Journey Into Darkness by John Douglas Book Review | Book Addicts

Journey Into Darkness by John Douglas

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Journey Into Darkness by John Douglas is a true crime book written by the FBI guy who invented profiling.  10 out of 10 stars for a wonderful book that helps us try to understand why serial killers do what they do.

In the 1970s, John Douglas created the FBI’s profiling database by interviewing incarcerated serial killers.  At the time he did this, the FBI didn’t want to be tainted by being associated with men who had committed unspeakable crimes.  John saw this as a unique opportunity to help identify killers of future crimes.  Because of John, hundreds and maybe thousands of would-be victims are alive because their killers were caught quickly.  That’s no small feat.

What I like most about John’s books is that he concentrates on the victims and how their lives were shortened by the acts of another person, usually a marginally educated white man filled with rage.  He looks at the crime scenes, the victim profiles, and gets into the head of the killer so he can stop him before he strikes again.  So there’s a combination of crime scene facts, profiling, and backstories about the victims.  That’s what you’ll find in a John Douglas book.

Journey Into Darkness contains the backstory and facts of several murders, but focuses quite a bit on the murder of Suzanne Collins, a U.S. Marine Lance Corporal who was brutally murdered the evening of July 11, 1985.  She was attacked the evening before her graduation as she jogged on the Memphis Naval Air base.  Within seconds, her attacker had her in a station wagon and was leaving the base, taking her to a local park in Millington, Tennessee where he tortured, raped, and murdered her.  Her death screams were so loud that they were heard on the opposite end of the park miles away.  In one of the most unspeakable murders of John’s career, her killer thrust a beveled tree limb so far into her vagina that it tore through her abdominal wall and pierced several vital organs including her liver and right lung.  He beat her about the face so badly she was unrecognizable.  This was not Sedley Alley’s first murder. This marginally educated twenty nine year old white male from Ashland, Kentucky was six feet four inches and 220 pounds.  Suzanne was no match for him.

Most serial killers do not look like serial killers (Suzanne Collins left, her murderer Sedley Alley right)
Most serial killers do not look like serial killers (Suzanne Collins left, her murderer Sedley Alley right)

Throughout the book, John focuses quite a bit on the making of these serial killers.  He believes they are mostly made not born.  That is, they are made into serial killers by their parents, society, and what they’ve been exposed to throughout their lives.  They are not born that way.  That in no way excuses what they’ve done and John points out that these are killers who are not the sort who would ever be rehabilitated and should forever be removed from society.  But he does reveal the things that happened to these men to make them kill.

John also describes the typical serial killer.  For example, profilers see a formation of the homicidal triangle at an early age in serial killers.  The homicidal triangle consists of (1) enuresis (bedwetting) at an inappropriate age, (2) starting fires, and (3) cruelty to small animals and/or other children.  By their mid-twenties they generally have low self-esteem and have a criminal record, usually for breaking and entering or attempted rape.  They have issues with authority or authority figures and believe themselves to be victims.  Eventually they develop an MO, modus operandi, or method of committing crimes, as well as a signature, a distinctive way of committing crimes that fulfills some need for them, usually a sexual need.  The MO and signature are what link crimes together and help profilers develop a profile.

Coincidentally I was reading Angry White Men when the John Douglas books I ordered arrived.  So I ended up reading them simultaneously and was not surprised to find the same marginally educated angry white men from Michael Kimmel’s book as the pool of serial killers in John Douglas’s book.  Serial killers are almost exclusively white males aged 25 to 45 years old.  The few instances of female serial killers involved hospital patients or nursing home patients and fall under the category of “mercy homicide” or “hero homicide”.  As our world becomes more diverse the FBI is finding more non-white male serial killers.  Serial killers’ victims are usually the same race as the killer and serial killers start where they feel most comfortable, close to home.  This is why so much focus is put on the first victim–because the killer usually knows or has stalked that victim.  Serial killers almost always visit their victims’ graves, either from remorse or to relive the murder.  And quite often there is a stressor in the killer’s life right before he kills.  Stressors are dramatic events that relate to the killer’s job or relationships.

