For my mother and father, Betty and John Cordy
Certainly there is one gene which is shared by most criminals—and its
complete DNA sequence is known. It is the single small gene, carried on the Y chromosome, which makes its carriers male. Most criminals are men: the criminality gene has been found! Needless to say, no one suggests that geneticists should do anything about it.
—STEVE JONES, professor of genetics, University College London
San Quentin Penitentiary, California. Wednesday, October 29, 2008, 3:11 A.M.
It wasn‘t his pain that denied him sleep. It wasn‘t his fear that filmed his skin in clammy sweat and made him rise from drenched sheets to piss for the tenth time that night. And it wasn‘t his suffering that urged him to take his own life after seven years on death row. It was their pain that made him do these things, their fear, their suffering.
Something had changed deep within him. He didn‘t know what it was or why it had happened, only that it was some?how fundamental, irrevocable. Karl Axelman had taken many lives in his fifty-six years but had never once considered taking his own. He had always been untroubled by his past, savoring his conquests, using his photographic memory to summon up some exquisite detail of the girls he had raped, tortured, and murdered for his pleasure. But now their faces came unbidden, tormenting him day and night. For the first time in his life he could hear their pain, smell their fear, and understand their suffering.
After returning to the bed in his five-foot-by-ten-foot cell in San Quentin‘s East Block, he stared up through the bars at the faulty lamp in the corridor outside. But he found no comfort in the light. The beacon only exacerbated his dis?tress, intensifying the gloom that surrounded him.
Sitting up, he looked around the cell that was his uni?verse: the stainless steel basin and toilet in the corner; the shelf above the sheet metal bed stacked high with neatly or?dered newspapers. He turned to check his pillow again. Strands of silver flecked the yellowed linen. His thick hair, although silvered with age, had always symbolized his strength. But now it fell in clumps from his scalp. His hand?some face, once bait for his prey, was pitted with weeping acne more acute than any teenager‘s. Yet as he clasped his clammy palms together and his pounding heart drowned out the sounds of despair from the neighboring cells, he ignored these physical indignities.
He was aware only of dry-mouthed, heart-palpitating anxiety, an emotion
he had never experienced before. Un?wanted images of vulnerable flesh intruded on his mind, arousing the familiar desire to control and humiliate. Yet even as his erection hardened, his whole body crawled with revulsion. And the bile of acid guilt rose in his throat. Reaching up to the narrow shelf above his bed, Axelman‘s hands shook as he selected a copy of the San Francisco Ex?aminer. Except for a shoebox at one end, the shelf was bowed beneath the weight of crisply folded newspapers. Knowing what was happening in the outside world had al?ways given Axelman a sense of control, allowing him to imagine he was influencing events. But no more.
Carefully unfolding the paper, he ignored the warmon?gering headlines about Iraq and the latest polls on the first ever female presidential candidate running for office in a week‘s time. These issues no longer concerned him. He would be gone by then. There was only one issue to resolve.
He turned to page three of the paper and studied the flash photograph of a man carrying a naked girl wrapped in his jacket out of a cemetery late at night. The headline said: FBI MIND HUNTER SAVES VICTIM NUMBER FOUR. Axelman stared at the man. Then he reached for the shoebox containing all the personal belongings he was allowed to keep with him. The old faded color photograph was on the top of the letters and other paraphernalia. Squinting in the flickering light, he compared the faded photograph with the newspaper picture, as he had done countless times before. Finally he reread the text in the article, noting once again the age and the sur?name.
Axelman sighed. He was sure he was right. But even if he was wrong, he would still confess all the details to this FBI agent for the first time. He had once savored frustrating the police and prolonging the mourning and pain of the relatives by keeping the location of the bodies to himself. But now their pain was his pain, and he could no longer keep the in?formation secret. This man could do something with the knowledge.
