WHAT HAPPENED TO JOHNNIE JORDAN? The Story of a Child Turning Violent

Jennifer Toth, Author . Free Press $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-684-85558-5

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.)

Reviewed on: 01/14/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-4165-7667-9
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4391-3757-4
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