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Chapter 2

My Mother’s Name Was Holmes

My mother’s maiden name was Holmes, and my parents almost chose that as my middle name instead of the more prosaic Edward.

Other than that, as I look back, not much about my early years indicated any particular future as a mind hunter or criminal profiler.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, near the border with Queens. My father, Jack, was a printer with the Brooklyn Eagle. When I was eight, con cerned about the rising crime rate, he moved us to Hempstead, Long Island, where he became president of the Long Island Typographical Union. I have one sister, Arlene, four years older, and from early on she was the star of the family, both academi cally and athletically.

I was no academic standout—generally a B-/C+ student—but I was polite and easygoing and always popular with the teachers at Ludlum Elementary despite my mediocre performance. I was mostly interested in animals and at various times kept dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and snakes—all of which my mother tolerated because I said I wanted to be a veterinarian. Since this endeavor showed promise of a legitimate career, she encouraged me down this path.

The one pursuit in school for which I did show a flair was telling stories, and this might, in some way, have contributed to my becoming a crime investigator. Detectives and crime-scene analysts have to take a bunch of disparate and seemingly unrelated clues and make them into a coherent narrative, so storytelling ability is an important talent, particularly in homicide investigations, where the victim can’t relate his or her own story.

At any rate, I often used my talent to get out of doing real work. I remember once in ninth grade, I was too lazy to read a novel for an oral book report before the class. So when my turn came (I still can’t believe I had the balls to do this), I made up the title of a phony book, made up a phony author, and began telling this story about a group of campers around a campfire at night.

I’m making it up as I go along, and I’m thinking to myself, How long can I keep pulling this off? I’ve got this bear stealthily stalk ing up on the campers, just about to pounce, and at that point I lose it. I start cracking up and have no choice but to confess to the teacher that I’d made up the whole thing. It must have been the guilty conscience, proving I wasn’t a complete criminal personal ity. I’m up there, exposed as a fake, knowing I’m going to flunk, about to be embarrassed in front of all my peers, and I can already anticipate what my mother’s going to say when she finds out.

But to my surprise and amazement, the teacher and the other kids are totally into the story! And when I tell them I’ve been making it up, they all say, “Finish it. Tell us what happens next.” So I did, and walked away with an A. I didn’t tell this to my own children for a long time because I didn’t want them to think that crime does pay, but I learned from it that if you can sell people your ideas and keep them interested, you can often get them to go along with you. This has helped me innumerable times as a law officer when I had to sell my own superiors or a local police department on the value of our services. But I have to admit that to a certain extent, it’s the same talent that con men and criminal predators use to get by.

By the way, my fictitious campers did end up escaping with their lives, which was far from a foregone conclusion since my real love was animals. So, in preparation for becom ing a vet, I spent three summers on dairy farms in upstate New York in the Cornell Farm Cadet Program sponsored by the university’s veterinary school. This was a great opportunity for city kids to get out and live with nature, and in exchange for this privilege, I worked seventy to eighty hours a week at $15 per, while my school friends back home were sunning themselves at Jones Beach. If I never milk another cow, I won’t feel a huge void in my life.

All of this physical labor did get me in good shape for sports, which was the other consuming passion of my life. At Hempstead High School, I pitched for the baseball team and played defensive tackle in football. And as I look back on it, this was probably the first real surfacing of my interest in personality profiling.

On the mound, it rather quickly dawned on me that throwing hard and accurate pitches was only half the battle. I had a solid fastball and a pretty decent slider, but a lot of high school pitchers had that, or equivalent stuff. The key was to be able to psych out the batter, and I realized that that had mainly to do with establishing an air of confidence for yourself and making the guy standing at the plate as insecure as possible. This came into play in a remarkably analogous way years later when I began developing my interrogation techniques.

In high school, I was already six foot two, which I used to my advantage. Talent-wise, we were a so-so team in a good league, and I knew it was up to the pitcher to try to be a field leader and set a winning tone. I had pretty good control for a high schooler, but I decided not to let the opposing batters know this. I wanted to appear reckless, not quite pre dictable, so the batters wouldn’t dig in at the plate. I wanted them to think that if they did, they risked being brushed back or even worse by this wild man sixty feet away.

