By Sara James, Dateline NBC correspondent
It's a situation that's happened to me, and I bet it's happened to you, too. Someone new moves to the neighborhood. A stranger. We drop by, say hello, maybe even drop off a meal for the new man or woman on the block. We get to talking, exchanging life stories. The stranger tells us his name, where he's from, what he does, a bit about his past. And chances are, we believe it. Why wouldn't we? Most people are honest. Aren't they?
But have you ever found yourself wondering, is it true? Is that person really who he claims to be? Have you ever suspected, when you met someone new, if perhaps the stranger was keeping something back, or embellishing something, or maybe, just maybe, making up the whole story?
Having just made a major move myself, from big city Manhattan to a small town halfway around the world, I've thought about it even more. In small towns, people generally know one another, know one another's families. There's a track record. There's history. A new person can bring excitement, and inevitably brings mystery, too. There is no context. And, as I've learned, sometimes a stranger isn't at all who he seems to be.
All these questions began when I started reporting on the death of Jean Weaver, by all accounts a warm, friendly, principled woman. She was a loving mom, loving sister and great daughter, who was looking forward to a new life as her marriage was ending. She was a woman with much to live for, whose life was cut short.
Reporting this story also made me think of that old adage that justice delayed is justice denied. I think of Jean Weaver's family, her sisters Kathy and Colleen, decent, kind, women who clearly adored their sister. When someone killed Jean, her sisters were immediately sure they knew who the killer was. But the man who they suspected fled, and they were left to wait -- for years.
They wondered where the suspect had gone. Thousands of miles away, others wondered about a new man in their midst. There were so many questions. And in the end, for all of them, there was one man who was -- and remains -- a stranger. A man they thought they knew. But, in the end, how well do we really know anyone?
"The Stranger" airs Friday, Feb. 29 at 9pm ET on Dateline NBC.