Sanctuary for the Abused
Sunday, November 13, 2016
BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL
BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL BY ROGER L. DEPUE.
In addition to his work as head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and founder of the elite private sector consulting firm, The Academy Group, Roger L. Depue has also worked as a police chief, a SWAT Team member, and is a former Brother of the Order of Missionaries of the Holy Apostles. He speaks widely as a corporate consultant and has been interviewed by People magazine, CBS’ 48 Hours, and most recently The Discovery Channel, for whom he constructed a hypothetical profile of Deep Throat for an upcoming program pegged to the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. The Academy Group also served as the real-life basis for the Fox television series, Millennium.
Most recently, in addition to his ongoing casework with The Academy Group, Depue acted as a consultant on Universal Studio’s Red Dragon, a feature film version of Thomas Harris’ first Hannibal Lecter novel, which opened in October 2002 starring Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes and Edward Norton. His memoir, Between Good and Evil co-written by Susan Schindehette, was recently published by Warner Books.
CHAPTER ONE BY ROGER DUPUE CO-WITTEN WITH SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE
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 The Academy 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.
The attorney, Greg Sturn, with the firm of Harris and Harris, told me that despite a lengthy investigation, local police had never been able to solve the case. But since money was missing from the restaurant safe, and similar fast food robberies had been common in the early 1980s, the consensus was that this must have been the same thing—an armed robbery gone bad.
Now, said Sturn, the dead girl’s father and stepmother, George Brooks and his wife, Betty, intended to file a wrongful death suit against the Marriott Corporation, owner of the restaurant chain where Terri had worked. Since Terri’s death occurred while she was on the job, state law dictated the case be filed as a workmen’s compensation claim; that was the sole legal remedy available to the Brookses. And that presented a problem. Under workmen’s comp rules, the only parties eligible for a monetary award were the victim’s dependents, and Terri, who was single and childless at the time of her death, had none. Which meant that her only living survivors—her parents and siblings—could file a claim, but weren’t eligible to collect a financial settlement.
It seemed like a cruel catch-22. But there was an alternative, said Sturn. Pennsylvania law allowed one exception to the workmen’s comp provision: If a plaintiff could prove that something called “personal animus”—malevolent ill will—had existed between killer and victim, then Terri’s parents could step outside the workmen’s comp restriction and take their case to civil court. Of course, the idea that Terri’s killer knew her might well make a negligence case against the corporation more difficult to prove, but Sturn wasn’t worried about that. Marriott company policy clearly stated that employees weren’t supposed to work alone at night. And on the night she was murdered, Terri had been closing up the restaurant alone.
That was the financial issue, but of course, it wasn’t the only one. After George Brooks and his first wife—Terri’s biological mother—had divorced, he went on to raise Terri and her three brothers and sisters by himself, and it was obvious he had loved his daughter deeply. He managed to survive in the wake of her murder, as the parents of many murdered children do. But it hadn’t been easy. George Brooks did the best he could to carry on with his life. But six long years after Terri’s death, he was still grieving. He needed to know who had killed his little girl.
After talking it over with my colleague, Ken Baker, we agreed to take on the case, and I asked the law firm to send us what information they had. A few days later, it arrived—a large manila envelope of investigative reports, depositions, police reports, autopsy information, and crime scene photographs. I poured myself a cup of coffee, we closed the door behind us, and sat down at the table in our conference room to begin reconstructing what had happened to Terri Brooks in the final hour of her life.
Just after 6:00 a.m. on the foggy morning of February 4, 1984, the general manager of a Roy Rogers restaurant at Oxford Valley Road and Route 1 in Falls Township, in Bucks County, came to work. He found the outer restaurant doors unlocked, the inner doors locked, and immediately became suspicious. He went inside, and was heading for the kitchen when he saw shoes and a set of store keys on the floor. Then he discovered Terri Brooks, twenty-five, his assistant manager, lying on the floor. She had been brutally murdered, and $2,579 was missing from the office safe.
When Terri didn’t return home that morning, her father, George, called the restaurant to see if she was there. He was told Terri had been taken to the hospital. “Is she all right?” he asked. “Is she all right?” Finally, they gave him the terrible news: Terri was dead.
All murder cases are tragic in their own way, but this one broke your heart. George Brooks was working class, and he had helped put Terri through college at the University of Maryland. She hoped to have a career in restaurant management, and she often stayed after closing at the restaurant, finishing up the paperwork. She was also engaged to be married that coming summer. In fact, two days before her death, she and her fiancé had put down a deposit on a honeymoon trip to Hawaii. Later that week, Terri was going to pick out her wedding dress.
A good investigator can tell a lot about a killer by studying evidence at the scene of the crime—blood splatter, the position of the body, the pattern of wounds. But the killer isn’t the only one to leave telling information. Sometimes, the victim leaves a message, too. And as I looked at the horrific murder scene photographs, I felt it: Terri herself was trying to tell us something.
