Tuesday, March 15, 2022

ShadowMan: A Killer Stalks the Hinterlands

Review of ShadowMan: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling by Ron Franscell

Review written by Robert A. Waters


“The breeze. It wasn’t right.

Heidi Jaeger was only twelve years old but she knew the wind didn’t blow inside a tent.”

So begins a new chiller by veteran author Ron Franscell.

The Jaeger family had been camping in Montana when Heidi began screaming that her seven-year-old sister, Susie, was missing. A hole had been cut in the canvas tent and someone had kidnapped the girl. In the shadow of darkness, the child had vanished.

Local lawmen, joined by the FBI, spent weeks scouring the barren countryside for clues but came up empty. The Jaegers eventually returned to their home in Michigan and waited for news, any news, about what happened to their beloved daughter. Then, on the first anniversary of the child’s disappearance, they received a telephone call from the killer.

As the weeks and months rolled by, Special Agent Pete Dunbar became frustrated with the lack progress. Nearly a year later, while attending a conference at Quantico, Dunbar heard about a new “tool” for solving murders. Criminal Profiling. In fact, it was so new that it had never even been used. But with no leads in the Jaeger case, Dunbar decided to take a chance. He contacted Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany, hoping to get something he could work with.

In the past 30 years, criminal profiling has become a standard part of murder investigations. But at its inception, even the pioneers of the procedure were unsure of its applicability to murder inquiries. ShadowMan takes the reader into the first case to successfully use profiling as part of the FBI’s investigative arsenal.

The author interviewed those early profilers and got a step-by-step description of the involvement of each. In the end, they set their sights on a shifty, intelligent yet morally bankrupt killer of little girls, young boys, and adults. David Meirhofer would eventually confess to murdering four innocents: a seven-year-old girl, a sixth grade-boy, a teenage boy, and a young woman. His spooky confession to all those murders is recorded in the book.

But Franscell takes the art of penmanship higher than most true crime writers. Establishing place, backstory, and character is his expertise.

Here are a few examples:

“Here at the numb bottom of winter, the terrain was half-dead, half-alive. It was all dirt and sagebrush, with just enough grass to keep a small herd of cows alive.”

“[Searchers] knocked on doors, belly-wriggled into crawl spaces, poked their heads into outhouses and well houses, and clambered into cobwebby attics.”

“The bones must have been crushed somehow and scattered across the homestead, where they could be hidden in plain sight.”

“Around here, elections were won and lost on back-fence gossip.”

If you’re looking for a better-than-usual true crime read, this is your book.