Return Home

Dear Hector

Back to Episode

Reporter Bianca Giaever brings us a story of forgiveness that's nearly impossible to comprehend -- even for the man at the center of it, an octogenarian named Hector Black.

Hector and Bianca

Produced by:

Andy Mills

Comments [47]

LFP2015 from Richmond, VA

Such an intense, emotional story.

I was ready to nominate Hector for sainthood ... right up until the details of his daughter's murder were revealed.

Let's be clear: the scumbag Ivan raped Patricia several times after she was dead! Let that sink in. Anybody who does something so vile doesn't deserve forgiveness, empathy, understanding, or even continued life.

Maybe I'll get to Hector's level of "grace" someday, but I'm certainly not there now...

May. 10 2016 11:09 PM

One of the most powerful examples of individual forgiveness I have heard in recent times. Amazing. Thanks for sharing this.

May. 08 2016 08:25 PM
MJaen from Denver, CO

One of the best stories I've heard regarding forgives and redemption. Goodness will always prevail, even from the most horrendous situation human beings could ever face. Hector is proof that evil will never win!!!

May. 07 2016 05:11 PM
Patrick Ryan from Nashville

Several years ago as President of the Tennessee World Affairs Council I was asked to speak on a panel in Cookeville about peace and reconciliation. My role was to talk about international crises and peacemaking. There were two other panelists. I followed Hector Black after he told this story. I don't think anyone heard a word I had to say, they were all too choked up -- and I kept it very short. Hector is among the most remarkable individuals I've had the pleasure to meet.

Aug. 23 2015 07:50 PM
Alamuru Krishna from United States

Some experiences are transformative - they change you, or at least make you change your mind. Some experiences are solidifying. They reinforce your core beliefs. This story was the later for me in solidifying my appreciation of forgiveness and allowing me to marvel at the capacity of Hector to bring such qualities to life. This reminded me of a clip from Gandhi move (not sure if literally true, but is certainly consistent with Gandhi's spirit). In that scene Gandhi advises a man who killed a muslim child in revenge for the murder of his own child. His advice? Adopt and raise another boy - only make sure he is a muslim child and is brought up as one. He says, that's the way out of hell. You can watch the clip here:

Jun. 09 2015 02:19 AM
Johan Bengter from Sweden

Thanks for the story. For those touched by it, I recommend WHAT’S SO AMAZING ABOUT GRACE? a book by Philip Yancey, that really helped me understand the importance of forgiveness.

Mar. 05 2015 07:43 AM
Luke from Albuquerque

I think all I wanted to say been said. I too need to reflect love back to this story and the people involved. The story messed up my evening. I feel better tho knowing there are people out there that can feel and explore their feelings about such troubling and difficult circumstances. It was a great follow up to the other blame stories. The balancing of controversial issues is really effective and seems fair and humane. Kudos to producers and hosts. Thank you for ruining my evening. Looking forward to the next time.

May. 25 2014 08:46 PM
Dyllo from london west uk

I love radio lab a real step away from some of the drivel you hear elsewhere.
informative upsetting scary funny all on one site!
Peterrosenberg brought me to here.
Maybe you guys could do a science thing on frame of reference?
How fast is a fly flying in a car driving on a motorway...
i really love the show

May. 20 2014 05:52 PM
Dave Morath from Pennsylvania

I knew the Blacks briefly when I worked at Emmaus House in the early 70s and took kids to visit their farm in Villa Rica. They impressed me as folks who tried to walk the walk in a humble way. Through mutual friends, I was aware of Tricia's murder and Hector's courtroom statement. Learning of the letters was a revelation. During a week of botched executions in Oklahoma, it is good to hear of a different, improbable, more difficult way. Thank you, Hector and Susie.

May. 06 2014 06:16 PM
Kristen from Hudson, NY

Thank you Radiolab, for sharing Hector's story. Hector, hearing your story left me filled with emotion and so grateful to live in a world where kindness can shine through darkness, as you have allowed it to shine in your life, despite the tragedy of losing Patricia. I say this not from a religious standpoint, but from the personal viewpoint that good and evil DO exist, and part of the great human challenge is to allow good to prevail. You have taught such a strong lesson in how to do so, by forging a connection with Ivan despite your own pain. The type of man you seem to be- from moving to the seat of the civil rights movement to be able to understand it; to adopting a child in need, a child of a different race- you are a perfect example of the type of man that is needed MORE in this world where sadly, evil often wins out over good. May you be blessed with the knowledge of having lived a life that has touched countless others in a beautiful way. Perhaps most significant of all, you have touched Ivan's life, someone who otherwise would have been lost to a void of darkness as he lives out his life in prison. There is so much to ponder and be learned from your example and story... I will be pondering and learning for a long time to come. Thank you.

