A Mother’s Nightmare: Jeanne Quinn’s storyBy Jay Turner
Nearly 26 years after her only son was bludgeoned to death by a fellow Canton High School classmate for no apparent reason, Jeanne Quinn still can’t escape the nightmares that haunt her in her sleep.
Lately, Quinn has been tormented by this one particular dream where she is present while Rod Matthews, who was 14 at the time of the murder, batters her unsuspecting son, Shaun Ouillette, with a baseball bat while he cries out for help.
“I run to help him and I keep trying to grab the bat out of [Matthews’] hands,” she said, “but he keeps swinging and I can’t get the bat and I don’t understand why. And suddenly I look down at my hands, and I don’t have any hands.”
For Quinn, dreams such as this one only begin to describe the anguish she has felt every day since the fall of 1986, when authorities discovered her son’s lifeless body in a wooded area of Canton after a 21-day search. Ouillette, as investigators would later learn, had been lured to that spot by Matthews, who struck him repeatedly with a baseball bat — eight times in all, according to the killer’s own testimony.
Matthews was eventually tried as an adult, and despite an attempted insanity plea, he was convicted of second degree murder in March of 1988 and sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, friends of Matthews testified that he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone, and he reportedly chose Ouillette because he was new to Canton and would not be missed.
It is details like the last two that continue to gnaw at Quinn more than two and a half decades later, and it’s a big part of the reason why, on Tuesday, October 30, she will travel to Natick, armed with hundreds of signatures and a bevy of supporters, to urge the seven-member state parole board to keep Matthews behind bars for the foreseeable future.
Quinn, who has been through this process twice before — once in 2001 and again in 2007 — has not prepared any remarks nor does she intend to this time. However, chances are she will talk about the tremendous pain and suffering that Matthews has caused her family — how her daughter fled the area, in part, out of fear of Matthews being released, and how she buries her son every morning when she wakes up.
“Now that we know that he has killed someone,” said Quinn, “I myself am on a personal crusade to keep him locked up and keep everyone else safe.”
The last time that Matthews was up for parole, he showed visible emotion and insisted that years of therapy had rid him of his violent urges, which he attributed not to his original insanity defense but to his parents’ marital problems. Northeastern University criminologist James Fox also testified on Matthews behalf, claiming that he was a different person and that his brain had physically changed from when he was a teenager.
The board, however, rejected Matthews’ bid by a vote of 5-1, as the majority concluded that he still did not have a clear grasp of why he committed the murder.
“He’s evil, he’s not mentally ill,” Quinn said of Matthews. “He’s as smart as a whip. He tried to dismiss it, saying he did it as a child and he’s different now.”
Quinn said she intends to be similarly direct when she testifies before the board on October 30, although she is not looking forward to the experience and claims to derive no satisfaction from watching Matthews suffer.
“It’s not [Matthews’] demise that would straighten things up,” she said. “It would be Shaun coming back. That would be my one wish if I could turn back the hands of time.”
And while she remains determined to keep Matthews in prison at all costs, Quinn also acknowledged that she “feels so different this time.”
“I’m tired of hating,” she said. “My parents didn’t bring any of us up to hate people. The hate just welled up in me like a cancer, and it alienated me from my family and friends. I haven’t been able to hold a job down. It’s just … hate doesn’t serve anything.”
She also admitted that for years after the murder, she simply couldn’t understand “why everyone wasn’t grieving as much as [she] was.” She became angry and resentful toward a town that she felt turned its back on her in her greatest time of need.
“I lost friends. I became the invisible neighbor,” she said. “I couldn’t handle it how some people are ignorant in the way they handle grief, but I understand now that it’s not whether they’re wrong or they’re right. It’s where they’re at.”
Even all these years later, Quinn still harbors feelings of anger and hatred, but she said she’s “working at it” and would much prefer to focus her energy on remembering Shaun — an adventurous and happy kid who reminded her of Opie from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“He was so handy,” Quinn said of her son. “He was the one who took care of (his sister) Yvonne’s wheelchair — that thing was a well-oiled machine, let me tell you. The two of them, flying down Randolph Street. He loved the woods. He loved fishing, hockey, baseball, basketball — he loved sports. He loved to build forts. He loved his sister.”
And yet for all his good qualities, Quinn said he struggled to make friends when they moved to Canton in 1985. So he was “pretty thrilled” when Matthews invited him over to play pool and build a fort, especially since Matthews was considered part of the “in-crowd” among the freshman class at CHS at the time.
Shaun, of course, had no reason to suspect that he was actually a target of Matthews, and he remained oblivious until the bat struck the back of his head, at which point he cried out, according to testimony, “God help me.”
At his parole hearing in 2007, Matthews reportedly expressed remorse for his actions and claimed that he could never forgive himself for what he had done. However, Quinn said he has never once asked for her forgiveness and never once directed her personally and said that he’s sorry.
Quinn, for her part, did not say whether she would grant him any kind of forgiveness, although she stressed that there’s a “big difference between forgive and forget,” and she will “never forget what he’s done.”
As for the upcoming parole hearing, Quinn said her biggest fear is that the board will extend the sentence for just one year and she will have to endure the process all over again 12 months from now. Then again, she swears that she would go back as many times as it takes — even if she’s “on life support and hooked up to a tube” — to ensure that he remains behind bars.
Regardless of what happens with Matthews later this month or in the future, however, Quinn doesn’t ever see herself getting any real closure. “The only way would be if Shaun came back,” she said. “I know how that sounds, but that’s the only way.”
“Trust me, there’s no manual to this,” she added. “Any parent of a murdered child can tell you. There’s no roadmap. There’s nothing. You just go as you go.”
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