Unstable Neighbor Ruins Couples’ Lives

Bogus Allegations by Michelle Lombardi Gesse

The rarest thing in the American justice system is an innocent defendant. Not just a defendant who didn’t do the precise crime of which he was accused. But one like the subject of Bogus Allegations, who didn’t do anything, and in fact was the victim of an unprovoked, very frightening attack.

Steven and Michelle Gesse are a friendly, gregarious couple in their 60s who warmly include their neighbors in their frequent dinner parties. One night, something goes horribly wrong. Steven makes some very innocuous remarks, which normal people would consider complimentary or simply ignore. And then the son of one of their neighbors basically goes nuts. The son regrets his actions and realizes that they will ruin his military career – so he blames the episode on Steven and concocts a ludicrous story to support his version.

It should have ended that night when the cops showed up. But Michelle Gesse painstakingly details the way in which the entire system is designed first to eliminate all alternate theories of events and then to get the accused to admit guilt as fast as possible. What should have been an unpleasant evening turns into a months long ordeal.

Gesse’s not a professional author. This book is not “writerly” and it’s a better book because of it—her inclusion of odd little details about the Gesses’ life together is not only very dear, it also makes for an instinctively believable narrative. I found her voice unswervingly trustworthy.

There are always several sides to any story, but my ear, gut and experience tell me that Mrs. Gesse’s version is closest to the truth. This is a harrowing cautionary tale, and also a really good read.

Bogus Allegations by Michelle Lombardi Gesse (Johnson Books)

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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