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On an icy night five years ago, Johnnie Jordan -- just fourteen years old -- brutally murdered his elderly foster care mother, leaving the state of Ohio shocked and outraged. He could not tell police why he did it or even how it made him feel; all he knew was that something inside him made him kill. At the time, few people predicted the swift emergence of a class of young so-called "super-predators" -- criminals like Johnnie who injure and kill without conscience, personified to the nation by the Littleton, Colorado, tragedy in 1999. In "What Happened to Johnnie Jordan?" acclaimed journalist Jennifer Toth, author of "The Mole People" and "Orphans of the Living, " once again takes a look at the people in our society whom we so often discard and altogether ignore. As Toth investigates Johnnie's crime and life, she unravels the mysteries of a child murderer unable to identify his emotions even after they converge in acts of fury and rage. In the course of her research, Johnnie grows dangerously into a young man who "will probably kill again," he says, "though I don't want to." Yet he also demonstrates great kindness and caring when treated as more than just a case number, when treated as a human. Through Johnnie's harrowing story, Toth examines how some children manage to overcome tragic beginnings, while others turn their pain, anger, and loss on innocents. More than a beautifully written narrative of youth gone wrong, this is the story of a child welfare system so corrupted by bureaucracy and overwhelmed with cases that many children entrusted to its care receive none at all. It is also the story of a Midwestern town struggling with blame and anger, unable to reconcile the damage done by so young an offender. From Johnnie's early years on the streets to his controversial trial and ultimate conviction, "What Happened to Johnnie Jordan?" is a seminal work on youth violence and how we as a society can work to curtail it. Ultimately, Toth ponders one of the most difficult and important questions on youth violence: If we can't control the way children are raised, how can we prevent them from destroying other lives as well?
Product Details

Table of Contents

Contents Part I: Murder Part II: The Beginning Part III: Justice Part IV: Fallout Methodology and Acknowledgments Personal Acknowledgments Select Bibliography

About the Author

Jennifer Toth graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and went on to receive a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. She has written pieces for the Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, and Business Week, and she is the author of The Mole People and Orphans of the Living. She lives in Maryland.

Reviews

In January 1996, just outside Toledo, 14-year-old Johnnie Jordan killed Jeanette Johnson, his elderly foster mother. The crime horrified the community and confounded those who knew the victim and perpetrator, in part because there was no clear motive; Jordan claimed to like Johnson and her husband and wanted to stay with them. But as journalist Toth (Orphans of the Living) reveals in this powerful and unsettling book, Jordan rarely had any control over his own life. Through interviews with the adolescent, lawyers, police and parole officers, social workers, psychologists and others close to the case, Toth pieces together the dark saga, from its roots to its aftermath. Scenes from Jordan's childhood, which was torn apart by an "extremely chaotic, abusive, and neglectful family," are particularly haunting. Both his parents were drug addicts and his father was a convicted rapist and pedophile. Before arriving at the Johnsons' home, Jordan had been in nearly 20 foster or group homes, and he'd already exhibited violence. Yet as he traveled through the foster care and juvenile corrections systems, he repeatedly fell through the proverbial cracks. Jordan's fate is not a surprise: he confessed to the crime, was tried and convicted in adult court and setenced to life imprisonment with parole eligibility after 30 years. "The greatest tragedy in cases like Johnnie's," Toth reflects, "is that many teachers and caregivers read danger signs... but fail to act until it is too late. There are almost always warnings." Though there is no happy ending, Toth concludes her engaging narrative by suggesting concrete changes in the foster care system, adjustments that could prevent more bloodshed. The thoughtfulness and care she exhibits throughout provide a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape. Agent, Keith Korman. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Marvin Kalb Author of "One Scandalous Story" Jennifer Toth is a very special writer, and she has now tackled a very special and important subject. Good for her. Better for us. Jack Nelson Chief Washington Correspondent, "Los Angeles Times" Jennifer Toth's powerful and absorbing tale of a teenager whose tendency to violence turned to murder makes a convincing case that such tragedies can be prevented by proper intervention by welfare and juvenile justice systems. She lays bare the faults of both systems in telling how young would-be murderers can be stopped before they kill. It is must reading for anyone concerned about the increasing problem of youths prone to violence. Francine Cournos, M.D. Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Columbia University, and author of "City Of One" This is an eye-opening work, a gripping and meticulously researched portrayal of an abused, dazed young boy tossed recklessly through a disjointed child welfare system on his way toward unspeakable crime. Jennifer Toth illuminates with extraordinary insight the path toward brutal juvenile violence. Jack NelsonChief Washington Correspondent, "Los Angeles Times"Jennifer Toth's powerful and absorbing tale of a teenager whose tendency to violence turned to murder makes a convincing case that such tragedies can be prevented by proper intervention by welfare and juvenile justice systems. She lays bare the faults of both systems in telling how young would-be murderers can be stopped before they kill. It is must reading for anyone concerned about the increasing problem of youths prone to violence. Francine Cournos, M.D.Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Columbia University, and author of "City Of One"This is an eye-opening work, a gripping and meticulously researched portrayal of an abused, dazed young boy tossed recklessly through a disjointed child welfare system on his way toward unspeakable crime. Jennifer Toth illuminates with extraordinary insight the path toward brutal juvenile violence. Marvin KalbAuthor of "One Scandalous Story"Jennifer Toth is a very special writer, and she has now tackled a very special and important subject. Good for her. Better for us.

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