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SHE WAS SOMEONE'S DAUGHTER, fifteen years old, found lying on a mound of earth just off a desolate country road, with frosted pink polish on her fingernails and a gaping wound where her throat had been cut. As I surveyed the scene, surrounded in stillness, I studied the details of this tableau-little girl's hands, clothing missing below the waist, bruises circling the fragile neck. But beyond the obvious evidence of violence, there was something jarring about the way the killer had left her here.
She was on her back, arms straight down at her sides. Yet after a brutal sexual assault, her legs were together now at knees and ankles, drawn up and tipped, almost demurely, to one side. Her killer had left her in a position of peaceful repose. Gently, it seemed. Tenderly. As if she were a sleeping child.
For ten years beginning in 1979, I was chief of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, at a time when its pioneering work in the field of criminal profiling first came to prominence, thanks in part to author Thomas Harris, who picked the brains of our profilers in conjuring up the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter for his novel The Silence of the Lambs.
Today, in a related incarnation, I am the founder of TheAcademy Group, an elite international crime consulting firm whose half dozen members, all FBI, CIA, or Secret Service veterans, constitute a brain trust of the world's top forensic behavioral science experts in their respective fields: from sexual homicide and child predation, to international terrorism and espionage.
In that role I have listened to tapes of the Columbine school shootings, studied the rage wounds inflicted with a golf club on Martha Moxley's skull, analyzed the JonBenet Ramsey ransom note, and helped a colleague plan his approach in debriefing the notorious FBI agent-turned-traitor Robert Hanssen. I am summoned to cases when all other investigations have failed, when law firms, police jurisdictions, or the emotionally devastated families of victims have nowhere else to turn. It is work that calls on me to be an advocate, a father confessor, and, sometimes, even a bit of the diviner.
In the course of my career I have seen horrible things-cruelty and human depravity in every imaginable permutation. In the 1980s I supervised agents investigating a series of bizarre homicides in California, in which the killer not only eviscerated his victims, but lingered at the scene while blood pooled in their abdominal cavities. Only after carefully studying the crime scene did we recognize the special proclivity of twenty-seven-year-old Richard Trenton Chase, whom the press later christened the Vampire Killer. It was revealed in the odd ring marks found on the floor next to victims, the kind that might be left by someone drinking from a blood-filled plastic yogurt cup.
A decade later, reviewing the murder of a housebound elderly woman, I noted the tremendous amounts of blood-sprays of darkening crimson on the walls, ceiling, and floors in the room where she was killed. But I was also struck by something that had not been given much significance by local police-the fact there was no blood at all on any of the room's baseboards. The killer, I realized, must have wiped them down afterward.
Even after forensic lab tests confirmed that scenario, there was still no obvious message, of the kind left as a taunt by the seasoned serial killer at a crime scene. This was evidence of a disordered perpetrator clinging to the control afforded by familiar routine. Of someone, I thought, who might recently have left a psychiatric facility. Ultimately, investigation did indeed bear out that theory-the perpetrator was a young man just released from a California state mental hospital, whose job had been cleaning the baseboards on his ward.
Now, at a rural crime scene near a farmer's field, I was trying to solve the brutal murder of an innocent fifteen-year-old girl. And I began to try to decipher what our killer had written with his savagery.
Bloodstains pointed to the precise location of the murder, a dense wood thick with stands of evergreen and maple, fifty feet from the side of the road. But the killer had chosen not to leave his victim there, and I knew what that meant. Any subject with normal human response-one who had, say, raped this young girl and then, in a panic, killed her-would have done all he could to hide his crime and avoid detection. He would have left her in the woods, perhaps in a shallow grave, or at least made some effort to hide her corpse in the brush. But this killer followed a different imperative. He had deposited his victim where he was certain she would be found.
Why would he do such a thing? Was he a braggart, a provocateur? I didn't think so. I have seen sexual predators make unspeakable displays of their victims, violating them with gun barrels and broom handles in what hardened investigators refer to as "stick jobs." But this killer had shown no such contempt. It seemed to me that there was only one plausible explanation: He had moved his victim because he did not want to leave her in the woods, unseen, where she might be vulnerable to insects or animals. He wanted whoever found her to appreciate her-as he had-with her freshness and beauty still intact.
Even so, he might have dragged her by the hair, or simply dumped her body. Instead, he had gone to the trouble of laying her carefully on a raised berm, higher than the surrounding ground. And then I began to understand. This killer did what human beings have done with objects of veneration since time immemorial. He had placed his victim on an altar.
