Jeanne Boylan, who thought she could say no to the pleas for help, said yes again this week, and is feeling the emotional pain for doing so.
The nationally known criminal profiler, whose sketches of the Unabomber and numerous other crime suspects have drawn acclaim, has told everyone, both in her new book and face to face, that she is leaving that business behind.
Then a 10-year-old Dallas, Ore., boy had his throat slit by a man who picked him up with an offer to do yard work, then dumped the struggling child out of his car in a rural area. An initial sketch of a possible suspect as seen by a witness didn’t bring many leads or much hope, so a call went out to Boylan, who plans to move from Bend but keep a phone number here.
She met with the recovering boy in a hotel room and brought some Play-Doh along. She gleaned enough information for a markedly different sketch of the suspect.
“This case really wiped me out today,” Boylan told bend.com by e-mail. “Reminded me of why I HAVE to get out (of this line of work). No kidding — it just floored me — I simply cannot keep going through these dramas.”
This time, she considers her sketch a “longshot,” even though she believes the attacker was an area resident. “The level of trauma to the boy was so severe that I have low confidence in what we produced,” she said, urging the media “to use it in a very general sense at best.”
“Ugh — pressure, stress and heartbreak!!!” Boylan wrote. “I just fell in love with this little boy — I cannot even breathe a normal breath tonight, so heavy is my heart.”
Boylan tours promoting book on cases
A few weeks earlier, Boylan was sitting in the hot southern Arizona sun, a long way from her Bend home, doing her nails and getting ready for the next stop on her book tour while talking about how she came to write a fascinatng book about a life she never intended to live, yet up to now has been unable to turn away from.
“I never intended to write a ‘true crime book,” she said. “I never would pick up a ‘true crime’ book, watch a cop show.” She also didn’t want to see her face on the cover of her book, but there she is, almost glamorous: the blond woman in black T-shirt and blue jeans, a quick hotel lobby shot when she was fighting the flu, several years ago. Her face, staring out from bookstore shelves across the nation. You can see how she won the crown of homecoming queen back in Colorado, when she dreamed of nothing but escaping over the Rockies and seeing the world – perhaps even becoming a globetrotting reporter.
But fittingly, Boylan is not alone on the cover of her book, “Portraits of Guilt,” which recently rose to No. 3 on the U.S. “reading circles” list at Amazon.com and was bouncing as high as the top 200 of the Web site’s sales overall. She shares the cover with the photos and the sketches of three killers, including the Unabomber and the man who kidnapped and murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas, surely the most heartbreaking of the cases recounted in the book.
The subtitle says it all: “The Woman Who Profiles the Faces of America’s Deadliest Criminals.” Call her a “facial identification specialist,” but for heaven’s sake DON’T call her a “police sketch artist.” She’s not and never will be one: “It’s not the point of this work to make something artistically or aesthetically fabulous, but to make something accurate.”
Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive about the book, in which Boylan, aided in the writing by fellow Bend resident Barbara Findlay Schenck, weaves the stories of the major crimes she was called in to help untangle with a sadly familiar homefront tale of how such demanding work eventually took a fatal toll on her marriage.
Boylan holds Bend book-signing
Boylan was back in Bend for a few days, holding a Barnes & Noble book-signing. But she’s making major changes in her life.
“I am trying to get out of this work,” she tells anyone who will listen. But her own written words, closing out the book’s prologue, show just how tough that has been in the past: “Each time the call comes, I go. You see, I can’t say no.” Indeed, the book title has twin meanings: not just the legal definition of guilt, but the kind left in the wreckage of many a failed marriage and what led to it.
The book-jacket bio says Boylan “has assisted on thousands of cases for the FBI, television news divisions, and investigative agencies from Beijing to Moscow. Her pioneering method of interviewing eyewitnesses is based on years of research and study of the psychological effects of trauma on perception and memory.”
It’s not rocket science, to Boylan: Emotion affects memory, and the police artists’ fat books of facial features – she calls it the “pick a nose” system – and the thousands of faces witnesses are given to pore over “entomb the actual image that created the trauma,” in her opinion. That process doesn’t produce, but actually aids in destroying evidence, as if a camera with a vital image inside has its shutter repeatedly pressed – while the film fails to advance.
Boylan talks lovingly of Bend in passages throughout the book, written while closeted with her computer in a 100-year-old, windowless adobe near the Mexican border, starting each day at 9 a.m., forcing herself to turn off the PC and go to bed at 3 a.m.
Sketch warms cold trail to Unabomber
In the first scene, as an FBI agent snags her while changing planes in San Francisco, she longs for Bend’s “welcomed aroma of the hot, dry air, a mixture of juniper and pine, tinged even in the high-desert summer with the faint scent of pine-fueled stoves.” Soon, she is helping a secret witness – the only living person to have seen the Unabomber – undo the damage done by a contaminated sketch that had led to seven years of fruitless searching around the globe for a man who didn’t exist. Through a careful, deliberate interview process that allows the old image to emerge from the mind’s protected recesses, she gets the details she needs to draw a true likeness of the man who eventually would be arrested in the case.
