s history, as well as talking to those who were involved in the criminal case against him, that Louise and Don had tried – tried mightily – to show up for their two adopted children: to care for them, to help them in their specific challenges of growing up in this new land with a new language wherein they found themselves plopped down.

In Jefferson Parish, an outlying parish from New Orleans proper, and where David resided when he was killed (in his own home, in his own bed), the desire of the family of the victim – in this case, the victim’s closest surviving relative was myself – carries great weight in terms of determining the sentence for a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between perpetrator, victim or family of victim, DA’s office and judge. Its advantage is that it avoids a trial, which is, at best, an unpredictable affair that is both emotionally draining for all as well as costly to the state. Ernie Chen indicated that the DA’s office would take into serious consideration whatever my recommendation would be for Max’s penalty. If I wanted to avoid a trial, then a plea bargain would be offered. Ernie told me that the DA’s office would want to see a minimum sentence of 30 years, but if I felt strongly about shortening that time, or lengthening that time, my opinion would count. Ernie explained that if Max were sentenced to 30 years, he would come up for parole in 26 years. At that time, I will be 92.

For Louise, 26 years would be far better than the possible outcome of a guilty verdict through a trial that held the possibility of a sentence of life without parole, and thus, no chance of Louise ever seeing her son again except through bars.

In discussing the parameters of a possible meeting with Max’s parents, I specifically asked Muggivan whether or not Don and Louise were angry with either me or David. He said no – no one was angry – there was no place for anger. I felt relieved – because I envisioned that Louise and Don could have blamed David for Max’s plight: they could have come to feel, as many perpetrators and their loved ones do, that the crime committed was not of the making of the perpetrator, but was provoked by the victim, and thus, there comes to be a lack of accountability for the crime. Muggivan assured me that this position was not how Max’s parents felt.

Muggivan explained to me that previously, when he had been hired as a Mitigator, he always met the family of the victim across the aisle of a courtroom. He, and the victim’s family, remained on opposite sides of a legal process. It was in the best interest of both sides, as he put it, to “demonize” the opposing side. He explained that he has often had the urge to reach out to the family on the other side of the aisle, but that the technicalities and inevitabilities of the process have prohibited him from doing that. His interest in putting me together with Max’s parents was in order to prevent this mutual demonization. I felt it to be a worthy cause, and I very much wanted to participate in it.

I flew down to New Orleans on the weekend of Jazz Fest for the meeting. Muggivan picked me up from where I was staying – my cousin Dvosha’s house. The Hoppens’ house is not far from Dvosha’s. When I first walked into their house, I saw that there was a slight edge of artsy-ness to it. It had some unusual design features, and I attributed this to Louise’s history of being in the theatrical arts in NYC for a time earlier in her life. Louise greeted me at the door, and we shook hands. She is a pleasant looking woman, with a nice and engaging face. Her husband Don was not present. He had taken Tatiana out of the house so that she would not be privy to hearing any part of our conversation.

We all sat in the living room. It was night, and dark. But the room itself was darkish – and I had the feeling that it was dark during the day as well. Muggivan started the conversation by pointing out that as far as he knew what we were doing had never been done before. People who should have been sworn enemies — the aggrieved and the aggrieved upon – were meeting to see if there could be some common ground, some healing, It was inspiring to hear him say this. He believed strongly that the dialogue we were about to embark upon could be meaningful to all of us, and he felt privileged, if not also with some trepidation, to finally be a part of this process that he had been instrumental in setting up.

Louise began the conversation by expressing her sorrow at my loss. Truthfully, her words felt a bit perfunctory. Of course she had to say that. But I appreciated that she said it, even if she did not feel it. Even at that early moment of our meeting, I felt from her a kind of hollowness, perhaps a state of emotional shock, and that the damage to her and her future life was going to be ultimately more profound than my own loss – even though it was my brother who was dead, and her son who was still solidly alive.

I started our conversation by telling Louise that I, too, had an adopted child – and that I had developed a theory about adopted children. As

I explained to her, I think that all adopted children – no matter how healthy and responsive their adopted family has been – nevertheless still live with a life-long wound around the issue of separation. I explained that I had seen it in my daughter when she was young, and that while she had largely outgrown her fear of being away from me, I still felt that it could continue to resurface, under stressful circumstances, as a painful and difficult issue for her.

We talked about the early history of her children. She said that when they came, Tatiana was actually in far worse shape than Max. She was referring to serious and never-ending tantrums that had left her exhausted. As Louise and I began to talk, she pointed to the computer sitting against one of the walls, and commented that Tatiana was being home-schooled and that her computer in the corner was where she did her on-line courses. To me, the darkness of the room, and the space in which Tatiana worked, was not irrelevant. It felt as though if I had spent any significant time in that room during the day that I would begin to feel an oppressive air around me.

When the conversation turned to Max, Louise reported (upon Muggivan’s prodding) that Max used to jump on her lap – endlessly – forever it seemed to her. It more than exhausted her; it gave her bruises. (OK – here we have the first piece of information that this is a self-sacrificing woman – who does not want to put limits on her son – even when it is to her detriment and physical discomfort. I know it is easy to next-day-quarterback – but I feel I NEED to be looking at what went wrong here – so terribly wrong here -not just from the first five years in an orphanage, but from all the later years as well.)

