Should an unrepentant killer be forgiven?
Marlys in Heaven. John S. Munday. Gazelle Press, Mobile, Alabama. 2013. 135 pages. Softbound. $11.99. www.amazon.com.
Marlys Wohlenhaus, age 18, was murdered by an intruder in her Afton, Minnesota, home in May 1979. John S. Munday, an attorney in Isanti, Minnesota, has written four books about her killing, the two-decades-long quest for conviction of her killer, and the never-ending grief process experienced by family members.
In this novel, Munday displays a lay theologian’s keen curiosity in imagining Marlys’ heavenly experiences.
Munday calls his latest of the quartet “a novel.” It recalls the criminal justice facts of the case, which are known. But mostly it reflects on what is unknown, thus imagining what happens for “Marlys in Heaven.”
(The previously-published books prompted by Marlys’ killing are Surviving the Death of a Child, 1995; Justice for Marlys: A Family’s 20-Year Search for a Killer,” 2004; and Overcoming Grief: Joining and Participating in Bereavement Support Groups, 2005. All four may be ordered through Amazon.com.
Marlys was the daughter of Fran Wohlenhaus, to whom Munday was married not long after the crime. Together they endured the 19-plus years of hoping and praying for justice, which finally came in October 1998 when a Minnesota jury found Joe Ture Jr. guilty of first-degree murder. A serial killer convicted of six murders in all, Ture will spend the rest of his life in prison. He has shown no public remorse for any of his crimes.
A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s national Church Council, Munday displays a lay theologian’s keen curiosity in imagining Marlys’ heavenly experiences. Her ever-present questions focus on forgiveness. Can a teenage victim offer forgiveness to the one who murdered her? Specifically an evil-doer who remains unrepentant?
Marlys in this story occupies a kind of “semi-heaven,” on her way to God’s presence but not yet there. Her journey takes her into exchanges with numerous biblical figures who were impacted by evil. Among them are Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, John the Baptizer and the woman who requests his head on a platter, John of Patmos, Stephen, Saul who became Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.
Also confronting Marlys in heaven is the thinking of some extra-biblical figures, including the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the German theologian Luther. And present for grieving family members on earth is the care-giving of Lutheran communities and pastors here in Minnesota.
Always the focus is on what forgiveness means, not just for the forgiven one but, mainly, for the one who forgives. The person unable to forgive is seen as victimized a second time. The forgiving person is seen as one who truly gains liberation.
Marlys in Heaven is a moving treatment of the Christian understanding of forgiveness: what it means for those who are forgiven by our Creator-God to become creatures who give forgiveness to fellow creatures. That is what we pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Most certainly, this book is fiction. Just as certainly, it speaks of heaven-blessed truth.