________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 31. . . .April 11, 2014


Outlaws, Spies, and Gangsters: Chasing Notorious Criminals.

Laura Scandiffio. Art by Gareth Williams.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2014.
148 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-620-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-621-6 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Criminals-Juvenile literature.
Criminals-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

*** /4



Everyone was shocked to see the “monster” Eichmann up close. He wasn’t what they had expected. He was so very ordinary—that was the word they all used to describe him. Malchin, who had tackled Eichmann, now had the job of helping the man blinded by dark goggles to shave and bathe. How could this be the same man who had brought about so many deaths without mercy, who had used his power so ruthlessly? Now he trembled when someone asked him to stand up.


In profiling eight criminals and the sometimes extraordinary measures taken to capture them, Scandiffio has authored fast-paced narratives that will appeal to the male readership that the book’s marketers anticipate. Williams’ muscular colour illustrations depicting arrests and action scenes, as well as artifacts relevant to the stories, will also appeal to young readers. The covers, themselves, smartly display all eight criminals in a police-line setting. The use of mug-shot like portraits and case file summaries to introduce each chapter is another excellent design feature.

     The cases are presented in a chronological sequence, beginning with the hunt for Albert Johnson, known as the Mad Trapper, who led police on a winter chase in the Canadian arctic in 1931-1932. The manhunt truly marked a new age as police, special constables and native guides used not only traditional dog teams and snowshoes in their pursuit but introduced two-way radios and, for the first time, an airplane. These innovations would quickly be adopted by the RCMP. Scandiffio brings this tale up-to-date by including in one of the many sidebars the results of a 2007 forensic investigation upon Johnson’s remains whereby DNA was analyzed in an effort to provide more clues as to his identity and place of origin.

      John Dillinger was not only a notorious bank robber and master at escaping from jail, he was a 1930s celebrity whose exploits helped to sell newspapers and earned the hatred of humiliated police forces in the US Midwest. Police in three states and the federal agency that soon would be named the Federal Bureau of Investigation were all involved in the various efforts to catch Dillinger and his accomplices. The FBI used new crime fighting sciences in their investigations, but Dillinger tried to outsmart the techniques by having an underworld doctor try to alter his fingerprints with acid.

internal art      Three of the cases profiled involve state use of secret intelligence agents and elite military forces to capture criminals hiding in foreign jurisdictions. Agents from Israel’s Mossad captured Adolf Eichmann, Hitler’s henchman, in Argentina in 1960, many years after he first eluded prosecution for war crimes following the end of the Second World War. The United States government used an invasion force of 21,000 troops, in addition to special forces, in its pursuit of military dictator and drug trafficker Colonel Manuel Noriega of Panama in two weeks at the end of 1989 and start of 1990. The U.S. military intelligence, CIA and Special Operations Forces, including the Navy SEALs, were all involved in the capture and death of terrorist Osama bin Laden who masterminded the attacks of 9/11 and earlier attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa and the vessel USS Cole. In the bin Laden case, the successful capture took place on Pakistani soil in May 2011. While Scandiffio notes that the extraterritorial nature of these operations raised criticism by governments and international bodies for breaching territorial independence, the overall sense is a Machiavellian one that the ends justified the means. Further discussion of these important issues are left to other authors to explore.

      However, in keeping with her efforts to demonstrate the evolution of crime fighting techniques, the author does emphasize some important outcomes of the cases. Eichmann’s capture and trial spurred additional hunts for Nazi war criminals, and his trial set a precedent when it rejected his defense that he was not responsible for war crimes because he was only following orders. The Noriega case illustrates the use, no longer respected in much of the world, of sanctuary whereby someone could seek asylum in a church or embassy. Noriega sought sanctuary in the Vatican’s embassy in Panama. The use of psychological warfare that helped to convince Noriega to surrender included the use of loud unpleasant music and then news reports blaring at the compound in order to wear down his morale. Readers may encounter similar techniques when they enter Toronto subway stations or bus platforms and hear classical music designed to deter loitering by young adults.

      Other cases profiled are Aldrich Ames, an American traitor who sold CIA secrets to the Soviet Union resulting in the deaths of both CIA and FBI undercover agents, Vladimir Levin, a Russian cyber thief who accessed Citbank’s wire-transfer network and stole $10 million dollars, and Christopher Coke, a Jamaican drug and weapons trafficker. The Ames case demonstrated that the polygraph machine could be an unreliable tool and that detailed drudge-like investigation can still solve criminal mysteries. The Levin chase that lasted seven months from August 1994 to March 1995 marked the rise of a new type of crime – cybercrime whereby hackers circumvent computer security systems for criminal purposes. The theft also illustrates the importance of international cooperation through organizations, such as Interpol, when criminal activity transcends national borders. It also illustrates the shortcoming of international cooperation, for example, when countries don’t have effective extradition treaties that allow suspects to be sent to a jurisdiction where a crime was committed. In Coke’s case, he was extradited from Jamaica to face charges in the United States where he remains in prison after pleading guilty in 2012 to narcotics offences.

      As a whole, Outlaws, Spies, and Gangsters demonstrates Scandiffio’s excellent narrative skills for junior and intermediate level readers. The tales demonstrate evolving methods of policing and investigation as well as efforts by fugitives to adapt to the evolving police sciences. Old fashioned techniques, such as use of informers, stakeouts, monitoring of phone and cellular communication channels, remain important. Cooperation between various crime experts and organizations is another key to successful investigations. The book includes an index and bibliography of main sources that include books, magazines, newspapers and webpages including a couple from the FBI’s “Famous cases and criminals” postings.


Val Ken Lem is the liaison librarian for history, English and Caribbean studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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