Listening for the footsteps of approaching guards, Axel-man carefully replaced the photo and newspaper. He then knelt on the floor and lifted one corner of the bed. After slip?ping two long fingers into the hollow base of the tubular leg, he extracted a steel belt buckle from the chewing gum wedg?ing it in place. The pin had been removed from the large biker‘s buckle, leaving a squared-off figure of eight about two inches wide and three inches long.
The buckle had cost six packs of cigarettes eighteen months ago, and the con who had sold it to him had smiled while pocketing the Marlboros. With no pin the buckle was useless and harmless. But over time he had chamfered one beveled outer edge against the concrete floor, the iron bed, and even the bars of his cell, filing the end into a crude but
keen blade. At first, sharpening the steel buckle was some?thing to do, a small act of rebellion, but now it had taken on a new significance. Sitting on the bed, he passed his thumb over the nicked edge of the blade and drew blood. His atrophied testicles in?voluntarily retreated into his body, and for a moment Axel-man wished he could wait for the executioner. Release would be so much easier if administered by a different hand. But this wasn‘t just about release; it was about punishment. He himself must remove the source of the dark urges. Rocking back and forth on the edge of the bed, Axelman didn‘t bother to lie down. Sleep wouldn‘t come, and if it did, he would gain no sanctuary there. He touched the buckle blade again, strangely reassured by its presence. Soon it would be dawn, and later he would unburden his soul to the FBI agent. He could do no more to find peace. After that he would play out the final act. And then, redemption or no re?demption, at least the torture would end.
His head aches, and he wants to go home, but he still waits in the cemetery under cover of the short fir tree. The damp bark smells as strong as any perfume. It is 1:57 A.M. The two San Francisco Police Department officers left an hour ago. After three days of staking out the area, they and their replacements have been recalled to follow up other leads. The police say they will return in the morning, but he knows they have lost the faith. Fourteen-year-old Tammy Lewis is missing, and they are concerned she will end up like the other three. Special Agent Luke Decker should leave too; he has only adviser status here, and other cases are piling up on his desk at Quantico.
But Decker can‘t go yet. He knows deep in his gut that the killer will
return here at night and bring the girl with him— perhaps even alive.
The night air is cool on his face, and above him through the branches of the fir a crescent moon gazes down. Seven?teen miles from San Francisco and nine miles from Oakland, the Gates of Heaven Catholic Cemetery is still. Nothing moves, and even nearby Interstate 80 is silent.
He retrieves a pair of night vision glasses from his coat and rereads the inscription on the headstone twenty yards away:
Sally Anne Jennings Taken August 3, 2008 Aged 15 years You were taken from us too soon. But we shall meet again in a better place. 7
Decker grinds his jaw, remembering the crime scene pho?tos of Sally Anne‘s violated body. The killer‘s most recent victim must also be his last.
Car tires on gravel break the silence. He turns to his right and sees a Domino‘s pizza van pull into the cemetery‘s de?serted parking lot. Sweat breaks out on his forehead. Decker knows the psychological profile of the killer because he wrote it. And the pizza van fits. His heart is beating fast now, but he feels no triumph about being right again, no excite?ment of the chase, just weary sorrow and a vague disquiet that he should know the mind of a killer so well.
A sudden scream from the van rips through the night. It is short and quickly muffled, but Decker crumples inside, feel?ing her pain and terror himself. He reaches for his cell phone and calls the incident number.
He whispers urgently that the suspect is here. He needs backup. A sleepy detective snaps awake. ―Two squad cars will be there in ten minutes—max,‖ he promises.
The van‘s rear doors open, and a muscular young man with red hair and a black T-shirt drags something white out of the back and drops it on the gravel. Decker realizes then that ten minutes will not be soon enough. The silent white bundle is moving, and even before he puts the night vision glasses to his eyes, Decker knows it‘s a naked girl. Tammy Lewis is gagged and bound, her eyes round with terror. The young man is strong because he easily lifts her over his shoulder and carries her toward the cemetery.