May. 05 2014 02:22 PM
Samuel A. from San Francisco, CA

I was so overcome by this story that I almost had to stop driving. One hopes that when faced with such pain we might each have the strength and conviction and character to act as this man has. Thank you so much for your work to share this story and to those who lived it for creating a story with this much power to teach peace by example.

May. 05 2014 12:23 AM
Gary Hill from Lompoc, CA

This story so strongly brought to mind scripture:

Matthew 25

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’

Hector, you have made this passage real. From what we've heard about Dolores, you are most certainly living up to what she would have wanted. May the young man learn to forgive himself, and bringing someone out of hell is the greatest of acts. By being yourself, I think you are making that possible. Darkness will not have won here.

May. 04 2014 02:15 PM
Katherine Osburn from Mesa, AZ

My husband Charlie and I had the privilege of knowing Hector and Susie when we lived in Cookeville, TN. Charlie worked with Hector in Vets for Peace. I just heard this broadcast, but I have heard this story several times, and each time it still both breaks my heart and inspires me. To those of you who thought it glorified violence or dismissed the moral culpability of this man's heinous act, I urge you to reconsider. Hector says plainly that this man is responsible and is rightly imprisoned for his crime. Yet the larger point remains that this amazing man did what is needed for us all to move forward as a species--he forgave the unforgivable through the Grace of a God who is the essence of love. Thanks, Radiolab, for telling this beautiful story of redemption.

May. 03 2014 07:26 PM
Suz from SF from San Franciso,CA

Your story about Hector Black's Daughter Patricia was inspiring, unimaginable, profound & brought me to tears several times. That someone could forgive such a heinous act on their beloved child.... And this parent's love for his daughter that Mr Black showed us. Mr Black in a super heroic way show forgiveness to the perpetrator of Patricia's death is a lesson, that I thank you for sharing.

May. 03 2014 07:19 PM
Adrian Menichelli from Saddle Brook, NJ

Thank you for your testimony!
I just want to said how much I admire you, you have enormous capacity of forgiveness and that potentially would make the world better. I couldn't stop listening, I can't stop thinking of you.
Thank you,

May. 02 2014 09:27 AM
Karl Hepler from 30087

After listening to this, I couldn't get it out of my head. I didn't know what to feel - it's a very emotionally complex story. I listened to it again and still couldn't decide how I felt - and I still can't. So I did the only thing I could think of: I took bits and pieces of it and wrote a murder ballad called "Sincerely, Ivan". You can listen to it here:

Apr. 29 2014 05:26 PM
Quaker Sally from Mexico

while forgiveness is the main thing in defusing resentments which fuel addictions and depression, in this case, there are traces of such self- and other-deception in the addict/murderer that I fear it's contagious to dear kind Hector, seeing more than the best in others and "being" what he would have preferred (or imagined)existed in the other. This has been my own fatal flaw. Men have been forgiving themselves through their Male Deity for ages, e.g.. cruel crimes of abandoning and lying about, disowning and ignoring, -- disrespecting a good mother, however resented by former husbands who moved on to other women. We love all our children, forever. Society must help us protect them from their self-serving lies.

Apr. 04 2014 04:03 PM

I find this story disgusting. I am glad radiolab was fair about presenting it. I would NOT want Hector as my neighbor, nor would I trust him with my kids. I think I understand him. His forgiveness of Ivan is similar to Stockholm Syndrome. Perhaps he feels that there is no circumstances in which he should hate. I disagree. We have all of our emotions for a reason. Without retribution, society is worthless. Apparently, Hector is unable to face evil. That is a flaw, not a strength. All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to look away. Does it show respect for human life, or disrespect, to do what Hector did? I don't want to live where "i'm ok, you're ok (no matter what you've done)" is the accepted norm.

Mar. 22 2014 03:30 AM
Tolbert from Frederick

Hector, hearing this piece, I think Patricia would approve of your means of grieving her loss and your healing of both yourself and Ivan.

Feb. 26 2014 03:52 PM
Louise Cameron from Saint Louis, Missouri

Thank you so much for sharing Hector Black's story with all of us. I was thrilled to hear him because I knew him and his family briefly in Atlanta in the 1960s. Leaders at Quaker House asked me, then a student at Agnes Scott College, if I would go to the Black's house to play with their three daughters. Hector and Susie opened my eyes to a way of life and service to people that I had not experienced in my life of privilege. I had often wondered what happened to Hector and Susie and their family, so thank you for sharing the tragic but very inspiring story I heard last night.

Feb. 24 2014 05:45 PM

This whole episode was absolutely fascinating. It makes me wonder if there's a better way of dealing with crime than what we have. This is both a painful and a beautiful situation; to befriend the man who killed your daughter. By accepting this, Hector, you have created something powerful and inspiring.

