Nonfiction Review | A False Report – T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong

About the Book

On August 11, 2008, eighteen-year-old Marie reported that a masked man broke into her apartment near Seattle, Washington, and raped her, but within days police and even those closest to Marie became suspicious of her story. The police swiftly pivoted and began investigating her. Confronted with inconsistencies in her story and the doubts of others, Marie broke down and said her story was a lie. Police charged her with false reporting. One of her best friends created a web page branding her a liar.

More than two years later, Colorado detective Stacy Galbraith was assigned to investigate a case of sexual assault. Describing the crime to her husband that night–the attacker’s calm and practiced demeanor, which led the victim to surmise “he’s done this before”–Galbraith learned that the case bore an eerie resemblance to a rape that had taken place months earlier in a nearby town. She joined forces with the detective on that case, Edna Hendershot, and the two soon realized they were dealing with a serial rapist: a man who photographed his victims, threatening to release the images online, and whose calculated steps to erase all physical evidence suggested he might be a soldier or a cop. Through meticulous police work the detectives would eventually connect the rapist to other attacks in Colorado–and beyond.

Based on investigative files and extensive interviews with the principals, An Unbelievable Story is a serpentine tale of doubt, lies, and a hunt for justice, unveiling the disturbing reality of how sexual assault is investigated today–and the long history of skepticism toward rape victims. 

304 pages (hardcover)

Published by Crown Publishing
Published on February 6, 2018
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This book was a library loan. Yay libraries!

Every once in a while, I run across a book that totally derails my plans. I wanted to review an SPFBO book today, but I ran across this book and devoured it in two days. It left me reeling. It left me gaping. It left me altered in some ways. I decided to move things around a bit so I could review this book today. This is, quite frankly, one of those rare books that I think should be mandatory reading. Period.

A False Report is written by two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists. There are two epilogues in the book, one by each author. The second one talks a bit about how these two journalists came to be working together. Both of them discovered that they were not the only people writing a story about this particular criminal and the crimes he committed. Instead of walking away from the stories, they ended up working together to write a 12,000 word article, and then ultimately, this book.

Now, that’s important, because the ways each state dealt with this criminal is so completely different, and these two journalists did a huge service to readers by getting really in depth with how each state dealt with these victims. It really paints a stark, almost haunting picture for readers of how the different ways of dealing with victims can be so incredibly important.

Basically, what happens is, this guy named Mark O’Leary had rape fantasies, starting out as a boy, triggered by Star Wars Episode VI (yeah, really.). At the age of five, he starts fantasizing about tying women up and raping them. He suppresses these urges for a long time, but when he gets into his middle twenties or thereabouts, these fantasies become urges. Long story short, he ends up in Washington state. He stalks this 18-year-old, and breaks into her house. He ties her up, and rapes her. For HOURS.

He was ex-military, and he knew enough about crime reporting to cover his tracks, which made tracking him down very hard. The woman, who goes by the name of Marie in the book, reports this crime to the Lynwood Police Department. She goes to the hospital, and gets a rape kit done. Now, where this side of the story takes a twist is, ultimately the police decide that she’s lying. She filed a false report. She is actually charged with filing a false report, has to go to court for it and everything else.

Now, Mark moves to Colorado (after raping a few women in that manner in Washington state). In Colorado, he starts up again. He stalks women, breaks into their houses, ties them up, and rapes them. The police in Colorado, all believe the victims. They treat the cases like crimes (because they are). Ultimately, the police in different Colorado cities end up working together to find this guy (whereas in Washington they don’t even really communicate, nor do they believe the victim.). Colorado PD end up tracking down the serial rapist and putting him away.

Now, this is about two years after Marie’s rape, and the charges filed against her. The police in Colorado end up finding a bunch of pictures Mark took while he was raping these women. They see Marie in one of them, contact the police in charge of her case, and ask if they have any crimes reported of this nature by someone named (insert victim’s name here). They were shocked to discover that the woman had reported a crime, but was, in fact, charged with submitting a false report.

Now, this might seem like a lot of spoilers, but it’s really not. What I want to do here is establish how different these cases were handled, and how dramatically that impacted each case. The authors do an incredible job of detailing the crimes without going overboard. They keep the privacy of the woman intact, and they handle this tough topic in a very delicate way. That being said, the difference between how Washington and Colorado handled the victims is staggering, anger-inducing, and very stark.

Washington basically ruined Marie’s life, and while they tried to make amends after they figured out the truth of things, money doesn’t really give a person their friends back, or their lives, or independence, or anything else. When compared with how the victims were handled in Colorado, the way Marie was handled made me almost vibrate with righteous indignation on her behalf.

The authors don’t just talk about these cases, but they draw on them to show the historical precedent for why so many people have a hard time believing victims, how rape kits were created and why, and how female victims in rape are often treated in today’s age, along with other “false reports” that have been filed, and ultimately proven to be true.

It’s a hard book to read because the topic matter is not easy, and the criminal is pure evil. He’s vicious in a way I never imagined someone being. However, it’s so important, not just to learn about these cases and the women involved, but because there really needs to be a dialogue about this topic. We need to examine how we treat victims, and why, and we need to, as a society, work toward change. It shows us why it is so important to believe victims, and what happens when we don’t.

The writing is incredibly, compulsively readable. I ended up listening to an audiobook which was absolutely fantastic. The narrator was superb, and made listening to this story even more gripping.

I will admit that this book has haunted me a bit. I can’t seem to really get it out of my mind. The message is so important. The women are so strong in the face of the tragedy that fell on them. And Marie… I just can’t even imagine what she went through, to be first victimized by this horrible criminal, and then victimized again by the police department she was supposed to trust.

As with most important things, this book will make you uncomfortable, but it’s so incredibly important.

And, I’ll give you this small spoiler. The rapist was sentenced with 327 ½ years in prison, right where he belongs. There are very few people I think are pure evil. This guy is absolutely one who falls into that camp.

5/5 stars