The Bogles are proof that a loving, tight-knit family can bring up its children to become criminals
When he was four years old in 1969, Bobby Bogle woke up on Christmas morning to discover a single gift from his dad — a heavy metal wrench in a plain brown paper bag. Bobby might’ve been young, but he got the hint.
Later that day, he and his brothers used the wrench to break into a local grocery store and steal soda. When his father, a career criminal who went by the name Rooster, learned of their burglary, he smiled and said, “Yeah, that’s my sons.”
Rooster’s pride over their first foray into crime was “as if celebrating a school report card with straight As or a Little League home run,” writes Fox Butterfield in the new book, “In My Father’s House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Family” (Knopf), out Tuesday.
Bobby Bogle wasn’t the first to break the law in his family, and he’d by no means be the last. It was a crime spree that spanned four generations and crossed multiple states from Texas to Oregon, beginning in the early 1920s — with ancestors who were moonshiners and carnival workers — and involving hundreds of felonies covering just about every genre of lawlessness, from murder and sodomy to burglary and insurance fraud.
Butterfield describes the Bogles’ criminal creativity as “crazy and cartoonish.” It wasn’t enough just to be bad, the Bogles had to be transcendently wicked. They stole everything, from chickens and cows to lumber and metal, and once broke into a government-run fish hatchery just to gorge on salmon. When the children were barely in middle school, they were stealing 18 wheeler big-rig semis, despite being so short that they “could barely see over the steering wheel and (their) feet hardly reached the pedals.”
The Bogle family stands in stark contrast to conventional wisdom about the causes of criminal behavior. A landmark study in the mid-’90s by conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation, titled “The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime,” concluded that most crime had its roots in broken families and “habitual deprivation of parental love.” It’s an opinion that’s been fundamental to our understanding of human nature since the ’50s, when psychologist Harry Harlow demonstrated that a strong emotional bond with one’s parents, or a “secure attachment,” can make all the difference in a child’s emotional and social development.
But what Butterfield found, after extensive research and interviews with Bogle family members — all of whom were serving or had served time in prison, jail or a juvenile reformatory — was exactly the opposite. Stronger family ties weren’t the thing that would’ve saved the Bogles from their own worst instincts. Being part of a close, loving and supportive family is what made them such unrepentant criminals.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics, the research arm of the Justice Department, estimates that there are 1.7 million children with a parent in prison on any given day, out of a prison population of roughly 2.2 million. But we don’t know exact statistics on the number of crimes in the US committed by people related to criminals. “That is part of the problem,” Butterfield says. “There is no government agency charged with keeping figures on the number of people arrested who have fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles or grandparents and children of their own who have been arrested or sent to prison.”
Butterfield discovered the Bogles while researching a magazine piece on lawbreaking families. A prison contact in Oregon told Butterfield “he had a family with what he thought at the time were six members in prison. It was only after ten years of reporting that I discovered the real total was sixty.”
The Bogles had many of the risk factors commonly linked to a future in crime, such as poverty, alcoholism and child abuse. One of the houses passed down through several generations of Bogles was constructed from used battery crates, which were stained with leaking acid that smelled disturbingly toxic but, as the family liked to joke, “At least it kept out the roaches.”
Nobody in the family was especially bright. They murdered people and then made calls to their mother from the victim’s home phone. They melted a stolen safe with an acetylene torch and then tried to spend the burnt money. They wedded off their teenage son to a police detective’s underage daughter by forging birth certificates and then making the son wear a fake mustache.
However outlandish or reprehensible their choices, it all became “part of their mythology,” Butterfield writes. And that mythology is something every Bogle, young and old, wanted to live up to, not run away from.
As Tracey Bogle explained to the author, “If I’d been raised in a family of doctors, I probably be a doctor. But I was raised in my family of outlaws who hated the law.”
“We talk a lot about family values in this country,” adds Butterfield. “The assumption seems to be that family values are always a good thing. But sometimes family values can go very, very wrong.”
Pointing out the cycle of criminality is one thing, but the questions get trickier when it comes to how to stop it. Should kids be taken away from their criminal parents? We may have a knee-jerk repulsion to the very idea of it, but there is evidence that separation works. When Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans in 2005, it created what University of Texas criminologist David Kirk called a “natural experiment.” When state prisoners were released after the disaster, few of them had homes that weren’t destroyed. So they had the choice to rebuild or leave. Those who made a new life in another city or state, far away from their families, Kirk found, were 15 percent less likely to be re-arrested over the next three years compared to those who stayed with relatives.
