Review: Shadowman: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of Criminal Profiling by Ron Franscell

cover of ShadowManShadowman: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of Criminal Profiling by Ron Franscell
Berkley (March 2022)
304 pages; $23.19 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

“Assertive, confident women unnerved the UnSub– (…) his emotional reaction had shown, a strong woman might disarm him.” – Ron Franscell

On June 25, 1973, Heidi Jaegar awoke to a strange noise blowing through the tent she and her younger sister, Susie, shared. There was a gouge in the nylon; her eyes fell upon her little sister’s sleeping bag.

To her horror, Susie was gone. “Plucked by a shadow.”

The FBI mounted the largest manhunt in Montana’s history. But the days only continued to melt away into weeks, months.

In ShadowMan, what begins with such radiance and innocence, like a family vacation in a beautiful campground, contorts to profound emotions and terror. In this presentation and unraveling of the bloody thread of serial murder, Franscell excels. Shadowman reads more like a Gillian Flynn or Alex North novel, only for disorienting unveilings to sneak up on readers and remind them that this heinous story is real. Susie Jaeger, and the others, are real.

And so was the ShadowMan.

Here, I have to note the humanity within ShadowMan. Graphic descriptions and who-done-it revelations can repurpose humanity for shock in true crime books and series. But, Franscell snapshots not only the horrid crimes of the ShadowMan but also the time and place, the victims, their families, and the exceptional investigators and profilers on this case.

Still, with all this life and detail, the migration toward the birth of criminal profiling is so mysterious and compelling that this is the first true crime book review where I’ve felt sharing the killer’s name would betray readers.

Above all, Franscell depicts how psychopaths, deranged killers, can evade law enforcement on greater scales, such as lie detector tests — once believed to be the best tool in the FBI’s toolbox.

Criminal profiler founders Patrick Mullany and Howard Teten etched the haunting notion that serial killers weren’t strictly people who looked different or acted differently. It wasn’t as if we’d know them immediately by their “wild eyes, helter-skelter hair, or bizarre way of talking.”

Serial killers were us, ordinary, seen, and forgotten. “Our monsters were ethereal. Shadows.”

And they were practiced liars and skilled manipulators.

Through evidence bonfires, malicious killings, elusive suspects, and a brilliant team of FBI agents and profilers, ShadowMan has quickly become one of the most jarring and lurid books I’ve read this year.

For within these pages are a catacomb of shadows.

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