Seduced by Madness: The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case by Carol Pogash, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Seduced by Madness: The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case
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Seduced by Madness: The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case

by Carol Pogash

She was fifteen when she visited the therapist; still a teen when they had sex. She was twenty-five when she married him and forty-four when she killed him.

In October 2002, the quiet northern California town of Orinda was rocked by murder when Susan Polk, the mother of three teenage boys, was arrested for stabbing her husband and


She was fifteen when she visited the therapist; still a teen when they had sex. She was twenty-five when she married him and forty-four when she killed him.

In October 2002, the quiet northern California town of Orinda was rocked by murder when Susan Polk, the mother of three teenage boys, was arrested for stabbing her husband and former therapist, Dr. Felix Polk, to death. The arrest and subsequent trial quickly became one of the most talked about murder cases in the country, as spectators and reporters learned the strange history behind this shocking killing.

Now in Seduced by Madness, Carol Pogash—the leading journalist working the case—has written the definitive account of the Polk family saga, offering a rich and textured re-creation of this disturbing and tragic American tale. Examining the decadent culture of California in the 1970s, Pogash looks at how, in this period of drugs and sexual exploration, a fifteen-year-old Susan found herself caught in the grasp of Felix, her therapist—who, like others in the mental health profession, fell for every passing trend in mental health therapy. Culled from years of careful research, Pogash reconstructs the vague beginnings of the couple's sexual relationship in the therapist's office, exploring how Felix's relaxed attitude toward therapy blinded him to the complex nature of Susan's mental state, and how their mutual obsession with each other sealed their fate.

With lyrical prose, Pogash skillfully traces the Polks' story—from their early yearnings for one another through their flawed marriage, which produced three highly intelligent but emotionally divided sons. Weaving a complex narrative of a family who lived in multimillion dollar homes but lingered in the shadow of dysfunction, Pogash reassembles their life in the years and months before Felix's death, intimately describing what led this soft-spoken wife to murder.

Three years after Felix's death, Susan Polk was tried for first degree murder, and here Pogash provides a first-hand account of the wild, media-circus trial in which Susan defended herself and cross-examined two of her sons. Illustrating how the prosecution and the court responded to Susan's volatile behavior, Pogash takes you inside the deliberation room and uncovers how jurors reached their surprising verdict.

Filled with the most complete case facts and interviews available, Seduced by Madness offers an unparalleled look at one of the most captivating murder cases in recent years.

Editorial Reviews

Carolyn See
This "true crime" narrative about a woman who stabbed her husband to death and then dragged her three young sons through an unseemly court trial before she ended up in jail—defiant still, and convinced she was in the right—is not really for true-crime aficionados. This book is for those of us who have flirted with lunacy: turned a bowl of curry over our spouse's head, smashed the wedding china in a fit of pique, hauled off and slugged our parents or our children…This book is less about a troubled wife doing in her husband than it is about the brooding mood swings of our popular culture.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.21(d)

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Seduced by Madness

The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case
By Carol Pogash

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Carol Pogash
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061147708

Chapter One

"Aren't you happy he's gone?"

In October, soil in the Bay Area is parched from months of no rain.

A snap fire could wipe out communities overnight. Wooden signs warn residents that the fire hazard is "extreme." As the autumn air begins to cool, locals talk about earthquake weather, even though everyone knows cumulus clouds have nothing to do with the shifting of tectonic plates deep inside the earth. But there's this: the Loma Prieta earthquake, which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale, occurred on October 17, 1989. The Berkeley-Oakland firestorm, which killed twenty-five and destroyed 2,886 homes, occurred on October 20, 1991. Many Bay Area residents find the month of October unsettling.

Fifteen-year-old Gabriel Polk, the youngest of the three ruggedly handsome Polk boys, was not thinking about those historical markers on the afternoon of October 14, 2002. He was apprehensively waiting for his father, Dr. Felix Polk, a popular and respected psychotherapist, to drive up to their $1.8 million home in the upscale hamlet of Orinda, twenty minutes west of San Francisco. The home was more a compound really, with numerous buildings dotting the wooded hillside. Graceful old live oaks formed a canopy over the spacious pool, the pool house, the weight room, and the sprawling Arts and Craftsstyle main house.

