Law and Disorder by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker ( 2013)


The premise of Law and Disorder by John Douglas, long time FBI profiler and his long time writing partner, Mark Olshaker, is this, “Whenever theory supersedes evidence, and prejudice deposes rationalism, there can be no justice.” Throughout Law and Disorder Douglas cites cases in which he was involved as a profiler to help law enforcement follow the right direction to catch the killer whom they sought. In each of the cases Douglas shows when the law officers create a theory as they did in the Jon Bonet Ramsey slaying and the Amanda Knox case, they are forced to make the evidence fit the crime as they pronounce it happened. This often leads to ridiculous theories and suppositions that end in wrongful convictions.

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When John and Patsy Ramsey were accused by the media and police for murdering their six year old daughter, the accusation did not make sense to me. There is no way that parents who doted on their child the way the Ramseys did, could harm their special and beloved daughter, especially on a theory that Patsy flew into a rage and killed Jon Bonet for bedwetting. What could be more horrific that having your baby murdered, and then be accused of being the killers? This truly is hell on earth. 

My instincts told me the same thing when Amanda Knox, an American student who was accused of stabbing her British roommate in Italy, went to trial. Although pronounced guilty by the Italian court, the supposed motives that the jurists in Italy proclaimed were definitive in the commission of the bloody crime, were weak and unsupportable. Therefore, Amanda spent four years in an Italian prison while her appeal crept through the system. Ironically she was acquitted on appeal; however, when the prosecution appealed, Knox was convicted a second time. Due to the fact that she is home safe in America, Amanda is not in an Italian prison for the rest of her life.

By debunking these two cases and many more, starting with the Salem Witchcraft hangings in 1692, Douglas takes the reader on a keen exploration of some of America’s most haunting murders in which he illustrates how law enforcement came to the wrong conclusion by creating a theory and trying to make the evidence fit the crime.

Through 25 years of intensive study of the behaviors of serial killers, Douglas has determined how to judge whether an accused perpetrator is capable of committing the crimes for which s/he is arrested. In the development of what is called today “profiling,”  Douglas spent many years interviewing murderers such as Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacey, Ted Bundy, and Richard Speck. From studying deviant behavior, Douglas has learned how to predict what a killer will do next and what to look for when hunting down the perpetrators.

 In Law and Disorder,  Douglas delves into the Ramsey and the Knox cases ,reinforcing my gut feeling as to why law enforcement falsely accused people who were closely related to the victims.

One of the first cases in Law and Disorder is that of a 17 year old boy, William Heirons, who was forced to confess through the brutal treatment he received from the Chicago police. The case, which occurred in 1946, involved the murder and dismemberment of six year old Suzanne Degman, which until his death at the age of 83, Heirons denied committing. Police brutality has been a constant theme in wrongful convictions over the years, and is cited repeatedly for causing the accused to confess to something they have not done. At the time of his death, Heirons was the convict who had spent the most time incarcerated in America. What a shameful waste of an innocent life. And, what an injustice to Suzanne Degman, whose real murderer was never caught.

When the victims of police beatings, starvation, threats that if they don’t confess they will be executed, not allowing legal representation into the interrogation rooms, sleep deprivation, and not permitting the accused to go to the bathroom, the accused often relay that they are so exhausted and confused by the interrogations they will say anything to just put an end to their ordeal. Sometimes the police promise that if the accused “just tells us what they know,” they will be released and go home. Unfortunately, this is the inducement that causes innocent people to give false confessions. 

As with all of Douglas and Olshaker’s collaborations, Law and Disorder is impossible to put down once the reader has begun. True crime books fascinate us as do television shows and films about murder. Douglas answers the question of why people are so fascinated by violent crimes. He states, “A murder trial is the ultimate mystery and morality play---not only a whodunit, but also an examination of what human beings are capable of at their most extremes. It is a contrast between the individual and society in which he lives, and about emotions that we all experience played out in real life rather than suppressed in conformance to social norms.”