In My Father’s House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Fam­ily

The Week (US) - - 22 - By Fox But­ter­field

(Knopf, $27) Ev­ery town seems to have a fam­ily like the Bogles—and maybe that should tell us some­thing, said Alice Lloyd in The Weekly Stan­dard. In Fox But­ter­field’s per­versely plea­sur­able new book about the sources of crim­i­nal be­hav­ior, a Texas-born con artist named Elvie Bogle and her sons and grand­sons pro­vide “al­most abu­sively vivid” ev­i­dence that cer­tain fam­i­lies breed law­break­ers. But­ter­field even­tu­ally iden­ti­fied 60 con­victs in the Bogle fam­ily tree, and he gained the con­fi­dence of enough of them to be able to share their fa­vorite tales about swin­dles, rob­beries, car thefts, and kid­nap­pings— even a heist of sal­mon from a fish hatch­ery. The Bogles aren’t sim­ply col­or­ful out­liers, though. But­ter­field cites stud­ies in­di­cat­ing that 5 per­cent of all fam­i­lies ac­count for per­haps half of all crimes, and 10 per­cent for two-thirds. This is a book, then, about fam­ily val­ues “of a par­tic­u­lar sort,” said Mickey Ed­wards in the Los An­ge­les Times. Elvie and her hus­band mar­ried in 1921 and joined a trav­el­ing car­ni­val while work­ing scams and rais­ing five boys who all earned crim­i­nal records. “Rooster,” Elvie’s fa­vorite son, was a wild man. He had 10 chil­dren by two women, some­times forc­ing his boys to watch him have sex with both si­mul­ta­ne­ously. One son was coached to per­form a break-in at 4, an­other taught how to fence stolen bikes at 6. That son later told But­ter­field that among the Bogles, turn­ing crim­i­nal was “an honor­able thing.” But­ter­field ac­knowl­edges a his­tory of men­tal ill­ness in the fam­ily, and that in­her­i­ta­ble traits, such as poor im­pulse con­trol, could be fac­tors. “But fam­i­lies pass on more than genes: They also pass on ex­pec­ta­tions.” For most Bogles, com­mit­ting crimes was the way to make Mom and Dad proud.

But iden­ti­fy­ing a cy­cle of crim­i­nal­ity is one thing; “the ques­tions get thicker when it comes to how to stop it,” said Eric Spitz­nagel in the New York Post. Should crim­i­nals have their chil­dren taken away, as has been done in Italy? Or what about sim­ply pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives to re­leased pris­on­ers to en­cour­age them to move away from home and at­tempt fresh starts else­where? Though But­ter­field doesn’t have all the an­swers, “he has found a seam in an un­crack­able prob­lem,” said Philip Martin in the Lit­tle Rock, Ark., Demo­crat-Gazette. And he ends with “a note of up­lift”: the story of a grand­daugh­ter of Rooster’s who, thanks in part to par­ents who shielded her from con­tact with her ex­tended fam­ily, be­came not long ago the first Bogle to earn a col­lege de­gree.

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