"I'm not going to make it to my thirty-sixth birthday," he announced. He saw it on the seven-inch flat-screen TV he keeps in his cell, a picture called Seven Pounds, about a guy who's so distraught after killing his fiancée and six others in a car accident that he decides to commit suicide and donate his organs to people in need. He'd give away his heart and lungs and liver and corneas and bone marrow and whatever else could be salvaged. It was a studio shot, one I'd seen at his trial, the three kids gazing smiley and wide-eyed into the camera, heartbreakingly cute.

The movie, Longo said, felt like a punch in the gut. For years, he said, he'd sat in jail wondering how he could do anything worthwhile, anything at all to help even one person, rather than just rot away on death row. "Every time I turned around or rolled over, there they were staring at me," Longo wrote in a letter he mailed me on May 8, 2009, nine weeks after the call.

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He'd tell me everything, he promised, if I helped with his plan. The first time I heard the name Christian Longo was in February 2002, when a reporter from the Portland Oregonian called and asked what I knew of the Longo-family murders. I soon learned that two months previous, the body of Zachery Longo had been found floating facedown in a muddy pond near the coastal village of Waldport, Oregon.

Here was a chance, I believed, to extinguish Longo from my life forever. When police divers searched for clues, they found, beneath a low bridge, his sister, Sadie.

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Divers explored the marina outside the unit and discovered a pair of large, dark-green suitcases.

Inside one was the naked body of Longo's thirty-four-year-old wife, Mary Jane.

In the first year, we exchanged more than a thousand pages of handwritten letters. After I started a family of my own, I didn't communicate with Longo anymore. I remained haunted by Longo, by what he'd done; nearly every day, as I held my own kids, images of his crime — a child locked in a suitcase, or falling from a bridge, or fighting for air — would flit through my mind and I'd flinch, as if I'd brushed against a hot burner on the stove. He'd reached this conclusion, he said, after conducting a strange, self-administered psychological test.

Then he phoned me last February, the first time in more than two years. Recently, for the first time since he'd been incarcerated, he hung up a photo of his children in his cell.

I was drawn into Longo's life through the most improbable of circumstances — after the murders, while on the lam in Mexico, he took on my identity, even though we'd never met.

Starting from this bizarre connection, using charm and guile and a steady stoking of my journalist's natural curiosity (he was innocent, he was framed, he had proof, he would show me), he soon became deeply enmeshed in my own life.

"What should be most difficult to stomach is what I've done, yet somehow that part is still palatable." Lately, he added, when he looked in the mirror, he was "beginning to see a monster." He'd determined that the best solution was to give away his organs and "end on a good note."First, he needed a favor. He asked if I'd be willing to help him formulate a plan to donate his body parts.