by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 1 comment

I never got much out of reading Thoreau. Maybe because I read him in high school. An urban teenager doesn’t exactly fall for a guy who moves to the woods and talks to squirrels.

I do, however, remember one line he wrote. It struck me when I read it and it has stayed with me all these years: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

What did he mean by that, I wondered? Did grown-ups really have it so tough? Quiet desperation? Such contrasting words. Like “dying hope.” Or
“deafening silence.”

Or “I didn’t mean to hurt my babies.”

That last sentence has been in my brain since I read it in the police statement of a 29-year-old tire store manager named Lawrence DeLisle. Five months ago, on a warm summer night, DeLisle allegedly slammed his foot on the gas pedal and drove his station wagon — with his wife and four children inside — smack into the Detroit River. The adults escaped; they swam to the surface, gasping for air. The children drowned.

It was originally deemed a tragic accident. But one week later, in a rambling and confused conversation with a police investigator, DeLisle suggested he might have intentionally been trying to kill everyone in that car
— including himself. The reasons he gave were 1) the suicide of his father, something few of us have had to endure, and 2) the pressure from work, bills, screaming children and a wife — things many of us endure every day.

It is the latter that haunts me. Could everyday life become so intolerable that you might think of ending it all like that, in a river, the water rising, no way out?

“I didn’t mean to hurt my babies.”

Quiet desperation. Everyday cares

Chances are you read the transcriptions of the DeLisle tapes this week. Were you shocked? How could you not be? The horror. The senseless death. Here were four beautiful kids — they had just stopped at McDonald’s — and now they were at the bottom of a river.

We may never know the true story. Even DeLisle’s statements — in which he said, “I don’t even want to go to trial. Just lock me away” — were ruled inadmissible in his trial because of the interrogation methods used by police. (That ruling has been appealed.) Just the same, what disturbed me most was not DeLisle’s gruesome account of the incident, or his alleged attempt to kill his family by leaving a candle near a leaking gas pipe.

What got me were exchanges like these:

Police: What were you thinking about?

DeLisle: Peace . . .

Police: What were you thinking about?

DeLisle: Not having to pay bills every week. . . .

Police: At the time you wanted to be rid of everybody, didn’t you?

DeLisle: I just want it to be over . . . the constant repetition. Same thing day after day.

Is it possible that everyday pressures — a thankless job, credit card debts, sexual friction with a spouse — could push a man to such an unforgivable act? Can “normal” life be so awful? We distance ourselves from killers by believing they are sick creatures, out of the ordinary. What frightens me is how ordinary some of DeLisle’s pressures were.

And not just him. We read today of how a man in Boston may have murdered his pregnant wife, in part because the baby would have interfered with his career. We hear of children murdering parents for inheritance money, because their jobs don’t pay their bills. Horrifying. DeLisle said he loved his wife, he loved his children. He also said he sometimes wanted to escape them all.

Quiet desperation. Private demons

How many more Lawrence DeLisles are out there? Who knows? He could be a lone troubled man or one of an army of walking time bombs. In eight years of reporting, I have learned this much: We never know what is going on inside the head of the person next to us. Not even if we live with them, eat with them, work with them.

We never know. People bury their darkest thoughts; they appear perfectly normal. But inside, private demons — like DeLisle’s memory of his suicidal father — can chew at the heart, making the most simple parts of life seem too burdensome, and the most unthinkable solutions somehow appealing.

So we have men driving into rivers and parents selling babies and husbands injecting wives with poison to rid themselves of things such as debt or marital problems.

And we can only draw this conclusion: Perhaps surviving everyday life is more noble than we think. Perhaps we should ignore sports stars and actors and celebrate instead the husband or wife with two jobs and no bank account who still has time to hug the kids.

God knows not everyone is making out that well. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” OK, Thoreau. I get it now.

It scares the hell out of me.

1 Comment

  1. KIP88

    There is no proof whatsoever that Lawrence DeLisle set out to murder his children and his wife. Because he didn’t. That man was never had even been in any trouble at all. Furthermore there’s no proof that he made even a Knee-jerk spontaneous choice to take the lives of his family members either. Because… he didn’t.
    I can’t tell you how far the corruption actually goes. I just don’t know. Maybe there is no corruption. Idk if Eaman, Lawrence DeLisles attorney knew about this either.
    I’m not say saying he
    was part of any cover up. I don’t know. I’m not a Conspiracy theorist. But seems someone here has been covering up SOMETHING. Someone in this case botched something.
    Beverly Lake is a busyBody simpleton.. And that’s the best of Ms. Lake. Her moment of fame should actually bring her shame, would ME. Omg. I’m not picking on her. She did see a car accelerating, she did hear loud voices from inside the car even, of course they were loud, who wouldn’t be freaking out?! My friends and I did too.