Decker reaches for his gun and releases the safety. He has won the FBI shooting competition at Quantico with the SIG semiautomatic every year for the last five years. But he dis?likes using the gun for real. It means he‘s failed. But he has no choice now. If he does nothing, the man will carry Tammy Lewis to Sally Anne‘s grave, where he will lay her down, tor?ture, and rape her. Then, when he is satisfied, he will kill her and defile her body. Decker knows this with a gut-wrenching certainty as absolutely as if he‘d already witnessed the crime.
He waits for the man to lay Tammy down on the grave and start to untie her ankles before coming up behind him. Decker is ten feet away when he sees a knife flash in the man‘s hand.
―FBI,‖ he shouts. His voice sounds alien in the stillness of the night. ―Drop the knife, put your hands up, and back away from her.‖
Crouching over his victim, the red-haired man looks over his shoulder, his long face surprised and uncertain. He hes?itates.
―Now,‖ orders Decker. But the man doesn‘t drop the knife. He turns and raises it high into the air. The curved blade mirrors the white sickle of the moon as a bellow of rage cuts through the darkness. Then in one furious movement he brings it scything down toward the girl with the force of a guillotine....
―The defense calls Dr. Kathryn Kerr.‖
It was her name that jolted Luke Decker from the events in the graveyard
nine weeks ago and back to the warm, stuffy chamber of the San Francisco Court of Appeals. Above the judge‘s bench the clock showed 10:07 A.M., and the calendar below it the date: Wednesday, October 29, 2008. The hushed oak-paneled courtroom carried every sound, but when the woman‘s name was called, Decker couldn‘t believe he‘d heard it right.
What the hell was Kathy Kerr doing here?
Reorienting himself, Decker blinked his green eyes and ran a hand through his cropped blond hair. Shifting in his chair, he looked around the paneled court. The judge, a bald man with a permanent pained frown, sat at the front of the chamber with both the prosecution and defense teams arranged facing him on either side. Decker sat with the pros?ecution behind the district attorney. This wasn‘t a full trial,
and there were few people in the public gallery behind him, except some junior press. No relatives of the dead girls had come, but Decker gained some satisfaction from noting that Tammy Lewis‘s family wouldn‘t have been among them. At least she had been saved.
Turning to his right, the first person he noticed was Wayne Tice, sitting beside his defense attorney. The red-haired killer‘s right arm was still
in a sling from where Decker had shot him in the shoulder. Tice caught his eye and flashed his crooked teeth in a cold, unrepentant smile. Decker ignored him. The man had been found guilty and condemned to death almost a month ago. This hearing was just an attempt by his defense team to gain Tice leniency and a chance for rehabilitation. As the FBI forensic psychologist responsible for catching Tice, Special Agent Decker had been asked by the DA to comment on his psychological state and ensure the man wasn‘t allowed back on the streets.
Now it appeared that Kathy Kerr, the woman he hadn‘t seen for almost
ten years, was here to help Tice.
He watched her take her seat and be sworn in. Decker couldn‘t help staring at her, although she seemed oblivious of his presence. She was slimmer, and her glasses were gone, no doubt replaced by contacts, and her navy suit was smarter than the jeans and T-shirt she‘d favored in their
―Please state your name, occupation, and qualifications please,‖ requested Tice‘s attorney, Ricardo Latona.
The witness unconsciously raised a hand and attempted to run it through her dark, glossy hair before remembering it was tied back into a French braid. A flash of memory in?truded on Decker‘s thoughts. No doubt she had tried to re?strain the long cascade of unruly curls in order to look more authoritative. Decker guessed that many people still under?estimated the formidable intellect behind the packaging of open smile and Celtic coloring of fair skin, freckles, and pale blue eyes. ―My name is Dr. Kathryn Kerr, and I am a research fel?low in behavioral genetics at Stanford University. I have a degree in microbiology from
Cambridge University in Eng?land and a Ph.D. in behavioral genetics from Harvard.‖
Her voice had lost none of its soft Edinburgh burr. In many ways Kathy Kerr had hardly changed, and Decker wondered whether she would think his appearance had al?tered so little. The woman he had known all those years ago still seemed vulnerable and wild at the same time, both of which were only half true. He couldn‘t help wondering whether she used her maiden name professionally or was she still unmarried. ―Could you briefly outline the nature of your work?‖ re?quested the attorney.