Quickly, the pieces began to fit. After he had brutalized her, he felt remorse, very nearly a tenderness toward her. He treated her gently after he killed her, and I knew now exactly how he had transported her to this resting place. He had carried her from the spot where he had killed her the way a parent would a sleeping child-slipping one hand beneath her back, and the other under her knees. Then, when he laid her down softly on the ground, as if not to wake her, her knees had rolled gently to one side. What did this mean?
It meant that he knew her. Finally, it was clear to me. Whoever killed this young girl had also, in his own evil way, loved her.
How can those two things-love and hate-exist together in a person? In the same way, I believe, that good and evil exist in the world. In a constant state of tension, fighting each other for dominance. I know something about that struggle. I believe that I have a deeper understanding of these things than most people do.
My work has given me a profound respect for what humans suffer at the hands of evil, and a particular sensitivity for what its victims endure. During every investigation that I participate in, there is always an invisible observer at my shoulder, whose presence I never forget. Regardless of the circumstances of a case, I am always giving voice to its silent victim.
What must this young girl's final minutes have been like? Did she cry out while he was repeatedly stabbing her, or keep silent, breathing like a wounded animal, watching for the next glint of a blade? Did her thoughts turn to her parents in those final seconds, when she was overwhelmed by the deepest loneliness she had ever known? Did she experience a dissociative response, the sense of drifting upward and watching her own death as if from above? Or did she sink mercifully into unconsciousness, and feel nothing as her life ebbed away?
The most difficult part of solving a case is the fathoming of it, the understanding of the measure of evil that produced it. The rest-the legwork and interrogation-come only after the intuiting, as the means of proving an investigative hypothesis. In this instance, once I had a clear picture of how the crime had occurred, the rest was not difficult. Investigators narrowed their focus to a relatively short list of potential suspects, questioned them thoroughly, and ultimately charged and convicted an obsessive young man-the young girl's neighbor.
When I was a young man, a friend taught me the ancient art of dowsing, and after a time, I became something of a practitioner myself, finding water underground as a kind of parlor trick for friends. It might seem odd that a man so rooted in grim reality would take an interest in something so ethereal. In fact, I'm fascinated by the unseen forces at play in the lives of human beings.
Still, I'm sometimes challenged by abstract intellectual discussion about the nature of evil. If Hitler genuinely believed that he was carrying out a noble mission by exterminating Jews, some wonder, was he truly evil? Were there mitigating factors, others ask, for the genocide of his countrymen carried out by Cambodia's Pol Pot? What exactly runs through the mind of an Osama bin Laden? I've never had the time to engage in such armchair dialectics. My job has been to try to stop human predators before they kill again, and after studying them so closely over so many years, to me their traits seem clearly recognizable.
They are rational, sadistic, often intelligent, and almost invariably narcissistic. They see themselves as living in a realm somewhere above the rest of us, in a place where the rules of normal society do not apply. Over the years, I've drawn up a list of their common operating principles, something that I call the Anti-Commandments: "That which you love is what I most seek to destroy." "Life is as meaningless as death." "There are few things more pleasurable than hurting someone who is trying to help me." "People die too easily. It should be more painful, and take longer."
The depth of this psychopathic evil is beyond the comprehension of most normal people. I have seen it many times: a pedophile is arrested, a man from a comfortable, upper-class neighborhood. Suddenly, all of his neighbors express shock and disbelief. "He was such a fine, upstanding man, a doting father. Why, he even coached Little League. He can't possibly have done what he's accused of."
What those good people don't fully comprehend is that, as a pedophile, this man is, above all, a sexual abuser of children. That is what he is at his core. He hurts children because, to him, their suffering is of no consequence. It is a meaningless by-product of behavior that makes him feel good, and his own pleasure is more important to him than anything, or anyone, else. Invariably, even from behind prison bars, he will never concede that what he did was damaging to a child. No, he insists, what he did was done out of love. It's the rest of the world that doesn't understand.
The reality is that this man's wife, his nice house in the suburbs, his coaching job, even his own children, are props-the artifice that covers up, and facilitates, what he truly is. He continues to do what he does because that is what he cherishes above all else. What is most real about him is his evil.
Evil is more than a vague notion. It is an entity, and it is manifest on the earth. It has reflexes and intuition, senses vulnerability, and changes its form to adapt to its surroundings. Those who do not believe the Devil walks this earth have not seen the things that I have seen.
The stories I will relate are not fabrications. I have witnessed the unbelievable. Eviscerated children. Mothers who have sold their own toddlers into prostitution, and profited from the videotapes of them being victimized by strangers. Fathers who sleep with their daughters, and their daughter's daughters. A man who, because a six-year-old girl doesn't know her spelling words, binds her with duct tape and pierces her with an embroidery needle more than two hundred times.
