In his mid-60s, James “Jim” McNeil was a former prostitute.
He had spent the years before working as a bar owner in Boston, then an elevator operator and a bouncer.
He and his wife, Mary, were looking for a way out.
A woman in New York had recently married a man who was living in the city, and McNeil saw her through the door.
The couple had bought a house and were renovating.
But McNeil had just returned to the city from work when he started seeing women.
He was a single man, but he was attracted to women.
So he approached one of the men and invited her over.
They made plans to meet up, but they never did.
They didn’t talk to each other.
McNeil called the police.
A couple of months later, Mary McNeil got a phone call from her daughter: His car had broken down.
A friend of his, who had a concealed carry permit, had just arrived at his house.
When the friend walked in, she saw McNeil’s car was covered with blood.
Mary McNeill, now 55, recalls her daughter’s reaction: She cried.
I had a vision of the scene.
She told me, “My dad’s dead, my dad’s not gonna be able to breathe.”
McNeil and Mary McNeils were married in 1962.
They were a devout Catholic family, and they spent much of their time together.
Mary had been a prostitute for decades.
McNeil was a more traditional Catholic, and she had a deep-seated sense of duty to protect him.
“He was the one that was really protecting me,” she says.
She recalls McNeil telling her, “If you die, you have to live.”
Mary and McNeill divorced in 1975.
McNeal married Mary McEwen in 1982.
She divorced him a few years later, and then had another child, a son.
“It was a hard time,” she remembers.
“There were lots of kids and stuff.
I just had no time to think about it.”
In 1985, she married and had two more children.
By 1993, McNeil began working as an escort, a profession he would later call “an occupation of my own.”
He had been in and out of jail for drugs and violence, but when he came out as gay, McNeill’s life had changed.
He went from working at a bar to working at an escort.
He became the father figure of the family.
Mary recalls her father’s desire to protect her.
“I always told him, ‘You know, we’re not going to go out to dinner, we don’t want to go to the movies, we have to have someone that can protect you,'” she says, “and he would always tell me, ‘Well, if you can protect me, you can’t protect me from anybody.'”
In 1989, McNeille married again, this time to an old high school friend.
The wedding was bittersweet.
McNeill and Mary had three children.
The oldest, a daughter, was just three months old when they divorced.
McLeod McNeil died at age 77, just days before Mary McElhany was to give birth to their daughter.
“The first day that she walked into the room, her eyes were wet, her mouth was agape, and her father was staring down at her with a very sad look on his face,” Mary McMcLeod says.
“When she was born, she was just a little girl.
I thought, Well, she’s a little boy.
And so I was able to get to know her better.”
She began seeing McNeil more frequently and began hearing his stories.
He’d tell stories of his past, his life.
He told her that his family was a struggling single mother.
He said he was a retired police officer, and that he worked for the Boston Police Department.
He talked about being a former member of the Navy.
“In the summer of 1999, my wife and I moved to Brooklyn to start a new life,” McLeod says, explaining that he and Mary lived on Long Island.
Mary would have no idea what to expect from her new life.
“We were so nervous, we were nervous to see our family.
But we found that he was such a nice guy, he really made us feel at home.”
Mary McLeod was shocked to discover that McNeil once told her about his drug use.
“You know how you talk to a drug addict, and he’s like, Oh, I’ve been doing drugs for so long, I’m used to it.
And then, he’s going, Well I don’t know, what’s wrong with me?
But I knew what I had to do,” Mary says.
McMeel never talked about McNeil using drugs.
“But he always talked about how he felt like he was doing drugs to