Book Review: “ShadowMan”

A quarter of an inch.

Roughly, that’s the thickness between your scalp and your brain: a tiny fraction of bone between the world and your history, beliefs, your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It seems insignificant, but that space – about the same as four stacked pennies – is everything. What’s beneath it, as in the new book “ShadowMan” by Ron Franscell, well, it’s complicated.

It was toward the end of June, 1973, and it wasn’t quite morning when fourteen-year-old Heidi Jaeger was awakened by a breeze.

Had she left the tent-flap open around midnight when she’d come back from an outhouse run? No, she’d been creeped-out by something and had gone straight back to the tent but she was sure she’d zipped it up tight. All was well then – her siblings were asleep like a pile of puppies – but now, at that predawn hour, something was definitely wrong.

Susie, Heidi’s seven-year-old sister, was gone, and there was a neatly-cut hole in the tent near where her head should’ve been. 

Because of federal laws, “with or without an invitation,” the FBI would be involved in this case and so Special Agent Byron Dunbar was called. Dunbar was a local guy who’d served under J. Edgar Hoover before returning home to care for his parents; he knew the terrain so he started gathering evidence, but there wasn’t much of it. He began interviewing people who might’ve had information about the abduction, but even in everybody-knew-everybody Manhattan, Montana, nobody seemed to know a thing.

Then someone began phoning the Jaeger home, taunting Susie’s mother with false clues. And nineteen-year-old Sandy Smallegan disappeared.

Crime-solving in the early 1970s was still relatively simple, although the FBI had been working with intriguing new information. It’d already been established that some killers could be pre-identified by their habits and personality peccadilloes. Dunbar knew this, and with the Bureau’s help, he’d severely narrowed the list of suspects but he was frustrated – until it was suggested that he use a new method of crime solving.

Voiceprinting, they said, was nearly as individual and distinctive as a fingerprint…

So, you know that squinchy-eyed face you make when the rest of your body cringes? Yeah, that’s what you’ll get when you read “ShadowMan.”

You’ll recoil because these crimes were gruesome and author Ron Franscell doesn’t candy-coat that; instead, he gives readers an armchair tour of an evil, depraved mind and the things it can do. Squirm and twist awhile, make that face, then let yourself be immersed in Franscell’s detailed account of the development of profiling methodology within the FBI. Yes, true crime fanatics, you’ll love how murder and history are woven together, especially if you’re already familiar with the Bureau’s ways. Whodunit fans won’t exactly find mystery in this story, but the background will appeal to you.

When you’ve got books about the Body Farm on your shelf, or anything by John Douglas or Robert Ressler, “ShadowMan” deserves to be right next to them. If you love a gruesome tale of crime-solving, wrap your head around this one.

Here’s another book for true crime fans: “Bone Deep” by Charles Bosworth Jr. and Joel J. Schwartz. It’s the story of Betsy Faria’s murder – she was stabbed fifty-five times! – and a miscarriage of justice that jailed an innocent man and left a killer to roam free.

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

c.2022, Berkley $27.00 304 pages