Friday, August 9, 2013

Raising Killers, Publicists & Writers

I am promoting one of the most challenging, important, and stimulating books that I’ve ever been associated with in my 20+ years in book publishing.  It’s a book written, in part, by a mass murderer who wiped out his entire family.  The main author is a neuropsychologist, Dr. Robert Hanlon, who has treated or personally studied and consulted with hundreds of murderers, penned a book, Survived By One: The Life and Mind of a Family Mass, with the subject of his book, Thomas Odle, voicing his views, thoughts and opinions with a chilling effect.

I haven’t been associated with a book quite like this.  It’s a thorough examination of one man’s life, from his victimized childhood at the hands of a sadistic and unloving mother up to the present, where he’s serving a life sentence in prison after his death sentence was voided a decade ago.  It details the brutal and horrific events of November 8, 1985, when Odle stabbed his dad, 39, and then mom, 39, to death.  Over a period of eight hours, one by one, he murdered the rest of his family – one by strangulation, the rest butchered.  They were 10, 13, and 14.

The book covers a lot of ground, including discussions about mental illness and the death penalty.  It also examines what conditions flourish that create a killer.  The book can leave you feeling shaken.  You may even feel sympathetic towards the killer.  You may also feel disgusted by his actions.  But it makes you think and is not something you can merely consume and move on from.  It stays with you, forcing you to humanize and familiarize the lost soul behind a mass murderer.  When you read his words, unfiltered, you begin to feel his plight.

It is clear that Tom was doomed by his childhood, yet you still have to question why other kids raised under similar or worse situations don’t kill people, especially their whole family.  But who is to say why we do what we do?

I can’t understand nor accept the killing of his siblings.  They were victims of the same parents, too.  I don’t condone killing but I can see why he killed his mom.  She not only never said she loved him, but she beat him from head to toe every chance she got, often without cause or reason.  She’d chain him to his bed, without food, and force him into social isolation.  She repeatedly told him she wished he was dead.  His dad, though not abusive, did nothing to stop the mother’s rampages.

If parents can raise a killer, do they also raise writers and publicists?

Our career paths are chosen from our childhood, whether intended or not.  Sometimes we rebel and become what our parents don’t want us to be.  Or we serve their wishes, to the point where we suppress who we really are.  So many things factor into who we grow up to be, but certainly parents can play the most influential role by what they do and say or don’t do and say.

So many writers come from dysfunctional childhoods, as if inspired by insanity, poverty, abuse, and other dramatic negatives.  But I’d like to think great writers come from great thinking, imaginations, research, and interesting experiences.  Can’t some writers develop from normal childhoods or even happy youthful times?

I’m not quite sure how I became a publicist.  I always thought of myself as a journalist and a writer.  But here I am, having spent about half of my life, promoting the words, deeds, ideas and fantasies of others.

Some of us become who we are because of circumstance, and many in spite of it.  Few of us become killers but after reading Survived By One, I feel forever changed in how I view others.

The book debuts August 22, from Southern Illinois University Press.  It’s a fascinating exploration into the mind of a killer and an examination of the judicial system, parenting, and the role our choices play in how we live – and die.

Interview With Survived By One Author Dr. Robert Hanlon

1.      What inspired you to write Survived By One: The Life and Mind of a Family Mass Murderer? The inspiration for Survived by One was derived from the opportunity to tell the story of a horrific crime in a unique way in order to inform people about the psychological factors and family dynamics that may lead to the most extreme type of domestic violence:  family mass murder.  By telling the story of this horrible crime and the life of the killer who committed it, Survived by One will hopefully help people learn to identify the signs of impending domestic murders before they are committed, thereby preventing future tragedies of this type.

2.      How did you come to know Thomas Odle and what have you done for him? I met Tom Odle in 2000 when he was on death row and facing execution.  I was retained by his defense attorneys in order to conduct a forensic neuropsychological evaluation of him, during the last stage of the appeals process.  I evaluated him on death row in the Illinois Department of Corrections and determined that he was highly intelligent, cognitively intact, and manifested antisocial personality disorder.  As a result, my findings did not help the appeals to spare his life at all.  In fact, stating that he was a highly intelligent, antisocial individual was the last thing his attorneys wanted to hear.

3.      What did you come to feel as you spent hours interviewing Tom, for your book? I’m a neuropsychologist, specialized in the psychological evaluation of violent criminal offenders.  During my communications with Tom Odle, including both written and face-to-face interactions, I have been impressed by his insight, his willingness to disclose his innermost thoughts and feelings, and his interest in contributing something positive to society via Survived by One.

4.      What have you learned from Tom’s case that can help society prevent other such tragedies from erupting? Family mass murders of this type and many domestic homicides can be prevented if people know what to look for.  Family mass murders, or acts of familicide, are usually committed by males, typically the husband and father.  In most cases of familicide, the husband/father serially executes his wife and one or more of the children, and subsequently commits suicide.  The motives for such horrific crimes include the following:  acts of desperation driven by severe mental illness such as psychotic depression or delusions associated with other psychotic disorders; impulsive acts committed by chronically depressed men plagued with longstanding feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and inadequacy, with a concomitant drug or alcohol addiction, who are intoxicated at the time of the killings; premeditated and planned executions committed by narcissistic antisocial men with psychopathic tendencies intended to quickly and efficiently dispose of the family in order to enable them to freely pursue other love interests or sexual endeavors.

