Volcanic eruptions of violence rocked Greensboro twice in less than six years a generation ago.
The first took place on Nov. 3, 1979, when a gang of Ku Klux Klansmen and Nazis gunned down Communist Workers Party labor organizers, killing five.Today marks the 20th anniversary of the second. On June 3, 1985, Fritz Klenner and Susie Newsom Lynch died when one or the other detonated a bomb in their Chevrolet Blazer while they were being pursued by police on N.C. 150 near Summerfield.
Also in the vehicle were the bodies of Lynch's 9- and 10-year-old sons.
Those were the last of nine deaths associated with the bizarre case of Klenner and Lynch, who were cousins and lovers. Murdered by Klenner in the previous months were the mother and sister of Lynch's former husband, and her own parents and grandmother.
Greensboro, through a process of truth and reconciliation, is still trying to understand the causes and aftermath of the Klan-Nazi killings.
The Klenner-Lynch tragedy, while less divisive, ultimately remains unfathomable. Although reported in gripping detail by Jerry Bledsoe in the News & Record and his best-selling book, "Bitter Blood," the story still hides its darkest mystery: What forces of depravity drove its protagonists on a path of murder and suicide?
One person who looked closely into the face of evil, but failed to recognize it in time, was Ian Perkins. Despite a total of 14 deaths in the Klan-Nazi and Klenner-Lynch conflagrations, he is the only one held criminally responsible in any way.
Klan-Nazi members tried for murders carried out in broad daylight and captured on film were acquitted. Klenner and Lynch blew themselves beyond accountability.
But Perkins, then 21 and a Reidsville neighbor of Klenner's family, was convicted of accessory after the fact of murder. On May 18, 1985, he drove Klenner to Winston-Salem, where Klenner killed Lynch's parents and grandmother at their home.
Perkins knew nothing about Klenner's plan. An admirer of the older man, he believed Klenner's tale of carrying out an undercover operation for the CIA.
Later, when Perkins was approached by detectives, he agreed to wear a recording device and meet with Klenner, putting himself at considerable risk.
Now 41, Perkins told News & Record staff writer Stan Swofford he's embarrassed about his gullibility. But Klenner duped many people, including his physician father, who thought Klenner had attended medical school.
Perkins spent four months in prison, then finished college and completed National Guard service. He's employed. He recently applied to Gov. Mike Easley for a pardon of forgiveness, claiming he has lived an "exemplary life" for the past 20 years and asserting that a pardon will help him and his wife adopt children.
The petition is endorsed by Allen G. Gentry, who was lead investigator for the Forsyth County Sheriff's Department, Reidsville City Councilman W. Clark Turner and others. Easley should grant it.
Nothing close to a full measure of justice has been delivered for either of Greensboro's violent eruptions. Only Ian Perkins has paid a price to the legal system, and now it hangs too heavily over him. While others seek reconciliation in the wake of terrible crimes, he deserves forgiveness.
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