A Violent Act

Overview

Early on the morning of September 22, 1986, Mike Wayne Jackson - age forty, a drifter, in and out of jail for almost twenty years, exhausted, filthy, at the end of his rope - entered the annals of major crime. Stepping out of his house on a quiet residential street in Indianapolis, he shot and killed the man who was approaching: his newly appointed probation officer, a man he barely knew, a much-loved husband and father named Tom Gahl. Before the day was over, Jackson would twice again commit murder. By nightfall...
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Overview

Early on the morning of September 22, 1986, Mike Wayne Jackson - age forty, a drifter, in and out of jail for almost twenty years, exhausted, filthy, at the end of his rope - entered the annals of major crime. Stepping out of his house on a quiet residential street in Indianapolis, he shot and killed the man who was approaching: his newly appointed probation officer, a man he barely knew, a much-loved husband and father named Tom Gahl. Before the day was over, Jackson would twice again commit murder. By nightfall he would be the most sought-after criminal at large in America. Bringing us close to Jackson, his world, and his victims, Alec Wilkinson carries crime reportage to a new level in a book that combines the pace, range, and intricacy of a novel with scrupulously authentic fact as it tells a riveting story that is profoundly emblematic of American violence, with its great burden of grief. We follow Jackson from the moment of the first shooting through his frantic rampage in stolen trucks and cars - his victims robbed, killed, kidnapped, or frightened nearly to death - to a small town outside St. Louis. We see him pursued by local police, state troopers, and F.B.I. agents, hiding out in or around the town - no one is ever quite sure where he is - for many long days. We enter the lives of the terrorized local residents and the dogged, tireless, working days and nights of the people, from sheriffs to Indian-style trackers, whose work is the chase and capture of dangerous criminals. We come to know Jackson through the eyes of his mother and his wife as they struggle to understand the disordered, needy, terrifying, yet sometimes touching man whose fate is entangled with their own. And, most deeply, we come to know Nancy Gahl, the young widow of the murdered probation officer. Wilkinson evokes the very nature and shape of grief as he tells, in quiet and almost overwhelming detail, what Nancy experiences from day to day as she and her two sons try to cope with th

Early on the morning of September 22, 1986, Mike Jackson shot and killed a man he had never met--his newly appointed parole officer, Tom Gahl. Out of that single act of violence the award-winning author of Big Sugar has created a work of journalism that lays bare the full scope of the concern over violence in our society.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
New Yorker writer Wilkinson chronicles an ex-convict's murder of his probation officer and subsequent rampage across rural Missouri. Mar.
Library Journal
What causes violence and what are the consequences of that violence? Wilkinson The Riverkeeper , LJ 8/1/91 tells the story of Mike Wayne Jackson, whose adult life was characterized by acts of rage, followed by imprisonment or commitment to a mental institution. Society, within its limits, tried to cope with Jackson, offering as much assistance as possible, but his behavior became more and more erratic. Ultimately, he killed his probation officer and then went on a rampage, killing two more people. After eight days of sheer terror for the small town he hid in, Jackson was found dead, killed by his own hand. But this book is also the story of the dead probation officer's family. Tom Gahl left a wife and two young sons, who have struggled to make their lives whole but who are constantly haunted by that one senseless act of violence. This is a powerfully written, searing story of violence and grief that forces the reader to confront the realities of an America not totally in control. Recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/92.-- Sandra K. Lindheimer, Middlesex Law Lib., Cambridge
Kirkus Reviews
Superb chronicle of a homicidal madman who terrorized a small midwestern town. Wilkinson (The Riverkeeper, 1991, etc.) uses spare narration, underpinned by potent detail, to vivify a chilling story. When the scruffy figure in a long blue coat strode in to James Hall's grocery store on September 22, l986, Hall might have figured the man was just another can-picker. A lone customer stared at the silver paint on Mike Wayne Jackson's long beard as Jackson raised a shotgun from under his coat and blasted Hall—the second man he had murdered that hour. Fifteen minutes earlier, Jackson's probation officer had arrived at the killer's new residence—an abandoned Indianapolis house without electricity or water where Jackson slept on a pile of straw. Jackson had gunned the P.O. three times, pausing to hear him beg for his life. Eight hours, four car-hijackings, and one murder (that of Hall) later, Jackson was the most wanted criminal in America. His life had been spent largely in prisons and state hospitals; his I.Q. was normal; the same woman had married him twice although he beat her, put LSD in her food, and was constantly unfaithful. Shortly after the murders, Jackson was spotted in Wright City, Indiana, a farming community of 1200—and panic ensued. Schools closed, farmers toted rifles on their tractors, and families practiced house-evacuation drills. The FBI set roadblocks and searched with helicopters and even with a special heat-detecting plane—to no avail. But someone at last remembered an expert tracker, J.R. Buchanan of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Flown in, Buchanan found the emaciated corpse of Jackson in a barn, eyes open, shotgun at his right side, a few soybean stalksand a milk jug of water at the other. Enigmatic to all, Jackson's paroxysm of random killing evoked a primal terror. Wilkinson's deceptively simple account of it is uncommonly thought-provoking and, using not one wasted word, exemplifies the writer's art.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679749820
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/15/1994
  • Edition description: 1st Vintage Books ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 225
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.68 (d)

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