A year ago this week, Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie set out on their cross-country road trip from New York state, a journey that Petito hoped might launch a career as a travel blogger. The world knows how it ended: Laundrie strangled her the next month at their camp in Wyoming, then drove home alone to Florida before killing himself. At Vanity Fair, Kathleen Hale offers what is perhaps the most definitive account to date of what happened, weaving together interviews, police records, and online posts. But the story isn't just about the trip—it goes back to the start of the unlikely relationship between the vibrant Petito and the practically anti-social Laundrie. One friend recounts how an angry Laundrie tried to prevent Petito from going out with her one night by taking her ID. The ensuing confrontation turned physical, and the friend encouraged Petito to leave him.
Petito didn't do so, but she confided that Laundrie had what she "called 'episodes,' in which he heard voices and couldn’t fall asleep because they were so distracting," writes Hale. She said they fought a lot, but Petito blamed herself—a narrative that would repeat itself on the road in what police have since acknowledged was a botched traffic stop in Utah. An officer wondered why Petito couldn't stop crying. "Perhaps another cop would stop to wonder whether getting slapped, then interrogated about it—and eventually labeled 'the aggressor'—might have caused Gabby’s distress," writes Hale. The story paints a portrait of a controlling Laundrie, who measured his self-worth through his relationship with Petito, seethed at her connection with the outside world through her budding career, and actively tried to undermine it. Read the full piece, which includes a tough-to-read account of what Petito likely endured during her minutes-long strangulation. (Read more Longform stories.)