Alan Jacobson: Inmate 1577

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Alan Jacobson Inmate 1577
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When an elderly woman is found raped and brutally murdered in San Francisco, Vail heads west to team up with SFPD Inspector Lance Burden and her former task force colleague, Detective Roxxann Dixon. As Vail, Burden, and Dixon follow the killer's trail in and around San Francisco, the offender continues his rampage, leaving behind clues that ultimately lead them to the most unlikely of places: a mysterious island ripped from city lore whose long-buried, decades-old secrets hold the key to their case. Alcatraz. The Rock.

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Alan Jacobson

Inmate 1577

The fourth book in the Karen Vail series, 2011

For Mark Safarik

Nearly 20 years ago, a chance phone call led me to a blood spatter pattern analysis course that was being attended by FBI Special Agent Mark Safarik. Mark and I started talking one day, and a strong and deep friendship was born.

Over the years, on book tours and in interviews, I’ve discussed the research I’ve done with Mark in his position as a senior profiler at the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. But as fascinating as that education has been, and as impactful as it’s been on my career, my friendship with Mark has been that much more rewarding. In many ways, Mark is like a brother to me.

Early on, Mark coined a phrase that he began using as a footer in the emails he wrote to me: Knee Deep In the Blood and Guts. It was a reminder that, while writing my novels, I should “keep it real” to respect the victims of these heinous crimes and the work the profilers do.

When I look back on that phone call nearly two decades ago, I had no way of knowing that it would have such a long-lasting professional-and personal-impact on my life.

Mark, this one’s for you.


This is a work of fiction. While there were actual people named Leonard Williams, George Whitacre, Arthur Dollison, Marvin Hubbard, Frank Morris, Bernie Coy, Allen West, Clarence Anglin, Joe Cretzer, Billy Boggs, John Anglin, and Clarence Carnes, this novel is not intended to be an accurate portrayal of their personalities, nor is it intended to be a complete or factual account of the actions these individuals took in real life. All other characters in this story are entirely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

When you are small and need help, you run to your parents. When you get older… If someone threatens you, you call a cop. In prison there is no one to turn to, no one to solve your problems for you. If you go to the guards, you will be known as a snitch and that can get you killed. Believe me, the guy demanding that you drop your drawers isn’t going to be a good sport and simply let you walk away. You must be willing to fight or you must give in.

– Leavenworth Chief Psychologist Thomas White, PhD

Sometimes, I think about what it would be like to just go into a bank and blow the head off the first teller I see. I know that I am capable of that; I mean, any criminal is capable of that, and long-term prisoners can kill easier than most people, because you are around the dregs so much and for so long that you forget the worth of a human life. You think all humans are dregs.

– Leavenworth inmate William Post

The hopeless despair on the Rock is reflected in the faces and actions of almost all of the inmates. Watching those men from day to day slowly giving up hopes is truly a pitiful sight, even if you are one of them.

– Roy Gardner, Alcatraz inmate #110

Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices.

– Alfred A. Montapert


January 29, 1955

8:39 PM

37 W. Rosedale Avenue

Northfield, New Jersey

Henry sat deathly still in the corner watching the life drain from his mother’s body, knees drawn tight against his chest, arms wrapped around his shins. He stared at the blood seeping from her pulpy head wounds, poking forth from between strands of matted hair.

The seven-year-old boy had told the policeman in so many words about the man in the black knit mask who came up from behind and struck his mother several times, then disappeared out the back door. Afterwards, Henry had sat frozen, unable to move, unable to comfort her in her last seconds before her body stilled, her eyes rapt in death.

A bottle of maple syrup, the lone weapon his mother had grabbed to fight off her attacker, lay shattered on the floor, oozing across the kitchen linoleum. In halting sentences, with shock-laden tear-filled eyes, Henry described how the masked man had knocked it from her hand before she could raise it.

It now sat impotent on the ground, like a cold revolver stuck in the deepest reaches of a holster, never given the opportunity to be of service.

Henry had finally eased forward, inching across the floor until the tips of his toes were a fraction of an inch from the pooled blood that encircled his mother’s head. He reached over and touched her ashen face, then poked it, despite the policeman’s admonishment to stay back from her body.

At his tender age, the finality of death was little more than an innate concept, like when an animal in the wild knows that one of its own kind is no longer among the living.

THE POLICEMAN, AFTER HAVING WAITED in the living room with Henry, walked outside into the winter evening. Moments later, he pushed open the door and then stepped aside so another man could enter.

Walton MacNally’s eyes instantly settled on the center of the kitchen floor, taking in the violence laid bare before him. A grocery bag dropped from his hand, glass bottles within shattering as it struck the hard floor.

“Doris?” He rushed to her side, caressed her face, felt for a pulse, couldn’t stop staring at her head wounds.

“Sir!” the cop said. “Mr. MacNally. Don’t touch the body-”

MacNally’s Adam’s apple rose sharply, then fell. Ignoring the cop’s directive, he lifted Doris’s hand and brought it to his lips, kissed it, and then started whimpering. He became aware of his son and pulled his gaze from his wife’s irreparably injured and abnormally still body.

“Henry-what…what happened?”

The boy’s eyes coursed down to his mother. His lips made an attempt to move, but no sound emerged.

But there was little doubt as to what had transpired. His wife had met with severe violence, the overt damage to her head and brain unquestionably fatal.

A parched “Why?” managed to scrape from MacNally’s throat. “Who?”

“A detective should be here any minute,” the policeman said.

MacNally scooted over to Henry and took the boy into his arms. His life had been turned upside down, destroyed…his mother, his maternal presence, ripped from him like a doe taken down by a lion while her fawn watches.

MacNally swallowed hard. A whimper threatened to escape his throat, but he fought it back. A pain unrecognizable to him, unlike anything he had ever felt, emerged from deep in his soul and manifested as a plaintive, silent moan. He balled a fist and shoved it between his front teeth. He did not want to further traumatize his son by losing control.

Now more than ever, Henry needed him. He needed him to be strong.

A DETECTIVE ARRIVED TWENTY MINUTES later. Dressed in a charcoal suit with a narrow tie and a black fedora tipped back off his forehead, he stepped into the kitchen through the back door and surveyed the room.

Henry was seated in his father’s lap on the floor, against the far wall. The side of the boy’s head rested against his dad’s chest, a gathering of shirt stuffed into the palm of his left hand.

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