In October 2002, a series of murders occurred between the states of Maryland and Virginia, and the federal District of Columbia that spread fear and panic across the United States. News reports of a sniper moving across the area and striking at will, left law enforcement scrambling and citizens seeking arms and shelter. I remember watching the nightly news in anticipation that the police had captured the person(s) responsible for the crimes. On October 24, 2002, the nation felt relieved when John Allen Muhammad (1960-2009) and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested while sleeping in their Chevrolet Caprice near Myersville, Maryland. Both were tried and convicted, with Muhammad receiving the death penalty and Malvo being sentenced to life in prison due to his age at the time of the murders. Muhammad was executed on November 10, 2009, at the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia and Malvo remains in prison today.
Malvo’s age drew intrigue from doctors and legal analysts with all wondering how a seventeen-year-old kid could have committed unimaginable crimes. John Allen Muhammad had become a second father to Malvo and had deeply influenced Malvo’s thoughts but what was not fully understood was how and why he was able to control his under-age conspirator. Carmeta Albarus is the president of CVA Consulting Services, Inc. and was hired during the investigation into the crimes to find information on Malvo’s background. As part of her work, she met with Malvo extensively and served as an advisor throughout his trial. This book is her explanation of what she discovered as the pieces of his life came together.
To understand Lee Boyd Malvo, we must travel back in time to the Caribbean nation of Jamaica where Malvo was born on February 17, 1985, to Leslie Malvo and Una James. The story is typical at first, but it soon becomes clear that trouble is brewing between Malvo’s parents. They eventually part ways and as the author shows, Malvo’s life was never the same again. Prior to reading this book, I did not know what Albarus reveals in this book. Malvo is a textbook case of the dangers that exist due to broken homes. The relationship between Malvo and his mother Una is unquestionably the root of the issues that came back to haunt both in later years. As I read the book, I could not believe what transpired between the two and the number of missed opportunities to provide Malvo with the foundation a child needs. However, there are times when Malvo knew his actions were wrong and he even admits to them. Further, Albarus was able to get close to him due in part to their shared Jamaican ancestry. This undoubtedly helped her gain Malvo’s trust and access to the demons that haunt him to this day. But even she could not have fathomed the level of dysfunction that existed because of a fractured relationship between mother and son and a dark figure eager to unleash a reign of terror.
Readers will notice that Malvo is never in one place for too long. His arrival in Antigua changed his life and set into motion a series of events that culminated with Malvo pulling the trigger on innocent victims. Una’s absence from Antigua could not have come at a worse time for John Allen Muhammad had also arrived on the island and from the start, he makes himself known as a disciplinary who can connect with the youth and influence their actions and thoughts. The information Albarus uncovered is overwhelming, yet it also explains why Malvo was drawn to the mysterious Muhammad. I knew that Muhammad had been in the military but there were details of his personal life of which I was not aware. He too was haunted by his past and Antigua served not only as a recruitment station but also as a place of refuge from America. However, he is without question the antagonist in the book. Had the two not been arrested, the number of victims would have been far higher. The two drifters found what they were looking for in each other and before long, a son would be lost, a father gone, and a nation would find itself on high alert.
The writing style used in the book is fluid and does not exude bias or condemnation. In fact, Albarus does an excellent job of analyzing Malvo and letting him speak for himself about his turbulent life. But at no time does she absolve him of guilt and confronts him on several things. He murdered innocent people, but this book poses the question, would he have done so had his home been stable and he had not John Allen Muhammad? The evidence presented by Albarus strongly indicates that he would be a free and functional adult today had his circumstances been different. It is rare for youths of Malvo’s age at the time of the murders to commit such heinous crimes and when they do happen, people are left to wonder why. In profiling Lee Boyd Malvo, Albarus tackles the tough questions getting to the root of the issues he had. And those issues played a significant role in his inability to think independently, walk away from Muhammad and confront the unresolved issues between him and his mother. To be fair, there were people who tried their best to help Malvo while enduring the wrath of his mother Una. Despite their efforts, the young Malvo never found a haven. And as Albarus states frankly:
“We believe that if even one person had stood up for Malvo to keep him in a positive foster placement, such as with the Maxwells, free from his mother’s constant disruption of the positives in his life, he would not have been susceptible to Muhammad’s machinations.”
The book is not an attempt to lay blame for the crimes elsewhere. It is a thorough discussion of what happens when we fail children. My brother and I were lucky to have both parents at home as kids and we are more fortunate today to still have them in our lives. The late rap star Tupac Shakur once said that “you need a man to teach you how to be a man”. Truer words have rarely been spoken. Malvo himself is cognizant of the role his own father played in his development. Albarus notes that:
“As I tentatively brought up the subject of Malvo’s life in Jamaica, he spoke passionately about his biological father, Leslie Malvo. “He gave me balance. My dad was the nurturer.” That balance was upset when the bond with his biological father was broken.”
Towards the end of the book, I could not help thinking that there somewhere out there is another Lee Boyd Malvo who is in danger of falling into the wrong hands. The key is reaching him or her before it is too late. For Lee Boyd Malvo, that time has passed, and he has the rest of his life to think about the actions that led to his permanent incarceration. The families of the victims will never fully heal and the names of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo will remain infamous for an eternity. If you remember the D.C. Sniper attacks and have unanswered questions about the relationship between Malvo and Muhammad, this book is highly recommended.