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Jack Olsen (June 7, 1925 – July 16, 2002) was an American journalist and author known for his thorough, scholarly approach to crime reporting. He was Midwest bureau chief for Time magazine and a senior editor for Sports Illustrated. He was also a regular contributor to other publications, including Fortune and Vanity Fair.

Books written by Olsen sold thirty-three million copies. Several of his books examined the intersection of law and politics during the late 1960s-early 1970s. These include Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt, (Pratt, a leader of the Black Panther Party, was declared innocent and released from prison after serving 25 years on the perjured testimony of a paid FBI informant), and The Bridge at Chappaquiddick, (examining the 1969 car crash and death that damaged Sen. Edward Kennedy's political career). As Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward write in their book All The President's Men, the book was one of several checked out of the White House library by E. Howard Hunt in the course of gathering information about Kennedy to potentially be used against him in the 1972 presidential campaign.

Many of Olsen's most popular works investigated the life histories of violent career criminals. These include studies of serial rapists such as Arthur Shawcross (The Misbegotten Son) and George Russell, (Charmer), as well as serial killers (Hastened to the Grave: The Gypsy Murder Investigation). Discussing his life-long interest in crime journalism, Olsen described a field trip that his college criminology class took to a prison:

"I'm 19 years old and we get inside, and I see all these guys who look just like me," he said. "I thought that criminals looked different."

Explaining what triggers his determination, he said, "I start every book with the idea that I want to explain how this 7 or 8 pounds of protoplasm went from his mommy's arms to become a serial rapist or serial killer. I think a crime book that doesn't do this is pure pornography."

Jack Olsen, quoted in the New York Times, 1993

Olsen's journalism was recognized with the National Headliner Award, the Chicago Newspaper Guild's Page One Award, the Washington State Governor's Award, and the Scripps-Howard Award. He was described as "the dean of true crime authors" by The Washington Post. His crime studies remain on required reading lists in university criminology courses. In his obituary, The New York Times described his work as "a genuine contribution to criminology and journalism alike."

Olsen lived on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and died on July 16, 2002.





  • Alphabet Jackson (1974)
  • Massy's Game (1976)
  • The Secret of Fire 5 (1977)
  • Night Watch (1979)
  • Missing Persons (1981)
  • Have You Seen My Son? (1982)


  • Over the Fence is Out (1961) under the pseudonym Jonathan Rhoades


Games and Sports

  • The Mad World of Bridge (1960)
  • The Climb up to Hell (1962, 1998)
  • Bridge Is My Game (1965) with Charles Goren
  • Black is Best: The Riddle of Cassius Clay (1967) biography of Muhammed Ali
  • The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story; The myth of integration in American sports (1968)
  • Better Scramble Than Lose (1969) biography of Fran Tarkenton

History, Politics, and Sociology

  • Night of the Grizzlies (1969)
  • Silence on Monte Sole (1968)
  • Aphrodite: Desperate Mission (1970)
  • The Bridge at Chappaquiddick (1970)
  • Slaughter the Animals, Poison the Earth (1971)
  • The Girls in the Office (1972)
  • The Girls on the Campus (1974)
  • Sweet Street: The Autobiography of an American Honkytonk Scene (1974)
  • Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt (2000)


  • The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders (1974)
  • Son: A Psychopath and His Victims (1983) Edgar Award winner
  • Give a Boy a Gun (1985)
  • Cold Kill: The True Story of a Murderous Love (1987)
  • Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell (1989) Edgar Award winner
  • Predator: Rape, Madness, and Injustice in Seattle (1991) American Mystery Award winner
  • The Misbegotten Son: A Serial Killer and His Victims (1993)
  • Charmer: A Ladies' Man and his Victims (1994)
  • Salt of the Earth (1996)
  • Hastened to the Grave (1998)
  • I: The Creation of a Serial Killer (2002)


Gootman, Elissa. Jack Olsen, 77, Whose Books Examined the Criminal Mind, New York Times, July 22, 2002. Sec. A, p.15.

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