Feb. 22 2014 12:24 AM
George Edwards from Newcastle, Australia.

This was the most astounding radio I've ever heard.

I listen to RadioLab whilst doing mundane chores, i.e., cleaning, cooking, exercising. This segment completely arrested me. There I was, standing like a zombie: wide-eyed, silent, mouth open, with the vacuum cleaner in hand and whirring away, just ....listening.

Keep up the good lads.

Jan. 12 2014 10:00 PM
Vuli from South Africa

This segment left me speechless. Thank you RadioLab. And Hector, I really am in awe of the generosity of your spirit. I learnt a lot from your story. Thank you.

Jan. 05 2014 06:53 AM

Thank you for your story. I am very inspired by your words and character. The power of love and forgiveness to heal is amazing.

Dec. 20 2013 04:31 PM
Andy from DC

This is a very moving story. I am happy to have been able to hear it. The potential of the human heart for good - even in the most terrible of circumstances - is truly limitless.

Nov. 07 2013 11:10 AM
Kate from New York

I volunteer inside a maximum security prison, working with men to use the arts as a tool for rehabilitation. It helps to improve cognitive skills, critical thinking, reading comprehension, cultivate a sense of responsibility, an understanding of teamwork and to develop empathy. I was enormously moved by Hector's ability to begin and then continue a conversation with the man who took his daughter's life. This story reaffirms for me what I see as I engage with the men in my program: that forgiveness, acceptance of responsibility, growth, discovery and rehabilitation are often possible, even when the crimes have been heinous.

Oct. 16 2013 11:50 AM


You really are an inspiration and your story is truly touching and powerful. I sat in awe of you for a good long while and then went home and shared this amazing story of forgiveness with my family. Thank you much for your courage and strength and kindness!!

Oct. 09 2013 01:32 PM
Ryan Sullivan from Kansas City

Hector's actions are truly amazing. I could never be that strong of a man.

Oct. 09 2013 01:25 AM
Todd Beckett from Seattle Wa

This is very moving, and gets to some spiritual truth that only makes sense when lived. If you do another program on forgiveness, you might think about this chapter in my story:

Todd J. Beckett

Oct. 06 2013 03:26 PM
Nechesa from Brooklyn, NY

Thank you, Hector. Thank you for such an incredible story of the power of forgiveness and compassion.

I am deeply moved and inspired.


Oct. 06 2013 11:54 AM
Allan from Victoria, Canada

KG: You've misread this segment as badly as Bob Dole misread Trainspotting when he complained that the movie glorified heroine use because the protagonists make some glib rationalization concerning their chosen lifestyle, before a charming encounter with "the worst toilet in Scotland" and the death of their infant Dawn due to protracted neglect, one of the hardest scenes to watch in all of movie history.

RadioLab offered you two invitations to "take a pass" on the graphic description. Having failed to heed this warning (do you know yourself at all?) you would have them neuter this profound story because you're squeamish about the human capacity for violence the same way the Victorians were squeamish about natural biological functions?

Some of us choose to confront the daemons of the human condition by facing them, not by running away. I can't say I found Darwin's Nightmare, Bus 174, Hotel Rwanda, Grave Of The Fireflies or Dan Carlin's Ghosts of the Ostfront pleasant experiences. The last of these covers the rape of Berlin, which was 100,000 times worse than this episode, except for Stalin's poignant observation that "If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that's only statistics." Despite their grim content, each of these experiences deepened my humanity.

I half expected to find more comments here, but I guess I was foolish. There's no way to put a trite spin on this story. That alone eliminates 90% of the people one encounters in most comment threads. I can only say I admire Hector for charting his own path in a time of inner crisis and for not falling into a caricature of anguish and vengeance, and finding grace in its most perplexing form by such an improbable route. Yes, "grace" is the right word, out there far beyond the extremity of human comprehension.

I'll venture one further observation where the trite fears to tread. Hector's inscrutable courage makes the very difficult Breaking the Waves a better movie. I'm not religious, but this film challenged me. If after another twenty years I'm masochistic enough to watch it again, when the savage bell peals (to crib a phrase from Ebert's review), I'll think back to Hector and his daughter, and not Bess.

Thank you, RadioLab, for this superb segment.

Oct. 01 2013 02:09 PM
Jill G

Thank you, Hector, for your willingness to share this story. Your acts of unmitigated kindness are truly inspiring. Many blessings to you and your family.

In gratitude,

Sep. 30 2013 08:42 PM

I have cried like a little boy listening to this ...

Forgiveness is way more powerful vendetta than punishment or blame. Living with crime and knowledge that one is still accepted must doubly hurt.

Thanks for this great story ....

Sep. 29 2013 02:55 PM
KG from CA

I have not been able to sleep since your podcast on "Blame."