The term parricide refers to the killing of a parent by a child and includes acts of matricide (killing of a mother or stepmother) and patricide (killing of a father or stepfather).   Although severe forms of mental illness such as paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychotic disorders have been implicated in acts of parricide, child abuse is the most common factor cited in motivational analyses of parricidal acts.  In reaction to the growing awareness of the high prevalence of a history of abuse of the offender by the victim in cases of parricide, one model classifies parricide offenders into one of three types, based on primary motive: (1) children who have suffered chronic physical, sexual, and/or mental abuse kill their parents to end the abuse; (2) children who manifest a severe mental disorder kill their parents in relation to psychotic symptoms such as paranoid delusions or command hallucinations; (3) dangerously antisocial children kill their parents for personal gain, such as freedom from parental control or  inheritance.

5.      He was diagnosed after his crime with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  How do we treat people for this? Antisocial personality disorder, like most personality disorders, is extremely difficult to treat.  Very few individuals with antisocial personality disorder are interested in treatment.  For the few who are genuinely interested in treatment, insight-oriented psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy have been shown to have some potential for therapeutic benefit. While less than 5% of the general population manifests antisocial personality disorder, over 50% of prison inmates manifest antisocial personality disorder.  Antisocial personality disorder, like most personality disorders, is characterized by deeply ingrained, longstanding, maladaptive personality traits.  Specifically, antisocial personality disorder is characterized by the following tendencies:  deceitfulness, impulsivity, aggressiveness, irresponsibility, manipulation of others for personal gain, lack of remorse, unnecessary risk-taking, and repeated violation of rules and laws.   Many individuals with antisocial personality disorder become progressively less antisocial as they grow old.

6.      Unfortunately, millions of kids are raised similarly to Tom – abused physically and mentally by his parents, bullied at school, chronically depressed, self-medicated through illegal drugs – but many don’t go on to kill their family.  Why does Tom believe he finally snapped? Good question.  Yes, most children who are severely abused by one or both parents and/or manifest psychiatric disorders such as depression and drug abuse, don’t ever commit a crime, and certainly don’t kill their entire families. 
Survived by One provides an ominous formula for family mass murder, specifically parricidal familicide:  A sadistic, abusive, personality disordered parent (Parent #1) and a passive, submissive, and dependent parent (Parent #2) produce a smart, deceptive, manipulative, conduct disordered child.  That child is chronically abused, both physically and emotionally, by Parent #1 while Parent #2 allows the abuse to persist and in many ways enables the abuser.  As the child matures, he struggles with repeated failures and depression, and engages in chronic drug abuse. Ultimately, the parents decide to abandon the child, which enrages the child, and in an act of ultimate revenge, he kills both parents, as well as his siblings for total closure. 

7.      Were you afraid to talk to Tom?  Did he make you feel angry or sad or other?  Did you think you could really help him in some way? No. No.  I believe that he gained some insight regarding his character and his past behavior.

8.      Your book seems to make the case that we shouldn’t have the death penalty.  Does it really play any role in preventing a crime like Tom’s? Survived by One DOES NOT make a case against the death penalty.  Survived by One is NOT an anti-death penalty book.  If that is the reader’s perception, it is a misperception.  Obviously, the death penalty is a controversial, societal issue.  The State of Illinois has a very jaded history with respect to the death penalty.  Due to various problems in the criminal justice system in Illinois, 20 men were wrongfully convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and ultimately exonerated of their crimes.  Any society with a standing death penalty runs the risk of possibly executing an innocent person.  On the flip side, the death penalty provides prosecutors with leverage in murder cases that may facilitate guilty pleas which would not occur, otherwise.

9.      Why do you believe an 18-year-old kid killed his parents and three siblings? As described above, Survived by One provides an ominous formula for family mass murder, specifically parricidal familicide. In the case of the Odle family, the mother (Carolyn) was sadistic and abusive, whereas the father (Robert) was passive and submissive.  Their first child, Tom, was a highly intelligent, deceptive, and manipulative boy, with a conduct disorder.  He was chronically abused, both physically and emotionally, by his mother, while his father allowed the abuse to persist, despite knowing that his wife was abusing Tom and his younger brother, Sean.  As Tom reached adolescence, his antisocial behaviors escalated as he became increasingly depressed, secondary to repeated failures, rejections, and drug abuse.  Ultimately, the abandonment he felt when his parents, in a united front, decided to throw him out of the house, enraged the depressed, dejected, and desperate adolescent, resulting in a nihilistic, drug fueled termination of the family unit.

10.  Tom was a drug addict and robbed homes to keep his drug supply coming.  What role did drugs play in his murder spree? Please note that this crime is technically a “mass murder.” It is not a “spree murder,” despite the fact that the murders were committed in sequence over a period of 8 hours.  Tom Odle had reportedly ingested LSD prior to the murders and smoked marijuana throughout the day of the murders.

11.  Tom played on a youth baseball league, was part of the school orchestra, a member of the Cub Scouts, and had a paper route.  But there were many, many indications things were not right at home.  What type of warning signs should we look for? The warning signs may include the following:  (1) history of chronic physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; (2) worsening depression; (3) social isolation; (4) increasing drug and/or alcohol abuse; (5) increase in aggressive behavior; (6) increase in impulsive violence directed toward others or objects; (7) recent loss of a job; (8) recent loss of a friend or relative; (9) recent romantic rejection.

12.  When Thomas’ death sentence was converted to life in prison, what went through his mind? He experienced an epiphany.  For 17 years, he expected to be executed, and as a result, lived in denial, repressing all thoughts and feelings about his crime.  Suddenly, he was confronted with an unfamiliar reality: a future.  As a result, he became motivated to understand why he killed his family.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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