The trial of Rachel O’Reilly’s husband for her murder is the main headline on newspapers and the top story on news programs. Why is this case is so mysteriously gripping? In “the Decline of the English Murder” George Orwell summed up the ideal murder to grip the media watching public.
“The murderer should be a little man of the professional class…living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the suburbs, and preferably in a semi-detached house... He should go astray through cherishing a guilty passion for his secretary or the wife of a rival professional man, and should only bring himself to the point of murder after long and terrible wrestles with his conscience... The means chosen should, of course, be poison. In the last analysis he should commit murder because this seems to him less disgraceful, and less damaging to his career, than being detected in adultery”
Instead of poisoning with all the forethought and cunning that requires we have a brutal beating but otherwise the details seem oddly similar.
Orwell summed up the reason why these domestic murders so gripped people saying they were the “product of a stable society where the all-prevailing hypocrisy did at least ensure that crimes as serious as murder should have strong emotions behind them.” The hypocrisy was the belief that a murder was preferable to the shame of an affair and of divorce. No “why” has yet been proposed in the Rachel O’Reilly murder trial. The murders which gripped the public imagination in Orwell’s time were the type that people could in some way understand the motivations of lust and social standing behind them. What is frightening in this case is that the level of interest in it suggests that people can understand a crime that is seemingly without motivation.