Phillip Liebowitz tells of the last time he and three of his friends, Melvin, Arnold and Harold, climbed onto a roof and a water tower peeping in the window from fifty feet away to watch the rabbi and his wife have sex. The sexual act is climaxed as eleven year old Arnold falls off the rooftop leaving behind his "ring hooked a nailhead and the ring and the ring finger remained."
I'm not sure why Michaels uses "Aryan yellow" for "pins about her ears" and "Arabic black eyes" to describe the Orthodox Jewish wife who has shaven her head and wears different wigs. The boys have seen their sexual ritual several times.
Are the boys murderers? They were doing something they shouldn't have which caused an accident. Sinful? Phillip thought the rabbi mouthed murderer when he and his wife caught them watching and Arnold falling.
The story depicts the sexual urges of young boys, curiosity, energy and fear. Phillip's relatives have been dying right and left and he wants "proximity to darkness, strangeness." He found his darkness and it was probably more than he bargained for. His family came from Poland and then never left the neighborhood again. The young don't want this. They boys had to go away to a youth camp or detention that was overseen by World War II veterans.
I think the theme is embodied in this sentence. "Some carried shrapnel in their bodies." We all carry our sins with us as in baggage/personal history that affects us throughout our lives and Melvin, Phillip and Harold have the death of their friend to carry.
"Murderers" was published in 1975 in Michaels' collection, I Would Have Saved Them If I Could.