Jeffrey Rinek, retired FBI agent and owner of a majestic mustache, writes a memoir detailing cases he worked during his career, particularly in the area of child sex crimes and the infamous Yosemite murders, where three tourists (Carole and Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso) were abducted and murdered, leaving behind a particularly bizarre trail of evidence.
He walks quickly through his background before spending most of the book going in-depth on several of his major cases from his 30-year FBI career, explaining the scope of the investigations and his work. The look into his childhood and beginnings with the FBI is enough to see what makes him tick and why he chose this line of work that is at best unsavory and at worst, completely traumatizing.
His biography is revealing in that some of the same kind of problems that plagued him, the same difficulties and bullying that he endured, are similar to those that often crop up in stories of the people who turn in a different direction than he did, committing crimes instead of trying to solve them, unable to channel anger into something productive and meaningful.
I still struggle today with anger to some degree, but over time feelings that had once been so self-directed and self-destructive became the gifts and signposts that would help me along the particular career path I chose. Free-floating, useless anger transformed into a passion for seeking justice. I no longer wanted to “get back” at my own victimizers but to bring to account those who would victimize others – especially predators who chose children…The vulnerability I felt as a kid produced a deep sense of empathy for child victims and the desire to protect them from exploitation and abuse.
Although Robert Ressler was brilliant in his profiling work and the contributions he made there, as Rinek acknowledges here, I found his book to be a little too arrogant and macho sometimes. I worried Rinek’s would be similar, but he comes across so humble. I didn’t even expect to like him as a narrator; as with Ressler, I’m more curious about what the work entailed – but that’s what happened because he’s incredibly likable (he uses the word “squirrelly”, for one). Most importantly, he makes it clear his focus was on victims – which is what all of this should be about, of course, but which sometimes seems to get lost in the shuffle.
The personal details he shares are also sweetly charming – really, I just liked him so much – like that he moved to his first FBI posting in Chicago with his two cats in tow, and that he and his family settled in a town aptly named Rescue in California. He chalks that up to having seen a lot of funny coincidences in his line of work. Rinek succeeds in humanizing an agency that’s often faceless and opaque. It’s hard to hear how much he suffered – and continues to, with nightmares and the psychological aftereffects of what he’s witnessed and known – in order to bring justice, closure, and in the best of cases, victims home alive.
It goes without saying, but reading this is incredibly difficult at times. He doesn’t shy from sharing details that are devastating, and regarding children. The stories are told unflinchingly. But I think that just because these things are hard to know doesn’t mean we should ignore them and avoid knowing anything about them. It doesn’t mean we should dwell on them either, but there’s nothing about this telling that’s sensationalized or for shock value. Rinek admits repeatedly how difficult the work has been for him and the strain it took on his marital and family life.
I ended with so much respect for him and what he’s contributed through his public service. Just reading about it was hard enough, I can’t imagine what he endured emotionally and mentally to live it, then to keep on living with that knowledge, those images, afterwards.
Rinek had originally been removed as lead investigator on the Yosemite cases after clashing with higher ups about case theories. It rankled him, understandably, and combined with some other somewhat unorthodox behavior (he admits he was a prankster, and sick of missing endless birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, would often have suspects in custody call his wife to apologize) he reached some disillusionment with the Bureau.
Then he was spontaneously called in to interview an alleged witness to another murder in Yosemite – Joie Armstrong, a naturalist, had been found brutally murdered. The FBI insisted they already had the perpetrators of the Sund/Pelosso murders in custody.
He drove to pick up Cary Stayner – one of those weird coincidences being that Stayner’s brother had survived a hellish kidnapping as a child, and their family history was rife with various abuses – and take him to the office for questioning, ostensibly by someone else. Instead, they talked during the long car ride and Stayner began to trust him. Enough to open up and confess that he could give “closure” on all the Yosemite cases.
What followed was an unexpected confession with verifiable, unreleased details. It was clearly one of the highlights of his career, not to mention an important moment in providing closure for those affected. But as he explains it, his “success on the case caused a lot of resentment from a lot of corners.” It seemed to herald the beginning of the end of his FBI career.
When discussing his work, he focuses attention on confessions and the danger of false ones. Early on, he mentions that part of what he was known for during his tenure at the FBI was obtaining confessions and I was immediately uncomfortable, knowing what we know about false confessions and intense, persuasive interrogation tactics.
Instead he criticizes the Reid technique, frequently used in interrogations today and responsible for many of the false confession narratives we’re familiar with.
Rather than asking the interviewee to tell his story or explain what happened from the outset, the suspect is told that evidence already in hand clearly indicates guilt. This may be a complete lie. Interrogators following the Reid method may falsely tell a suspect that he failed a polygraph, or may lie that they have fingerprints.
Rinek’s methodology was much more humane, and it’s no wonder he was successful while maintaining integrity. He credits this behavior with Stayner’s willingness to open up to him with little provocation.
I gave something of myself and others gave back to me in return. In many instances I was able to show the offender that in spite of what they had done they still had the capacity to help, which meant they had value. I am not a social worker or someone who believes that everyone is redeemable. I just know that on some occasions I was able to get through to someone, which enabled us to recover victims, answer anguished questions, and prevent others from being harmed.
What Rinek also does well is to cover some ground in humanizing the FBI and law enforcement in general, admitting his own struggles – he closes the book confessing that the stress and nature of the work he did left him with PTSD, even suicidal. That’s hard to hear, considering what he’s contributed, but it’s not hard to believe, because he comes across so empathetic and sensitive alongside the admirable strength he shows in his work. And not only sensitive towards victims, but towards perpetrators. We know this narrative already too, but it’s one sometimes purposely ignored:
Perhaps one of the hardest truths we need to confront is how many victimizers were once victims. We need to break the code of silence that still shrouds childhood abuse, face the full ramifications, and intervene to break this awful, perpetual cycle.
People expected me to see all offenders as monsters, but I saw people suffering in their own right.
Personal, emotional account of the truly remarkable work Rinek accomplished throughout his career, well told and with a commendable, heartfelt focus on victims. It reshaped a lot of my own thinking about aspects of law enforcement – not that I see it so negatively, but Rinek reveals so much of what the work was like for him that I couldn’t help but feel I’d taken something for granted before. Compelling true crime accounts with a nuanced analysis of legal and interrogative techniques, and a winning memoir of a funny, thoughtful detective to boot. We don’t deserve him! 4.5/5
In the Name of the Children:
An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators
by Jeffrey Rinek and Marilee Strong
published July 17, 2018 by BenBella
I received an advance copy courtesy of the publisher for unbiased review.