Sometimes We’ll Never Really Know Why

Last week, while I wasn’t paying attention, Michael Devlin plead guilty to a slew of charges against him in the aftermath of the kidnappings of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby. The plea was a few months in coming but with videotape evidence of Devlin’s crimes – not to mention the widely-reported story that a few days after his abduction, Hornbeck struck a so-called “deal with the Devil” to ensure he could stay alive, no matter what horrors and abuses were inflicted upon him thereafter – it was, ultimately, a no-brainer.

But just because Devlin will spend the rest of his life in jail, the St. Louis Dispatch hits on the many things that may never be known:

In Devlin’s case, there may never be answers to some basic questions —

Why did he do it? Can anything be learned? Were there other victims?

Devlin’s attorneys have said their client will not talk again with


Some of these questions stem from an intense interest that has built

since the case burst into public view with the dramatic discovery of

Devlin’s two young victims at a Kirkwood apartment in January.

The public has this sense that “if we follow a crime, we should be

allowed to understand why it happened,” said David Finkelhor, a

sociologist at the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against

Children Research Center. But that is unrealistic, Finkelhor said. The justice system has other

goals: securing a verdict and protecting the young victims.

The biggest question for me, as well as many others, is what role – if any – Devlin had in Arlin Henderson’s disappearance in 1991. (The task force created soon after Devlin’s arrest was meant to look into several area kidnappings, but Arlin’s was always the most likely fit.) I’m wholly skeptical of the implicit claim that Devlin never acted upon his impulses to have sex with boys until he kidnapped Hornbeck. That crime was too well-planned, too well-executed to be a first effort. But until Devlin decides, months or years from now, to open up about his life before the age of thirty-six, unanswered questions will remain.