Louise described that Max is artistically talented, plays the trumpet, and likes to write poetry and short novels. She described him as charming, polite and respectful. Indeed, this description accorded with not only David’s previous descriptions to me of Max, but also with how David’s neighbors, who had seen and spoken to Max during the time of his living with David, had described him.

I have seen Max’s FB page with postings before the murder, and indeed, as Louise indicated, his drawings are imaginative and skillful. His FB also revealed (assuming that this posting reflects his own words) that he is capable of being thoughtful, and envisioned himself as a caring person:

Read the rest of this entry »

David's tombstone at unveiling at family plot

One space left in family plot, on left of David’s (not visible in pic). My parents had bought the family plot when all were alive, and the fourth plot was for Lenny, David’s long-term partner, whom my parents accepted as part of our family. David and Lenny separated, and I suppose the 4th plot is now mine, awaiting my final visitation.

Image  —  Posted: February 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Bad News

Posted: February 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, moments after the deal seemed to be effected, it was already off the table. After turning down an already accepted plea bargain of 30 years, the judge decided that even the newly agreed upon 40 years was not sufficient for the crimes committed by Maxim Hoppens. She, thusly, attached another five years per additional crimes related to the murder: two counts of forgery and one for the use of a stolen credit card (called “access device fraud”). She is imposing the sentence for these crimes as consecutive, adding an additional fifteen years to the prison term: 55 years in total. It remains to be seen how team Hoppens will respond to this additional requirement. The scuttlebutt around town is that the judge prides herself on being a “tough” judge (surely not always a bad thing). A dreaded trial may be the outcome: an outcome that she may prefer, but that I don’t.

As of 11 am this morning

Posted: February 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
Maxim Hoppens has pled guilty to the murder of David M. Goldberg and has agreed on a plea bargain of 40 years at hard labor. The judge has accepted this plea, as has the DA’s office, and the family of David.
Thanks to the heavenly lord above that we have been spared the ordeal and agony of a trial.
Now that this plea has been accepted, I am going to post the write-up of my meeting with Louise, Max’s mother. At the first aborted plea bargain hearing last month, when the judge ruled that the 30 year agreement all parties had made was not sufficient, Louise and I said hello to each other. I think a trial would have killed her. She looked seriously diminished as a human being from when I first saw her, when her defenses were still in place, when she was blaming David for his own murder, and when she was apparently still in denial about both what had happened and what was going to happen next.

Plea Bargain Hearing

Posted: January 4, 2013 in Uncategorized
As Jan 6 approaches, we would be celebrating my brother’s 69th birthday, were he alive to enjoy it.
On Jan 14th, 2013, the young man who killed him, Maxim Hoppens, is scheduled to accept a plea bargain for a 30 year imprisonment at hard labor.
Anyone who wishes to accompany me in attendance at the plea bargain may do so. Won’t blame you if you choose not to. For me, it cannot be a choice. I will represent my brother at the hearing as he will be unable to attend himself in the incarnation of body as his own advocate.
At the hearing, the Judge will explain the constitutional rights Maxim Hoppens will be giving up by pleading guilty: his right to trial by a jury of 12  (10 of whom must agree on a verdict); the right to confront (i.e. cross-examine) witnesses against him; the right to compulsory process (i.e., subpoena witnesses to testify on his behalf); the right to remain silent while no adverse inference can be drawn from his silence; and, finally, that, by pleading guilty, he will be waiving all of his rights guaranteed by the constitution.
The judge will ask another line of questions to be sure that the guilty plea Maxim Hoppens intends to enter was not the product of force, threats, duress, coercion, or intimidation. The judge will determine that no one has induced Max Hoppens’ guilty plea with promises or representations other than that he would receive a sentence of imprisonment at hard labor for thirty (30) years.
The judge will then ask Ernie Chen, the assistant DA who has handled the case against Max Hoppens, to present a “factual basis” for the guilty plea (a summary of the prosecution’s case against Hoppens.Only after the judge has satisfied herself that there is a factual basis for the guilty plea, and after the defendant will have been advised fully of his rights under the constitution and willfully waived his constitutional protections, will the judge accept the guilty plea and impose the 30-year sentence.
The hearing is scheduled for 10 am, and the whole proceeding will take 20 minutes.

ImageJane’s and David’s beautiful mother in Cuba.

ImageMeyer Goldberg, Jane’s and David’s father, on his Harley. He rode from Georgia to Louisiana circa 1935.

ImageDavid Goldberg, Lee Goldberg, Mommie, and Jane with her cousin in her papa’s arms

ImageDavid around 13 years of age.

Image
David in high school.

ImageDavid as the King of the Mardi Gras ball circa 1970.

ImageDavid Goldberg in his 40s.

Aside  —  Posted: August 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

David and Max

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

Therapist to patient: “What stage of grief are you in?”

