Want to meet an exceptional American family? Read Fox Butterfield’s just-released book, , and spend a few hours with the Bogle family. Actually, if you want to meet any member of the Bogle clan, you’ll have to get on the visitor’s list of one of any number of prisons scattered throughout the Midwest, the southwest and the far west, because that’s where most of the Bogle family happens currently to reside. In fact, beginning in 1923, when the progenitor of the Bogle family, Louis Bogle, was jailed for bootlegging, at least 60 members of the family have spent multiple sentences in prison, costing the United States taxpayers, according to Butterfield’s estimate, somewhere between $250 and $430 million bucks. And that’s just the penal cost, never mind the costs incurred by the victim of all their crimes.
Three of the Bogles’ went to jail for murder, at least a dozen were convicted of robbery and/or burglary, a few kidnapping charges here and there, God knows how many assaults and, of course, most of the Bogle bunch have served time for drugs. We’re not talking about jaywalking, a traffic ticket or perhaps a tax lien. Butterfield spent ten years (ten years) researching this work, combing judicial archives, interviewing everyone he could find, even up to and including a man, Jeremy Vanwagner, now 40 years old, who had a cellmate named Bobby Bogle and discovered that Bobby was, in fact, his father because the latter recalled that he once had sex with a woman who sported an interesting tattoo on her rear end and Jeremy, outing together the time, the place and the tattoo, realized he was sharing a prison cell with his old man.
The 60 Bogle men and women who ended up doing time were all related, in some way or another, to Louis Bogle, whose five children were each responsible for creating families which then spawned the criminality that characterized the Bogle clan as a whole. And what Butterfield found in interviewing members of each family, along with talking to assorted welfare, penal and other social service professionals was not just that these families existed in poverty, but these families also existed in a state of violence, chaos and rootlessness which affected every family member from pre-adolescent ages on. Almost without exception, every Bogle child was viewed as a school ‘problem’ in their early grades, assuming that they attended school at all. With one or two exceptions, none of them learned trades, none held steady jobs; there were simply no positive role models within the Bogle clan. In fact, many of the parents often took young children with them when they were committing a burglary, drug deal or other crime.
The author has immersed himself in the relevant research literature about domestic violence where the inter-generational element looms large. But those studies are just numbers; Butterfield’s narrative brings the cold data to life. And if nothing else, you are made aware of the extent to which violent criminality is not an aberration within this family environment. If anything, it is considered a validating form of behavior to demonstrate an understanding and acceptance of the family’s social norms.
Given my specific interests, however, one thing struck me as somewhat odd. You would think that a family whose entire identity and existence revolved around violent crime would also be a family where guns were frequently used, as well as found. This happens not to be the case at all. None of the homicides involved guns, the assaults were the usual mélange of barroom brawls, domestic abuse, or grabbing a handy 2 X 4 and whacking someone over the head. How is it that the propensity for violence in this family doesn’t involve guns? After all, they live in Texas where everyone has a gun.
Any chance that people who use a gun to hurt someone else are exhibiting a behavior learned from someone else in the home? After all, kids learned how to use guns for hunting from good old Pa or Gramps, right?