―I specialize in the genetic science of criminal and anti?social behavior. Apart from teaching, most of my research work at Stanford is funded by the biotech company Vi?roVector Solutions and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.‖
Decker raised an eyebrow. He didn‘t know she‘d returned from England, let alone that she was working with his peo?ple at the bureau. He wondered how long she‘d been at Stan?ford.
―I realize that many aspects of your work with the FBI will be confidential,‖ said Latona. ―But isn‘t it true that one aspect of your research involves identifying the genetic risk factors for criminal behavior?‖
Her blue eyes met Luke‘s for the first time. He tried to read her gaze, but for once his famed powers of perception failed him. Although he had had no idea she was part of the bureau project to explore the genetic roots of crime, he had heard of it; everyone had. After all, nature, not nurture, was now the new religion at the FBI. Criminals were born, not made, so the senior hierarchy believed, particularly Made?line Naylor, the first female director in the bureau‘s long and illustrious history.
Decker had always disagreed with this philosophy. In his experience criminals, and their victims, were shaped by their backgrounds. At thirty-five Decker was one of the youngest ever heads of the behavioral sciences division at the FBI‘s training academy in Quantico, Virginia.
His unit had once been the glamour division of the bu?reau; Hollywood films had been based on its exploits. It spe?cialized in helping police forces target suspects for serial killings, bombings, or other apparently motiveless crimes by developing psychological profiles of possible offenders based on the methodology of the crime. But under the new regime the behavioral sciences divi?sion had become ghettoized. Physiology, not psychology, was where all the money went now. The criminal brain was far more interesting than the criminal mind. PET brain scans, adrenaline levels, skin conductivity, theta activity, and serotonin neurotransmitters were seen as the future of crime control,
crowned, of course, by the promises of genetic sci?ence. The new ideology had prompted Decker to tender his res?ignation last month and accept the offer of a professorship at Berkeley to teach criminal psychology. He had done his time on the front line and could achieve more now by train?ing and inspiring a new generation of mind hunters. Plus ten years in the minds of the sickest killers had taken its toll. His mother‘s sudden death eighteen months ago had also made him realize that he hadn‘t seen enough of her or his grand?father in the last ten years. He had been living out of a tiny apartment in Washington, D.C., traveling the country, and putting no roots down. It was time for him to settle back here on the West Coast, where his grandfather still lived, and sort out his life, rather than try to save everybody else‘s.
McCloud, the deputy director of the FBI, had refused his resignation, asking him to reconsider. But with every day that Decker stayed, the more he knew he had to go. He had already picked his successor. So after finishing off this case and interviewing Karl Axelman in San Quentin this after?noon, he would return to Quantico and tell McCloud his de?cision was final.
―Thank you for agreeing to come here today, Dr. Kerr,‖ said the defense lawyer with a smile. Ricardo Latona was a squat man with thinning dark hair. He turned to the judge. ―The reason we requested this hearing and asked Dr. Kerr to give evidence today is that we believe a new approach to crime is long overdue.
