February 6, 2011

Author Q&A: Beyond horrible

Some of Elliott Epstein's book recalling a notorious Maine murder may be hard to read, but in its larger context of child abuse, it's important and timely.

By Tom Atwell tatwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

In 1984, John Lane stuffed 4-year-old Angela Palmer into an oven at an Auburn apartment and turned on the dials. Cynthia Palmer, Angela's mother, was in the next room with her other daughter, Sarrah, at the time.

Lane said Angela had turned into a devil, and he had to get rid of her. The case received worldwide attention.

Elliott Epstein is a lawyer who lives in Auburn, about a mile from where Angela Palmer died. Epstein had a minor role in the trial in which Lane was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, and Palmer was acquitted of any crime.

Epstein has written a book that tells about that case and looks at the causes. While "Lucifer's Child," published by Author House, tells the story of the crime and the trial, it also looks at the early lives of Lane and Cynthia Palmer, the abuse they suffered, and how Lane could come to commit such an act and Palmer would be powerless to stop it.

Epstein practices law in Portland and was a reporter for The Portland Press Herald while attending law school. 

Q: At first glance, this is a book about a horrific crime, but it's really a book about child abuse, isn't it?

A: That is correct. I wasn't intending to be the next Stephen King. I wasn't writing the book about the murder of a little girl to be a horror story, but instead to highlight the problem of child abuse. 

Q: What changes should be made to prevent something like this from happening again?

A: A lot of things have already changed over the past 26 years since this happened. Angela's murder was a catalyst for some of them. For instance, more victim advocates were hired in the days immediately after this case, more child protection workers were hired. Police departments instated officers who were trained to investigate child-abuse cases, particularly sex-abuse cases.

So in some sense things have changed for the better, but there still is a lot that needs to be done. For instance, I think that one of the things highlighted by this book is that when children are abused -- particularly sexually abused by their father, stepfather (or) mother's boyfriend -- that very often the mother will be passive or turn a blind eye, and that tends to be linked to the abused-woman syndrome. These women have been so beat down emotionally and physically that they don't have the psychological ability to do something to protect their own children.

One of the things that has to be done is to make a better effort to reach out to abused women. This isn't something that necessarily has to be done by the government. It can be done by private organizations. These women need to be reached, given treatment, educated and given a support system so they are able to protect their own children. 

Q: My family members and people at the office looked at the cover and title of your book, found out what it was about, and reacted with disgust. You can tell they are not really interested in reading this. Is it selling OK, do you expect it to sell OK, and what is the audience?

A: The audience in part are the people living in the community where it happened. The memory about this incident runs very deep. Secondly, I think it is a book for professionals in the field, not strictly as an academic-type book -- there are no footnotes. It is a kind of case study for people in the field, who work for abused-women's shelters, social workers and psychologists. I also would like to see it offered as an educational tool for abused women undergoing treatment so they can see what the probable result is of failure to change their patterns.

(Continued on page 2)

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