The Paul Williams I Knew

When a mentally ill person allegedly commits a heinous crime against another human being, early press accounts understandably paint a bleak portrait of the accused as a crazy monster on a road to nowhere. Early accounts of the condition of 33-year-old Paul Williams, who stands accused of plotting and carrying out a scheme to slit the throat of and kill his mother's Marysville neighbor over a barking dog dispute, don't stray much from this formula.

But I know Williams. Or at least I knew him. And what I knew of him, I liked a lot.

Williams and I were in the same fraternity at the University of Washington. He was two grades beneath me, in my brother's pledge class. He went to Shorewood, and all the guys in the house who went to Shorewood seemed to be the guys I got along with best. Must have been a north-end thing.

We called Paul "Willy." I remember him as funny, laid-back, and with a preternaturally sunny disposition. He spoke in Spicoli-esque surfer-speak, and seemed to get along with most everyone. Suffice it to say, if you'd told me then that Paul Williams would one day stand accused of intentionally killing a 73-year-old woman, I'd have laughed you out of the room.

But people change, sometimes for the worse, and sometimes owing to conditions that are out of their control. Paul, according to press accounts, suffered from bipolar disorder, and often heard voices in his head. Creepy stuff when you put it down on paper and tether it to a murder, but not all that uncommon in the mental health realm.

My intent in letting people know about the Williams I knew is not to diminish the senselessness of the loss of life that has occurred. The woman Paul allegedly killed did not deserve to die, and Paul will likely spend the greater part of his adult life in some sort of confinement, be it in prison or a mental institution. Rather, my point here is to ensure that people get a fuller picture of a guy I once considered a friend, and a guy who doesn't deserve to be reduced to a one-note monster.

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