Hempstead did have a good football team, for which I was a 188-pound defensive line man. Again, I realized the psychological aspect of the game was what could give us an edge. I figured I could take on the bigger guys if I grunted and groaned and generally acted like a nut. It didn’t take long before I got the rest of the linemen to behave the same way. Later, when I regularly worked on murder trials in which insani ty was used as a defense, I already knew from my own experience that the mere fact that someone acts like a maniac does not necessarily mean he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.

In 1962, we were playing Wantagh High for the Thorpe Award, the trophy for the best high school football team on Long Island. They outweighed us by about forty pounds a man, and we knew chances were good we were going to get the crap knocked out of us before a full house. So before the game, we worked out a set of warm-up drills whose sole objective was to psych out and intimidate our opponents. We formed up in two lines with the first man in one line tackling—practically decking—the first man in the other line. This was accompanied by all the appropriate grunts and groans and shrieks of pain. We could see from the faces of the Wantagh players that we were having the intended effect. They must have been figuring, “If these jokers are stupid enough to do that to each other, God knows what they’ll do to us.” In fact, the entire episode was carefully choreographed. We prac ticed wres tling throws so we could appear to hit the ground hard, but without getting hurt. And when we got into the actual game, we kept up the general level of craziness to make it appear we’d only been let out of the asylum for this one afternoon and were going straight back as soon as the game was over. The contest was close all the way, but when the dust finally settled, we had won, 14-13, and captured the Thorpe Award for 1962.

My first brush with “law enforcement,” in fact, my first “real” experience with profiling, came at age eighteen, when I got a job as a bouncer in a bar and club in Hempstead called the Gaslight East. I was so good at it that later I was given the same position at the Surf Club in Long Beach. At both places, my two main responsibilities were to keep out those below legal drinking age—in other words, anyone younger than me—and to short-circuit or break up the inevitable fights that crop up in places where alcohol is consumed.

Standing at the door, I would request an ID from anyone whose age was questionable, then ask the person for his or her date of birth to see if it matched up. This is pretty standard procedure and it’s what everyone expects, so they’re all prepared for it. Seldom will a kid who’s gone to the trouble of coming up with a fake ID be so careless as to fail to memorize the birth date on it. Looking straight into their eyes as I ques tioned them was an effective technique with some people, particularly girls, who generally have a more developed social conscience at that age. But those who want to get in can still get past most scrutiny if they just concentrate on their acting for a few moments.

What I was actually doing while I quizzed each group of kids as they got to the front of the line was discreetly scrutinizing the people about three or four rows back—watching them as they prepared to be questioned, observing their body language, noticing if they looked at all nervous or tentative.

Breaking up fights was more of a challenge, and for that I fell back on my athletic experience. If they see a look in your eyes that tells them you’re not quite predictable and you act just a little overtly screwy, then sometimes even the big guys will think twice about tangling with you. If they think you’re just off enough not to be worried about your own safety, then you become a far more dangerous opponent. Almost twenty years later, for example, when we were conducting the prison interviews for the major serial-killer study, we learned that the typical assassin personality is far more danger ous in certain crucial ways than the typical serial-killer personality. Because unlike the serial killer, who will only choose a victim he thinks he can handle and then will go to elaborate lengths to avoid capture, the assassin is obsessively concerned with his “mis sion” and is generally willing to die to achieve it.

The other consideration in making people have a particular opinion of you—such as that you’re irrational and crazy enough to do something unpredictable—is that you have to maintain that persona all the time on the job, not just when you think people are looking at you. When I interviewed Gary Trapnell, a notorious armed robber and airplane hijacker, at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois, he claimed that he could fool any prison psychiatrist into believing he had any mental illness I cared to specify. The key to pulling it off, he informed me, was to behave that way all the time, even alone in your cell, so that when they interviewed you, you wouldn’t have to “think” your way through it, which was what gave you away. So, long before I had the benefit of this type of “expert” advice, I seemed to have some instinct for thinking like a criminal.

When I couldn’t manage to scare people out of a fight at the bar, I tried to use my amateur profiling techniques to do the next best thing and head it off before it got serious. I found that with a little experience, by closely observing behavior and body lan guage, I was able to correlate this with the sort of action that ended up breaking out into fights so I could anticipate if an individual was about to start something. In that case, or when in doubt, I always pounced first, using the element of surprise and attempting to get the potential offender out of the build ing and back out into the street before he knew exactly what was happening to him. I always say that most sexual killers and serial rapists become skilled in domination, manipulation, and control—the same skills I was trying to master in a different context. But at least I was learning.