With his wide face, pronounced cheekbones, and amiable smile, Gabe resembled his father. While the boy was still waiting for his adolescent growth spurt, he kept his hair like that of his brothers—marine short. Having missed months of classes, he was enrolled in a continuation school. His mother had encouraged his truancy, telling him that he was special, that the rules that applied to other kids didn't apply to him. Despite trouble at school, Gabe carried himself with confidence, possessing a vocabulary that more closely resembled an educated adult's than a high school student's.

Felix had told Gabe he would see clients in the morning and be home around three. His dad had promised to take him to a playoff between the Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals at the new Pac Bell Park in downtown San Francisco. It would be a good night for the Bay Area. The Giants would score a run in the ninth inning to clinch the playoff and head to the World Series, but Gabe and his father would not be there to see it.

Gabe had spent the warm morning at Del Oro High School in Walnut Creek, a public school designed for kids with problems. He left school at 12:30 pm, after which he and his mother lunched at Baja Fresh, an upscale Mexican chain in the neighboring town of Lafayette, and then ran to the drugstore to pick up some acne medication. Though other teenagers might shun being with their mother in public, Susan's sons appreciated her company, enjoying her beauty, intelligence, and love. When things were going well, she was literate and charming; she lavished her sons with her attention.

As soon as they arrived home, Susan stood in their kitchen and announced, "I'm going to run some errands," a statement which Gabriel found odd. If she had other stops to make, he wondered, why hadn't she done them when they were together? Leaving Gabe at home, she drove back to Lafayette, where she stopped at Blockbuster to pick up the movie Scooby-Doo. While she was gone Gabriel and his dog, a sweet yellow Lab named Dusty, went for a quick swim in the pool before heading to the exercise room, a freestanding building next to the pool house, where he lifted weights and anticipated his father's return from work.

As the autumn sky darkened, Gabriel looked at the lower driveway where Felix normally parked his black Saab. Considering the bitter fights he had recently witnessed between his parents, Gabriel took his father's delay as an ominous sign.

To an outsider, the Polks made a handsome couple. Even at seventy, the charismatic Felix had an air of accomplishment about him. A sturdy, muscular man who maintained his physique, he had European bearing with a crown of dark, graying curls and an empathetic expression that made patients want to confide in him. His tanned face was rounded and carved in curves, whereas his wife's porcelain profile was angular. Susan Polk, twenty-five years younger than her husband, had the perfect features of a woman in a soap commercial, before Dove discovered average women. Her nose was small, her eyes the color of morning toast. She wore classic clothes that were too big for her thin frame, which was slender and coltish like a young Katharine Hepburn.

Before the difficult years, Gabriel's parents had had a loving relationship. They shared a passion for news, politics, culture, and literature. His parents' prized library contained over a thousand books, including numerous first editions. They were completely devoted to each other. When marriages fail, more often than not a third party is involved, a mistress, a yoga instructor, or someone from the high school reunion who drives a wedge in an already fragile relationship. But that was not what happened to the Polks. Felix and Susan were so entwined that there was no oxygen left for anyone else.

A few years ago, his parents' fragile relationship began to splinter. His mother courted Gabe's allegiance in her crusade against her husband. She told Gabriel that his father was their malevolent controller, whispering that she wasn't sure she could escape the marriage—get out from Felix's control—by any other means than to kill him. He had heard her say it; he heard his mother threaten to blow his father's head off with a shotgun. In fact, during the past few months his mother had talked to her youngest about killing his dad so often that her comments about drowning, drugging, or driving over him had lost much of their meaning.

Gabriel had come to believe the evil stories his mother told about his father. It had been his . . .


Excerpted from Seduced by Madness by Carol Pogash Copyright © 2007 by Carol Pogash. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Carol Pogash is a regular contributor to the New York Times and has written for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Washington Post, and many other newspapers and magazines. She is the author of the book As Real As It Gets. She lives in Orinda, California.

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