http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/FBB6ABDB96C45BC68625737300116E2B?OpenDocumentDevlin case ends, but questions linger
Michael J. Devlin is gone, off to prison, guilty pleas secured, life sentences stacked high enough to blot out the sky, trials avoided, his two young victims not forced to testify.
And yet something is missing. The past week's resolutions feel incomplete. The notion that everything is known, absent.
This is not unusual in serial predator cases, said Bill Hagmaier, former head of the FBI's National Center for the Analysis for Violent Crime, where the agency's famed criminal profilers work. Advertisement
"There is always more to the story," said
Hagmaier, who sent birthday and Christmas cards to notorious serial killer Ted Bundy for years after Bundy's imprisonment in hopes of drawing out new understandings and clues.
In Devlin's case, there may never be answers to some basic questions Why did he do it? Can anything be learned? Were there other victims? Devlin's attorneys have said their client will not talk again with investigators.
Some of these questions stem from an intense interest that has built since the case burst into public view with the dramatic discovery of Devlin's two young victims at a Kirkwood apartment in January.
The public has this sense that "if we follow a crime, we should be allowed to understand why it happened," said David Finkelhor, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center.
But that is unrealistic, Finkelhor said. The justice system has other goals: securing a verdict and protecting the young victims. In four court hearings over three days last week, Devlin pleaded guilty to dozens of state and federal charges of kidnapping and sexual abuse. RELATED LINK
St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who filed the bulk of Devlin's charges, said he understands some people might be troubled by never learning why Devlin committed his crimes. He doubts the answer would be satisfying.
"Good luck finding someone who can explain how this guy is wired," McCulloch said. "That question will never be answered by anybody."
But the question persists for Mike Prosperi, who owns the Imo's Pizza shop where Devlin worked for years.
"The only question I would have is, 'Why? Why?'" Prosperi said.
He added: "What would have made him act that way? We have no answers. We're as shocked today as we were the day he was arrested."
Experts say Devlin appears to fit the psychological profile of "a grabber" a child molester who uses force to abduct children. Almost all grabbers are unmarried men. They are socially isolated, misfits, outcasts unable to establish normal adult relationships.
Devlin also appears to fit the profile of "a groomer" someone who befriends a child and then moves on to sex acts. A typical groomer fits well into society, may even be considered a pillar of the community, and exploits children through kindness and attention.
"But these two things are not as separate and distinct as we want to believe," said Ken Lanning, a former FBI agent considered a leading authority in child sex-crime cases.
Lanning thinks Devlin changed over time. He moved from using violence to acting as a coercing friend and father figure to control his first captor, Shawn Hornbeck, who was taken when he was 11.
Devlin told the FBI in an interview shortly after his arrest that he planned to kill Shawn about one month after taking him in 2002. He tried to strangle Shawn, but the panicked and crying boy begged for his life. "Devlin stated that they were both crying," the report noted. Devlin and Shawn reached an agreement: Shawn would forget the incident and be satisfied with being alive.
The question of whether Devlin had other victims remains unsolved.
Devlin told the FBI that while he thought about sex with boys all his life, "he did not act on it until he was 36 years old" when he took Shawn, the report stated.
But experts doubt that claim.
"It's not impossible that this was all there was," Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire said. "But I bet a lot of money that there was something else."
"I doubt this was his first time," said clinical psychologist Juliet Francis, a consultant with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Authorities created a task force to explore links between Devlin and six missing child cases, including four in the St. Louis area. One case was the disappearance of Arlin Henderson
, who vanished in 1991 in Lincoln County. But no links have been established in any of the cases.
Arlin's uncle, Jim McWilliams, said the family has not given up on the possibility that Devlin was involved.
"If he did do this, maybe after being sentenced, he'll come clean. Maybe he'll open up a door where he can clear up a lot of questions," McWilliams said.
Ethan Corlija, one of Delvin's attorneys, said he is almost certain his client is blameless in the other missing-kid cases. "If I had to put a percentage on it, I'd say 99.9 percent," Corlija said.
No one else has claimed Devlin abused him, the FBI said. But the FBI still wants to talk to Devlin, despite his attorneys insistence he will not.
The search for clues in Devlin's personal history also have proven fruitless.
The FBI report notes Devlin was adopted as a baby into a Webster Groves family of three brothers and two sisters. But there is no hint of anything sinister in his upbringing.
But the experts believe there should be some childhood incident that would lay the framework for his later behavior.
"My sense about him is that we're talking about someone who had a damaged psycho-sexual development," Finkelhor said.
Even if there is nothing traumatic, such information would help to compile a profile "to better classify him," said Francis, the psychologist.
And while Devlin may be unwilling to talk now, that could change, Lanning said.
In his work with the FBI, Lanning saw other high-profile criminals open up with time. It may be six months, a year or five years down the road, but maybe Devlin will want to talk.
"I think it is worth attempting to know what makes a Devlin," Lanning said.
So the questions linger.