On May 7th, 2013, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department released a formal statement indicating that Tim Lambesis, the frontman and co-founder of immensely popular Christian metalcore band As I Lay Dying, had been arrested while attempting to hire a hit man (who was in fact an undercover cop). On May 9th, 2013, Tim Lambesis was formally arraigned on one count of solicitation of murder. San Diego police and prosecutors allege that the target of Lambesis’s venom was Meggan Lambesis, the singer’s estranged wife.
The most damning evidence of Lambesis’s potential guilt is video of the arraignment hearing, captured by a San Diego news station and posted by Metal Injection, wherein the prosecution revealed details of the case.
The prosecution alleges, as related by Metal Injection, that:
Lambesis emailed his wife in August saying he didn’t love her anymore and he no longer believed in God. He later filed for divorce and his wife learned he had multiple affairs.
Allegedly, Lambesis approached members at his gym asking if anyone knew somebody who could have Meggan killed. Authorities became aware of Lambesis’s plot and set up a sting operation.
When Lambesis met with the undercover cop posing as a hit man named “Red” on May 7th, Lambesis said “that it’s better for his children to have one healthy relationship with one parent rather than two unhealthy ones.” He told Red he wanted his wife gone.
Lambesis was specifically asked if he wanted his wife dead, and he said, “yes, that’s exactly what I want.” The prosecution allegedly has an audio recording of this exchange.
After Lambesis confirmed he wanted his wife gone, he handed Red an envelope with one thousand dollars in cash, Meggan’s address, photos of his wife, security gate codes instructions on how and when to enter the home, and when he would have the children in his custody, allowing for Meggan to be murdered.
He is currently being held on $3 million bail.
Despite this evidence, Lambesis has pleaded not guilty, and his defence is portraying Lambesis as the victim of entrapment. Metalsucks reported that his lawyer, Anthony Salerno, intends to prove that that someone involved in reporting the alleged murder plot was attempting to frame or set up Lambesis, stating: “this person I strongly suspect is a snitch and is an informant for the police and was really creating this whole scenario and sort of setting Tim up.”
I found myself agreeing adamantly with Axl Rosenberg, editor-in-chief of Metalsucks, when he went on to opine, “What difference does it make if there was a police informant involved or not? If Lambesis said he wants his wife dead and gave someone money for that purpose… I mean… what’s the best case scenario? That it was entrapment and he gets off for that reason? It wouldn’t change the fact that he did something incredibly horrible.” It was clear that Rosenberg was not happy about the news – no one wants a popular figure, a talented musician and performer, someone we have admired and interacted with as journalists or fans, to be capable of doing something this despicable. But, as the evidence emerges and the case unfolds, blame (or exoneration) rests entirely upon one person and his actions: Tim Lambesis.
* * *
In the initial shock of hearing about this story, my thoughts immediately went to Meggan Lambesis, the intended target of the crime. Her voice has been almost entirely silent so far, though MTV did report that “Meggan Lambesis reportedly did not fear for her life and other than some troubling changes she noted in her estranged husband’s demeanour, she did not appear to have any major concerns about their split.” The divorce proceedings, which began in September 2012, were reportedly amicable. Sure, Lambesis had begun to work out more and more, and was frequently distracted when he spent time with their three adopted children (around ten hours a week when not on tour, which was at least six months of every year), but there was nothing in his behaviour or history to indicate he was capable of any kind of violence.
I thought about the horror of discovering that someone you once shared your life and heart with was capable of not only wishing you dead, but taking active steps to make it so. I thought of the overwhelming bewilderment that would bring, the incredible sense of vulnerability. Even after they initially separated, Meggan would have seen him regularly when he came to visit their children, would have communicated constantly about their well being and care. She would have trustingly been in his company and smiled as he spent time with their kids. I could imagine, though barely, the sickening dread of realizing that man, still one of the most significant relationships in her life, was all the while plotting to have her murdered. I can just barely fathom the edge of it.
It’s not only the horror that makes me ache and want to retch on Meggan’s behalf, it’s that this awful revelation of her closely averted death is happening in public. Every lurid detail of the case is being reported and picked apart in the media, each sickening development is a new headline.
And then, like many moments that are already bad and are about to take a turn for the worse, I looked past the stories at the comments.
* * *
The way that we talk about ex-wives and ex-girlfriends is fucked. This is an issue that extends far beyond aggressive music, beyond music in general and into general culture. I realize this is just one more deeply anchored, grotesque tentacle of patriarchy manifesting itself in the world. Taking all of that into consideration, one of the easiest and most frequently employed means of stripping a woman of her humanity and turning her into a monster is transforming her into an Evil Ex.
The Evil Ex-Wife (or Ex-Girlfriend) is up there with zombies and Nazis when it comes to human punching bags of pop culture: figures so obviously repugnant that we can do anything to them, guilt free. Whether she reportedly cheated and broke a man’s trust, lied and manipulated him, or simply committed that most treasonous of acts – leaving the relationship while the man still happened to find her desirable – Evil Exes are fair game. Most lose their names, referred to only as “her” or “that bitch;” even other women cluck and coo over stories of the Evil Ex, that harpy and harridan who tormented their man (not realizing that they are always on the verge of transforming into such a creature themselves). We may as well be vampires or werewolves the moment our relationship with a specific man ends.
