The Poet By Michael Connelly Essay, Research Paper
By Michael Connelly
The Poet is about a search for a serial killer that the FBI names “The Poet” due to this person’s signature of forcing the victims to write suicide notes in the form of a quote from Edgar Allen Poe. Jack McEvoy, a newspaper reporter from Denver, is the brother of a victim who was killed by the Poet. In an attempt to avenge his brother’s death McEvoy, and the FBI, form a nation-wide manhunt in search of this cunning illusive killer.
The Poet begins with the Rocky Mountain Newspaper reporter Jack McEvoy being informed of his twin brother’s suicide. As two of the detectives from the Denver police department who also worked with Sean McEvoy in the Crimes Against Persons unit inform McEvoy of the incident, he immediately has doubts about his twin’s alleged suicide. Seeking to better understand what his brother did and what the Denver PD says his brother did, Jack McEvoy decides to write a story for the paper about his brother. From this point on McEvoy began to learn about evil in a new way.
Sean McEvoy was discovered in his car in a parking lot at Bear Lake, and the park ranger who discovered him came immediately after he heard the gunshot to find him dead. The investigators came up with the information that Sean had placed the gun inside his mouth and killed himself. Due to the high stress that Sean’s co-workers and therapist had experienced him in due to the current homicide investigation, the case was closed and it was ruled a suicide.
Jack investigated his brothers death and the further he got into the case the more clues he found suggesting foul play. The final line written on the inside of the windshield by Sean McEvoy was ‘Out of Space out of Time.’ Jack linked the epitaph with the final entry in the chronological record of the case his brother was working on which read simply that he’d received a call from an unknown source and then: RUSHER was written. The connection was made by McEvoy to a similar suicide case in Chicago where a detective’s last words written on a pad were ‘Through the pale door’ taken from an Edgar Allen Poe story titled “The Fall of the House of Usher” in which the main character is Rodrick Usher. As McEvoy used this information about RUSHER, he also related his brother’s line ‘Out of Space out of Time’ to a Edgar Allen Poe poem called “Dream-Land.”
Sean McEvoy was deeply involved with the investigation of the homicide of a young adult named Teresa Lofton who was found in a public park with her body completely cut in half. The case apparently highly disturbed McEvoy, to the point of seeking therapeutic counsel. Mrs. McEvoy also noticed a different husband following his deep involvement in the Loftin case. Although the above factors played into the diagnosis of a suicide, the knowledge of Sean’s assertiveness, and determination contributed to Jack McEvoy’s discovery of the fallacy of the PD’s diagnosis.
The facts leading up to the re-opening of the investigation of Sean McEvoy’s death, were determined by his brother Jack McEvoy, and had everything to do with the crime scene analysis. The car Sean was found in was his undercover police car. The car had security locks on the rear doors, and the procedure was to always keep the security locks engaged. If the officer takes a nonprisoner in the car they can always disengage the locks. Jack’s theory to prove that a killer was in the car with his brother was that the killer had disengaged the security locks, allowing him to hide and then escape out the rear doors. This theory proved true as Jack and a detective named Wex took another look at Sean’s car. Jack had another theory about how the words ‘Out of Space out of Time’ came to be written on the fogged windshield. Fog only occurs on the inside of cars when either people are talking or when it is cold outside and the heat is turned up. As Jack and Wex were reassessing the crime scene they also noticed that the heat was turned off, determining that two people were talking to each other before the murder.
The linked case in Chicago also proved to be very interesting to Jack. Along with the Poe quote, other similarities were found in the victimology and with problems in the crime scene. Larry “Legs” Washington was the partner and friend of the detective who supposedly committed suicide, Jumpin’ John Brooks. According to Larry, due to a few facts he doubted the police department’s diagnosis of his friend’s suicide from the very beginning. Brooks was involved in a homicide investigation of a young black child who was brutally murdered. The young boy’s body was also found in a public park brutally mutilated and the killer had not been found, which greatly impacted Brooks. Brooks, like Sean McEvoy, also sought counseling due to job and life stresses. Brooks also was noted to be highly assertive and determined to succeed. Larry and Brooks were African Americans that grew up together in one of the worst ghettos in Chicago. McEvoy thought it was a miracle that they both survived the horrid childhood due to the conditions they faced daily, which also supported the conclusion of the victim’s desire to live. Larry new first hand that they had worked their way out of hell and he knew that Jumpin’ John was not about to go back by his own hand. Looking at the crime scene another factor seemed amiss. The gun that killed Jumpin’ John fired two shots, one in the floor and one in his mouth. Larry Legs seemed to think the first shot was the murderer killing John and the second was to get the GunShot Residue (GSR) on John’s hand. Now with two alleged suicide cases being reopened, Jack and Larry agreed that there is a high possibility that there is a serial killer out there killing cops and making it look like a suicide. McEvoy decided to see if he could persuade the Law Enforcement Foundation to allow him to look through their records of police suicides to possibly find if there were other victims.