Boylan is learning on her travels that her book is a best-seller; a stop at Powell’s “City of Books” Sunday finds that it’s sold out, for example. And many readers are coming up to her and telling touching stories of their own tangles with crime and its aftermath. But more than selling books, she hopes to reach the hearts and minds of a legal system that has proven stubbornly reluctant to change its ways. “There is a missing chip in my brain that thinks about commerce,” she said. “I care, however, about change.”
Her message to police and prosecutors: Stop treating witnesses like suspected criminals and start treating them – and their valuable memories – as key evidence that needs careful treatment and protection in order to see the light of day and bring perpetrators to justice. She is the common link between all these cases, from the Oklahoma City bombings to Susan Smith’s killing of her two young children in South Carolina. She’s usually called in to fix mistakes and turn things aright. Sometimes she does so in time, such as the momentous Christmas when she learned the kidnappers of a Bay Area jeweler’s wife set her free in fear after their sketches were splashed across the newspapers’ front pages. Sometimes, sadly, it’s not in time, such as the Polly Klaas case.
Even on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Arizona, on a promotional book tour, the crime headlines of the day have her good and mad. She is furious over the case of Gary Graham, whose execution in Texas cast a pall in many people’s eyes over Texas Gov. and presidential candidate George W. Bush. To Boylan, it’s another prime example of the mistakes prosecutors often make in the realm of witness memories.
Late plea in Graham case falls on deaf ears
Given a last-minute chance by MSNBC, Boylan made a live six-minute plea to Bush by satellite, a half-hour before the execution deadline, urging him to delay the killing 30 days so that the evidence could be reviewed. Whether he heard her remarks or not, the plea fell on deaf ears.
Boylan was not calling Graham a saint, by any means: “He’s done a lot of other things, but I don’t believe he killed this man.” She explained how the key witness to the Texas slaying 19 years ago was “contaminated” when she was shown hundreds of photographs in a “skewed photo laydown” with only one person “even close to the one she described.” The witness pointed to Graham in a physical lineup, then told the police officer driving her home that she had recognized the man she fingered from the photo she was shown earlier – and not from the crime scene itself.
“No way this ID should stand up,” Boylan said. “They killed the wrong man, but Bush did not care. Politics – what a case to close out a career on. It makes me leave the so-called ‘justice system’ with absolutely no regrets.”
And leave it she shall, according to Boylan, who revealed that she already has bought a home in another state, using a less-familiar family name. On a Portland radio show, she joked about her next life, working as a “cart girl on a golf course.”
“Nobody believes me,” she said of her decision to move on. “I really am of the belief that, despite everyone saying I have this unique ‘gift,’ that this is something anybody can do. I think it’s just a matter of having some patience and compassion. … The primary thing is to teach them what not to do. I think it does take a certain personality, but I think those people exist.”
Boylan plans to sell her Bend home, but she will keep her business ties in the town she still loves. “Bend has provided a good niche for me,” she said. “It’s a place that can recharge me, nurtures me. I have to have that in between these cases.”
Views on Jon Benet’ Ramsay case offered
There’s another big case – one of America’s biggest in recent memory, in fact – that doesn’t make Boylan’s book: the Jon Benet’ Ramsey murder. She is reluctant to say if she’s played a role in the still-unsolved slaying. But does she believe the parents were involved? “Oh my God,” she said. “In my estimation – and my opinion is of no more value than anyone else’s – I see the Ramseys doing everything an innocent person would do,” such as writing their own book and “getting nothing but crucified by the media.” Not like O.J. Simpson, “who says he’ll make it his life’s work to find his wife’s killer, but then spends all of his time on the golf course.”
The less well-known cases have their own lessons to tell. In one chapter, Boylan writes of how she helped the mother of a young Bay Area man, slain in what became known as the “Good Samaritan murder,” scour the seediest parts of the Haight-Ashbury district. They eventually found the key witness — who supposedly was blind, but as it turns out, wasn’t blind at all. We later learn that police all but dropped their investigation, not for a lack of leads, but because of a City Hall political squabble that cut off investigators’ overtime pay. She, and the reader, are incredulous when a police inspector tells a crowd of reporters, “Those witnesses were only available weekends – and we don’t work weekends.”
Whether a long-discussed movie or TV series come to fruition, it’s likely that the golf course “cart girl” job will have to wait. Instead, Boylan may use the book as a springboard to more training of police around the world in how to do a better job of coaxing memories from witnesses and creating more useful sketches. “In this country, we have a know-it-all attitude,” she said. “You can’t believe the resistance I get. I make these little pockets of influence. Artists get involved in this work to showcase their art. This is not about art or an artist’s ego, but accurate information.”
Boyland finds ‘catharsis’ in sketches of own attackers
Boylan said she fought and almost backed out of the book deal over the publisher’s insistence that she include two very personal sketches from an unsolved crime-ones drawn from her own memory, this time. They are the faces of the two men who abducted her on a country road when she was a 21-year-old on her way to her car after a night college class in rural Missouri. But now, she said, including those sketches has proven to be a catharsis that will let her move on to the next stage of her life, whatever that may be.
Near the close of the book, Boylan tells an audience how she has never stopped searching faces for her attackers everywhere she goes. But she also tells how she has found healing through helping other crime victims and witnesses cope with their trauma, and most importantly by listening to them with compassion. “Because on that night, when I had a story to tell, there was no one willing to listen to me.”