Watching Megan McAllister, a 25-year-old medical student, digest the sordid accusations against her clean-cut fiancé and fellow doctor-to-be Philip Markoff, it was hard not to wonder what was going through her mind. Markoff was arrested on suspicion of being the “Craigslist Killer”—murderer of one woman, kidnapper and mugger of others—and the sweet-faced McAllister has been more than steadfast. “I will stand by Philip as I know he is innocent. I love him and I always will,” she told the Boston Herald. “All I have to say to you is Philip is a beautiful person inside and out and could not hurt a fly!” she e-mailed Good Morning America, before then finishing the week telling People that he was “set up.” Her protestations seemed especially poignant given that police say plastic handcuffs and swiped panties, as well as the murder weapon, were found in the couple’s shared apartment.
McAllister’s show of loyalty was difficult to watch. Wasn’t she premature in going public? In the three and a half years since she met Markoff—while volunteering in an emergency room (“pushing stretchers down hallways and bringing blood and urine samples to pathology together,” reads the couple’s wedding website)—wasn’t there some dark hint of her fiancé’s apparent sinister proclivities?
Others who knew Markoff came forward to retroactively declare that Marko was a weirdo all along. “He gave off a creepy vibe,” remarked a former classmate; another remembered his pinning her against a wall in an attempt to force a kiss. For Halloween, he dressed as a mammogram machine and offered exams. Many of us peered more closely at his photo, looking for signs of sociopathy in bloom. There had to be clues. That there might not have been was a scary notion to contemplate.
Most of us have possessed personal knowledge about a mate that conflicts with his or her outward reputation. McAllister, it might be said, was simply honoring her private experience in public. Accepting that a functional spouse is an alcoholic or a philanderer is difficult enough; how overwhelming must it be if your fiancé stands accused of shooting a woman he’d hired for “erotic services.”
McAllister’s pitiable story points to the deep unknowability of people, especially those we’re exposed to constantly. The husband you share a bed with each night, the colleague you wave to each day, the neighbor you watch mow his lawn— who are they, really? And how do we carry on normally in life once we start to wonder? It’s a premise that writers love to entertain—that there are Humbert Humberts and Dexters in our midst—and the average citizen finds fascinating and horrifying at once. We like our unreliable narrators to remain in works of fiction, not to exist in real life.