Patient: “Writing. Is that a stage?”

Said by Sally Wade upon the publication of her memoir about her long-term love relationship with George Carlin.

Last picture taken of David M. Goldberg, at Niagara Falls –

a vacation trip where he met for the first time Yang, a Chinese man he had been communicating with every day for five years via the internet.

(See previous post The Letters, to read Yang’s response to the news of David’s death.)

It is now the one-year anniversary (Yahrzeit) since my brother was murdered. On August 4, 2011, David M. Goldberg, was brutally bludgeoned to death while lying in his bed at his home in an outlying parish of our hometown, New Orleans. David died a mile from the home we grew up in. My sister, Lee, lived next door to my parents for most of her marriage. My sister and brother had an affection for New Orleans, and had love and loyalty for our parents, Madeleine and Meyer Goldberg, and thus, in their adult life, they both stayed close to their childhood home. This home was where we three children fed and groomed our horse, Crackers, who lived in the barn at the back-end of our property. The levee that our house backed up to afforded us a nice six-mile riding trail, from stately Old Metairie to the Point on Lake Pontchartrain, where all New Orleans teenagers watched the “submarine races.” (If you don’t get the reference, think about what teenagers did in the back seats of their Chevy Impalas.)  The body of water banked inside the levee walls, the 17th Street Canal separating Orleans Parish from Jefferson Parish, and of late fame for being the main levee that was breached post-Katrina, was where Lee, David and I paddled on our unique water bicycle: like its name, a bicycle that traveled on water. The carport on the side of the house was where we kept David’s and Lee’s respective Model T’s – twin cars – black and white for Lee, and black and red for David, and my own little bug-eyed white Sprite with green racing stripes — each car given to us when we were 15 years old, driving age in Louisiana at that time. Bellaire Drive was, too, where we five ate dinner meals together as a family at 6:00 pm, every single day throughout each of us finishing high school. It was a coherent family life. We three children each had our separate individual lives and interests, pursuing different passions – Lee, playing and excelling at every sport offered at camp or school; David tinkering with his motorcycles and cars, frequently winning drag-races at LaPlace with his Green Monster, the fastest car in town; and I, playing the piano, entering and winning contests, and being, like my adored older sister, a gifted athlete – though not nearly as gifted as she.

I have spent much of my time in this last difficult year trying to make personal sense of David’s tragic death, and of course, the life that preceded. I have, at times, been overcome with grief, bursting into tears at unexpected moments. But, too, I have brought what I hope has been intelligent thought, analysis and discourse to all aspects of the ramifications of David’s murder. I have researched related topics, including the criminal justice system, the nature of psychopathy, the relationship between psychotropic drugs and criminal behavior, and more.  I have talked to a wide assortment of people who were not previously a part of my quotidian life: the coroner and assistant district attorney of Jefferson Parish; homicide detectives; defense attorneys; a mitigator. I have talked extensively with John Muggivan, the mitigator hired by the parents of my brother’s killer, whose interest was in influencing me to accept a plea bargain for a reduced sentence for Max. And, finally, I have spoken with psychics, shamans and those who claim to communicate with the dead. No leaf unturned, as they say.

At some point, during the time of this experience of coping, processing, managing and handling all affairs related to David’s life and death, I decided to do what I usually do in emotionally challenging circumstances: Like Sally Wade, I committed to put pen to paper. Thus, I created a blog.

I am writing to invite you to read this blog called The Making of a Murderer.

Gary Olliges, my brother’s assistant in his business – sales of an eco-friendly refrigerant that is a Freon alternative used in air conditioners — found my brother’s body. Following an interview with Gary, lead detective Rhonda Goff designated Maxim Hoppens, age 18, as the only suspicious person to be sought for questioning.

As you can deduce from the name of my blog, I believe this is a murder that could have/should have been prevented. My brother’s killer was studied, evaluated, tested, and treated extensively, thoroughly and comprehensively from the age of five. Yet, in spite of these evaluations, in spite of treatment, and in spite of parental involvement and supervision, both society and my brother were not protected from the innate killing violence that lived in this young man.

One of the issues that I have become re-interested in since David’s death — the nature of psychopathy — has become a timely issue of late. The New York Times Magazine article, May 20th, “Can You Call a Nine-Year Old a Psychopath?” looks at the presence of signs for psychopathy in young children. Researchers have found that significant signals can be observed as early as three years of age.  I suspect that my brother’s killer, Max, is a psychopath. His own mother describes him in such terms (see my first post on the blog, in which I quote his mother’s description of him). I puzzle over the tools we professionals have to identify — even predict — who is a psychopath. Further, is there a way of thwarting the menacing acts that such individuals routinely engage in (whether they be banksters or serial killers)? These individuals are most often charming, and whip-smart. Most professionals agree that currently, no successful treatment — either psychological or pharmaceutical — exists for the disorder. 

 My interest in the criminal justice system arises from two compelling statistics. The US leads the world for its overall prison population. And, within this fact, one state far outdoes America itself and incarcerates nearly double the national average; that state is my home-state of Louisiana.