Evil is not a discrete entity that springs forth fully formed. It is born in the mind, takes root there as fantasy, and prospers when normal human restraint can no longer contain it. I have seen it devour the personalities of men like Richard Speck, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy, turning them into blank-faced sociopaths who clearly know right from wrong, but choose, time and again, to follow their own base urges, with complete disregard for the terrible human suffering they cause.
I believe that every act of homicide causes a slight unbalancing in the world, and that it diminishes life's universal equation. In the interest of justice, it is imperative that someone try to right that imbalance. But the task of fighting evil can take a terrible toll on the people who are charged with it. It can cost them their families, their equilibrium, their capacity for joy.
A relentless diet of human misery and sadistic violence can bring any human being-even those armored by years of experience in a law enforcement career-to the brink of despair. I once came to that place myself. But I returned from it, because, along with the evil, I have also come to know something about the redemptive power of good.
A decade ago, I lost the person who embodied most of what was true and worthwhile in my life, and the tragedy of her death caused a grief so great that I came to question God's very existence. I made a decision to leave the world for a holy place, one that, I hoped, would be untouched by evil. I did my searching there, and made my peace. But ultimately, I came to understand that it was only by returning to the world that I would find redemption.
I have stood at the edge of the abyss and peered down into the darkest things that human beings are capable of, at times feared that evil, and very nearly seen it bring me to my knees. But, always, I have tried to conquer it, or at least to force it into submission. In the final accounting, I am a man of faith, in spite of the work that I have done. Or, perhaps, because of it.
How is it that a human being can dwell in the midst of such depravity, be reminded every day of the suffering of victims, and emerge from it intact? Is the path of evil irrevocable, or do we have the power to change it? It's not for me to preach or posture. I can only bear witness to what I have seen.
I believe that we are all players in an ongoing battle, one that is both larger and more subtle than we often realize. What follows is a dispatch from the front lines of that war-a cautionary tale. It is the story of one man's travels through darkness and redemption, a testament to the belief that in the unending struggle between God and the Devil, evil prevails in this world mostly when we, through apathy, fear, or indifference, allow it to.
In the fall of 1990 a phone call came to my Virginia consulting firm, The Academy Group, from a law firm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, requesting our help with a cold case robbery-homicide that had taken place some six years before. Its victim, a young woman in her twenties, had been found early one morning, stabbed to death, in the kitchen of the fast food restaurant where she worked. Her name was Terri Brooks.
Excerpted from Between Good and Evil by Roger L. Depue Susan Schindehette Copyright © 2005 by Roger L. Depue and Susan Schindehette . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted February 24, 2005
Hunter or hunted? If we were given a choice it seems probable that most of us would choose to be the hunter rather than the quarry. However, it sometimes occurs to me that both are fraught with danger. The hunted, quite obviously fears being captured. The one in pursuit of a criminal might fear for his life if he comes too close to a killer. So, for the pursuer there is fear, unbelievable stress, and sometimes utter horror at what human beings have done. As time passes, a culmination of these emotions might result in severe depression, which is precisely what happened to Roger Depue. He became so overcome by despair that he entered a seminary. He remained there for three years, healing and ridding himself of terrifying memories. With healing came a desire to return to the world and once more begin his task of tracking murderers by criminal profiling. He draws on his experiences as Deputy Chief of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit and a forensics group that he founded to tell his remarkable story. It is his group that was consulted in the murders of Martha Moxley and JonBenet Ramsey. Veteran theatre and film actor David Povall brings strength and empathetic understanding to this story of a man who has devoted his life to fighting evil. - Gail Cooke
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Posted January 27, 2005
Unlike any true crime book ever written. It's every bit the page-turner that The Silence of the Lambs is, and its depiction of predators and their crimes is just gut-wrenching. But beyond this it is a profound exploration of the nature of evil in our time, and at once fills you with dread and hope for the future. I read it in one sitting and I'll never forget it.
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Posted March 10, 2005
I couldn't put it down. This book is an amazing piece of work written by a truely amazing man. If you really want to gain an idea about some the evils the world produces and the heros who fight against them, read this book. It is one of those books that you sit down with and before you konw it you are 100 pages into it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2005
I'm about half way through (will probably finish tonight) and this book is interesting and well written. I'm hoping it maintains my interest as it gets even further into Depue's career. Should be a winner, judging thus far.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 14, 2009
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