When I graduated from high school, I still wanted to be a vet, but my grades weren’t nearly good enough for Cornell. The best I could do to get a similar type of program was Montana State. So in September of 1963, the Brooklyn and Long Island boy headed out to the heart of Big Sky country.

The culture shock upon arriving in Bozeman couldn’t have been greater.

“Greetings from Montana,” I wrote in one of my early letters home, “where men are men and sheep are nervous.” Just as Montana seemed to embody all the stereotypes and clichés of western and frontier life to me, that is how I came across to the people I met there as an easterner. I joined the local chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, which was composed almost exclusively of local boys, so I stood out like a sore thumb. I took to wearing a black hat, black cloth ing, and black boots and sported long sideburns like a character out of West Side Story, which was very much how New Yorkers like me were perceived in those days.

So I made the most of it. At all the social gatherings, the locals would be wearing western garb and dancing the two-step, while I had spent the last several years religiously watching Chubby Checker on TV and knew every conceiv able variation of the twist. Because my sister, Arlene, was four years older than I was, she’d long before enlisted me as her practice dance partner, so I quickly became the dance instructor for the entire college community. I felt like a missionary going into some remote area that had never before heard English spoken.

I had never had much of a reputation as a scholar, but now my grades hit an all-time low as I concentrated on everything but. I’d already worked as a bouncer in a bar in New York, but here in Montana, the drinking age was twenty-one, which was a real comedown to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t let that stop me.

My first run-in with the law happened when one of my fraternity brothers and I had taken out these two swell girls who had met in a home for unwed mothers. They were mature for their age. We stopped at a bar and I went in to buy a six-pack.

The bartender says, “Show me your ID.” So I show him this phony Selective Service card, carefully done. From my bouncer experience, I’d learned some of the pitfalls and mistakes of false identification.

The guy looks at the card and says, “Brooklyn, huh? You guys back East are big bastards, aren’t you?” I kind of laugh self-consciously, but everyone in the bar has turned around, so I know there are witnesses now. I get back out to the parking lot and we drive away drinking this beer, and unbeknownst to me, one of the girls put the beer cans on the trunk of the car.

All of a sudden, I hear a police siren. A cop stops us. “Get out of the car.”

So we get out of the car. He starts searching us, and even at the time I know this is an illegal search, but I’m certainly not going to mouth off to him. As he gets down, he’s exposing his gun and billy club to me, and I get this crazy flash that in a split second, I could take the club, crunch him on the head, grab the gun, and take off. Fortu nately for my future, I didn’t. But knowing he’s getting to me, I take my ID out of my wallet and stuff it down into my under shorts.

He takes all four of us back to the station, separates us, and I’m really sweating because I know what they’re doing and I’m afraid the other guy is going to cop out on me.

One of the officers says to me, “Now, son, you tell us. If that guy back at the bar didn’t ask for your ID, we’ll go back there. We’ve had trouble with him before.”

I respond, “Back where I come from, we don’t rat on people. We don’t do that kind of stuff.” I’m playing George Raft, but I’m really thinking to myself, Of course he asked for my ID, and I gave him a phony one! All the while, it’s slipped so low in my shorts, it’s pinching my vitals. I don’t know if they’re going to strip-search us or what. I mean, this is the frontier out here as far as I’m concerned, and God knows what they do. So I quickly size up the situation and feign illness. I tell them I’m sick and have to use the rest room.

They let me go in unaccompanied, but I’ve seen too many movies, so when I get in there and look in the mirror, I’m afraid they’re looking at me from the other side. I go way to the side of the room, stick my hands down my pants, and pull out the ID, then I go over to the sink and make out as if I’m throwing up in case they’re watching. I go over to the stalls and flush the Selective Service card down the john, then come back with a lot more confidence. I ended up with a $40 fine and probation.

My second encounter with the Bozeman police came my sophomore year, and it was worse.

