Member Reviews

Highly recommend for true crime fans. A well-researched book with an intriguing premise. A little slow at times, but kept my interest until the end.

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I thought this was a well researched true crime book about a case I had not known about previously. The writing kept me intrigued throughout.

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When one thinks about a serial killer, the first locations that come to mind are California, Florida, Texas and other populated areas. Manhattan, Montana, with a population less than a thousand doesn't spring to mind. But in the 1970's, four people were killed in a very short time.

The first was a boy playing with a friend who was shot as if from a sniper. It was put down as an accident, perhaps a hunter who never knew his stray bullet hit someone. The second was a Boy Scout, who was killed in his tent one night while sleeping there with a friend. The boy was bludgeoned then stabbed while his friend never awoke. A young woman, 22, disappeared after a night out with her friends. Then at the same campground, a seven year old girl was taken in the night from her tent, her older sister still sleeping.

The local police knew right away that this was beyond their resources. They called in the FBI. The FBI also made little progress although they did find the last two victims' bodies, burnt and smashed and scattered around an old deserted farmhouse. But a new investigative unit had been created back at FBI headquarters. Called the Behavioral Science Unit, it was headed by an experienced crime investigator, Howard Tetan and a criminal psychologist, Patrick Mullany. They believed that it was possible to create a profile of the offender from the characteristics of the crime and the crime scene. This case was the first one in which their theories were put to the test.

When the killer was revealed, it was a shock to everyone in Manhattan. Twenty-five year old David Meirhofer was the son of the richest businessman in town. Most people thought of him as a pleasant, helpful guy about town, a little odd but nothing too strange. But David hid his well of rage deep behind a smiling face and when he was arrested, he confessed to all four murders. Police believe he killed other victims but it was never proven.

This was a fascinating book for true crime readers. The author extensively researched the crimes and the birth of criminal profiling. In additional material after the crimes were solved, he also outlined potential other cases Meirhofer may have committed and disclosed that other members of the Meirhofer family also had sexual perversions that resulted in crimes. This was my first read of a Ron Franscell book but it won't be the last. This book is recommended for true crime readers.

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I love true crime and have been on a "crime" spree with my reading lately. Ron Franscell's Shadow Man is a horrifying tale of a monster that hid in plain sight and how it took FBI's earliest profilers to crack the case. On June 25, 1973 a seven year old girl is taken in the night from a tent, which she was sleeping with her siblings at a Montana campground. She is never seen again. What kind of monster would be so brazen? With no evidence whatsoever, the FBI puts together a profile in the hopes of catching the killer.

In 1973 the idea of profiling was still in it's infancy and mocked by many in the scientific community. The Behavioral Analysis Unit had not yet been established but with no evidence the police took a chance on this new science. While the details of this case are incredibly disturbing, the story of how these special agents were able to come up with a profile of killer is uncanning .

I love books that look at crime in this way and Franscell does an exceptional job of giving us a history of the earliest days of criminal profiling and making the science aspect of it accessible to the reader. This case goes in several unforseen directions and it kept me glued to the page. What the investigators end up finding is horrifying and the way they put all the parts together from profiling to good old fashioned detective work makes for a compelling read. I would recommend this book for the diehard true crime fan, although it is a riveting story some of the subject matter covered is hard to read about. In spite of that, this is one of the best true crime books I've read in a while.

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While I was looking forward to this book, I just could not get into it because of the slower pace. Sadly, this book was not for me.

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I'm not sure what I expected when I went into this one, but I will say, this shit was dark, in the best possible way. I really enjoyed the writing style, and I overall definitely liked the book. will recommend.

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The story itself was interesting enough. The writing just wasn't there for me. It didn't have enough of that something to keep my.mind locked onto the story.

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A great, compelling, suspenseful true-crime whodunit. Well-constructed and nearly impossible to put down. I almost called in sick at work to finish, and would have if not for the pandemic.

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This was my first true crime book, but definitely won’t be my last! Shadow Man follows the cases of Susie Jaeger and Sandy Smallagen set in and around the small town of Manhattan, Montana. While a few strange incidents had happened in Manhattan, no one ever imagined anything like this. First, little Susie Jaeger was snatched from her tent while camping with her sister sleeping next to her. A search turned up nothing of any value, or anything to help get closer to finding Susie. Then, less than a year later Sandra Smallagen was taken from her apartment in the middle of the night and vanished without a trace. After months of interrogations and searches, law enforcement was no closer to finding out what happened to either girl. Special Agent Pete Dunbar eventually brought his case to two FBI agents that were beginning to develop profiles of criminals as a way to help with investigations. Through this case, criminal profiling was born. The FBI started keeping record of criminals and why they committed the crimes they did and what drove them to it.

This was a very interesting book, but definitely not for the faint of heart! There are a lot of gory details about these crimes and others. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy.

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Truth be told, Ron Franscell does his duty as a storyteller to paint a picture of these crimes and the subsequent fallout. At times, the book does read like a novel—he describes the weather, placing you squarely in Montana in the seventies. He depicts towns like he’s lived there his whole life. He talks about body language and dialogue as if he were recounting his own memories.

In fact, he’s simply done his research. Painstakingly so. In the back of the book, he describes the number of interviews he’s conducted, the transcripts he’s read, the news reports he’s watched. He might paint a picture to weave a story, but everything in ShadowMan comes from first-hand accounts.

But ShadowMan is as much about the crime as it is about catching the killer. We learn about the killer’s victims as well as their families. And not just while the events were unfolding, but how the legacy of this tragedy has affected them to this day. Of particular note is how Franscell highlights Marietta Jaeger’s strength and the role she played in catching the killer of her seven-year-old daughter, Susie.

What interested me most was the FBI’s involvement in catching this serial killer during a time when that term hadn’t even been coined yet. As we all know, the BSU has honed its skills over the years as its agents collected more data and gained more experience. Not everyone falls into neat little categories—least of all psychopaths—but it’s interesting to see what aspects of their personality and behavior connect them to one another. That is, after all, how we will learn to catch them.

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What a story. As a criminologist sometimes I feel like I’ve got a grasp on most heinous crime stories, but I hadn’t ever heard the name David Meirhofer before reading this book. Franscell tells the sordid tale of Susie and Sandra’s murders extraordinary well. And absolute page turner of a book. Well done.

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I am fascinated by criminal profiling but had no clue that so much stemmed from this case. I hadn't even heard of this case until I saw this book on NetGalley. It's a must-read for true crime addicts!

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Franscell does an excellent job of intertwining creative writing with the true while all the same honoring the victims of the crimes of David Meirhofer. I think thats one of the most important things a true crime author can do is not glorify the crime, but honor the victim's, their memory, their families, and what they went through and continue to experience. I loved how Franscell had you guessing the whole time about the moves of the killer and how each victim was victimized. I felt like I was in a psychological thriller even though I knew that this was real life for the Jaeger and Smallegan families. Definitely a must read and would highly recommend to those of you who can stomach a good ol' true crime novel.

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Shadowman: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling by Ron Franscell (Berkley Books 2022) was an expertly paced and thoroughly researched true crime book about a strange and tragic series of crimes and the early days of FBI profiling that had me on the edge of my seat until the very end.
Franscell’s new book recounts the disappearance of a seven-year-old girl. Taken in the night from her family’s campsite near the tiny town of Manhattan, Montana in 1973, an unknown individual slit open the tent where Susie Jaeger slept with her family and pulled her out, vanishing before anyone woke. With no witnesses and no leads, the local police and FBI began the largest manhunt in Montana’s history as the searched for the little girl and her abductor. As time goes on with no sign of Susie, Special Agent Pete Dunbar seeks out the help of psychologist Patrick Mullany and criminologist Howard Teten at the FBI Headquarters in Virginia. The two men had recently created the Behavioural Science Unit, and Dunbar was willing to try anything, including the newfangled science ‘criminal profiling’ to find Susie.
What sets this true crime book apart is its atmospheric setting and pacing. The sleepy town on Manhattan, Montana provides a vivid backdrop against which this unbelievable story takes place. Franscell does an excellent job of painting a portrait of this town’s character and daily life, which makes it all the more jarring when an unknown assailant disrupts the lives of every resident with their crimes. FBI Agent Pete Dunbar’s suspect pool seems endless, as neighbours and friends alternately begin to suspect and report each other. Even so, one name keeps appearing on his desk, even as his gut tells him the suspect, the son of a well-known businessman, couldn’t be connected with the crime.
This novel had an expertly crafted structure, with a pace that was both maddening and suspenseful. Franscell is extremely skilled at placing breadcrumbs throughout his narrative. He moves quickly through events and crimes that initially seem unconnected, and then brings everything together at the end in a shocking conclusion. There is a back-and-forth quality in the text in relation to the main suspect; like Pete Dunbar, while I was reading, I was alternately convinced of the suspect’s guilt and then positive it couldn’t have been him. I couldn’t even imagine how Franscell would tie everything together, and yet somehow, he did. This book contained a twist in every chapter. In part, that is the nature of this case; this crime leads nowhere you might expect, but Franscell must be credited with his careful structure and pacing because it really underscored the importance of presenting the facts of a case in the right way in true crime writing.
Oddly, although this text’s subtitle underscores the birth of FBI profiling as a key feature of the narrative, I didn’t find myself overly interested in that aspect.. Certainly, the case could not have been solved without the extra push from Agents Mullany and Teten and their profile, but this case alone is so complex and intense that I was hooked from the opening chapter. Furthermore, Franscell treats his subject with a great degree of authorial distance; his own perspective and authorial voice does not enter into the narrative. Instead, Franscell is careful to present the thoughts and opinions (based on extensive records and interviews) of the people involved in the case as they actually were, for better or for worse. One of his most poignant portrayals is of Marietta Jaeger, Susie’s mother, who never stopped advocating for her daughter and against the death penalty for even the worst of criminals. His portrait of her develops across the book; from a crusading mother who kept her daughter’s killer on the phone for hours in order to catch him, to a woman who became a public advocate against capital punishment, and finally to an elderly woman in her eighties in a nursing home, having kept her daughter’s memory alive for decades, is especially powerful.
Shadowman is a fascinating and thorough look into small-town America and the dangerous consequences of one individual’s violent impulses. I really recommend this book to those interested in traditional true crime written with a great degree of authorial distance.
Please add Shadowman to your Goodreads shelf.
Don’t forget to follow True Crime Index on Twitter and please visit our Goodreads for updates on what we’re reading! You can find Rachel on her personal @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.
A digital copy of this book was graciously provided to True Crime Index from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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What It's About: In this book we learn how FBI created its first psychological profile to catch an elusive serial killer, and it all begins with the disappearance of seven year-old Susie Jaeger on June 25, 1973 in Montana.

My thoughts: This book focuses on Susie Jaeger case - from her kidnapping, investigation (where Special Agent Pete Dunbar crosses path with Patrick Mullany, a trained psychologist, and Howard Teten, a veteran criminologist), and the eventual arrest of the UnSub. I enjoyed learning the history of Behavioural Science Unit, thought processes, and method used to create a psychological profile. It was logical and just amazing!

Overall, this was an intriguing read! The writing was engaging and it reads like a fiction. I flew through this book in two sittings! If criminal profiling is a topic that interests you, definitely give this a read!

Pub. Date: March 1st, 2022

***Thank you Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for this gifted review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.***

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Ron Franscell writes a compelling true crime novel! His books are well researched and his storytelling is unparalleled. I have read several books by the author and have loved every one. ShadowMan definitely did not disappoint. It was gripping, harrowing and compelling.

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FBI Profiling. They have become adept at catching killers. The Behavioral Science Unit created a psychological profile to catch a serial killer for the first time in history when seven-year-old Suzie Jaeger disappeared from the tent she was sleeping in with her siblings.

June 25, 1973

The Jaeger family was vacationing in a Montana campground when their seven-year-old daughter went missing. A Circular cut was made in the tent where the children were sleeping, and seven-year-old Suzie was taken. No one saw or heard anything. The result - the largest manhunt in Montana's history.

A year later, nineteen-year-old, Sandy Smallegan vanished as well.

Special Agent Pete Dunbar along with psychologist, Patrick Mullany and criminologist, Howard Teten created the Behavioral Science Unit. Mullany and Teten built the first profile an unknown subject "unsub" who took Suzie Jager.

Well written and engrossing, Shadowman: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling details what happened to Suzie and Sandy, it also showed how the created profile brought down a killer. Criminal Minds and other shows make it look easy but finding clues and solving crimes do not happen overnight. In this case, the profile was near perfect, the investigators had to find clues and put the dots together with very little evidence, by following the profile and good old fashioned detective work. They also had one thing to go on, the phone calls that Suzie's mother received from the man who took her daughter.

Fans of True Crime will not be disappointed. This book was extensively researched and well thought out. We get the human side, the missing females, the family members, those involved in the search and investigation and the science behind creating a profile. I found this book to be extremely interesting as I had not heard of these cases or how profiling came to be. This book also shows a killer so brazen that he would creep into a campground and cut a hole in a tent, not worried about being caught. He taunted his victim's mother, enjoying the pain he caused.

Readers will breathe a sigh of relief when an arrest is made.

Thank you to Berkley Books and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

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3.5 stars rounding up to 4.

A small town serial killer? Sign me up!!! I'm a huge fan of Mindhunter so when I read the description of Shadowman, I knew I wanted to read it. It's a must read for those that love reading True Crime.

I found this book extremely fast paced. I finished it in just three days which for me is super fast! It's very emotional to read about the kidnapping and murder of seven year old Susan Jaeger. I had never heard of this serial killer until I read this book. I felt like the book had such an abrupt ending and like most serial killer books, it leaves you with more questions that can't be answered.

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While the storyline is interesting, the author's sudden use of an inappropriate word or tone was jarring enough to put me off. In a perfectly normal paragraph about crime leads, the author thought it acceptable to use the term "hooker-slut". In another innocuous and mostly-professional section, he describes a truck as "babyshit green". 95% of the text is professional, but the parts that are not took me out of the story. In fact, it altered my judgement of the author enough that I did not finish the book.

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ShadowMan by Ron Franscell

I've become fascinated by the path "criminal profiling" has taken, from it's beginnings, to where we are now. We get to see the beginnings of an idea when in June 25, 1973, seven year old Suzie Jaeger disappears from a tent she was sharing with her sister and brothers, which begins the largest manhunt in Montana's history. Before that, some odd things had happened in the area of the little town of Manhattan, Montana but they faded back into memory as kids being kids, an errant hunter's shot, simple tragedies that couldn't be explained but shouldn't be dwelt on. The search for little Suzie is going nowhere when nineteen year old Sandy Smallegan vanishes in thin air.

Along with the help of the new, and still in it's infancy, criminal profiling techniques by the FBI, we follow the successes and missteps of plain old gut instinct and boots on the ground investigative techniques. It's so easy, from the safety and security of my home and with all the hindsight of the crimes being solved, to see how the murderer fit the description of profile that the FBI came up with after Sandy disappeared. But it's still amazing that after evidence has been destroyed and scattered, in the middle of a desolate landscape, how the searchers begin to put the pieces together. Also involved in the capture of the murderer is the mother of Suzie, who played a very active role in helping to obtain audio records of the murderer's voice. This tale isn't just about the investigators and the murderer but also about the effect that these crimes had on families, friends, and other people in the area.

True crime stories often don't go easy on anyone, even the innocent people. I feel for the people who find themselves under a microscope, through no fault of their own. I often felt like I was intruding, while reading this story. But that feeling can sometimes keep us from helping investigators find answers and I'm sure, if this murderer was not caught, more people would have died.

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for this ARC.

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