Survived By One tells the devastatingly sad story of Thomas V. Odle, who was still a teenager in 1985 when he murdered all of his close family members – his parents, two brothers, and his sister. Dr. Hanlon, the author of the book and forensic neuropsychologist, traces young Tom’s life from his childhood to his teens, and then from his arrest through to his prison sentence. Odle had been on Death Row in Illinois, but this was eventually changed to life in prison after a series of landmark court cases. While in prison, Odle reached out to Dr. Hanlon to help put his life in perspective. With Odle’s assistance and permission, Hanlon has expertly put together this life story of a killer.
Apart from being very accessible, one of the best things about this book is how Odle’s story is told. Hanlon describes the life of Odle, which includes his expert psychological analysis of events in Tom’s life, as well as the historical and legal context of the story, and splices in Odle’s own personal narratives. This allows the reader to build up a rich idea of how Tom’s mind and life perspective developed throughout his childhood. For those seeking to understand how a person could commit familicide, Hanlon’s telling of the story is genius.
The story also reminds us that nothing is black and white when it comes to understanding human behavior. Even though Tom was physically and psychologically abused as a child, many abused children do not go on to murder anyone, let alone their entire family. Odle displayed Conduct Disorder as a teenager and developed the habit of taking numerous drugs on a relatively frequent basis. But Odle considered taking his own life before he even thought about taking the lives of his family, and when he did eventually take their lives, he explained it as an out of body experience that he just watched happen.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just students of psychology or criminology, who are interested in the question of what makes a killer.