I go to a rodeo along with two other guys from back East and one guy from Montana. We’re leaving at the end, driving a ‘62 Studebaker, and we have beer in the car, so here we go again. It’s snowing like crazy. The kid at the wheel is from Boston, I’m in the front passenger seat, and the local is between us. Anyway, the guy driving goes through a stop sign, and—wouldn’t you know it?—there’s a cop right there. That seems to be the hallmark of my Montana life. Whatever they say about cops not being around when you need them—not true in Bozeman in 1965.

So this idiot fraternity brother of mine—I can’t believe it—he doesn’t stop! He takes off with this cop in the back in hot pursuit.

Every time we make a turn and get out of the cop’s view for a second, I’m throwing beer cans out of the car. We keep driving and reach this residential neighborhood, hitting speed bumps: boom, boom, boom. We come to a roadblock; the cop must have radioed ahead. We drive right around the roadblock, up across someone’s lawn. All the time, I’m yelling, “Stop the goddamned car! Get me out of here!” But this idiot keeps going. The car’s spinning, it’s still snowing like crazy, then right behind us we hear the sirens.

We reach an intersection. He slams on the brakes, the car goes into a 360-spin, the door flies open, and I’m thrown out of the car. I’m hanging by the door and my ass is dragging in the snow on the ground, and all of a sudden someone yells, “Run!”

So we run. All in different directions. I end up in an alley, where I find an empty pickup truck and get in. I’d ditched my black hat while I was running, and I’m wearing a reversible black and gold jacket, so I take it off and turn the gold side outward for some disguise. But I’m sweating and fogging up the windows. I’m thinking, Oh, shit, they’re going to be able to see me. And I’m afraid the owners are going to come back any minute, and out here, they probably have guns. So I wipe off a small area on the glass so I can see out, and there’s all kinds of activity around the car we’ve abandoned: cop cars, tracking dogs, you name it. And now they’re coming up the alley, their flashlights are shining on the pickup, and I’m about ready to shit my pants. But I can’t believe that they drive right by and leave me there!

I steal back to school and everyone’s already heard about this thing, and I find out that the other two eastern guys and I got away, but they caught the one from Montana and he spilled his guts. He names names and they come after each of us. When they get to me, I cop a plea that I wasn’t in control of the car, that I was scared and pleading with the guy to stop. Meanwhile, the driver from Boston gets thrown in a jail cell with springs and no mat tress, bread and water and the whole bit, while my incredible luck holds out and I just get slapped with another $40 fine for posses sion of alcohol, and probation.

But they notify the school, they notify our parents, who are all royally pissed off, and things aren’t going any better academically. I have a straight-D average, I’ve failed a speech class because I never went to class—which is my all-time low since I’d always felt that being able to talk was about my best asset—and I’m not figuring out any way to pull myself out of this morass. By the end of the second year, it’s clear that my adventure in the western wilder ness is at an end.

If it appears that all of my memories from this period are of mishaps and personal screwups, that’s the way it seemed to me at the time. I came home from college, living under the eyes of my disappointed parents. My mother was especially upset, knowing now I’d never become a veterinarian. As usual when I didn’t know what to do with myself, I fell back on my athletics and took a job lifeguarding for the summer of 1965. When the summer ended and I wasn’t going back to school, I found a job running the health club at the Holiday Inn in Patchogue.

Not long after I started working there, I met Sandy, who worked at the hotel as a cocktail waitress. She was a beautiful young woman with a young son and I was instantly crazy about her. She looked spectacular in her little cocktail outfit. I was still in great shape physically from all of my exercise and working out, and she seemed to like me, too. I was living at home and she would call me all the time. My father would say to me, “Who the hell is calling you all hours of the day and night? There’s always this child crying and screaming in the background.” Living at home didn’t provide the opportunity for much action, but Sandy told me that if you worked at the hotel, you could get an unbooked room really cheap. So one day we got a room together.

The next morning, early, the phone rings. She answers it and I hear, “No! No! I don’t want to talk to him!”

As I wake up, I say, “Who is that?”

She says, “The front desk. They said my husband’s here and he’s on his way up.”

Now I’m wide awake. I say, “Your husband? What do you mean, your husband! You never told me you were still married!”

She pointed out that she’d never told me she wasn’t, either, then went on to explain that they were separated.

Big deal, I’m thinking as I begin to hear this maniac running down the hall.

He starts pounding on the door. “Sandy! I know you’re in there, Sandy!”