There is an entire chapter on the profiling of child molesters.  They are a unique animal and after reading this chapter it’s apparent that many domestic abusers are child molesters, unable to sustain sexual relationships with adult women, men who fantasize about sex with kids.  One of these monsters killed twelve year old Polly Klaas in October 1993 after climbing into her house through an open window and abducting her during a slumber party.  Polly’s killer had just been released on parole for a similar crime, which points out that jails do not rehabilitate; they escalate.  These men cannot be rehabilitated.

Along with Suzanne Collins’ murder, the other case in this book that haunted me was Valerie Smelser’s murder.  Valerie was a twelve year old girl who lived with her mother in Clarke County, Virginia.  Her mother kept her imprisoned in the basement, sometimes chained nude to the door, and forced her to urinate in an old coffee can and defacate on the floor. She was not allowed to eat with the rest of the family and had to beg for crumbs or steal food at night while the others were sleeping.  She was brutally murdered by her mother’s lover after she accidentally spilled the coffee can on the kitchen floor.  Valerie and her siblings had been reported to Child Protection Services repeatedly.  Those calls went ignored and Valerie was tortured to death over a period of several years.

There is a chapter devoted to “fighting back”, a simple primer on raising your children with self-esteem so they are less apt to become a child molester’s victim.  That chapter starts with the terrifying murder of seven year old Megan Kanka, for whom Megan’s Law was named.  Megan’s parents had no idea that three recently paroled child molesters lived right across the street.  One of these molesters lured Megan into the house with a promise of showing her his new puppy.  In 1994 Megan’s Law was passed which requires law enforcement to notify communities when high-risk paroled sex offenders are moved into the area.  It became a federal statue in May 1996.

Cases that John covers include:

  • The Clairemont Killer who murdered six women in 1990 around the Clairemont area of San Diego, California.
  • The Bodybuilder murder in Toronto in the 1980s.
  • The Schoolgirl murders of 1991 around Lake Ontario (Golden Horseshoe area).
  • The Twin Cities murders of the 1980s.
  • The Livonia abductions and murders in the 1970s and 1980s in Michigan.
  • The Dickinson, North Dakota murders of the 1980s.
  • The Elisa Izquierdo abuse and murder in 1995.
  • The Newman murders in Anchorage, Alaska in 1987.
  • The 1980s strangulation murders in the Arlington, Virginia area.
  • The June 12, 1994 murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.

What I found fascinating about this book, and is probably why I enjoyed reading it, was that many of these killers had wives they abused before they became killers.  So the writing was already on the wall–these men had already shown themselves to be violent and sadistic.  Yet the police didn’t arrest them.  They answered calls to their homes and personally observed the injuries to their wives and went on their merry way.  As a victim of domestic abuse, I find that deplorable.  So while John commends the many police departments and police officers who helped him catch serial killers, I’m wondering, where were they when they could’ve stopped them–when they were abusing their wives and children?

Roy Hazelwood, an FBI profiler, has identified these steps in a sexually sadistic relationship (e.g. the relationship of a serial killer to his abused wife):

  1. The sadist identifies a naive, dependent, or vulnerable woman, often a victim of previous abuse.
  2. The sadist charms the woman with gentleness, gifts, emotional or financial support, physical protection, and whatever else she needs.
  3. Once the woman trusts him and has sex with him, he will begin to persuade her to engage in unusual, bizarre, or kinky sexual acts.
  4. The sadist isolates the woman from friends, family, and coworkers and keeps tabs on everything she does, including all daily activities.  He may take away her credit cards and checkbook, completely controlling her ability to take care of herself financially, and insist she be home at certain times, punishing her when she is not.  He needs her to be completely loyal to him, no matter what he asks.
  5. After the woman is isolated from everyone else, the sadist becomes her only support system.  The sadist tells her she is bad, inferior, stupid, and inadequate and reinforces this opinion of herself through everything he does.  He constantly punishes her, verbally and physically.