And heavy metal musicians absolutely adore writing songs about their Evil Exes. Some are classics: Type O Negative’s Slow, Deep and Hard, Jane Doe by Converge, and All Else Failed’s This Never Happened are record-length tributes to exes – some merely mournful while others are threatening. Sometimes individual songs serve as tributes to failed love, such as “Tearing” by Rollins Band, “Break Beat” by Dangers or Drowningman’s “My First Restraining Order.” Some are grimmer testimonies to violence, like Leviathan’s 2011 record, True Traitor, True Whore, which is entirely about Jef “Wrest” Whitehead’s ex (Whitehead is currently serving two years probation for aggravated domestic battery after being found guilty of assaulting his ex, down from the original 36 counts).
Many of these songs and records are beyond reproach, merely explorations of heartbreak and loss. Others are more combative and confrontational, even violent, seething with hatred for the Ex in questions. When I first began listening to heavy metal, it never occurred to me to consider the way that the women – all these ex-partners – were treated and portrayed in these songs. I may even have been typically sympathetic as a new girlfriend siding with a partner over his obviously “crazy” ex. Poor lambs, what all those shes put you through.
Then, one day, I became an Evil Ex myself; there was even a song, throbbing with anger, written about me. Suddenly the way I thought about all those women, all those exes in songs, changed. What followed still stands as the strangest, and often most frightening, period of my entire life. I stopped siding with the men in those songs; I started to wonder about the other side of the story. And when the Tim Lambesis story broke, I immediately thought of Meggan and felt a deep, terrible kinship.
* * *
While most discussions of the Tim Lambesis case in the media have been remarkably cool-headed and professional, even from metal blogs that have strayed down darker roads in the past, the public response has ranged from the shocked to the inexplicably repugnant. Expressing disbelief that a respected musician would be capable of such an act is understandable, a normal human response; my first tweets included phrases like “wow” and “this is NUTS” when the story broke. But what was utterly awful was the way that fans of Tim and As I Lay Dying immediately turned on Meggan.
Fans moved quickly from the initial shock to viciously attacking Tim’s intended victim. Many took to Twitter to express their outrage at the woman whose awfulness must surely have been the cause and blame for Tim’s actions. An entire Public Shaming page has been dedicated to comments like this. Many assert that she deserved to be murdered because of her obvious character flaws; comments like [his] “wife must have been one hell of a bitch” and stating she was “probably a cunt” were extremely common, as were opinions that she “deserved it.” The hashtag #FreeTimLambesis is an ongoing exercise in my loss of faith in humanity. You can buy a T-shirt, the proceeds of which supposedly go to support his bail fund. In comments on some of the stories, fans posed elaborate conspiracy theories that somehow Meggan and her family had conspired to set Tim up. On Instagram, fans posted pictures of Meggan Lambesis’s face with phrases like “Meggan Lambesis is THE INVENTION OF HATRED” plastered across it (a reference to an album by one of Tim’s other bands, Pyrithion). Comments are again full of conjecture that she set him up or framed him; one fan quipped, “never trust a woman that wears bug eye glasses,” as though her sunglasses alone were reason enough for contempt, to wish her dead.
I followed all these awful comments, posts, tweets and memes in spite of myself. I watched with a very particular kind of horror: that of watching a bus miss me by inches and hit someone else instead. During my experience being an Evil Ex – the ultimate figure of contempt – I’d kept entirely silent about it to the larger public. My harasser had been a somewhat public figure, and when things got particularly dark, my impulse was always to make what I was going through public. There seemed to be protection in hiding safely in view. More than once I thought about reaching out to a news outlet.
Another woman, a fellow Evil Ex of his, begged me not to; she was terrified of the potential public backlash that I (and possibly she, by extension) would feel. She feared that we would be portrayed as evil, conniving women attempting to destroy a beloved figure’s life; she could imagine the negativity that I could not. For her sake, I stayed quiet. And now, as I watch the awful, miserable things people are saying and inventing about Meggan Lambesis, hearing all the vitriol and abuse being heaped upon her for her near-victimhood, the way being a man’s Evil Ex has transformed her from a person into a receptacle for hate, for the first time I see exactly what this other woman was afraid of.
* * *
Before I became a musician’s Evil Ex, I was his partner. We were never a public item – he portrayed himself as an immensely private man who revealed our couplehood to only his closest friends – but the devotion and attention he demanded, needed, was intense. I spent hours conversing with him daily, chatting online, sending endless emails, pictures and videos. The time we spent together was rare (we lived in different cities) but intense and all consuming. He was just close enough, and just far enough away, to make our relationship seem like a happy dream, and to make me feel like the centre of his universe. We were making future plans for him to move to the same city where I lived; to start a business together; to take on the world. I trustingly leant him large sums of money and did huge amounts of work applying for grants and writing bios on his behalf. He gave me just enough of his life for me to fill in all the rest in my mind. I have never been as blindingly obsessed with another human being as I was by him.