I will also be reflecting on legal drugs, the medications that are given to those who are diagnosed with a psychological or psychiatric disorder. The two topics of crime and pharmaceutical drugs are not unrelated: these two industries are growing at an unprecedented rapid rate, unlike most of the country’s other struggling businesses.

I will shortly be posting on the three-hour illuminating meeting I had with Louise, Max’s mother. I will also be describing a wild and wooly ride I took to search for David’s hidden treasure using a woo-woo fascinating technology (which happily coincides with my interest in frequency/vibrational/energy healing). We had some good high moments, when we thought we had found David’s hidden treasures (including his Rolex), and then further heartbreak when we didn’t.

Thus far, I have posted three entries on the blog: Finding Out; Max; and The Letters. Following is my latest post: David and Max. At the end of the blog, there are directions for how you can become a “follower” of the blog:

My brother had shown great sympathy to his eventual murderer Max, who he had met a year earlier. Although the details of Max’s difficult life were not known to David, nevertheless David did understand that Max had created great challenges for himself in his short life.

Maxim Hoppens

As I have learned from conversations with those who know Max, he had been a difficult child from the time he was adopted in his native Russia at the age of five. A year after his adoption, Max had begun to steal toys and food, to lie, and to hoard food. He also started a fire inside his house. These behavioral problems –lying, stealing, being fascinated first with fire, and then graduating to access to guns, and an inappropriate display of showing off, wildly swinging a gun around — continued to be manifested through Max’s teen years.

There were few pleasantries or successes in Max’s life, and in spite of many repeated efforts by his devoted New Orleans adoptive parents to get him help, no interventions – neither pharmaceutical nor psychotherapeutic — seemed to offer any relief from the troubles Max was causing everywhere he went – from school, to boy scout camp, to his own family’s home, to his neighborhood, even to state juvenile facilities wherein he was remanded.

It has been described to me that Max had a close relationship with his biological sister, Tatiana, who lived at the same orphanage as Max before their adoptions. The two toddlers – at three and five years of age — were adopted together, and taken out of Russia at the same time. Louise has described that when Tatiana arrived in this country, her mental and cognitive deficiencies were, and remain today, far more severe than Max’s.

When Max was 13, he raped his sister for the first time. He repeated the molestation again when he was 16. Because of these molestations, Max was no longer allowed to live in his family’s home. For a time, his parents rented him an apartment. Because Max was still a minor, he was not allowed to live in the apartment alone; thus his father, Don, went to the apartment every night and slept there. However, Max slipped out of the apartment most nights, and complaints about his disruptive behavior were made from neighbors.

David first met Max when Max was 17. He was homeless, and adrift, and David allowed him to live in one of his large, side-by-side attached homes. I don’t know how long this arrangement lasted. But it ended when Max kept leaving the house at wee hours of the morning, as he had done when he was living with his father, and leaving the front door of the house wide open. David asked him to leave.

Max was then sent to a mental health rehab facility in Utah, paid for by his parents. Three weeks before the murder, Max clandestinely returned to New Orleans, having flown in without his parents’ knowledge. Upon arrival in New Orleans, he called my brother from the airport, looking for kindness once again in asking that David allow him to stay with him.

My brother felt compassion for Max, and once again gave him a place to stay. While these acts of generosity may seem odd to some, my brother himself had been the recipient of such kindnesses after Katrina. David was one of a small contingent of people who had stayed behind during the hurricane, deciding to dare Katrina into submission. For days after the hurricane – with a 20-foot river raging in front of his house where there had previously been only a street — David repeatedly went to his roof, waving at hovering helicopters, encouraging them to come rescue him. Yet, there was no rescue at hand. The various pilots waved back at David, and each time, flew away. David realized that no help was forthcoming, and that he would likely die if he continued to stay in his home.  On the sixth day, he found a piece of broken-off Styrofoam, and used that as a raft to paddle his way to high ground, the Claiborne Overpass, overlooking the Superdome. There, David was met by four militiamen pointing AK47 rifles at him, telling him he could not continue on his journey to the Superdome, and that they were under orders to shoot anyone who tried to pass. Below the Overpass, David saw that the streets were, like most of the rest of the city, a sea of water. He explained to the militiamen that he didn’t know how to swim, but that he was going to jump in the water and doggie-paddle his way to the superdome, and would greatly appreciate it if they kindly did not shoot him. (Dependent upon the kindness of strangers  — as Blanche declared herself to be). They didn’t shoot him. After standing in line for 12 hours at the Superdome (standing because sitting meant that he would lose his place), he finally was able to board a bus heading to Dallas. Amongst the throngs of homeless New Orleanians, he stood out as white and well-dressed, and was spied by a man who had come to the holding pen of refugees. This man had come in search of people who needed assistance. He invited David to his home, and gave him a cell phone (with which to call, at long last, his worried family), clean clothes and a car. (The kindness of strangers again.) David stayed with this man and his partner for three months before returning back to New Orleans. Generosity — from others, as well as toward others (read my last post, The Letters in which the loving gestures of friends and family paid in tribute to David in the form of unsolicited letters, as sent to me upon David’s death, are printed) — was not unknown to David.

