Journal of the Dead





Film Rights

Barnes & Noble
Journal of the Dead is a book that raises a lot of questions. Here are Jason's responses to some of the ones people most often ask...

Q. Do you believe it was murder or mercy?

This is by far the most common question people who read the book ask me. I left my own opinion out of the book because I think it's far more important—and interesting—for readers to draw their own conclusions. Publishing my opinion here would be just as counterproductive to that effect. Perhaps that's a dodge, but I will say that, while writing the book, I vacillated quite a bit. And like many others I am still not 100 percent certain what really happened in Rattlesnake Canyon.

Q. What would you have done if you were in Raffi Kodikian’s situation?

No one ever wants to believe that they would do the same thing as Raffi if confronted with a similar scenario—I’m no different. I can’t imagine doing what he did to a stranger, much less my best friend. But maybe that is the point. If you believe Raffi, he was confronted with a horrific and unimaginable scenario: his friend was suffering and begging for death, and at the same time he believed that his own death was imminent. In unimaginable scenarios the unimaginable happens, and placing the reader in both Raffi's and David's shoes was a major goal as I wrote the book.

Q. How did you come across the story?

I read a 200-word Associated Press article about the killing the day after it occurred. Right away I knew that I was looking at something incredibly unusual, bizarre, and hard to believe. I called Sheriff Click, who read me some of the excerpts from the journal. He was very dubious about Raffi’s story and had many questions. Within a week I was on a plane to New Mexico.

Q. Was Gus Van Sant’s movie “Gerry” about Raffi Kodkian?

No. Van Sant read a brief article about the case, then used its bare premise—two friends lost in the desert, one kills the other—as a jumping off point to create a fictitious work. Other than that, his film bears no resemblance to what really happened, nor does it attempt to address the true story.

Q. Did you ever meet Raffi Kodikian?

Regrettably no. I was present in the courtroom throughout his sentencing hearing, and I did exchange some letters with him in the hopes that he would provide interviews for the book, but ultimately he declined. In the absence of interviews with him, I did what journalists do—I extended the circle, relying on interviews with people who did know him, court documents, and contextual research.

Q. Have you ever been to Rattlesnake Canyon?

I’ve been there twice. The first time I hiked down to the site of the killing with Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths and National Park Ranger Mark Maciha, the latter of whom appears in the book. The second time I visited the canyon with a good friend. We had driven there all the way from the East Coast in an attempt to recreate the route that Raffi and David followed on their own trip. Towards this endeavor, we spent the night camped out at the same spot as Raffi and David did on their second night. The following morning, I used their journal as a guide to recreate their climb up the canyon’s west rim. Unlike them, I carried plenty of water and was never dehydrated, but it was still a rigorous and exhausting hike. Once at the top, I was surprised to see signs of civilization in the distance, which the friends never mentioned in the journal.

Q. So what happened to Raffi?

I no longer make it my business to keep track of Raffi’s story, but last I heard he had moved to California and was getting on with his life.