Why do men kill their wives? from the Boston Globe provides a great example of an effective anecdotal lead:
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, LISA HARTWICK WAS RIDING IN AN elevator in Boston when she overheard a conversation between two men. One of the men was going through a divorce, and he was venting to his friend about lawyers and child support payments. At that point, Hartwick recalls, the man suggested, within earshot of everyone, that maybe he should just kill his wife, that it would be cheaper and easier that way. Hartwick, the director of the Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was stunned. “I really didn’t know what to say,” she recalls. “Luckily, his friend said to him, ‘That’s a lot of money. I understand. I’m going through it myself. But you’ve got kids.’”
Writer Keith O’Brien then moves quickly, using the anecdote to frame the feature “question”. He continues:
It was probably just talk. The man was frustrated and likely never had any real intention of murdering his wife. Then again, who knows? Spouses kill spouses for many reasons. But the most intriguing reason may be this: Sometimes men – and let’s be clear here, it is almost always men – decide to murder their wives simply as a way to end a rocky, unhappy marriage and avoid a divorce that could ruin their bank accounts or trash their reputations or spoil a dream life they have concocted for themselves. It is bizarre, seemingly inexplicable choice, especially considering the type of men involved. They are not hardened criminals, by and large, but rather domesticated suburb dwellers with fine cars, big houses, and nice wives. When the cops show up after these same wives turn up dead, the neighbors are shocked. Not here, they say. Not this guy. He wouldn’t choose murder over divorce, the risk of prison time over child support payments. He wouldn’t do this. To observers – and ultimately to jurors – it makes absolutely no sense. And yet the list of apparently nice, normal suburban Massachusetts men who have made this decision is long and infamous.
He then moves into a quick set of exemplar cases and on to the timely reason for the feature’s appearance: “And now the state is gearing up for not one but two trials of high-profile alleged wife killers in Middlesex County.” The feature continues to skillfully weave, case data with anecdotes and expert opinion and comes full circle at its end with another anecdote and a similar question mark. After describing the case of Harold and Jamie Stonier, O’Brien concludes with an account of Harold Stonier’s testimony:
On the stand at his trial in 2005, he gave a wandering explanation for why he wanted to hire a hit man to off his wife. There were financial problems. He alleged that she was a bad mother. That she only wanted him for his money. That he was under a lot of pressure. That his job was very demanding. That his wife was out of control. That he was having a nervous breakdown. That he was trying to do everything he could to save the marriage. But it just wasn’t possible, he told the jurors, and he began to think about having her killed. As far as he was concerned, this was perfectly logical. Everyone having problems in their marriage, Harold Stonier testified, must from time to time think about these things. Right?
In another feature this could have well been an opener but in the context of the structure that O’Brien has used, coming back to an anecdote that mirrors his lead and raises a similar question works well. He leaves the reader pondering but he has equipped them with a set of stories and facts which allows them to think more carefully about his rhetorically posed question.