24. March 2022 · Comments Off on Bearing False Witness · Categories: Ain't That America?

Depending on the version of the Ten Commandments, the eighth or ninth is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” – in simpler terms, you shouldn’t tell lies, especially a lie intended to falsely accuse another person. I was reminded again, of the damage done by malicious accusations, upon reading this horrifying story, linked through Insty – because there was such a malicious person in the neighborhood where my family lived for more than a decade – a person given to making random and spurious accusations about his neighbors. When I wrote about my family, I called this residence Hilltop House – a post-war bungalow perched on the knee of a range of hills, surrounded by similar and rather modest houses on half-acre or quarter-acre lots, spread out along a rambling tangle of narrow roads above Sunland-Tujunga. A good block away from Hilltop house was a cul d sac of about half a dozen houses; one of the residents in the cul d sac was an older couple … and the man, who I will call Felix S. began to go nuts. Like bankruptcy, it happened slowly and then all at once. He became convinced that his neighbors were all part of a vast conspiracy to manufacture drugs and that there were tunnels and pipelines running the drugs between all the houses around him, and that odors from the drug manufacturing were poisoning the air around his house. Eventually, he put up all kinds of industrial fans around his yard, intended to blow the fumes away, and became notorious as the “Fan Man.” But that came later.

He spied on neighbors, haunted the roads outside their houses, lurked in the hedges, taking down license plate numbers, walked around with a box in his hands which he insisted was detecting the drug fumes … and called the police incessantly, sharing his delusions with them. Of course, the LAPD pretty soon realized that Mr. S. was a total nutcase. When Mr. S. realized that they were blowing him off, he escalated to calling other law enforcement bodies – the county sheriff’s office, other municipal, state, and possibly even national law enforcement; for all I know, everyone short of the Secret Service. At one point, he began insisting that his next-door neighbor, an elderly woman who was dying of MS – was a serious drug abuser and that was what was killing her. I know there was at least one unsuccessful court case for unrelenting harassment brought against him by the nearest neighbors, but nothing legal could be done at first, as Mr. S. kept the derangement on the down-low in the courtroom, and came off as a respectable, reasonable citizen. My mother was convinced that Mr. S. had an undiagnosed brain tumor, which would account for the delusions of strange odors. In any case, when my sister Pip was married, we had the reception afterwards at Hilltop House … and there was Mr. S. lurking in the oleander shrubs outside the gate, writing down the license-plate numbers of our guests’ cars! Otherwise, we were spared the worst of Mr. S., although because of a house full of teenagers and a yard full of vintage cars, he apparently assumed that we were in the distribution end of the business and not the manufacture. Eventually, the ongoing annoying presence of Mr. S. in the neighborhood had to be included in the listing of any house for sale in the neighborhood within a certain distance, as if he were a kind of human toxic waste dump.

But that was not the worst, which is what Mom told me about, on what may have been the last time that I was on home leave when they were still living at Hilltop House. It seemed that a young couple with two small children bought a house nearby Mr. S.’s house, a distance by road and address, but on the hill below, and he could see into their back yard. You guessed it – he called the child protection agency and reported that they were abusing their children. This was a new agency, relative to Mr. S.’s mania – and they took his accusation seriously. It took the young couple six months to get their children returned to their custody, or so Mom said.
I was honestly glad when Mom and Dad moved away after Dad retired – Mr. S.’s malicious mania was verging on the dangerous. A good few years ago, I did find a local news story about neighbors bringing successful lawsuits against him, but nothing on him turns up now – I suppose his malicious antics in the old neighborhood are a matter of ancient history at this point. It’s been at least three decades, and there must have been a lot of turnover among residents, what with the real estate market in the outer LA suburbs being what it is. But I was reminded of how damaging bearing false witness can be – right up there with murder, adultery, covetousness and worshipping false gods.
Bearing false witness is like faking a hate crime, or accusing people of various ‘isms, creating a fake dossier/ fake documents for the purposes of smearing a political opponent, ‘swatting’ a person with a fake call to the police, or an anonymous accusation to Child Protective Services. In a more perfect world than this, bearing false witness out to be penalized with the punishment administered to the victim, if the accusation had been true. Discuss as you wish.

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