Filed under: Gregg Olsen
By now the world knows the story of the two boys: one stolen four years ago and one last week. Both were found and returned to their families. Both dealing with the trauma of being abducted by a Missouri predator named Michael Devlin.
If you don’t know the story of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, you will soon enough. Oprah is going to have the Hornbeck family on her show today. There will be books (I might even write one as it fits what I do in my other life as a true crime writer). Movies. More interviews. Magazine articles.
And on down the line.
When I think about this case, I think about other boys and girls who have been snatched, abused, and returned. Most famously, the case of Steven Stayner comes to mind. It was the subject of a true crime book, I KNOW MY FIRST NAME IS STEVEN.
In 1972, sex predator named Kenneth Eugene Parnell kidnapped Stayner, then a second grader. Seven years later Parnell used Stayner to capture another little boy, Timmy White, in Ukiah, California. The nightmare ended when Steven went to the police for help. He wasn’t about to let what happened to him, happen to Timmy.
There was no happy ending there. Steven died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. His older brother, Cary, murdered four women in Yosemite in 1999 (again another true crime book). No one knows what became of little Timmy White.
I’ve often thought of Timmy. I read the book based on the Stayner case more than once. I did a double take any time the Lifetime movie aired, showing Cary Stayner lurking in the background, the actor doing a pretty good job of showing the confusion he felt by his brother’s return. I cried when Steven Staynor’s life ended in that accident.
Of course, the plot of this story is true. Beneath its “I can’t believe this happened?” surface in the Devlin case something seldom spoken about: Boys being sexually abused by men. I was talking to a friend the other day about what happened to him as a child, and I wanted to tell him my own story. But even now in my 40s, I’m unable to give voice to it.
A recent post on a blog, Crime Rant, I run with fellow true crime author M. William Phelps, came from a man named George:
I didn’t tell anyone till I came within a hair of throwing my life away, I was 31. You have no idea the shame & guilt I felt for over 20 years. Even after years of finally dealing with all the issues surrounding it, it still wants to destroy me. And I just had a sliver of what Shawn & Ben went through. I can tell you exactly what Shawn felt & why he’d never tell. Keep in mind, most boys don’t.
How do you face your family, your mom, dad & everybody else & tell them what happened to you? He felt like the lowest piece of garbage, a freak, less than a male, any sense of masculinity shattered. He could only imagine the eventual judgment of him by the ones he loved & everybody else, he’d be called a fag, gay or the like. He feels that he should’ve done something to fight him off but couldn’t/didn’t (not that he could as a little boy), but this is what had been going through his mind. This would all rush into his mind the very first time it happened, what do you think it was like after the 50th, 100th?
I can’t even begin to imagine the whole dynamic of the kidnapping & being torn from your family & threats to him & his family. Now the whole world knows it?
I appreciate George’s brave post. He has more guts than I. But now I’m thinking of Shawn and Ben and all the others and I’m hopeful they will recover and live happy, safe, productive lives, knowing that whatever happened to them was not their fault.
I’ll read the book about Devlin. Like I said, I might even write it. No matter what I do, however, I know one thing with complete certainty: I’ll never understand why a grown man would do that to a child.
True crime author Gregg Olsen’s first novel, A WICKED SNOW, will be released by Pinnacle in March.
18 Comments so far
Leave a comment