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The Rise and Fall of a Modern-Day Outlaw

by Ben Machell

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-593-12922-7
Publisher: Ballantine

Machell, a writer for the Times of London, reconstructs the bizarre international crime spree of a self-styled Robin Hood who claimed he robbed banks to give the money to the poor.

Stephen Jackley was a quiet British university student when, beginning in 2007, he launched a far-fetched plan to redistribute the wealth of “a callous capitalistic society that was destroying the planet and ruining lives for no good reason.” Over the next seven months—armed with a knife and replica of a pistol—he robbed banks and other cash-rich institutions until he was arrested in Vermont after trying to use a fake ID to buy a real gun, which was too difficult to obtain in Britain. Jackley was deported and sentenced to 13 years in prison. A psychiatrist’s report later found there was “little doubt” that he had Asperger’s syndrome, which led to a one-year reduction in his sentence. Drawing on interviews with Jackley and other sources, Machell, a fluid writer, agrees that the young bank robber had Asperger’s: “And while it’s true that none of this would have happened if Stephen did not have Asperger’s, it did not happen simply because he did.” Contributing factors, note the author, included his subject’s traumatic upbringing by a bipolar father and schizophrenic mother. Machell offers strong evidence that Jackley’s Asperger’s was made worse by a troubled youth. However, given Jackley’s months of con artistry and the fact that his parents had mental illnesses that can run in families, the author, though well-intentioned, gives too little attention to whether Jackley might have conned a doctor or two—or had a more serious, co-occurring condition that explains his behavior more plausibly than only Asperger’s. The result is a well-written page-turner that may cause readers to suspect that there’s more to Jackley’s crimes than Machell suggests.

A fast-paced true-crime tale undercut by an iffy analysis of the perpetrator’s Asperger’s diagnosis.