She was found lying in a pool of blood on a dark industrial tile floor, on her back, not far from the restaurant’s office, still wearing her winter jacket. Her shoes, keys, and cigarettes were lying nearby. Her face was cut and badly bruised. The hyoid bone in her throat was fractured, which meant she had been strangled. A clear plastic trash bag liner was wrapped around her neck, covering her head. And a butcher knife was protruding from her throat, lodged with such force it couldn’t be pulled out from between the vertebrae of the spinal column.
In all of my years of law enforcement, I had never before seen anything quite like it: beating, strangulation, stabbing, and suffocation—four distinct modes of death. At that moment, I had no idea who had taken this young woman’s life so brutally, or why. But I did know that whoever murdered Terri Brooks had killed her four times.
We began to piece together a hypothetical sequence of events. It was a Friday night, and the kitchen had been cleaned and prepped for the morning shift, and Terri was ready to go home. She had her coat on and her purse, cigarettes, and keys with her. She was closing up when someone came to the door. Whether she knew the person or didn’t, she let him in. Then something began to go horribly wrong. It was as if she had suddenly said to herself, “I’ve got to get out of here.” She bolted for the door, and if it had only opened outward instead of inward, she might have made it.
He hit her like a football player, tackling her so hard she was literally knocked out of her shoes. Her purse, keys, and cigarettes flew onto the floor. She was stunned, but after taking a moment to recover, she started to fight back. She had played intramural sports in college. She was young and athletic, and fought with all her strength. They exchanged blows. He punched her in the face repeatedly, hitting her as hard as he could.
At some point, he dragged her across the tile floor, causing holes in her nylons on the top of her feet, worn away by the friction. There was a tremendous bruise line across her upper chest, from where she was slammed into the stainless steel counter. He started to strangle her, with such force he fractured the hyoid bone, just below the larynx. But she continued to fight.
Then came the butcher knife. Maybe the killer was the one who took it first, from the rack above the oven. Maybe it was Terri who grabbed it in an effort to defend herself, in which case he would have wrested it away from her. She had defensive wounds on her hands, which meant that as he was trying to cut her throat, she put her hands up to keep the blade away. Finally, perhaps holding her around the neck from behind, he plunged the knife into the front of her throat, where it partially cut her spinal cord. Still, she struggled. He pulled the knife out, but only partway, and then plunged it in again, harder. This time, the blade entered between the sixth and seventh vertebrae, and severed the other half of her spinal cord.
Now she was paralyzed from the neck down, and she went limp, slipping to the floor. When she was found, her arms and legs were not cocked or bent, but extended straight out. At that point, she would have offered no resistance.
The knife was still protruding from her throat, lodged tightly between the vertebrae of the spine. As she struggled before she was stabbed, her neck had been extended, and the blade was thrust into her with such force that when she dropped to the floor, her head snapped forward, wedging the blade between her vertebrae. Even after all that, she was still alive. The blade had not severed her jugular vein or carotid artery. Her assailant realized she was still breathing. So he went to a storage area where the supplies were kept, and found a plastic trash bag. He wrapped it around her neck and head and, in one final spasm of violence, asphyxiated her.
There are many ways to kill a human being. If the perpetrator uses a gun, it is a more distanced act, cold and impersonal. But this killer wanted the pleasure of using his hands. He wanted to see his victim’s face, to look her in the eye as she died. One thing was clear. No matter what the local police had concluded, this was no simple robbery. Terri Brooks had not been fighting for the money, or even for her virtue. This young woman had been fighting for her life.
After I examined the file and talked it over with Ken, we found that we both had the same reaction. The Academy Group had been hired by a law firm to make a determination on a legal technicality in this case—the existence of personal animus—which was very different from being assigned as a homicide investigator to find the killer. Strictly speaking, it was not our job to provide a definitive resolution to the crime.
But after seeing how Terri Brooks had met her end, Ken and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s solve the damn thing anyway.”
After all these years, it wasn’t about the accolade. I’d had plenty of recognitiby that time—citations and promotions, moments in the limelight, the respect of my peers. This was about something deeper, about knowing that the person who’d killed this young woman was still out there somewhere, living his life, as if it were the natural order of things. He’d done something unspeakable, and he was smug in the knowledge that he’d gotten away with it. There was no one to fight on Terri’s behalf. No one but us.
It wasn’t going to be easy to solve this crime, but I knew what it would take. Working along with Ken, I’d have to tap into everything I’d learned in forty years of law enforcement. Still, wasn’t that the value of the past—its bearing on the future? The search for Terri Brooks’s killer would mark a chapter in a journey that had begun many years before. It would serve as a clear reminder of where I had come from, and how far I had already gone.
Copyright © 2005 by Roger L. Depue and Susan Schindehette
thanks to Holly for bringing this book to my attention!