New Book: Matthew Shepard Killing Was About Drugs and Money

Liberal narrative was about hate crime


For 15 years, Matthew Shepard's unspeakably brutal murder on a lonely prairie in Wyoming has been a byword for the very worst of American anti-gay bigotry and a rallying cry for a more tolerant, more inclusive society. 

The 21-year-old University of Wyoming student was found trussed to a fence post, bleeding and half-frozen to death, in a rocky field on the outskirts of Laramie. He had been pistol-whipped so severely that his brain stem was crushed. His killers even removed his shoes, on the off-chance he broke free of his bonds and tried to run to safety. 

Shepard's death inspired the play The Laramie Project – later turned into a television movie – countless songs, a foundation devoted to his memory and a political lobbying effort that pressed for, and eventually obtained, a new federal hate crimes statute named after him. 

All this creative energy has been based on an important central premise: that Shepard was targeted solely because of his sexual orientation. According to conventional wisdom, he met his killers by chance in a bar, told them he was gay and left with them when they appeared to respond to his advances. They started attacking him almost as soon as he climbed into their pickup. 

It now appears, however, that the conventional wisdom may be wrong. A new book by investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez has challenged many of the central assumptions about Shepard's murder and argues that anti-gay hatred was not the primary motivation for his killing, if it was a factor at all.