Monday, February 12, 2018

Cunanan and the Caretaker

William Reese
The Forgotten Victim 
by Robert A. Waters 

Andrew Cunanan murdered five people.  Two were celebrities, Gianni Versace and Lee Miglin.  Two were former lovers.   

And then there was William Reese. 

Cunanan's nationwide killing spree seemed to be forged in part by resentment of the successes of others and his own feelings of failure.  However, Reese, 45, was murdered simply for his pickup truck.  Cunanan then drove the vehicle from New Jersey to Miami where he shot Versace. 

In the FX series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, the characters of Cunanan, Jeffrey Trail, David Madson, Versace, and Miglin are fully developed.  (Since much is still unknown about Cunanan's life, part of the plot relies on speculation.)  Almost as an afterthought, William Reese's violent end had only a five-minute segment in the show. 

Perhaps he was not as important to the story as Trail, Madson, Versace, and MiglinYet Reese had a life, a good life, and his story should be told. 

William Reese worked as caretaker of Finn's Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey.  Located along the Delaware River, the cemetery holds the remains of 2,436 Confederate soldiers who died while being held captive at nearby Fort Delaware.  It also contains 135 Union soldiers who died guarding the Confederate prisoners, as well as a smattering of veterans from other wars. 

According to the Washington Post, "People found their way to the place looking for their past, and William Reese was waiting.  He worked alone in the quiet.  For more than 20 years, he had been the cemetery's caretaker, but the job meant more to him than just keeping the grass trim and the old lodge in good repair. 

"When strangers arrived with an aging birth certificate, or just some family legends, he was the one who helped them find their name on the Union or Confederate monument.  When strangers brought an urn holding the ashes of a dead veteran, he was the one who dug the small, discreet grave." 

An ancestor of Reese's had fought in the Union army and was buried in the cemetery.  This may have given him some insight into the souls of those looking to delve into distant family history.  In addition to keeping the cemetery pristine and helping others, Reese was an avid historian and co-founder of a group of Civil War reenactors called the Brooklyn Society.  His enthusiasm for Civil War history was so consuming that, in 1993, Reese even became an extra in the movie, "Gettysburg." 

Reese was married to Rebecca, a school librarian, and they had a twelve-year-old son named Troy.  When Reese didn't come home on May 9, 1997, Rebecca drove to the cemetery searching for him.  His body was found in the caretaker's lodge.  He'd been shot in the head. 

Reese was described by friends as a man of his word, a "common guy and a humble guy."  For years, the family traveled to Civil War reenactments, but Reese had begun paring back his travels because he'd recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.   

He was also a member of the Methodist Church.  In fact, the New York Daily News reported that Reese "died beside an open Bible, his radio turned to a Christian broadcasting station."  A friend stated that he "imagines Reese getting up from his Bible on a rainy May 9 to answer a knock at the door, shaking hands with Andrew Cunanan and greeting his alleged killer with a warm smile." 

Rebecca said, "The only thing I can say is that Bill was a Christian, and we can take comfort in knowing he is in heaven." 

Another friend told a Daily News reporter that "Bill was a family man.  He never cussed, he never drank, and he maintained that cemetery beautifully." 

Reese lived in a small home in Upper Deerfield Township in New Jersey.  Friends said he planted fruit trees in his yard and built his son "an elaborate tree fort out back." 

The contrast between Reese and Cunanan is stark.  

It seems that the American Crime Story series could have taken a few more minutes to explore the life of this innocent caretaker who died at the hands of a random psychopath.  William Reese is missed by his family and friends as much as the more well-known victims of Andrew Cunanan.  He deserved more, much more, in the well-watched TV series.


KimTisha said...

Thank you for writing this. Mr. Reese seems to be the overlooked victim in this terrible tragedy.

gap said...

At least twice a year I'll go to Finns Point National Cemetery,walk to the granite caretakers office, walk down the outside staircase to the basement and look into the inky darkness of the cellar door window. This must have been the last thing William Reese saw.It reminds me that you never give up. You fight with whatever you have. You fight for your life and never let someone take you without making them pay an enormous price. You do whatever you must to walk away.

Unknown said...

thank you for writing this. he deserves to be remembered just as much as anybody famous