Two weeks after Max had settled into my brother’s home, David discovered that Max was stealing from him — both a computer and a TV. He told Max that if he was going to steal from him, that he was no longer welcome to stay there.

Before Gary left work that fateful Thursday afternoon, August 4, he overheard David having a conversation with Max. He understood Max to be saying to David that he had gone to the pawnshop and reclaimed the stolen items, and that he was prepared to return them. David and Max made plans for Max to come over late that afternoon. Gary saw Max strolling toward my brother’s house at the appointed time, but with hands empty, no sign of the stolen goods.

Gary showed up for work Friday, then again on Saturday and yet again on Monday. (For Gary, Sunday is devoted to G-d and church.) Each day, the front door was locked, and there was no response from within – either by doorbell or telephone. This was highly unusual; Gary had been working for David for over a year, and there was not a day that David was not hard at work – all day, every day, 7 days a week. Saturday, Gary called the police and asked them to investigate. They saw no foul play from the outside, and refrained from breaking down the front door. Gary asked if he himself could break into the house, as he was sure there was something wrong. The police dissuaded Gary from doing so, indicating that he could be arrested for breaking and entering. Gary returned Monday, and did exactly what the police had warned him not to do. He climbed up two ladders at the back of my brother’s house, crawled into a back window on the second floor, and thus found my brother’s unmoving, badly beaten, dead body.

After interviewing Gary, the police began a search for Max. They called his parents, who assured them that Max was safely ensconced in the rehab facility in Utah.  Yet, they were wrong. Max was, indeed, in New Orleans. And he was in hiding.

A few days after the murder, my nieces Kim and Lisa, found a new posting on Max’s Facebook. It said: “im a very caring person hate seeing people get hurt but when it comes down to thing thing need to be dealt with then ey im in.” Scary words. Threatening words. Or defensive words for an act already done?

We called Detective Goff immediately to tell her Max was on Facebook.  She told us that she was already on the situation. Fortunately, the posting had come from Max’s cell phone, and the police were able to “ping” the message to find the approximate location of Max.  He had been staying with his friend Michael Robinson in a section of town called the “Dump.” Detective Goff described this area as the worse of the worse. The police surrounded Robinson’s house, but Max was younger and more spry than the police officers – and he bolted out a side door and escaped capture. The police then put out an all-points bulletin for Max. His picture was plastered all over the New Orleans television stations. A few days later, Max turned himself in, represented by attorney Claude Kelly.

Max has never denied that he killed my brother. He has changed his story on the motivation several times however.  And, last week, he changed his plea from guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity, and is claiming a drug-induced psychosis. More on that later….

The Letters

Posted: June 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

These are the letters that came to me after David’s death:

Jane,

This news of course came as a great shock !!! We are so very sorry and what a terrible ending to his life. He loved his family and was always devoted to all of us, especially you. He never missed an event that included his family. I am really saddened because he was a part of us and sadly he will not be there any longer. I’m also so sad to learn of all of your mishaps. This has definitely been a trying time for you. I’m so happy that Barbara Pailet has been helping you. You have always been a great daughter and sister no matter how difficult the circumstances. Please keep us posted, and again our sympathies. He will be missed.

Love, Adele

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Jane,

Again, I am so sorry for your and Molly’s loss.

David for many years was a fixture at all of the Jewish holiday meals with the family and in fact I was looking forward to seeing him again in just a few short weeks for Rosh Hashana. He had the worlds best time playing with Leah and Ian at the table and talking with them. It was really just amazing to watch them interact.  What a kid at heart he was.  He was “Uncle David” not just to me, but to my kids as well through all of these meals shared together.

My heart is just broken over the whole thing and my stomach is tied in a knot thinking about the senseless violence that ended his life.  Most of all, I am furious about the opportunity this took away from my kids to get to know him the way I have over all these years…

I am very blessed to have known him and his smile and I can assure you that he will forever be alive in my sole.

Please know our thoughts are with you both as with Kim, Lisa and their kids too.  I am so sorry I will not be able to be with you in person in New Orleans next week but please know we are there in spirit.

We love you!

Sasha


I had the pleasure of meeting David sometime around 2006, and upon meeting him I thought, “What a gruff fella he is”, but he always had a twinkle in his eye that told me otherwise, and we grew to be friends as the years went by.   I’m glad I told him I thought of him as a friend.

We had a bit of a professional falling out after a couple of years of doing business together, but he still would call me from time to time asking me for my advice about a few things regarding investments, and that is where we started becoming friends.    One day I asked him to lunch, and I had a marvelous time in his company.    It was our first time meeting outside of a professional setting, and he took the time to share a lot about who he was and his thoughts about life in general.   I felt fortunate to have him open up to me, as I have a feeling David was a very private person for the most part.   In some ways, we were kindred spirits, as I too am a private person who only opens up to a few people, but found myself sharing a lot of heartfelt personal details of my life with David that afternoon.     It was at the end of the afternoon that I learned something else about David, which never waned or wavered, which is his unique sense of humor.

