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Jailing the Johnston Gang: Bringing Serial Murderers to Justice

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2010

    Swing and a miss...

    Given that Mowday covered the Johnston Bros. reign of terror in the Penn./Delaware/Maryland region, along with the trial of David and Norman Johnston across the state of Pennsylvania (and Bruce Sr.'s trial in Chester County), I anticipated a book that would share the inside story of disagreements, tension and conflict within the law enforcement community on how to best investigate - then convict - these obvious thugs. That's not what I read. Generally speaking, this is a big pat on the back to all Mowday's police buddies, and I think he missed a great opportunity to really tell a good yarn. That said, in my personal experience as a cops reporter, I've found that most officers don't like good storytelling - they appreciate accolades - and this book doesn't come up short on that front.

    OK, so you can tell I really didn't like the book much, but let me point out what I think is good about it. Mowday tells the tale of a very frightening time in local history. For those unfamiliar with the crime spree orchestrated by the Johnstons, this is a decent primer. As noted in the detailed ratings, it's fine for local book clubs. Johnston also makes efficient use of court and investigative records, which provide good dialogue from the cast of characters that landed in jail. He also organized the book well. Starting with Robin Miller's murder was the right jumping off point. What unfolded plays out in the pages to follow.

    Where could Mowday have done more?

    1.) Character development. I never got a sense of who the Johnstons were, what made them tick, if there were any sympathetic traits in the men. By no means am I sticking up for these guys, but the "black and white" nature of the men and women in these pages got pretty old, pretty fast. I'd have appreciated more nuance.

    2.) As noted above, I wish Mowday had examined the internal conflicts among investigators. That tension would have made for a more gripping story. Were there moments where the case was almost bungled? What about the prosecution's strategy? What about some of the epilogues on the men and women - on both sides of the law - and where they are today? All that is lacking. (Well, except for the surviving Johnston brothers. Obviously, they're still in jail.)

    3.) This is a smaller point, but c'mon, show better photos than a bunch of retired cops posing for a point-and-shoot camera. SURELY they have old crime scene photos they could have shared, or even their police portraits from the 1970s. I wish I knew what these guys looked like back then, if anything to see some wicked sideburns.

    To rehash all of the above, this could have been a great STORY, something that made me want to keep reading from start to finish, and something that made me feel chills. None of that was present (for this reviewer, at least). This was a book written to please the cops who spoke with Mowday and - I'd place money on this - were some of his off-the-record sources/tipsters when he was initially covering the investigation. Nothing wrong with that, granted, but it doesn't make for fun reading. I had to force my way through the book, and given the inherently gripping saga here, I guess I'm ultimately just disappointed in the final product.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2009

    recalling the johnston reign of terror

    a few years back a criminal group threatened to bring local government to its knees in the suburban philadelphia/maryland area. policemen were murdered; witnesses were intimidated. at the time it was not clear whether the johnston gang or the local government would end up in authority. and contrary to a lot of current romantic claptrap there was nothing appealing about these thugs -- they were pure danger. ultimately the good guys won, but their victory was the result of a lot of hard work by dedicated professionals. with lesser heroes the struggle could well have had another outcome. this book is a reminder of the good work law enforcement agents at all levels do to protect us. a lot of us would benefit by reading this book and pondering the lessons learned from it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2009

    Jailing The Johnston Gang reveals the evil in our society

    Jailing The Johnston Gang tells the true story behind the movie At Close Range. The Johnston brothers murdered at least 10 people and terrorized citizens all along the Eastern seaboard. This book tells of the evil that exists in our society. One brother raped his son's girlfriend, killed his stepson and paid to murder his son.
    This is the true story, not a Hollywoodized version told with input from the law enforcement representatives that put the Johnstons in jail.
    One professor said the case would have been front-page copy across the nation for months if it would have taken place in New York City.
    This is an exciting read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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