Mystery & True Crime • News, Features & Interviews
This True Crime Writer & Novelists Goes Inside the Mind of Psychopaths
Reprinted from the Spring 2015 issue of
Prose ‘n Cons™ Mystery Magazine -
Image Courtesy of Carla Norton
May 1977, California. Cameron Hooker, a mill worker with a penchant for sexual bondage,
kidnaps 20-year-old Colleen Stan at knifepoint. Stan signs a “sex slave contract.”
For 7 ½ years she lives in a box under Hooker’s bed and endures unimaginable physical
and mental abuse. She stays with Hooker out of fear of “the company” - an omnipotent
(and wholly fictional) organization that Hooker claims knows everything about Stan
and her family. In 1984, aided by Hooker’s wife Janice, Stan escapes. Hooker is arrested,
tried, and found guilty of ten felony charges netting him 104 years behind bars.
For most people, this was a horrifyingly fascinating case, but one that bore
little impact on their day-to-day lives.
For author Carla Norton, covering “the girl in the box” case was her life. Norton’s
book, Perfect Victim (written with Hooker prosecutor Christine McGuire) was a New
York Times best-seller and it remains on the FBI’s Behavioral Science reading list.
Hooker’s attorneys forbade an interview with Norton, but she was in the courtroom
throughout the trial, and on the day Hooker took the stand in his own defense. Norton
did speak with Janice Hooker and the memory remains fresh. “She was an accomplice
yet also a victim. And when you consider that she was only 16 when they married,
you can understand how he warped and controlled her life,” Norton says.
The skepticism about Janice and Colleen’s confinement by Hooker (raised primarily
by his defense team) infuriated Norton. It was, she says, one of the biggest reasons
she wrote the book. But, immersing herself in this and other true crime stories eventually
took a toll. Writing about victimization was burning her out. In 2013, she released
her first novel, The Edge of Normal. It revisits the terror of Perfect Victim - the
abduction of a young girl, years of captivity - but this time, the fictional heroine
Reeve LeClaire is given a chance to reclaim her life, on her own terms. By helping
protect a fellow abductee, she is able to move past her own history.
Norton’s sequel, What Doesn’t Kill Her [Minotaur Books, June 2015], sorely tests
Reeve LeClaire’s new strength. Her captor, Daryl Wayne Flint - one of the creepiest
psychopaths readers will ever meet - escapes the psychiatric hospital. He has one
goal: to “reunite” with Reeve. When the FBI asks her to help find Flint, Reeve realizes
she has no choice. She’s the only one who can.
The book is suspenseful enough to prompt a one-sitting-read, but it also begs
a critical question: can psychopaths be rehabilitated?
“I don’t believe so,” says Norton. “They are not motivated to change because they
don’t see anything wrong with how they are. One expert explained to me that psychopathy
can be compared with color blindness: some people can’t see red; others can’t feel
The knowledge that these robotic killers actually exist makes novels and true
crime stories something of a manual on how to protect ourselves from predators. We
immediately place ourselves into the shoes of the victim. If her books help women
become more wary and survival-oriented, Norton is glad. “I’m a bit obsessed with
imagining unconditional ways out of tough situations,” she says, “because women are
typically smaller than men. We can’t rely on muscle mass, so we need to find other
ways to fight back.”
Norton says it takes about 18 months for her to write a book. So, can we expect
a third Reeve LeClaire book in the next year or two? “They say if you talk about
it, you won’t write it, and I’m afraid that’s true,” she admits.
For avid fans looking for a more definitive answer, Norton offers this: “It seems
that a lot of readers might be disappointed - or even angry - if there’s not another
book. I don’t want to tip my hand. Let’s just say that what I envision for Reeve’s
future will be a surprise.” PnC
UPDATE - JULY 2015:
Variety reported that Norton’s book, The Edge of Normal, will soon become a major
motion picture. Details to follow as we receive them.