―It is now apparent from all the research that biology is a central factor in crime, interacting with social, cultural, and economic influences. This knowledge raises key questions. If someone is biologically predisposed to crime, should he be punished or helped? If he is sick, do we dare treat him? Or do we feel that treatment somehow excuses ‗criminality‘ and robs us of the need to punish? Is society civilized enough to equate justice with merciful treatment of a dis?ease, or must it always be linked to punishment?‖
Decker watched Latona pause and turn to Tice, a man who had abducted and murdered three girls and would have murdered a fourth if Decker hadn‘t prevented him. ―Wayne Tice has done wrong,‖ said Latona in his soothing, reason?able voice. ―No one denies that, and he has been convicted of terrible crimes. But we intend to show that they were the result of genetically inherited biochemical factors beyond his control, for which a just, humane society would seek medical treatment, not the death penalty.‖
Decker groaned. He was no advocate of the death penalty, so long as dangerous people were kept off the street. But the idea that genes determined violent behavior was abhorrent to him and to his work over the past fifteen years. Criminals already had enough excuses to avoid
taking responsibility for their actions, without blaming their choice of parents too.
―Dr. Kerr, could you please outline the key scientific evi?dence that demonstrates that biology is a central factor in vi?olent behavior and crime?‖
Kathy Kerr cleared her throat and paused for a moment. ―Let me start with a few facts. Firstly, biology is only one of several interrelated factors, including cultural, social, and economic influences, which lie at the root of violent crime. But the more we have learned over recent years, the more important we now understand it to be. Secondly, the biggest biological factor is gender. The world over, it is men who commit over ninety percent of all violent crimes.‖
Decker remembered back to their Harvard days nine years ago. His criminal psychology Ph.D. on using patterns of behavior to diagnose an offender‘s
state of mind and de?termine his likelihood to offend again, rather than rely solely on the patient‘s own opinion, had been much praised. But Kathy Kerr‘s Ph.D. paper on behavioral genetics entitled ―Why Men Commit 90 Percent of All Violent Crimes‖ had been so groundbreaking it had been published in Nature, one of the world‘s two most prestigious science journals. He hadn‘t agreed with it, but he‘d had to concede it was bril?liant.
Kathy continued, warming to her subject. ―The male brain is different
from the female brain, and understanding these differences is pivotal to understanding the small sub?set of criminally violent males. A chemical mixture of neu?rotransmitters and hormones drives the brain. Let me deal with neurotransmitters first. They are the chemical messen?gers controlling the flow of electrical messages in the net?work of nerve cells that allow the complex neural networks of the brain to communicate with one another. They influ?ence and facilitate the thoughts of our mind and the actions of our bodies.
―There are four key neurotransmitters. Three of them— dopamine,
adrenaline, and epinephrene—are very similar. They fuel the brain,
stimulating many of our emotional and physical impulses, such as the fight or flight reflex. The fourth is serotonin; this is the vital brake that inhibits and modifies our waking behavior. Its specific function is to link the impulsive limbic part of the brain with the more civilized cortex. Put simply, without serotonin we would have no con?science or inhibitions.
―While neurotransmitters are responsible for the instiga?tion of specific actions, hormones influence the broad pat?tern of behavior, although the interaction between them is complex. Again put simply, the higher the level of andro?gens, particularly testosterone, the higher a man‘s aggres?sion and the lower his empathy with the pain or feelings of others.‖
Nodding, Latona stepped in. ―So overall the male brain is more specifically wired and fueled for aggression, impul?siveness, and crime than is the female brain. But this doesn‘t mean that all men are violent criminals.‖
―Of course not,‖ said Kathy with a wry smile. ―Violent criminals are the small minority of men well outside the norm, for whom these natural differences have become am?plified, exaggerated. There exists a range of physiological tests on which they can be reliably assessed versus the norm. For example, we can measure in the blood levels of MAO, an enzyme that acts as a marker for the neurotransmitter serotonin. And we can monitor levels of brain activity with PET scans and electroencephalograms—‖
―OK,‖ interrupted Latona. ―So violent criminals are phys?iologically different. But how exactly does genetics fit into this picture?‖
―The recent invention of the Genescope has enabled sci?entists to read an organism‘s entire sequence of genetic in?structions. By conducting aggression studies on primates, my team and I have identified seventeen key genes that code for the production of critical hormones and neurotransmit?ters in male primates, including humans.