It ended in the most ordinary, predictable way imaginable: I met the other woman. Actually, I met the other women, as one by one (five in all) reached out to me to ask, with varying degrees of directness, what I thought of, felt, or had with our mutual acquaintance. I committed the most egregious offence that I possibly could in his eyes: I was honest and told them the scope of our relationship, providing proof in a few cases. We all left him en masse; it must have been a rough few weeks.
The end of the relationship was like a bubble popping. For something that had consumed so much of my waking and dreaming thoughts, once I saw that it was an illusion, it evaporated. I had loved a ghost, not a person, and when exorcised from my heart I healed quickly. I started to date someone else. I became happier and wrote more. It seemed like it would be no more than a weird episode in my life, a learning experience about manipulation, nothing more.
But, I had become the Evil Ex, the One Who Spoke. He began referring to me as a “cunt” in public. The emails began to arrive, first vague and then directly threatening. I would block his account and he would make a new one. He followed my social media regardless of whatever barriers I put in place. My boyfriend bought me dog spray and insisted I carry it everywhere; I slept with a heavy wooden baseball bat next to my bed and often fell asleep with my hand touching the wood.
He had become dangerously obsessed with someone we both considered a close friend, who I had initially protected from the details of out split but who I confided in once she too became involved romantically with him. She received dozens of phone calls and emails a day. Packages showed up at her house, once inside her apartment; he had a key he refused to return. At one point, he arrived at the local bus station and called her dozens of times an hour to come pick him after, long after she had told him never to contact her again. She was so terrified that she showed up on my doorstep with a bag and her cat, not wanting to leave the animal alone when he could get into her apartment; I was one of the only people on the planet, as a fellow harassée, who would understand what was happening to her. We hid her phone in a drawer to keep from hearing the muted buzz (her mother was having surgery and she couldn’t turn it off entirely). Her terrified cat peed in my shower. We tried to bond and make jokes about the cosmic hilarity of the situation; we were both terrified.
We talked about publicly discussing what was happening to us; I favoured hiding in daylight, but she could not fathom it. She was sure that the public would turn on her, that his fans would rally against her and that an army of Internet trolls would harass her instead of a single broken man. I agreed to stay silent, though I always disagreed; but now, watching the torment that Meggan Lambesis is going through, I understand her fears in a way I never could before. I assumed the world would protect us, would shame him for all of the awful things he emailed, texted, called and posted at us, how he haunted us; now I see that the world I might have turned to for comfort may have turned on me instead.
During the worst of it, he actually moved to the city for a few weeks; I had to pass by the apartment where he was staying on my way to work each day. I rode the streetcar instead of walking to my teaching job during that time to reduce the chance he might see me. My anxiety was still so great that, at my stop, I would run into a coffee shop and vomit in the bathroom before composing myself and going to work. Some of my students became aware of my routine and insinuated that I must be a drunk, hungover every day. No, just tormented by a gaunt, obsessive man who believed that I was a creature worthy of hatred and harassment.
When I heard the song he’d written about me on his latest record, which even included lines from emails I had sent him during happier times, it seemed to cement exactly what I had become: an Evil Ex, now forever damned in song.
* * *
I am no longer afraid. I will not write the end of this story because the details are enough to give away the identity of the man who declared me his enemy and harassed me for half a year, and I am protecting more people than myself by not giving any more information. At the time I burned for having to stay quiet, wishing I could expose this man for the monster he had become. Now, seeing how metal fans have turned on Meggan Lambesis, I wonder if my silence was wise.
I hate the fact that someone, who is still almost universally adored and respected, made my life, and the life of other women, absolutely miserable for months on end. That he made us fearful and full of doubt, that he robbed us of our independence, that he isolated us from friends and our community. I hate that the worst thing that ever happened to me is still something that most of my friends and supporters do not know about. I hate that I cannot seek solace in the people and places that I usually do. But as I watch the way that some metal fans have turned on Meggan Lambesis, how they have chosen to attack a potential victim instead of her tormentor (a man who tried to allegedly have her murdered), I realize that my silence is not without cause. And I wonder how many other women are also silent, who do not share their stories, for fear of the same broken, misguided retribution? Until our world changes enough that the first impulse is not to attack victims of violence, assault and harassment, but instead their perpetrators, many women will continue to choose silence, believing that it is safer than truth.
I cannot stop thinking about Meggan Lambesis. As much as I cannot fathom the horror she is going through, I can just barely see the edges of it. I shudder at every awful comment levelled at her, because I see what I have avoided by sheer virtue of refusing to speak out. Meggan did not have the luxury of choosing silence; the crimes against her were made public without her consent and were beyond her control. Not speaking twists me, hurts me every day. But as long as the world continues to respond to powerful men harming the women in their lives the way they have responded to Meggan Lambesis, it is safer for me in the dark.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a poet and music writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press this spring. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatalieZed.