Jack Olsen,
I: The Creation of a Serial Killer
(St. Martin's, 2003)

Keith Hunter Jesperson is an American serial killer who raped and murdered eight women while he worked as a long-distance trucker in the early 1990s. He is also notoriously media-hungry, known for having set up personal web pages with his delusional rants against the government during his early imprisonment, as well as starting a serial murderer penpal club.

Author Jack Olsen recounts Jesperson's story in two parallel storylines. One is told in the first person, from Jesperson's point of view, starting with his first murder of a mentally incapacitated barfly through his multi-state crime spree and incarceration. The other story is an objective, journalistic look at Jesperson's childhood and life in the media.

This book is different from any other true-crime story because Olsen allows Jesperson to speak uncensored (occasionally accompanied by footnotes with direct contradictions of Jesperson's version of events).

Jesperson blames external factors -- his father, women who are "bitches," society, bullies -- for his desire to torture and kill both animals and women. Jesperson's narrative is an exercise in contradictions -- he goes back and forth between loving and loathing his father, especially in their correspondence during his imprisonment. In one notable example, when Jesperson is suicidal and ready to turn himself over to authorities, he reflects on his experience with a woman with an infant he met outside a liquor store in Shasta, Calif. By his own account, Jesperson forced oral sex from the woman and roughhoused her against her will, then gave her a ride home when he was unable to kill her with ease. She filed charges against him. Several years later, at the end of his murderous career, Jesperson speaks of the incident as follows: "I thought about how hard it is to kill people. I snapped that Shasta woman's neck three times and she was still alive to lie about me." Jesperson seems to have forgotten that, by his own account of the encounter, he was violent and sexually abusive towards the woman, providing her ample reason to file a complaint with the police.

Olsen lets Jesperson's account stand on its own, for the most part, and the reader is left to note the inconsistencies and contradictions for him/herself. Jesperson enjoys the spotlight and toyed with the media during his trial in such a way as to disrupt the prosecution's case and make the public doubt his sanity (he claimed responsibility for hundreds or murders and made other outrageous, exaggerated claims). By allowing Jesperson to speak freely, Olsen provides an unprecedented glimpse inside the mind of a rapist and serial killer -- Jesperson speaks candidly about the "death game" he played with his victims, how he desired to stretch their death out as long as possible, and his loathing for women jumps off the page at the reader. Not for the faint of heart.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

15 August 2009

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