―These interdependent genes effectively determine man‘s aggressive behavior. And depending on how each gene‘s promoter, or volume control, is set, we can tell how loudly that gene will express its instructions. For example, we can predict dangerously low levels of serotonin or high levels of testosterone by studying the calibration of these genes. What we have discovered is that although everyone‘s gene settings change in reaction to particular stimuli, almost every indi?vidual has different base settings. If you see these seventeen key genes as cards, then every man is dealt a slightly differ?ent hand.‖
―Is it true that although this work was done originally on apes, it is now relevant to humans?‖ Latona asked.
―Yes, much of my recent work confirms these findings in men.‖
―So a man‘s genes determine if he is going to become a criminal or not?‖
―To an extent. But I stress what I said earlier. Environmen?tal, social, and cultural factors also have an influence. How?ever, the crucial point is that humans are different from animals because they possess consciousness. This means that they are aware of the consequences of their actions. So re?gardless of any genetic predisposition, free will still plays a significant part in the choices humans make. But certainly some men, regardless of other influences, will find it more dif?ficult than others to behave as society expects them to. The genes they inherited from their parents give them little choice.‖
Decker smiled. She sounded convincing. But then she had always been a good teacher with a flair for simplifying the most complex problem. As far as she was concerned, the world was one big puzzle that, if she
thought about it hard enough and long enough, could be broken down into its component parts to find the one overarching rule that ex?plained everything. To her the whole was never greater than the sum of its parts. That had been their problem. To him the whole was everything. He could never understand how hu?manity could be reduced to a line of programming. In the short time Kathy Kerr and Decker had been lovers during that last summer at Harvard they had spent most of their time in heated argument. The only area where they hadn‘t been incompatible was in bed.
He thought of the five or six half-serious relationships he‘d had in
the last nine years and quickly realized that despite or perhaps because of the fric?tion, none shone as vividly in his memory as those few sum?mer months with her.
―You‘re aware of Wayne Tice‘s family history, aren‘t you, Dr. Kerr?‖ asked the lawyer, pulling out a large board and placing it on an easel by the judge. The network of names and lines on the board formed a simple family tree.
―Yes. That‘s why I agreed to be involved in this case.‖
As the lawyer turned to the chart, Luke knew what was coming. He too had studied Tice‘s family, and he shook his head as Latona explained that the spidery lines leading to boldly typed names revealed how four generations of Tice men had, with two individual exceptions, been drawn to crime. All were famed for their tempers and aggressive drives. ―Think twice before you marry a Tice‖ was a watch?word in their hometown.
The chart infuriated Decker. What did Tice have to com?plain about? He still had both parents, and he had a brother. Apart from his domineering mother and his successful brother making him feel inadequate, Tice had had it better than most. Decker would have given anything to have a whole family and to have known his father. Fluent in Russian, Captain Richard Decker had been an interrogator with the U.S. Navy at the height of the Cold War. As a child Decker often fantasized about his father‘s using his psychological skills to prize a piece of information vital to the safety of the free world from some recalcitrant Red admiral. Decker‘s mother used to reassure him that his own uncanny and unsettling ability to see into the minds of others must have been inherited from his brilliant father. But of course the Russians hadn‘t killed Captain Richard Decker; some street punk in San Francisco had. That was one of the reasons Decker had joined the bureau: to fight the war on the streets.
Turning back to Kathy, the lawyer asked, ―Dr. Kerr, you have applied your battery of tests to my client and his im?mediate living family?‖
―That‘s correct. I conducted a gene scan on Wayne Tice and a series of ancillary tests, checking serotonin, testos?terone, and adrenaline levels. I also gave him a PET scan to probe brain activity on his frontal lobe. Tice‘s readings put him in the top five percent, in terms of