The room had a window onto the hallway made of glass louvers, and he’s tearing at them, trying to rip them off the frame. Meanwhile, I’m looking for a place to jump from—we were on the second floor—but there’s no window for me to jump out of.

I ask, “Does this guy carry guns or anything?”

“Sometimes he carries a knife,” she says.

“Oh, shit! That’s great! I’ve got to get out of here. Open the door.”

I get into this pugilistic stance. She opens the door. The husband comes running in. He comes straight at me. But then he sees me in silhouette in the shadows, and I must look big and tough, so he changes his mind and stops.

But he’s still yelling: “You son of a bitch! You get the hell out of here!”

Figuring I’ve been macho enough for one day—and it’s still early—I say, very politely, “Yes, sir. I was just going as it was.” I’d lucked out again, getting out of another scrape with my hide intact. But I couldn’t avoid the truth that everything in my life was going to hell. Incidentally, I’d also cracked the front axle of my father’s Saab racing my friend Bill Turner’s red MGA.

It was early one Saturday morning that my mother came into my room with a letter from Selective Service saying they wanted to see me. I went down to Whitehall Place in Manhattan for a military physi cal with three hundred other guys. They had me do deep knee bends and you could hear the cracking as I went down. I’d had cartilage taken out of my knee from foot ball, just like Joe Namath, but he must have had a better lawyer. They held up the decision on me for a while, but eventually I was informed that Uncle Sam did, indeed, want me. Rather than take my chances in the Army, I quickly signed up for the Air Force, even though it meant a four-year hitch, figuring there were better educa tional opportunities there. Maybe that was just what I needed. I sure as hell hadn’t made much of educational oppor tunities in New York or Montana.

There was another reason for going for the Air Force at that point. This was 1966 and Vietnam was escalating. I wasn’t terribly political, generally considering myself a Kennedy Democrat because of my father, who was an official of the Long Island printers’ union. But the notion of having my ass shot off in support of a cause I under stood only vaguely wasn’t all that appealing. I’d remem bered an Air Force mechanic once telling me that they were the only service in which the officers—the pilots—went into combat while the enlisted men stayed back to support them. Having no inten tion of becoming a pilot, that sounded okay to me.

I was sent to Amarillo, Texas, for basic training. Our flight (what an Air Force training class is called) of fifty was about evenly divided between New Yorkers like myself and southern boys from Louisiana. The drill instructor was always on the northerners’ asses, and most of the time I thought it was justified. I tended to hang around with the southern ers, whom I found more likable and far less obnoxious than my fellow New Yorkers.

For a lot of young men, basic training is a stressful experience. With all the discipline I’d experienced from coaches in team contact sports, and as much of a jerk-off as I’d acknowledged to myself I’d been the last several years, I found the DI’s rap almost a joke. I could see through all his head trips and psych jobs, and I was already in good physical condition, so basic training was kind of a snap for me. I qualified quickly as an expert marksman on the M16, which was probably a carryover from the aim I’d developed as a high school pitcher. Up until the Air Force, the only riflery experience I’d had was shooting out streetlamps with a BB gun as a young teen.

During basic training I was developing another sort of badass reputation. Pumped up from lifting weights and with my head shaved close, I became known as “the Russian Bear.” A guy in another flight had a similar reputation, and someone got the bright idea that it would be good for base morale if we boxed each other.

The bout was a big event on base. We were very evenly matched, and each of us refused to give an inch. We ended up beating the holy hell out of each other, and I got my nose broken for the third time (the first two having come during high school football).

For whatever it was worth, I ended up third out of the fifty in my flight. After basic training, I was given a battery of tests and told I was well qualified for radio-intercept school. But radio-intercept school was filled and I didn’t feel like waiting around until the next class began, so they made me a clerk typist—even though I couldn’t type. There was an opening in Personnel at Cannon Air Force Base, about a hundred miles away outside of Clovis, New Mexico.

So that’s where I ended up, spending all day long pecking out DD214s—mili tary discharge papers—with two fingers, working for this idiot sergeant and saying to myself, I have to get out of here.

Again, here’s where my luck comes in. Right next door to Personnel was Special Services. When I say this, most people think of Special Forces, like the Green Berets. But this was Special Services, specifically, Special Services—Athletics. With my background, that seemed an excellent way to defend my country in its time of need.

