By John Douglas
Scribner, 308 pp., $25
In Anyone You Want Me to Be, former FBI agent and accredited father of criminal profiling, John Douglas, unravels the tale of John Robinson, the first serial killer to exploit the Internet in his search for compliant victims. If you happened to run into Robinson back in 1984 in Stanley, Mo., you would have met a seemingly harmless man: a self-proclaimed entrepreneur who had founded several successful companies, a man with the gift of gab, who seemed always to be in a hurry to get to somewhere. And that is exactly what Robinson would have wanted you to see.
In actuality, Robinson was a man with two sides to his personality--one, of a husband, a loving father and a caring provider. The other, which Robinson managed to keep concealed from his family and neighbors, was of a dark, twisted individual who fleeced innocent people of their money, cruised the Internet searching for easy victims and was excited by the pain and suffering of others. When all the lies and false identities finally caught up with him in May of 2000, he had left behind a trail of shattered lives, missing women and a legacy of terror.
Robinson was a likable man who was involved in both church and community and had plenty of potential talent. But the father of four turned criminal when he realized that he could break the law and not be punished for it. Starting out as an embezzler, Robinson floated from one profession to another with a handful of fake diplomas and impressive--though self-written--letters of recommendation.
On paper he looked like an excellent candidate for any job, whether it was as an X-ray technician or a systems analyst for Mobil Oil. But it wouldn't take long before the star employee would be suspected of embezzling thousands of dollars from his employer. Time and again Robinson avoided serious jail time by literally talking his bosses out of pressing charges against him, and promising retribution. And every time he got away with his crimes he became bolder. Later he would move into the field of hydroponics and fleece investors of thousands of dollars. But these crimes were nothing compared to the next step in Robinson's plan. With the advent of Internet technology, he now had access to thousands of women from all across the country, which he recruited to become personal sex slaves. Haunting the various S&M chat rooms, Robinson discovered a world of lonely souls that wished to be dominated and soon had many of them abandoning their former lives to live with the man known as the "Slavemaster." Unfortunately for his victims, they would discover that this would be the last trip they would take.
Douglas uses the Robinson case as a warning to the inherent dangers of the Internet and especially to the hazards of interacting with unknown individuals. Robinson, (who was eventually convicted of three murder charges in Kansas City and is awaiting trial for three counts of murder in Missouri) is the perfect example of a cyber-predator. By using anonymity and charm, his behavior was no different than if he had been on the streets trolling for victims. Douglas comments that the biggest disadvantage that potential victims have is the lack of using their intuition: On the Internet, you are cut off from your senses, you cannot recognize that you are in a bad neighborhood and you cannot see that the friendly stranger is actually a creep. With that in mind we all must undertake precautions when entering the cyber world, be it when purchasing products in an auction or when participating in a chat room. Otherwise, we too can end up as victims, playing an unwanted role in a predator's fantasy. Anyone You Want Me to Be is a powerful testament to the inherent dangers present in today's new technologies.