As it stood, I also became a glad benefactor of David’s humorous musings and jokes.   In particular, he always gave me a belly laugh from his jokes, mind you, not necessarily from the joke itself, (of which some were very, very funny indeed), but for the unique delivery of the jokes David told and of the smile he would have on his face afterwards, as he rarely added any extra emotion or tipping points about the punch line………which I found extremely unique and endearing.     David would stop by office from time to time after that, and I always looked forward to what joke he might tell me that day.

In November of 2010, he had come by my office, and we were shooting the breeze, and I thought it would be nice to have David over for Thanksgiving amongst my family and friends.      I suppose he was taken off guard, and asked me if I was inviting him over because he was a client. I said no, I’m inviting you over because I enjoy your company and think of you as a friend. I’m really glad I had the chance to tell him that.

I’ll miss having David over for Thanksgiving this year.

Michael Davis

Hi Dr. Goldberg,

Yes, that was very well put.   His “matter of fact” way of telling his jokes was really something else.    No matter how zany the joke was, his delivery was even better!!!  

I felt fortunate to get to know David, as he seemed to have a lot of understated joy inside of him that I got to see from time to time.

Michael

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I first met the Goldberg family when I began going to 9th grade at Isidore Newman School, the most prestigious school in New Orleans mainly for very smart, rich, well connected, philanthropic Jews.  I was a middle class gentile from the suburbs.  Jane and I became instant friends.  She had a sports car, an indoor swimming pool and a bomb shelter in her backyard.  They were the quirkiest family I had ever met.  Along with Jane came David, another quirky, hysterically funny, and care taking person.  David was Jane’s anchor to her family as they died off too soon, one by one, her father, her mother who she kept alive well after she should have been, and her sister. He was also the dearest, most loving uncle to Mol.

After Jane moved to NYC she would return often to NOLA and with her was always David, telling jokes with the timing of a stand up comedienne, which I believe he could have been but he was way too humble to do so and instead sold Freon for air conditioning as his living.  He was the person who would take in all the orphans, no matter how troubled, selfish, thankful or not they were.  He was at the same time street savvy and innocent, almost like a child.  I never knew him to be sad or ask for anything from anybody, emotional or otherwise.  When Jane visited  NOLA he was her chauffer, loving brother to do her bidding, which at times could be a tad high maintenance, but with no complaints whatsoever, but rather, enjoyment that his beloved sister was with him.

Ironically when Jane called me to tell me of his murder (death) I sobbed more than I had at my dear mother’s death (whom I loved more than any person on the face of the earth besides my Chinese daughter) or at my father’s death. I just sobbed and sobbed.

The night of the morning she called me I had a dream.  I was with an old and dearly loved boyfriend who could be very cruel, an Iranian, sexist man, but I was madly in love with him.  In the dream he had me locked up somewhere from whence I could not escape.  I kept begging him to tell me how to get out of there and he wouldn’t say a word.  I kept thinking that I needed the police because he needed to be arrested.  He kept me there with no possibility of escape. I kept thinking that if I could contact the police I would be set free but to no avail.  He took pleasure in having all the power, capturing me and just staring at me, wordless, watching me squirm. Unfortunately in the dream I never got free.

I believe, with all my heart and soul that that dream was about David and the profound affect he had upon me.  At the end of his life, he was trapped by a person he may have loved in some way, who took advantage of his kindness and driven by sadism, destroyed him despite his pleas for mercy and desperate struggle to save himself. His own accepting and loving heart was destroyed by a person who could never had appreciated or received his gift. That is a tragedy of the highest magnitude.

And for dear Jane, I pray that she with her indomitable, persevering spirit will be able to endure this travesty and I know David, along side her mother will live in her heart forever. And unbeknownst to me, in mine as well.

Cynthia deBlanc

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Dearest Jane,

Words can’t express the shock I’m feeling over the passing of your brother and the cruel way he was taken from you and your family.  I can’t say that I will ever understand the cruelty that one does to another.  It is completely senseless.  I was moved and in a way charmed by the statements your friends wrote about him.  I remember when I meet him last year, I had the feeling of being a child sitting down at the feet of my elder ready to catch all the words of wisdom and character that fell from his lips.  He was a whole and substantial human being and I remember feeling inspired meeting someone who had so much courage and tenacious spirit after Katrina and that awful day in his store when he had to defend his own life.  Your brother came to this life to exemplify courage and strength.  From the little bit that I knew of him, it appears he did just that.

My love and prayers are with you and Molly,

God Bless you both,

Cher

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Jane,

When I met you I could tell how important David was to you because you called him right then and there to tell him how excited you were that I was visiting. And because you wanted us all to be connected, you put me on the line with him. I enjoyed talking with him.

Eliot Goldberg

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Jane,

It’s true that you did look beautiful that evening you held the memorial. You held court with aplomb. Quite serenely. It was good to hear all these stories about David; to get a clearer picture of who he was.  Feel cheated, really cheated. And to say it to you or Molly feels idiotically trivial. It was a very good thing, I think, that the timing of Beloved David’s memorial coincided with it being one week to the day and maybe the hour of his passing. Basherdt. A real blessing!

