Millennials have no morals: What I learned from the murder of Phil Masterson

Ashley Herzog
7 min readNov 24, 2021

In the fall of 2011, my friend’s body was found in a wooded area on a Lake Erie island, covered in a tarp and missing his clothes. But what happened to him was no mystery.

Georgeanne Masterson’s favorite picture of her son.

I’ll never forget the phone call I answered, mid-morning on a weekday, in the fall of 2011. It was the day after Labor Day, and I’d spent the weekend trying to ignore my looming sense of dread. I blamed my pregnant brain — I was eight months along — and got back to the daily grind. Until I got the call.

“There’s an article in the Plain Dealer this morning — Phil Masterson? Weren’t you friends with him?”

I remember hearing a sudden burst of static, the kind that happens in old-school horror movies before the killer cuts the victim’s phone line. Looking back, I know that was probably my imagination. But the next words I heard were not.

“He was killed on Put-in-Bay this weekend.”

What do you mean, killed? How? By a drunk driver? I hung up the phone and found out I was late to the media circus — everyone else had found out two days earlier, when I was still at a cabin in Northern Michigan with virtually no cell phone service. Phil Masterson was killed in a “senseless beating,” and a suspect, Zachary Brody, had already been named. Since I was the last to know, I silently promised I’d also be one of the last to forget.

And I didn’t forget, not for a day. I did, however, keep my feelings private for many years. I was married and raising a baby. I was supposed to mutter “what a tragedy” and move on, at least publicly.

But it was that word that stuck in my head: senseless.

That was the word I kept hearing, ad nauseum, to describe Phil’s killing.

Phil Masterson’s lifeless body was discovered in a wooded area on Put-in-Bay Island in Lake Erie, a popular long-weekend destination for Ohioans like us. Phil was found wrapped in a grill tarp and missing his clothes, save for a pair of mesh shorts. He had been savagely beaten, his body covered in bruises. The judge would eventually call it “the worst beating” he had ever seen “inflicted without a weapon.” But an autopsy found that Phil had actually survived the initial assault. The official…

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Ashley Herzog

New account. I’m still a professional journalist, novelist, and radio host. And Catherine’s mom.