Archive for Sunday, July 16, 2000

Book delves into life, work of criminal-profiler

July 16, 2000


Criminal-profiler Jeanne Boylan has sketched another perfect portrait. However, this one isn't her usual drawing of some fugitive from justice -- it's her revealing book about her life and work.

"Portraits of Guilt" (Pocket, $24.95) is Boylan's intensely graphic, autobiographical, behind-the-scenes account of some of the most noted crimes in recent years.

The book begins in a way that many moments in Boylan's work have started:

"'Miss Boylan?'

"A tap on my shoulder snapped me out of my daydream.


"'FBI. We have a witness in the Unabomb case. I need you to come with me."'

Boylan's uncanny ability to draw accurate profiles from witness interviews, in person or by phone, has made her the FBI's go-to person. Always in demand and rarely home, Boylan discusses the toll her job has taken on her personal life. While she discloses more details about her work than about her life, she frequently explains how work-related experiences have affected her off the job.

"My experiences might have taken time away from my home and my marriage -- but they were leading me into my own authenticity."

In several of the book's passages, Boylan admits that her work is her life. The reason: "I go because I have to. For years I've searched for the faces of two men who altered the course of my own life: age 21, a rural road, one night, one attack, two strangers' faces forever seared into my soul. No moment exists for me in which I don't search to find them again."

While she understands the urgency for witnesses to help identify criminals, she says police and media can make it more difficult for her to do her job. Boylan frequently points out that police contaminate the memories of witnesses by asking them to wade through mug shots.

"(It's) like picking out your lost luggage by pointing to an airline baggage chart full of handles, fabrics, latches and locks. If only the human psyche were so wonderfully simple -- but it's not."

Throughout the book, she also reveals the power struggle that goes on within police departments and among FBI agents. Similarly, she depicts a world where being a woman is a fight in itself.

"In the male-dominated environment of police work, I faced a choice: Be seen -- or be heard. So my formless dress-for-success suit was perfect for confronting a room brimming with skeptical testosterone."

Each of Boylan's portraits has captured a moment in her life -- the victims, the witnesses, the hours spent listening to gruesome accounts. Her book is a gripping, firsthand look at the untold stories behind the stories.

Despite the atrocious situations, Boylan believes there's good in the end.

"Sometimes what arrives in the form of a tragedy becomes the very event that spawns growth and rekindles souls. No one I'd met who was connected to these cases ever remained unmoved -- no one.

"We were all made better, stronger, wiser, more appreciative, more loving, more real."

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