American Psycho

John Freeman
2 min read
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"When it comes to hide and seek," writes Maryanne Vollers in this fascinating study of serial bomber Eric Rudolph, "the mountains of North Carolina have always favored the hiders." They certainly favored Rudolph. After he set off a series of deadly bombings in 1996 and 1997 in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., Rudolph retreated to North Carolina and remained at large in the mountains for five years, eluding one of the country’s largest manhunts ever.

Lone Wolf is partly the story of this manhunt, which Vollers recreates with true-crime panache. The FBI had the woods searched with dogs, monitored by motion censors, combed by infrared sensors. They even dispatched undercover agents dressed as hikers on the Appalachian Trail. At the investigation’s peak, they were spending $16,000 a day in tiny Andrews, N.C., on rent, food, hotels and gas.

One day in 2003, after they had all but given up, Rudolph wandered out of the woods and was caught by a rookie cop. The so-called "mountain man" had been rooting through a garbage bin just a few miles from where he disappeared.

Rudolph’s greatest weapon in eluding law enforcement was the legend that had built up around him. "When he was identified as the main suspect … investigators profiled him as a ‘lone offender,’" Vollers writes, "a self-appointed avenger with no real alliances, no meaningful social ties."

Vollers argues this profile was problematic. Drawing upon correspondence with Rudolph, interviews with his friends and family, and total access to FBI and other files, she presents a kaleidoscopic portrait of a true Jekyll and Hyde personality. In one moment Rudolph could be engaged, rational, charming and sensitive. In the next moment he could retreat into intense bigotry and rage, a part of his identity nurtured during his upbringing around back-to-the-land doomsdayers, American Nazis and militiamen in western North Carolina.

Vollers seems to understand the significance of Rudolph’s relatively easy capture in the end. He wasn’t happy living alone in the woods. In fact, he spent much of his time watching the FBI headquarters in Andrews, sneaking down the hill at night to scavenge for food. If he wasn’t the center of attention, he had no reason to exist at all.
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