I can't get the image of that poor woman being strangled out of my head. You may have thought the episode was about forgiveness, but for many of your audience members, what will be remembered is the horribly disturbing act.

I really thought the violent description was uncalled for and contributes to a world that hurts women. If you listen to podcasts in the car as I do it is impossible to change the episode or fast forward.

I have enjoyed and contributed $ to Radiolab every year, but will NOT be sending another contribution. I want to contribute to programs that try to help make the world better, not those who use violence to get ratings from the young male audience.

It's too bad. You had many good shows, but I will never trust you again.


Sep. 27 2013 05:09 PM
Hector Black from Cookeville Tennessee

Your comments mean a great deal to me. Thank you. I don't see myself as a hero, I'm not especially strong. That's not me trying to be humble. As some of you said, it is a mystical experience - something coming from beyond: call it "grace" or whatever. I am just the instrument through which it happened.
It is painful to tell the story, but that is nothing, when I know hearts have been touched. That helps me to continue. And so again, Thank You. Hector

Sep. 27 2013 11:40 AM
Michael H from Camillus NY

Beautiful. This story moved me in such a deep and wonderful way. Hector Black is a superhero.

Sep. 21 2013 09:26 AM
Linda Hollingsworth from La Mesa, CA

Thank you for giving Hector a chance to tell his story. Many years ago I heard this story or another one like it. I remembered a story where the distraught parents whose only child who was raped and murdered, forgave her murderer. Not for him, but for themselves. They told him that he had taken their only child,he owed them a replacement, and he was it. The story proceeded much the way Hector's did, but in the one I heard, the man was paroled and they brought him home. I am so thankful to now know that this kind of forgiveness is possible and brought such a positive change in both the forgiver and the forgiven.

Sep. 20 2013 05:59 PM

Thank you Radiolab for this story. It was a profound experience to hear this story.

Sep. 19 2013 09:19 PM
Roxaneleigh from Seattle

What a beautiful testament to the power of forgiveness. I love this man.

Sep. 18 2013 04:06 PM
Chad R. Allen from Grand Rapids, MI

Bianca, thank you. What a powerful piece. I was in tears.

Sep. 18 2013 08:31 AM
Becca from Long Beach, California

I don't believe that I will ever hear a more compelling story in my life.

Sep. 16 2013 05:29 PM
Georgia from NYC

Thanks so for airing Hector Black's story. I remember hearing it years ago on StoryCorps but as a much shorter version. Inspired me to go back and look it up.

Grateful that Radiolab brought us a longer, fuller piece about this truly amazing human being.

Sep. 14 2013 04:55 PM

Thank you for this powerful was difficult to hear--but an honor to hear from this man who has lived through so much. Something about hearing stories of people who have lived through a nightmare and yet have experienced redemption is both unsettling and incredibly hopeful. Made me think of an amazing documentary I saw years ago called As We Forgive, which took a look at what I can only call the 'forgiveness/reconciliation movement' in Rwanda 10 years after the genocide, and followed a number of specific individuals who came to forgive the people who killed their family member--and developed a friendship with the guilty person. For some it was a choice they made and then continued to make, for one woman I remember, it was a long process of emotional struggle and even restitution...but I recently saw a follow-up on the story and was amazed to see how these relationships last and grow into. I've come to the conclusion that true forgiveness has to be otherworldly--you can make a choice, but I don't think that power to truly forgive is something you can just psyche up--there's something very mystical about it--like a story, it unfolds in time and has the potential to generate something that didn't exist before.

Sep. 14 2013 12:26 AM
Don from PA, USA

Whatever higher ideal that the world's religions and secular philosophies are shooting for... whatever is the quality in a person we try to describe with words like "enlightened", or "divine", or whatever, Mr. Black is closer to it than just about all of us. It doesn't even strike me as "rational". I think it's going to take me a long time to even begin to comprehend Mr. Black's story.

Sep. 13 2013 03:38 PM
Raymond from Pittsburgh

This reminded me of a piece on StoryCorps, a mother not only forgives her son's killer, but acts as a mother to him.

Most "emotional" stories come across as heavy-handed to me, but these two stories about forgiveness are really moving.

Sep. 13 2013 03:36 PM
Johji from Delray Beach, FL

I am floored.

Mr. Black shows us real human emotion and the eventual forgiveness we all face at some point in our lives. Forgiveness is much more powerful than revenge or redemption. To forgive takes infinitely more strength and character. Thank you very much for this story.

Sep. 13 2013 01:31 PM
David W


Just wow.

This is the most powerful story I've ever heard on radio. You guys present such a strange premise, a father forgiving and bonding with his daughter's murderer with such remarkable empathy and skillful pacing. You feel the anger with Hector yet also understand his eventual compassion for the one that hurt him so.


Sep. 13 2013 01:10 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.