I haven’t said much about losing him so suddenly, and in this awful and tragic way, because I have been at a loss for words . Every time I would try to express anything around this, the words fall absurdly, crazily short. My disappointment at not getting to know David, my shock at the news. The sound of your horror screams on the other end of the phone that I can still feel reverberating in my chest. I could only sense death in your voice and I, until you got coherent enough, I didn’t even know if it was you who were dying! It shook me! Shook me so. It’s inexpressible. Still shakes me. My sense, my feelings have been inexpressible to me. Writing these words is abhorrent to me. The sense of outrage is so deep and my words can’t get anywhere near it.

I still feel the same way. But, as I have over the last few days, as inadequate and absurd as my words feel; I have to say something.

With Inexpressively Deep Sorrow, and Much Love and Compassion for You,

Art

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Dear Jane,

I was so sorry to hear about the death of your brother David. He sounded like such a caring and decent person, devoting his life to helping others.

Have many good memories of spending time at your cool house growing up. My memory of your mother was that she always made us laugh and let us do anything we wanted! Wasn’t Lee nice to us, despite our being younger and less savvy? What happened to all those years? Who could have imagined back then the pain, twists and turns we would endure? Wanted to send my condolences. This must be such a sad time for you.

All my best, Susan

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I am so sad for you and for myself and of course for David. I do believe in a resurrection of the dead and look forward to seeing David again in a world with no sickness or death. David and I were friends since 1967 and enjoyed being friends and talking about things that we had a common interest in. I will miss him very much as I am sure you will too.

This is a wicked nasty world we live in but it will be replaced with something far better.

Ken LeClaire

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These are two letters written by myself and a friend before David’s death:

I have known David Goldberg, owner of the store Meyer’s Auto Parts in New Orleans, La., for thirty years. During this period of time I have found him to be an honest and hard working proprietor. Evaluating his contribution to the city of New Orleans from the point of view of an urban planner, I would say that David Goldberg is someone who has shown himself to be among those who are the backbone of the commercial district in New Orleans. He has shown this through the attributes of uncompromising commitment to his work, his diligence as a business owner, and his integrity in dealing with his customers.

David Goldberg treated everyone who came into Meyer’s Auto Parts equally. There was no one who needed to buy auto parts, hubcaps, wheels, etc. who was not treated respectfully by Mr. David Goldberg. He served the poor as well as the not-poor, often lending credit to those who could not afford to pay immediately – always with the customer’s best interests in mind.

It is to his credit that David has continued his business post-Katrina – that he has returned to New Orleans, the city in which he was raised and that he loves. Although he suffered substantial losses because of Katrina, both through flooding of his inventory (close to a $50,000 loss) as well as loss of his home and place of business (at 2222 S. Broad), he has been industrious and imaginative enough to find a new location, set up shop anew, and continue earning an honest living through hard work.

I feel honored that David Goldberg counts me as one of his friends, as there is no man whose friendship I value more than his. As a person, he is witty, warm and friendly, very funny, and down-to-earth. With David, you get what you see – and one feels immediately comfortable in his presence because of this quality of straight-forwardness. If I were in a disaster of the magnitude of the one he lived through a year ago, he is the guy I would want to be next to me. He is the one I would trust to get us out safely. There is no higher recommendation I can give to a man than the one I give to David Goldberg.

Respectfully yours,

Robert W. Burchell, Ph. D.

Director/Professor

Rutgers University, Center for Urban Policy Research

New Brunswick, NJ 08901

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I, of course, have known my brother all my life as my big brother. And as that, he has been loving and supportive of me in every way from when we were children to now.

But more than that, as adults, I have come to respect my brother as a man and as an adult.

Over the years, he has shown me in so many ways that he is a person of great compassion and integrity. Even when he was just in his twenties and thirties, he made sure that my grandmother was well cared for after her husband died, and even took her on trips with him. He made sure that our mother spent her last days at home, dying at home surrounded by her family and her loved ones. He has visited me in New York (my home for the last 30 years) for every occasion that I have asked him to come to – my birthday parties, my daughter’s birthday parties. We have often met in Atlanta to visit our nieces. He has been, throughout the years, a stand-up guy for the whole family – always making sure that he came to every family function, always contributing to the festive atmosphere through his indomitable humor (known to everyone who has come into contact with him) and his manners and grace. He is a caring person.

Everyone that meets my brother adores him. He is friendly, funny, sweet and well-mannered. I have met many people who have said that he is their favorite person.

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And, this final letter came to me snailmail two weeks after David’s death:

Dear Dr. Goldberg

Maybe David had mentioned me to you before but you may not remember. My name is Zhyong Yang and I am a Chinese student living in Denmark. David and I were very good friends. I feel very sorry for his passing.

David and I knew each other through internet 5 years ago, and we communicated with each other almost every day since then as long as we could. Chatting with David and looking for David online had become part of my daily life in these years until recently I lost contact with him. So I tried to call his cell phone number a few days ago, but it was another guy who answered the phone. I was shocked with what I heard from the guy and I just could not believe it. I searched news about David on internet until I saw his obituary. I could not keep myself from crying at the moment.