With the help of a Foundation employee, Jack got access to the police suicide records. McEvoy found thirteen files that could possibly be related to his brother and the Chicago cases and narrowed them down to six related cases. By this point Jack was working with the FBI on an agreement to not write the story until they caught the killer, or until a leak in the case came out. The other four cases that correlated with Sean’s death and Jumpin’ John’s death all were detectives who seemed to be deeply disturbed by a specific homicide case. They each had a line of Edgar Allen’s poetry in their “suicide notes.” When the FBI agreed upon the connection between each of the six detectives, the nation-wide manhunt became official government business.
The FBI produced an official chronological victimology report regarding the killer they now named The Poet.
1. Clifford Beltran, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Dept., homicide
WM, DOB 3-14-34, DOD 4-1-92
Weapon: S&W 12 gauge shotgun
POD: residence. No witness
Poe quote: “Lord, help my poor soul”
2. John McCafferty, Baltimore Police Department, homicide
WM, 47 years old
Weapon: service, handgun
Two shots, one impact-Head
POD: residence. No witness
Poe quote: “the fever called living is conquered at last”
3. John Brooks, Chicago Police Department, homicide
BM, DOB 7-1-54, DOD10-30-93
Weapon: service Glock 19
Two shots, one impact-Head
POD: residence. No witness
Poe quote: “through the pale door”
4. Garland Petry, Dallas Police Department, homicide
WM, DOB 11-11-51, DOD 3-28-94
Weapon: service, Beretta 38
Two shots, two impacts-Chest and Head
POD: residence, No witness
Poe quote: “Sadly, I know I am shorn of my strength”
5. Morris Kotite, Albuquerque Police Department, homicide
HM, DOB9-14-56, DOD 9-24-94
Weapon: service, S&W 38
Two shots, one impact-Head
POD: residence. No witness
Poe quote: “Haunted by ill angels”
6. Sean McEvoy, Denver Police Department, homicide
WM, DOB 5-21-61, DOD 2-10-95
Weapon: service, S&W 38
POD: car. No witness
Poe quote: “Out of space out of time”
Jack McEvoy and the FBI composed a theory as to why the killer was doing what he was doing. They thought the offender committed the first homicide in order to draw a homicide detective in the frame. The first kill was used as bait, presented in such a fashion as to attract a homicide detective’s obsession allowing the killer to set up the suicide scenario.
As McEvoy and the FBI traveled to Denver to look at the most recent crime scene, they received a call from Quantico. The call stated that the field office in Phoenix responded to the alert they had posted about The Poet. The information was about a Phoenix detective’s alleged suicide, who had been working on a case regarding the abduction and murder of an eight-year-old boy. The boy who they knew as Little Joaquin, was abducted one-month prior and the only thing the police found was his head. The plane they were in diverted to Phoenix to take a look at the detective’s body before the funeral service.
With very little information to go on the agents and McEvoy received the brief from the Phoenix PD detective in charge. Of course the crime scene was disguised to look like a suicide, but there were a few factors from the crime scene that did not fit. The first was the fact that William Orsulak had been coming to the office for twenty years with his hair parted on the left and when they found him his part was on the right, left suspicion among the investigating detectives. Also, they checked the victim’s mouth for GSR and they found an unknown substance that they had yet to identify. The substance included some kind of animal fat with a pulverized silicon in it, but they had not yet determined the origin of this substance. The third factor that led the detectives to doubt Orsulak’s suicide came from his partner Jim Beam. Apparently, Beam and Orsulak had spoke regarding suicide, and Orsulak had told him that he had a special golden bullet set aside for himself if needed. When they searched Orsulak’s house they found that the bullets discharged were the department issued lead bullets and the golden bullet was found in a drawer next to his bed in his bedroom. The determining factor was the note found in Orsulak’s handwriting, which read “Mountains toppling evermore / Into seas without a shore.”
Agent Thomas discovered another factor in his overview of the body in the mortuary. He had taken photos of the victim’s finger and palm, showing small perforations. They concluded that this was due to the Poet hypnotizing the victims. They also linked the hypnotism with the substances they found in the blood screening of the victims. Each of the victims had things in their blood ranging from cough syrup to prescription drugs, which could enhance a subject’s susceptibility to hypnosis.
