Former Philadelphia Inquirer and Miami Herald reporter Capuzzo (Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence, 2001, etc.) reveals the inner workings of the mysterious Vidocq Society, a team of celebrated forensic investigators that regularly meets to tackle unsolved murder cases that have stymied conventional homicide-detection techniques.
The heart of the Society consists of William Fleisher, an avuncular former federal agent with a gift for networking; Richard Walter, a prickly and brilliant profiler obsessed with plumbing the depths of the murderous mind; and Frank Bender, a master forensic sculptor of seemingly supernatural talents. These men and their cohorts have proven a devastatingly effective team, solving scores of seemingly hopeless cold cases through a combination of experience, dogged passion for justice and shared sets of obscure and highly specialized skills. The book intrigues and disgusts in equal measure with its graphically detailed descriptions of the most depraved murders imaginable, and the material might be unbearable without the fantastic successes of the brilliant detectives who bring the malefactors to justice. Bender and Walter are an irresistibly entertaining team. The cadaverous, supercilious Walter, chain-smoking in ascetic contemplation in his Victorian manse, contrasts deliciously with Bender, a voluble, compulsive womanizer who balances a hedonistic approach to life with an uncanny instinct for accurately visualizing complete, detailed faces based on the slimmest fragments of forensic evidence. The case of John List, an upright churchgoer who murdered his entire family before disappearing for some 18 years, demonstrates the weird and potent chemistry shared by the sleuths. Walter developed a startlingly accurate profile of List, determining the area in which he was hiding, the work he did, the car he drove and his manner of dress. Bender created a bust depicting the changes to List’s appearance that had occurred during the intervening years. Both men were dead on the money, and List was caught—but the Vidocq members couldn’t stop sniping over whose idea it had been to add heavy horn-rim glasses to the bust. With these men, the details are everything.
Terrifying, engrossing, inspirational and surprisingly funny.