This excellent book by Joseph Damato examines a murder which took place in the early 1980’s by father and son who were both farmers and who were on the brink of destitution with their farm abandoned and mortgaged off to the bankers who eventually met their end in a grisly murder. The murders took place in rural Minnesota, a land of superstition and loneliness where James and Steven Jenkins had to face ostracization from their peers for failing to perform on the farm.
D’Amato delves deep into the psychological problems of the father and son with the former having gone through a messy divorce and the latter feeling alone and without friends. The farm crisis which hit the mid Western states in 1983 was hard and several farms had to be retaken by the bank as there was no capital to pay them off. James Jenkins saw his future as a bleak one and without any sort of hope so his only option was to descend into drink and oblivion with his son who had barely turned 18 ending up as accomplice to his crimes. It is a sad story full of what might have been but ending up rather predictably as a full blown tragedy.
The author focuses on the terrible nature of loneliness in these vast rural areas where superstition and persecution mania are the order of the day. Notwithstanding all this, the Jenkins family could have appealed for help instead of descending into the maelstrom of unhappiness and violence which eventually created a man hunt of epic proportions. The police went out in full force to search for the murderers of the two bankers who were undoubtedly powerful figures in their respective communities. D’Amato seems to conclude that the murders were cathartic experiences for Steven Jenkins and his son who were faced with a bleak future on the run and without anything to feed themselves as they had to face reality.
Although the farm crisis could have been the main reason behind the collapse of the mental state of Steven and James Jenkins there appeared to be other factors at play which are conveniently ignored by Damato. These are the fact that James Jenkins already had considerable mental problems before the incident and this led to the breakdown of his marriage and a further descent into the maelstrom. The same could be said for the younger Steven Jenkins who perhaps faced with such a terrible situation himself descended into the maelstrom of life without any sort of hope.
The book is a powerful indictment of the bleak nature of poverty and how this robs man of his dignity. For in closed and rural communities such as these, the position of the man as breadwinner is important and crucial and when one loses these he feels useless and without any sort of future. This obviously made James Jenkins take it out against those who were stultifying him and throwing him backward and these turned out to be the unfortunate bankers who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The book is a fine read throughout and does demonstrate the horrors which man can descend to when pushed to the brink and without hope.
Amato J: When Father and Son Conspire, A Minnesota Farm Murder, St Paul, iInspire 2000 Print