Monday, December 11, 2006

Weird Murder Case Gets A Whole Lot Weirder

By Kara Platoni
Mon, Dec 11, 2006 at 3:25 PM

The testimony of Hans and Nina Reiser's seven-year-old son apparently did little to clear up the mysteries surrounding his mother's disappearance and presumed death. The Chronicle is reporting that he apparently recanted testimony given earlier to Oakland police about hearing his parents fighting the day Nina Reiser went missing. Hans Reiser's attorney, William DuBois, followed up by grilling the missing woman's best friend on whether Nina Reiser had been involved in extramarital affairs, sadomasochism, or ... the KGB. (Her friend answered no on all counts.) And while this may seem out of the blue for a murder trial that most of the papers are covering as a straight did-he-or-didn't-he? story, there's always been more lurking in the back of this story than the dailies are letting on.

For instance, does any of this sadomasochism talk have to do with an earlier account from Bay City News, which you can still find up on the CBS 5 and ABC 7 Web sites, detailing a legal skirmish between software developer Hans Reiser and former business associate Sean Sturgeon, in which Reiser alleged that Sturgeon had "drugged [his] wife with Ecstasy," "engaged in bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism techniques" with her, and carried on a secret affair with her for the purposes of getting her to help him steal company assets? According to Bay City News, Reiser's suit also alleged that Sturgeon had threatened to report Hans Reiser to the IRS; have him, his children, or mother harmed; and forced him to engage in something called "Death Yoga."

(Whether there's anything to the allegations about an affair with Sturgeon, Nina Reiser filed for divorce in 2004 and was separated from her husband at the time of her disappearance. At the time, she had a boyfriend named Anthony Zografos, who seemed as eager to talk to the media about searching for the missing woman as Hans Reiser, who ran away from this NBC 11 news crew, was not.)

And what about the stories of Hans Reiser's financial and professional troubles? Well known for his eccentricities and for being an eighth-grade dropout who went to UC Berkeley at age fifteen, Reiser is the founder of Namesys Inc. and the inventor of the ReiserFS file system software. A version of it called Reiser3 was used by Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise products, but it was well known that in 2004 Novell had been considering switching to a rival system instead of using the then-under-development Reiser4 -- a loss for Reiser's company. Furthermore, Reiser was encountering difficulties with getting the new version of the file system accepted as part of the Linux kernel, or operating system. Linux is the extremely popular open-source software system created by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Being frozen out of the kernal would have been a substantial blow to Namesys.

Linux.com has a lengthy, detailed article devoted to the politics of Reiser4's struggle for kernal acceptance, which links to Reiser's sometimes testy e-mails to other developers asserting the superiority of his own code. KernalNewbies.org has an FAQ asserting that part of the reason for Reiser4's difficulty gaining acceptace was the combative attitude of its creator and the resulting ill-will in the Linux community. You can read Reiser's response to the FAQ here, in which he claims that the Linux powers that be "are obnoxious and disrespectful to submissions because they enjoy powertripping."

And what about this particularly testy e-mail linked to in earlier coverage on sites like CNET's News.com? This 2004 mailing list posting allegedly from Hans Reiser blames Namesys' financial woes on the Reisers' ongoing divorce. The posting reads, in part:

    I am more than 170k in debt, and Namesys is doing badly fiscally. A technical great success being stabilized now, but then there is my ongoing fiscal disaster. Once again, we are missing payroll. My wife is divorcing me in part because I keep going deeper into debt, and I thank her for divorcing me now rather than later. Unfortunately she is making the divorce messy enough to keep me from pulling Namesys out of the fiscal tailspin by consuming all my time with things like proving I am not making the fantastic amounts of money she claims I am.

This is one rabbit hole that shows no signs of having reached its end.

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