Butterfield points to a unique case in southern Italy, where one judge started a program in which the children of convicted Mafia families were taken from their parents and relocated to a different part of the country, given new identities and caregivers. “It’s basically a child witness-protection program,” Butterfield says.
Although controversial (some critics denounced it as “Nazi-like”), it’s been so successful since its inception in 2012, with 100 percent of the separated boys and girls giving up on crime or avoiding it completely, it’s now being implemented in other parts of the country.
It’s unlikely that a similar program could work in the US. Imagine if our Justice Department announced a “Commit a Crime and Your Child Comes With Us” initiative tomorrow?
If nothing else, Butterfield says, we should be focusing more on how family, even a loving, supportive family, isn’t always a positive dynamic.
“When somebody gets arrested, the police don’t ask them, ‘Do you have a father or mother or aunt or uncle or brother or sister in prison?’ ” Butterfield says. “When they appear in court, the judge doesn’t ask that question. If they’re sent to prison, the prison doesn’t ask those questions. It’s understandable because that’s not their job; they’re just trying to preserve order. But if we started looking at the real risk factors, not just punishing but taking a view of the larger picture, we could get a clue about where trouble is coming before it happens.”
How do we stop the pattern in its tracks? Butterfield has many suggestions, from giving financial incentives to ex-convicts to move away from their communities, to bringing therapy to entire families of young juvenile offenders. He was particularly impressed with a (now-defunded) program in Jacksonville, Fla., where agencies that would not normally share records — like school boards and police departments — met regularly to discuss troubled kids. It yielded at least one success story with a 7-year-old boy named Freddie. When his family’s criminal history was discovered, the Florida prosecutor decided to skip juvenile court and instead send the boy to a reformatory, separating him (briefly) from his mother and into the care of a mentor. As Butterfield observed, “He was never arrested again.”
More often than not, when a Bogle broke the law, they did it out of love or respect for their parents, not fear. They didn’t steal to escape the wrath of Mom and Dad; they did it to make them proud.
In what Tracey describes as one of his happiest memories, he recounts how he and his brothers broke into a local bar and emptied the cash register, then woke up their sleeping mother by dumping a sack of bills on her face. She opened her eyes and shrieked with joy.
“Just telling the story made Tracey happy,” Butterfield writes. “He laughed so hard the tears rolled down his cheeks and his body shook with pleasure.”
It’s ironic that the Bogles often have more insight into their own behavior than most criminologists. In a letter to the author, written by Tony Bogle while he was in prison on a murder rap, he recalled that his dad, Rooster, would sometimes drive him past the Oregon State Correctional Institution when he was a teenager, pointing at it and telling him, “You’ll soon be there, son.”
“His own failures made him aware that I would be the byproduct of his own handiwork,” Tony wrote. “Like a lazy farmer knows his crops will only be third-grade produce.”
Only one member of the Bogles escaped the family’s crime legacy, a granddaughter of Rooster named Ashley. She was the first Bogle to attend and graduate college with an associate’s degree in 2016, an especially remarkable feat given that her younger sister was a junkie and unwed mother sent to jail for drug possession. But even when she should’ve been celebrating what she achieved, Ashley was mostly filled with guilt. “I didn’t want to stand out and make my family think I felt special,” she told Butterfield.
But she did it anyway, mostly by her own self-determination. Her father tried to distance her from her relatives, but the biggest factor seems to be the emotional distance Ashley felt from her family.
“The whole Bogle stigma didn’t apply to me,” she told Butterfield. “I don’t think about it, honestly. I just figure that everybody in the family has the opportunity to make their own choices.”
Today, she’s a single mother living alone and working as a medical-records technician at a hospital in suburban Oregon. Even though Ashley’s daily commute takes her past the prison where her grandfather and many extended family members served time, she “does not dwell on this curious coincidence.”
Butterfield feels confident that she may have actually broken the family curse. But he still calls Ashley every few weeks, like a nervous parent, “just to see how she’s doing.
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][This story appeared, in a slightly different form, in the October 7th, 2018 edition of the New York Post.][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]