Flesh Collectors – Review
Publisher: Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing Corp, New York
Location: 850 Third Ave, NY
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 2/20/2009
Summary: Jeremiah Rodgers, 21, and Jonathan Lawrence, 23, are charged with two murders in 1998. An improved definition of the mentally deranged.
Jon Lawrence and Jeremiah Rodgers committed two senseless, pathetic, brutal murders. Why? There are no clear, unequivocal answers. As with practically all such “anti-social” crimes, a mental defect is a catch-all that sums up the soul of the perpetrators as well as the essence of the crime itself. Fred Rosen’s FLESH COLLECTORS may add a refinement of sorts.
Justin Livingston and Jennifer Robinson were residents of Pensacola, Florida when they were killed in separate events in 1998. They were victims because of their proximity to Jon Lawrence and Jeremiah Rodgers. Therein lies an issue.
In the opening pages of this book, Rosen makes much of the symbiotic mental relationship between Lawrence and Rodgers. The two had been confined to the Chattahoochee mental hospital for the criminally insane. Rosen uses the word “institutionalized” which is politically correct but draws squiggly doodles around the the reality. In 1975, the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee was involved in a United States Supreme Court decision (O’Conor v. Donaldson) that comprehensively restricted the powers of government or agencies of government to impede the rights of anyone merely because the person is deemed mentally deficient. So, when Jonathan Lawrence walked out of the Florida State penal system in August 1995 , “now a functioning schizophrenic” as Rosen describes him, the only discernible change in his life was a friendship with Jeremiah Rodgers.
Lawrence had been sentenced to four years in prison after having been convicted of “criminal mischief and property damage”. One would think there was a great leap of mental disease from an act of “property damage” to murdering two people. But the act of property damage committed by the nineteen year old Lawrence was the defacing of the New Macedonia Church with hate-filled graffiti. The New Macedonia Church had a black congregation and, as Rosen points out, “Jon Lawrence really hated blacks”. Having grown up in an abusive family and experiencing the violent death of a sibling, it is conceivable that Lawrence adopted a mental stratagem of dealing with the world of reality in lucid moments of stark paranoia. Deface a church, take a human life-stop the impending prosecution. Coping skills don’t have to be moral or rational, just effective. When the only objective reality available to you is within the three pounds of gray matter sitting atop your shoulders, everything outside can become just a thing to be defaced or slaughtered.
Jeremiah Rodgers was also confined to the “mattress factory”. In May 1993, Rodgers has been arrested for grand-theft auto-the same offense he had been committing since a juvenile. After being sentenced to prison, officials” noted certain problems with his personality”. Hence his transfer to Chattahoochee. Rosen does not say what personality problem was noticed by prison officials that lead them to send Rodgers to Chattahoochee. On the face of it, the absence of a reason makes you take a second look at the 1975 O’Conor v. Donaldson United Sates Supreme Court decision. Rosen points out that Rodgers was a manipulator. Being a manipulator does not necessarily imbue one with a mental illness. There may however be a breach in the bulwark of personal integrity. This is the proposition Rosen puts forth in proposing a collective mind for Lawrence and Rodgers. When the two meet and became fast friends at Chattahoochee in 1994, their lives took a collective turn for the bad.
In April 1998, Jonathan Lawrence and Jeremiah Rodgers killed Justin Livingston, Lawrence’s twenty-year old cousin. Jeremiah Rodgers hated the Justin Livingston. Rosen recounts the gruesome and incomprehensible murder on the opening pages of FLESH COLLECTORS. A month latter Lawrence and Rodgers kill eighteen-year-old Jennifer Robinson after Rodgers had lured her into a date. Again, the murder is just incomprehensible. Perhaps even more incomprehensible than the Livingston killing. On this score, Rosen informs us that lead investigator Detective Todd Hand, then of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, “knew from experience that to ascribe rational thoughts to a functioning schizophrenic with homicidal tendencies could be an exercise in futility”. After Lawrence and Rodgers were caught and sent to prison, Todd Hand left the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office and took a job with the Florida Department of Environmental Conservation.
There are many insights you can take away from FLESH COLLECTORS. But with events lacking a cohesive effect resulting from a rational cause, the insights themselves feel merely mushy and fluid. Rosen has done an excellent job of chronicling events and providing a supporting framework. What he did not do and what perhaps no one could do is explain why the events happened. We zero in on the murders and the seemingly, equally incomprehensible act of Jonathan Lawrence walking out of the Chattahoochee mental hospital with a prerogative to slide farther into a self-embalming mental disease. Issues. Issues such as whether he has the right to take others with him; whether his rights were so inviolable that the rights of others could be trampled upon.