The Cases That Haunt Us

If this audiobook was paper, I would have thrown it across the room.

I made a mistake when first listening to this, in that I did so passively. I used it as background for a few nightly walks of the dog. And as a result, I found myself really disappointed. I was actually annoyed that John Douglas, the rebel who helped revolutionize investigation by creating criminal profiling, was pushing the official story on everything. Lizzie Borden was guilty. Richard Hauptmann was guilty. Arthur Lee Allen was the Zodiac. But in reality, what I had failed to do was to actually listen to the arguments that he was making. This isn’t crime fiction, the motives and evidence of real murder can be both subtle and also very obvious. So, I started over and listened more closely, and in doing so I found a very different book—one had my mind churning over complexities.

The Lindberg Baby

There have been a lot of theories about this case. Most true crime aficionados believe that that Bruno Richard Hauptmann was not guilty, that he was framed. I was one myself. Why? Why are people eager to denounce the findings of a closed case? Because it’s more interesting. Because there are weird holes in the story that make throwing away the convicted culprit easier than sifting through the remaining ambiguities. But Douglas does an amazing job of walking you down the path of this case and piling up the evidence.

Why did they arrest Hauptmann? Because at every stage of the investigation there were giant flaming arrows pointing at him. After looking at all of the evidence and deny it, you have to purposefully make a choice to still believe Hauptmann was not involved and instead embraced a near impossible conspiracy. Here’s just one point regarding the theory that a piece wood from the famous ladder was planted by police to match missing wood from Hauptmann’s attic:

What this means is that if police did plant evidence, they would have had to remove the actual “rail 16” from the ladder and replace it with a substitute cut from a certain piece of board. They would then have had to remove a board from Haupman’s attic floor and replace it with the remainder of the board from which the substitute “rail 16” had been fashioned—being careful to create new nail holes lined up with the existing nail holes and the four joists underneath. They would have had to destroy the original “rail 16,” but make sure that the substitute looked enough like it in terms of grain, coloration, contour, and distress marks, so that if anyone happened to compare it with one of the original photographs taken just after the crime, they couldn’t tell the difference. And then on top of all of that, the men who pulled off this switcharoo would have had to be awfully damn sure that anyone and everyone involved in the conspiracy was completely reliable and that no one would spill. Because if even one person did, not only would the case against Haupman be in terrible jeopardy, but each of them would be out of a job and facing serious penitentiary time for tampering with evidence.

That’s one piece of evidence. When fleshed out, the conspiracy disrupts logic. It seems clear to me, as it was to investigators at the time, that Richard Hauptmann was indeed involved in the kidnapping of Charles Lindberg, Jr.

But, Douglas does defer with the official findings in one key way: Richard Hauptmann likely did not do this alone. The holes that remain in the case are there because Hauptmann is not able to fill all of them. He clearly had a partner, or partners.

The Zodiac

One of the mysteries to me about the Zodiac that Douglas doesn’t seem able to answer is: why is the Zodiac driven to kill? I follow Douglas’s logic that the Zodiac was driven by notoriety; that his biggest thrill came from having his name known, outwitting the police, and driving terror through the Bay Area. In reference to the bomb threat letters, Douglas claims this was an attempt to maintain his infamy without having to commit another crime. I agree with that. The same goes for all the successive letters claiming that he was continuing to kill but providing no corroborating details. I agree with that as well. But, I still find myself wondering: why didn’t he do this from the beginning? Why go out and commit any crimes at all, but rather just take credit for crimes of others? Why murder?

I think the reason is that, while he’s driven to be “famous,” he is still compelled to kill. Something in him enjoys the act of killing. Were his only crimes those of Cheri Jo Bates, Cecelia Shepherd, and Bryan Hartnell, I’d point to rage as his driving force. These crimes were up close, almost intimate—knife against skin, slitting a throat (Bates) and repeatedly stabbing (Hartnell 6 times, Sheppard 10 times.) These crimes were messy. They were angry. Whereas the others—the ones where he used a gun—were impersonal, cold, distant, expedient.

The incident that stands out most to me is the Paul Stine murder, not only because it was a break from the pattern of couples (excluding the then unknown Bates killing) but also because it seems to be a mixture of the two previous methods. Guns are efficient, and impersonal because they can kill from a distance, yet with Stine, he chose to get up close and press the gun against his head—messy, intimate.

The Zodiac is clearly full of contradictions that I wish had been explored more.

Albert DeSalvo

There is a strange chapter in the middle where Douglas does a brief pass over several cases: one being that of Albert DeSalvo. When this book was published in 2000, John Douglas did not believe that Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler—in fact he goes as far to say that “it’s virtually impossible.” The psychology doesn’t make much sense and is even more confusing than what I stated above about the Zodiac.

 According to the official story, Albert DeSalvo was committing the Boston Strangler murders at the same time that he was committing some of the later Green Man rapes. While it’s not out of question for someone to escalate from rape to murder, nor incredible to think that one could switch from rape to murder and back, I do find it troubling to imagine someone oscillating in and out of sadism. The drives are completely different, as are the psychological factors that create them. The women whom DeSalvo assaulted as The Green Man described him as “apologetic and almost polite.” When comparing that to the Strangler, who was so sadistic that he defiled the bodies, you find two drastically different psychopathologies.

Douglas defines four types of rapists:

  • power-reassurance - compensating for feelings of inadequacy, often regretful

  • exploitative - impulsive, opportunistic, unconcerned for victim’s feelings

  • anger - displaced rage against a mother, wife, girlfriend, or specific group (i.e. college girls)

  • sadistic - need to dominate, control, and inflict pain

When committing the Green Man crimes, DeSalvo showed all the signs of a power-reassurance rapist. He apologized, and seemed almost concerned for the well-being of his victims. One woman complained that her bonds were too tight, and DeSalvo loosened them. Yet, the Boston Strangler crimes are clearly the crimes of a sadistic rapist. The Boston Strangler would never apologize. He hated women. All women. He would never lower himself. He would beat them, strangle them with their clothing, stab them, and shove objects inside of them. He posed and degraded them. They were nothing to him. These are two very different people psychologically. You just don’t oscillate between compulsions that you can’t control.

Even if we imagine for a moment that DeSalvo was committing both, why didn’t any of his sadistic Strangler compulsions surface in his Green Man rapes? Why isn’t there one rape case where he started to lose control and beat the victim, or choked her with her pantyhose, ultimately stopping just short of murder? Are we really to believe that he only killed when he was in one mood and only raped in the other, and that there was never ever any psychological cross-over? That seems pretty unlikely. As Douglas’s former partner, Robert Ressler said, "You're putting together so many different patterns [regarding the Boston Strangler murders] that it's inconceivable behaviorally that all these could fit one individual."

So, with all that said, there is one massive problem: in 2013, thirteen years after Douglas published this book, DNA evidence from the Mary Sullivan murder was conclusively matched to the exhumed Albert DeSalvo. And as far as most people are concerned, that’s case closed. But it doesn’t make sense does it? It doesn’t make sense that Albert DeSalvo had this entirely separate sadistic personality which he had so much control over that it never poked its head out anywhere else in his life before or after—until the day he died—except in the exact times he was supposedly killing 13 women.