What this five step process shows is that the sadist takes a functional confident human being and turns her into a simpering servant who will do anything for him.  Not all domestic abuse relationships are like this, but many are.  It’s only when the wife can successfully escape her abusive husband and is given the support system she needs that she can regain her self-esteem and her ability to support herself.  So the first victim is almost always the wife. In fact, Sedley Alley’s first murder victim was his first wife Debra who filed for divorce on the grounds of “sexual perversion”.  He murdered her three days later.  :0

There is a chapter on punishment and the appeals process that serial killers use exhaustively.  One of the worst Appellate Judges to ever be appointed to the court was Judge Penny White of Tennessee who showed so much favoritism toward serial killers and brutal sexual sadists that she was finally ousted by the citizens of her state from her position on the court.

There is also a chapter on the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murders.  If you had any doubt that OJ Simpson murdered his ex-wife and Mr. Goldman, please read this book.  John lays out the case very succinctly.  There is no doubt OJ murdered them, but his attorneys buried the jury in minutia.  What surprised me about this case is that the media–television and print news media–all claimed Ron Goldman was Nicole’s lover.  He wasn’t.  They were not even friends.  The afternoon of the evening Nicole was murdered, she’d gone to a local restaurant with her mother where her mother had left her glasses.  Nicole called the restaurant and Ron graciously volunteered to drop the glasses off at Nicole’s house since he was on his way to a party not far from there.  He had no way of knowing that OJ’s girlfriend had just broken up with him, sending him to Nicole’s house with a gun and the intent of murdering her.  As for Mark Fuhrman, as a local police officer he had been called to OJ and Nicole’s house years before after OJ beat Nicole, but he refused to arrest OJ or take him into custody, even after seeing Nicole’s extensive injuries, because he was in awe of OJ’s celebrity.  It’s karmic that now his career and reputation are forever ruined by the very man he failed to stop when he had the chance.  If he had arrested OJ, Nicole and Ron might still be alive.

Ronald Goldman, the waiter who worked at the restaurant where Nicole Simpson's mother left her sunglasses, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, just in time to see OJ Simpson, who'd been dumped by his girlfriend, murder his ex-wife Nicole
Ronald Goldman, the waiter who worked at the restaurant where Nicole Simpson’s mother left her sunglasses, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, just in time to see OJ Simpson, who’d been dumped by his girlfriend, murder his ex-wife Nicole


The last chapter of Journey Into Darkness brings us back to the Suzanne Collins case and the course of justice.  Suzanne’s case was so brutal, so unspeakable in its cruelty, that it is frequently referred to in terms of every topic John covers in this book.  It takes an exceptional author to integrate the victim’s story through a true crime book, but John succeeds.  One of the people who made Suzanne’s life on the air base a nightmare was an older female marine who was jealous of Suzanne.  She was the reason Suzanne was jogging alone that night.  Even worse, she denied Suzanne’s best friend, another female marine, from taking her body home.  Instead she accompanied Suzanne’s body.  I find that deeply troubling and since John included it in his story, so did he.

10 out of 10 stars.  Not for the faint of heart.  Some murders are depicted in graphic detail.

  1. LordYam

    There’s reason to believe Alley may have been innocent of Collin’s murder.

    1.) He got basic details wrong in the first two confessions to the point the police had to give him pointers
    2.) The large gaps in the tape mean the police may have pressed him on what to say. This happens a fair amount more than people want to pretend.
    3.) According to some doctors “the only thing delusional about him is his claim that the police pressed him on what to say”. That implies that his reasons for only claiming innocence was fear he wouldn’t be believed. Tellingly he only started making claims after some misconduct was proven in his case.
    4.) He didn’t match the eyewitness description of the killer; the killer was described as being 5’6-5’8, brown haired and with dark complexion. Alley was 6’4, a redhead, and light complexioned.
    5.) The time given in the autopsy report is when Alley was under surveillance.
    6.) At least two other people have come up as good suspects; the victim’s boyfriend John Borup matched the eyewitness description, admitted he was with her that night, AND was under the impression they were “exclusive” when she was in fact engaged to another man. Thomas Bruce, a student in the course, was later outed as a murderer in another case.

    I respect Douglas but I think he may well have gotten it wrong here. At the very least they should have done the DNA testing in 06 when Alley requested it.

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