    My step dad had a LtD Ford wagon (very same make and model how ironic huh) as Lawrence DeLisles.
    Out of no where the wagon would accelerate. But it was actually more like- turbocharged bc it kept going faster and faster. We were teenagers. We thought these turbo was the coolest thing since sliced bread. But that was only AFTER we figured out how to handle that random acceleration. Other than that, I hated that car when I was 16. We lived in a rich town, most of my classmates all had really nice cars. We used to make my stepdad park the wagon away from where we lived. But my friends named it “the stabbin wagon” No, we never stabbed anyone in anything, not even the Ford Ltd Wagon. But I do remember the first time that car did its random turbo and YES it was scary. Even to a really cool 16 year old kid!
    But if I’d been 36, 46 or in that car with my babies instead of 4 of my friends, I bet money I panicked And would’ve wrecked into another car. Who knows WHAT could’ve happened. What if it had been MY FRIENDS ALL DYING in some accident I caused all because some car pulled a Christine on me? I could have spent my entire adult life in prison. No matter what I’ve been through, I’d never want for THAT. I wouldn’t want anyone ever to die because something I caused ESP
    Luckily, none of that happened. On old country dirt roads we’d drive and drive and wait for the turbo and try to see how fast we could go on turbo speed. If I recall correctly it was around 60-70 mph.
    It would happen so fast too. The randomness of it freaked us out every time. I hated that wagon but liked that my friends liked it. I always let them drive it too. I mean we handled it . We were quick thinkers, of course. We were all 16. lol

    As far as STOPPING, after the wagon would go turbo, you couldn’t just hit the break with your foot. The driver would have to pump the brake HARD. As in all the way to the floorboard. Over and over. Until the next time we’d go turbo. So that’s what we’d do.

    I know Lawrence and his wife were freaking out . So of course they were screaming, like I said my friends and I screamed too.
    But the DeLisles weren’t fighting with each other and I can assure anyone … this tragedy was NOT INTENTIONAL. It WAS AN ACCIDENT – nothing more, nothing less. Lawrence DeLisle wasn’t negligent either. It WAS AN ACCIDENT. The judge even stated he wasn’t sure about DeLisles guilt which is why he spared him the death penalty. Look it up. Hmmm, DeLisle got multiple life sentences rather than an execution date. Based on something the judge wasn’t % sure about. Smh.
    Lawrence DeLisle should’ve gone home THAT DAY.
    Idk why his attorney didn’t focus more on a FORD vehicle that had a documented and known motor defect causing the wagon to spontaneously accelerate. Maybe Ford could tell the population! I’d like to know. But also-
    Think about it. Ford was a big deal to Detroit back then. Right?
    Ford in Detroit. Hmm. Smell anything fishy?

    I get that Ford doesn’t want the deaths of four children (possibly more too though) on their name and hands. Buuuuut ya know-
    THAT’S JUST TOO BAD. It is What it is
    FORD KNEW about this defect. Interestingly and obviously FORD stopped producing this wagon a long time ago. But still, 4 babies died in a Ford wagon as a direct result of FORD’S NEGLIGENCE. NOT Lawrence DeLisle’s.
    THIS LOSS OF LIFE is the sole responsibility of FORD MANUFACTURING COMPANY.
    Not only should Ford have been recalling those defective vehicles. But to boot, Ford added insult to injury (death) when they ALLOWED A MAN TO BE WRONGFULLY IMPRISONED FOR SOMETHING THAT THEIR OWN NEGLIGENCE CAUSED. That’s not okay people. No. No way.

    I just hope Lawrence DeLisle is still alive bc that would mean there’s STILL a glimmer of hope for HIM AND for FORD too.

    Lawrence DeLisles has been lost, alone and seemingly forgotten. His wife ended up divorcing him while in he’s been in prison, he never even got to mourn the loss of his babies. I mean WTH – he was hypnotized into a confession which isn’t all that uncommon btw, but its very clear if you watch that confession video. He was experiencing extreme emotional distress and for some reason those investigators sure jumped at the opportunity with no conscience nor concern nor corroborating evidence either of DeLisles guilt. That was completely wrong.
    Noteworthy: Everything about that confession video can be medically explained.

    Lawrence DeLisle deserves and has a right to live in our free-world, he deserves to be legally and officially exonerated, he deserves to be compensated by the state for imprisoning him wrongfully all these years. Fords greed led to their negligence. Which led to lost lives Maybe their own bad karma has put them where they are now.

    But this tragedy will continue being their demise so I hope they take the opportunity to make up for it. It’ll take a lot of work. But remember-
    Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort. – Roosevelt

    I hope Ford will make their effort. It’s the right thing to do.

    Thanks for your time.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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