Rachel Walling was an agent in charge of the investigation, explained the hypnosis theory to McEvoy. Apparently Walling, the agent in charge of the entire operation Bob Backus, and a few others had interviewed a few violent criminals in a ‘rape project’ at Raiford Correctional Institution in Florida. They learned about hypnosis from a rape criminal in prison who used to do hypnosis on people at county fairs. Horace the Hypnotist would pick a child from the audience and while another act was going on he would hypnotize the child and rape them and then wipe their memory during hypnosis. Horace claimed to use codeine as an enhancer in the child’s drink before hypnosis.
Rachel also told McEvoy of the ‘unknown substance’ found in the victim’s mouth. They suspected that this serial killer was using a condom to have sex with his victims and the lubrication from the condom was what was being found in their mouths.
The field agents in Florida pieced together the first of the Poet’s homicides. The agents theorized that Poet knew Beltran. This was due to the location of the shotgun used to kill him. According to reports after his death the Smith and Wesson shotgun that detective Beltran swallowed was kept on a top shelf of a closet out of site. Another important fact that the agents found was that Beltran knew the young victim who’s homicide he was investigating at the time of his death through a local social services program called Best Pals. The agents theorized that Beltran could have been the boy’s molester, and that Beltran had also molested his killer, the Poet.
From the beginning of the book The Poet, William Gladden a murderer and pedophile has been followed. Gladden served time with Horace the Hypnotist in Raiford, which brought out the possibility of Gladden killing both the child and the detectives. Gladden was arrested and then found to have killed a hotel maid, this brought some attention to himself in the Los Angeles area. During his arrest a digital camera was confiscated. The agents closed in on Gladden with the knowledge that he supports himself with the pictures of young children and possibly of the detectives, and that he would have to replace the camera.
They set up a sting operation at the camera store where Gladden had ordered the camera. Jack McEvoy completely screwed the sting operation by bringing agent Thorson a cup of coffee into the camera store, while he was on watch for Gladden. Gladden, dressed as a woman, came to get the camera. As agent Thorson attempted to draw his weapon, Gladden took out a knife and stabbed Thorson in the neck killing him. Gladden had McEvoy and the store manager as hostages until the FBI threw a concussion bomb in the window. Gladden did not react in time to shield himself from the blast and once McEvoy regained himself he saw the gun lying on the floor and dove for it. In a battle for the weapon McEvoy ended up shooting Gladden twice. The shots fatally wounded Gladden.
The small conversation Jack had with Gladden before the FBI threw the bomb in did not make sense to him. Gladden said “killing your brother was the only way to save him from becoming like me.” McEvoy concluded that from their conversation that Gladden probably was killing children and not adult detectives.
McEvoy traced phone records to who he thought was The Poet, Rachel Walling. As he brought this knowledge to Bob Backus, the lead agent in charge of the investigation, he found out he was completely wrong. Backus took him to a house overlooking LA, and then he took control of him and hypnotized him. Just before Backus sexually gratified himself with McEvoy, Rachel busted in and took Backus down. She shot him and he took a long fall through a window down into some trees. The police never recovered his body and he is believed to still be on the run.
I never even considered Backus as The Poet. He led a life completely split in two and as Rachel said “the wall between his two lives was as thick as a bank vault door.” The only clues that led to the understanding of Backus’ secret life led to a perfectionist father, who was also an influential FBI agent. A high school friend came forward and said Backus confided in him that when Bob would wet his bed as a child his father would handcuff him to a bathroom towel bar in the shower. Also, Backus’ former bride to be stated that he would make her shower immediately before and after making love.
Another insight into how Backus worked was the letter the FBI received from The Poet written to Bob Backus. Clearly acknowledging that there were two separate individuals within Backus. Backus also must have thought that he was smarter than everyone to think he could commit these crimes and not get caught.
McEvoy’s theory of why he thought Rachel was The Poet could also lead to an understanding of why Backus possibly did what he did. He knew Rachel and Backus interviewed Horace and Gladden in prison and the killing could have started because he was punishing Beltran for creating Gladden. The questions of location of the crimes, and of manner of the crimes can be theorized that Backus was very learned in crime scene investigation and he was making the incident look like a suicide, while still sexually and emotionally gratifying himself with each of the victims. All the while covering his back with Gladden as his scapegoat. A very smart and controlled man covered a very disturbed individual’s fantasies to the point when he couldn’t not act on them.