I start snooping around, listening at the door, and I hear one of the guys in there saying, “This program’s going to hell. We just don’t have the right guy.”

I’m thinking to myself, this is it! So I walk around, knock on the door, and say, “Hello, I’m John Douglas, let me tell you a little about my background.”

As I talk, I’m looking at them for reactions and “profiling” the kind of guy they want. And I know I’m clicking, because they keep looking at each other like, “This is a miracle! He’s exactly what we want!” So they get me transferred out of Personnel, and from that day forward, I never had to wear a uniform, they paid me extra money as an enlisted man for running all the athletic programs, I became eligible for Operation Bootstrap, where the govern ment paid 75 percent of my educa tion costs to go to school at nights and on weekends—which I did, at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, twenty-five miles away. Since I had to overcome my D average from college, I had to get all A’s to stay in the program. But for the first time, I felt as if I had some focus.

I did such a good job of representing the Air Force in such rigorous sports as tennis, soccer, and badminton that eventu ally they put me in charge of the base golf course and pro shop, even though I’d never played a hole in my life. But I did look great running all the tournaments in my Arnold Palmer sweaters.

One day the base commander comes in and he wants to know what compression ball he should use for this particular tournament. I had no idea what he was talking about, and like my ninth-grade book report almost ten years before, I got found out.

“How in hell did you end up running this thing?” he wanted to know. I was immediately taken off golf and moved into women’s lapidary, which sounded exciting until I found out it meant stonework. I was also put in charge of women’s ceramics and the officers’ club pool. I’m thinking, these officers are flying over Vietnam getting their asses shot and I’m here getting chairs and towels for their flirtatious wives and teach ing their kids how to swim and they’re paying me extra for this while I get my college degree?

My other responsibility seemed to hearken back to my bouncer days. The pool was next to the officers’ bar, which was often full of young pilots training with the Tactical Air Command. More than once I had to pull wild, drunken pilots off of each other or off of me.

About two years into my Air Force hitch, while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, I found out about a local association that helped handicapped children. They needed help with their recreational programs, so I volunteered. Once a week, accompanied by a couple of civilian staffers, I took about fifteen children roller-skating or to play miniature golf or bowling or to some type of sports situation where the kids could develop their individual skills and abilities.

Most of the youngsters faced serious challenges such as blindness or Down’s syndrome or severe motor-control problems. It was tiring work, for example, skating around and around a rink with a child in each arm, trying to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves, but I absolutely loved it. In fact, I’ve had few other experiences in life I’ve enjoyed as much.

When I pulled up in my car at their school each week, the kids would all run out to greet me, crowd around the car, and then I’d get out and we’d all hug. At the end of each weekly session, they were all as sad to see me leave as I was to have to go. I felt I was getting so much out of it, so much love and companionship at a time in my life when I wasn’t really getting it from any other sources, that I started coming in in the evenings to read stories to them.

These children were such a contrast to the healthy, so-called normal kids I worked with on the base who were used to being the centers of attention and getting everything they wanted from their parents. My “special” children were so much more appreciative of anything that was done for them and, in spite of their handicaps, were always so friendly and eager for adventure.

Unbeknownst to me, I was being observed much of the time I spent with the children. It must say something about my powers of observation that I never found out! At any rate, my “performance” was being evaluated by members of the Eastern New Mexico University psychology department, who then offered me a four-year scholarship in special education.

Though I had been thinking about industrial psychology, I loved the kids and thought this might be a good choice. In fact, I could stay in the Air Force and become an officer with this as a career. I submitted the university’s offer to the base’s civilian-run personnel board, but after consideration, they decided the Air Force didn’t need anyone with a degree in special education. I thought this was rather strange because of all the dependents on base, but that was their decision. So I gave up my thoughts of going into special ed as a career, but continued the volunteer work I loved so much.

Christmas of 1969, I was going home to see my family. I had to drive the hundred miles back to Amarillo to catch the plane to New York, and my Volkswagen Beetle wasn’t in such great shape for the trip. So my best friend in the Air Force, Robert LaFond, swaps me his Karmann Ghia for the trip. I didn’t want to miss the Special Services Christmas party, but that was the only way I could get to Amarillo in time for the flight.

