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Tucson Weekly Tragic Trajectory

John Douglas Follows The Wake Of The Homicidal Maniac In 'Obsession.'

By Christopher Weir

DECEMBER 14, 1998: 

Obsession, by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker (Pocket Books). Paper, $6.99.

IN THEIR DEBUT book, Mindhunter, famed FBI profiler John Douglas and writer Mark Olshaker not only conducted a compelling probe into the minds of serial killers, but also allowed Douglas so many tedious pages of autobiographical chest-thumping that they put readers in the unenviable position of blurting out, "Bring on the bloodshed!" Worse yet, their next collaboration, Journey into Darkness, seemed like little more than an exercise in meeting a publishing contract deadline. But now, in Obsession, the pair finally catches a serious groove, navigating the dark world of sexual predators with impassioned conviction, justified outrage and, yes, sustained focus.

Establishing his theme early, Douglas writes, "With the rare exception of the truly insane individual...the predator, and particularly the sexual predator, commits violent acts because he chooses to do so. The operative word is always choice. That's where I stand, and if you don't agree with that, or aren't open-minded enough to let me try to convince you in this book, you may as well stop reading right now."

Convince us, he does.

From serial rapists to serial killers, stalkers to molesters, Obsession methodically explores the motivational dynamics of sexual predators, ultimately revealing them not as impulsive lunatics, but as simple egomaniacs on a personal warpath to hell. Sure, they're obsessed. But, as Douglas observes, "A predator can be obsessed with killing, just as I can be obsessed with hunting him down. But he isn't forced to kill any more than I am forced to pursue him."

Of course, common denominators emerge amid the various case studies. Not surprisingly, a vast majority of predators come from disturbed childhoods (although Douglas also points out that a vast minority of disturbed childhoods spawn predators). More telling, however, is the slow escalation in associated behavior, from voyeurism to peeping to burglary.

Such patterns, however, are rarely employed by the legal system as a greater means toward prevention, so the offenders slip through the judicial cracks until they do something particularly heinous.

Even stalkers, despite the implementation of belated anti-stalking legislation, still enjoy a certain societal anonymity while making no secret of their terroristic end-games. Quoting security expert Gavin de Becker, Douglas writes, "Why does America have thousands of suicide prevention centers and not one homicide prevention center?"

Douglas opines that our collective values and romanticism may be partly to blame: "Think of all the movies in which boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, girl rejects boy, boy persists and eventually triumphs, and they presumably live happily ever after. In some ways, this type of stalking is another criminal symptom of a society that doesn't get the message that when a woman says no, she means no."

Ultimately, Douglas insists, the typical predator occupies a narrow world of self-gratification, one in which remorse is something expressed not as a function of being sorry, but rather as a response to simply getting caught.

Consequently, he is careful to deflect attention away from the predator's egomaniacal orbit, emphasizing instead the pain, suffering and injustice visited upon victims and their loved ones. Along the way, he forges a blueprint for enhanced awareness--one that aspires to proactively reduce the impact of predators on our collective lives.

"I've seen too much of this," Douglas concludes. "I've spent too much time with wonderful people whose lives have been irretrievably shattered by one of these monsters, and each time I think about how it could be my own."

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