This couple endured 5 years of homophobic mail — until a local sleuth tracked down a suspect
A Good Samaritan compared the harasser's handwriting to local voter signatures to pinpoint the alleged culprit
Five years after LeeMichael McLean and Bryan Furze first became targets of homophobic harassment by mail, the alleged culprit has been caught and their neighbours have rallied around them in solidarity.
The story starts five years ago, when the Milton, Mass., couple opened their mailbox and found a subscription to a publication they didn't order. It was addressed to a fake, and clearly homophobic, name.
At first, they figured it was a bizarre coincidence.
"A couple of days later, we received another one, and we knew that we had a problem," Furze told As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal. "And for the next five years, with a brief intermission during COVID, we received probably over 30 individual pieces of mail with different names that were pejorative and again, homophobic, in tone."
As It Happens has seen some of the fake names from the couple's mail, but has chosen not to repeat the homophobic content in this story.
Listen: LeeMichael McLean and Bryan Furze on their harassment, and community support:
It became clear to McLean and Furze that someone was targeting them with a campaign of harassment. But police told them there wasn't much they could do without physical evidence, like a handwriting sample.
As the years went on, the couple started to worry about protecting their son, Simon. He was just a toddler when the mail first started arriving. Now he's seven — old enough to grab the mail from the counter and read it.
Every time they received another piece of mail, they would call the publication to cancel the subscription. But they had no way of stopping the onslaught — until one day recently, when a key piece of evidence arrived in the mail.
Their harasser tried to sign them up for a Boston Globe subscription, but they were already subscribers, so the newspaper mailed back the subscription form. It was filled out in pen.
"Suddenly I found myself holding the handwriting of the person who had been harassing us," McLean said.
McLean says he immediately took the form to the police station.
"But before I took it in, I snapped a photo of it and I put the photo on our town-wide Facebook page and I just said, 'Hey, look, this is happening to my partner and me. We would appreciate any leads you have. Please pass them along to the police,'" he said.
"By the time I got home, I had hundreds of messages from people all across town — some we knew, some we didn't know — expressing just outrage and support and wanting to do all sorts of sleuthing about figuring out whose handwriting that was."
One man, who told the couple he wishes to remain anonymous, filed a request for the town's recent election records under the Freedom of Information Act.
"He painstakingly went through and tried to match the handwriting that I had posted on Facebook with all the samples that he received," McLean said. "He called me one day and said, 'You don't know me, but I think I figured out who's harassing you.' And they lived just a few doors away."
When a Milton Police officer questioned the suspect, he confessed, according to the Washington Post.
"This was definitely deliberate and targeted toward this family," Deputy Chief James O'Neil told the newspaper.
"With everything being digital prior, we were not able to make much progress on it, but now, some old-fashioned handwriting provided us with a break in the case, and we're hoping it brings some peace to these victims."
As It Happens reached out to Milton Police for comment, but did not receive a response before deadline.
The suspect has not yet been named. The next step is for police to bring the evidence before a local clerk magistrate, who will decide whether criminal charges are warranted.
"It was a horrifying realization because this person had been friendly to our face for over a decade," McLean said.
"And it also unleashed, you know, five years of emotions that we had been stuffing into a corner because we had no power over the situation of receiving these threats in the mail."
But he says those negative emotions have been tempered by the support they have received. Checking the mail has become a source of joy instead of fear.
"Not only are we not worried about getting vulgar deliveries, but we're actually getting daily letters and cards of support," McLean said.
Their harasser used the name "Michelle Fruitzey" on the Boston Globe subscription — which Furze described as "an attempt to feminize my partner LeeMichael's name and add 'fruit' to my last name."
Because it was less vulgar than the previous fake names, they shared it publicly in their Facebook post.
Mike Zullas, a local elected official, replied: "#IamMichelleFruitzey" as an act of solidarity. Others did the same, and it became a rallying cry.
"It's a terrible thing that they had to go through," Zullas told the Boston Globe, which first reported this story. "I didn't know it was going on, but they're great examples of taking a negative and turning it into a positive."
Furze made T-shirts using the slogan and is selling them to raise money for their local high school and middle school Gender and Sexuality Alliances. They have already raised more than $30,000 US, he said.
While he's heartened by the response, he says the situation has also taught him a difficult lesson.
"What we learned from this is that discrimination really comes in thousands of small ways as well as big overt ways. And you need to be constantly vigilant, both to fight against discrimination, but also to protect yourself against it," he said.
"Because even in a place that we considered a very safe enclave, we were sought out and attacked for five years."
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with LeeMichael McLean and Bryan Furze produced by Sarah Jackson.