David was such a great person as far as I know. He was funny, friendly, helpful and generous. He also had such a kind heart. He always said he dropped out of college because he as stupid. But I think he was one of the smartest people I ever knew in my life. He was so witty in life. He was always curious to learn new things and he learned very quickly. I was so surprised that I could help him solve problems on his computer through chatting on MSN, because I never managed to teach my father to use a TV remote.

I enjoyed so much chatting with David every day and I think he liked it too. We sometimes could just chat for hours by arguing some silly stuff or sending each other funny things. Even though we had become pen pals for years but we never managed to meet because I live in Denmark and he was in the USA, until I finally had a chance to visit the USA at attending a conference in May. David flew to Niagara to meet me and we spent two wonderful days there together. It was the first time we met each other in person but we felt it like a reunion of two old friends. I regretted that we did not have more time to be together and I wished I could go to New Orleans to visit him one day. But now there is no hope anymore.

David told me about you many times. He said you are the smartest person he knew in his life. He was so proud of you and showed me your video on youtube. When he knew I planned to visit NYC in May, he told me I could stay at your home if I liked to. He said you are a very kind and a friendly person and I would be welcomed to stay over. But I refused his kind offer because I didn’t feel comfortable stay at a stranger’s home. But now I wished I said yes at that time then I could know more about David and his family.

I think you must be in sorrow for the loss of David, and I wish I could do something for David. So I send this sympathy card to you. I wish this card could ease your pain a little bit and it will make me feel better too if it did.

My friend told me David will never die as long as we make a place for him in our hearts. David will live forever because there will always be a place for him in our hearts.

My deepest sorrows and condolences for you and your family.

Yours sincerely,

Zhiyong Yang

and a week later, after I had responded to Yang’s letter:

Dear Dr. Jane Goldberg:

Sorry I missed your phone and mail yesterday, because I was out of town with friend for half day.

I am very glad to hear from you this morning. And as David had told me, you are very nice and friendly.

I did not know you wanted to go to Niagara to meet us too, otherwise I could think about postpone my trip and meet both of you in NYC instead. But David never mentioned about it too me, maybe because he knew I want to see the falls so much and hoped me to have a good trip in USA. You don’t know how grateful I was that David came to Niagara to meet me. The Motel I booked is a little far from the town and falls, and it is not easy to take bus from airport to hotel. But David found out about it before the trip and rent a car to drive me around. He made my trip to be so wonderful. He was so considerable.

Zhiyong Yang

And for a bit of humor, this is what I found in David’s computer – his instructions to Yang on how they would find each other – (picture David giving these instructions with absolute dead-pan demeanor):

TELL ME IF IM CORRECT – you arrive at Buffalo (niagara falls) airport at 12:47 pm May 7 Saturday – on Delta flight # 4293 correct

I arrive on Delta Flight #805 at 12:50 pm

There are only 4 Delta “gates” (you understand “gates”) the “doors” that the plane parks at for you to walk out of – there are only four for Delta at this airport and they are close together

So when you get off your plane look at the TV monitor it shows all the flights and look for my flight Delta # 805 and it will tell if it is on time and what gate it is at // really maybe be better you can ask the Delta agent when you get off your plane which gate flight # 805 is at and if it is on-time

And I will do the same I will look for your flight and gate

Also you have to know I come from my city New Orleans to Atlanta on flight #1488 and I then take Flight #805 from Atlanta To Buffalo (Niagara falls) SO if you dont see me then you should ask agent at the sitting area at the gate if my flight # 1488 from New Orleans to Atlanta was on time

But I think it is Ok that the planes are on time

So you can look for me at my gate or you can sit down near your gate and I will find you either one

If my plane is very late you will have to decide if you wait for me or if you go to hotel

And if you dont see me you can phone me – you will see”pay phones” phones on the wall that accept money not paper money, coins probably 50 cents 2 -25 cent coins (we call quarters) if you call my cell phone it will be additional money for long distance phone call because you will be in New York and my phone is from New Orleans maybe $1 or $2 but I think only coins BUT = we have, we call it TOLL FREE calls also =

My mobile phone number is 504-339-0145 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 504-339-0145 end_of_the_skype_highlighting – to call it you will NOT have to dial a country code because you are in the USA BUT you do have to first dial 1 /// 1-504-339-0145 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-504-339-0145 end_of_the_skype_highlighting and maybe it cost $1 or $2

BUT – better you can call my TOLL FREE number 1-888-373-6662 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-373-6662 end_of_the_skype_highlighting = and it will ring to my mobile phone …

MAYBE you can call the toll free number with out putting coins in pay phone, maybe or maybe you will have to put coins in pay phone but with this toll free number you do not have to put more coins for long distance , you try first calling the 888 number with out putting in coins =

Oh maybe if you want you can call the toll free number when you are in Ohio or when you are in NYC before Saturday

SO I will look you on MSN maybe at your job/school or when you get home