When I got off the plane at La Guardia, my parents met me. They looked grim, almost shell-shocked, and I couldn’t figure out why. After all, I was turning my life around and finally giving them reason not to be disappointed in me.

What had happened was, they’d received a report of an unidenti fied driver killed near the base in a VW that matched the de scription of mine. Until they saw me get off the plane, they didn’t know if I was alive or dead.

It turned out that Robert LaFond, like a lot of other guys, had gotten drunk and passed out at the Christmas party. People who were there told me that some of the officers and noncoms had carried him out to my car, put him in with the key in the ignition, and when he came to, he tried to drive off the base. It was snowing and freezing out; he hit a station wagon head-on with a military mother and her children inside. Thank God, they weren’t hurt, but in my flimsy car, Robert went into the steering wheel, through the windshield, and was killed.

This haunted me. We were very close and I was plagued by the thought that this might not have happened if he hadn’t lent me the good car. When I got back to base, I had to claim his personal effects, box up all his possessions, and ship them off to his family. I kept going back to look at my wrecked car, I kept having dreams about Robert and the crash. I was with him the day he’d bought a Christmas present for his parents in Pensacola, Florida, a gift that arrived in the mail the same day Air Force officers came to the house to tell them their son had died.

But I wasn’t only grief-stricken, I was also angry as hell. Like the investigator I later became, I kept asking around until I’d narrowed it down to the two men who had put Robert in the car. I found them in their office, grabbed them, and put them up against the wall. I started hammering on them, one by one. I had to be pulled off them. I was so mad, I didn’t care if I got court-martialed. As far as I was con cerned, they had killed my best friend.

A court-martial would have been a messy affair, since they would have had to deal with my formal accusation against the two men. Also, by this time, American involvement in Vietnam was beginning to wind down, and they were offering early outs to enlisted men with only a few months to go. So to smooth things out as best they could, the personnel people discharged me several months early.

While I was still in the service, I’d finished my undergraduate degree and begun a master’s in industrial psychology. Now I was living on the GI Bill in a $7-a-week, windowless, basement apartment in Clovis, fighting the legions of three-inch waterbugs that went into attack formation every time I came in and switched on the lights. Not having access to the base facilities anymore, I joined a cheap, run-down health club whose atmosphere and decor roughly matched that of my apartment.

During the fall of 1970, I met a guy at the club named Frank Haines, who turned out to be an FBI agent. He ran a one-man resident agency in Clovis. We got friendly while working out together. It turned out he had heard about me through the retired base commander and started trying to interest me in applying to the Bureau. Frankly, I’d never given a single serious thought to law enforcement. I was planning a career in industrial psychology once I finished my degree. Working for a large company, dealing with such issues as personnel matters, employee assis tance, and stress management, seemed to offer a solid, pre dictable future. The only direct contact I’d had with the FBI up until then was one time back in Montana when a trunk I’d shipped home had been stolen. One of the local field agents interviewed me, thinking I might have set up the crime to collect on the insurance. But nothing came of it, and if that was the kind of cases the FBI handled, there didn’t seem to me to be much to the job.

But Frank was persistent in thinking I would make a good special agent and kept encouraging me. He invited me to his house for dinner several times, introduced me to his wife and son, showed me both his gun and his paycheck stub, neither of which I could match. I had to admit, next to my shabby lifestyle, Frank was living like a king. So I decided to take a crack at it.

Frank stayed in New Mexico, and years later, our paths would cross when I came out to testify in the trial for a homicide he’d worked in which a woman was brutally killed and her body burned to avoid detection. But in the fall of 1970, this kind of action was far from my mind.

Frank sent my application to the field office in Albuquerque. They gave me the standard law test for nonlawyers. Despite my physical conditioning and muscular build, my 220 pounds was 25 over the FBI limit for my six-foot-two-inch height. The only one in the Bureau who could exceed the weight standards was the legendary director, J. Edgar Hoover, himself. I spent two weeks on nothing but Knox gelatin and hard-boiled eggs to get down to the weight. It also took three haircuts before I was deemed presentable for an ID photo.

But finally, in November, I was offered a probationary appointment, at an initial salary of $10,869. Finally, I was getting out of my depressing, windowless basement room. I wonder what I would have thought at the time had I known I’d be spending a major part of my Bureau career in another windowless basement room, pursuing far more depressing stories.

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