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Survived by One
The Life and Mind of a Family Mass Murderer
Robert E. Hanlon, PhD with Thomas V. Odle
Other Formats
Survived by One (E Book)
224 pages, 6 x 9, 23 Illus.

About the Book

On November 8, 1985, 18-year-old Tom Odle brutally murdered his parents and three siblings in the small southern Illinois town of Mount Vernon, sending shockwaves throughout the nation.  The murder of the Odle family remains one of the most horrific family mass murders in U.S. history. Odle was sentenced to death and, after seventeen years on death row, expected a lethal injection to end his life.  However, Illinois governor George Ryan’s moratorium on the death penalty in 2000, and later commutation of all death sentences in 2003, changed Odle’s sentence to natural life.

The commutation of his death sentence was an epiphany for Odle.  Prior to the commutation of his death sentence, Odle lived in denial, repressing any feelings about his family and his horrible crime. Following the commutation and the removal of the weight of eventual execution associated with his death sentence, he was confronted with an unfamiliar reality.  A future.  As a result, he realized that he needed to understand why he murdered his family.  He reached out to Dr. Robert Hanlon, a neuropsychologist who had examined him in the past. Dr. Hanlon engaged Odle in a therapeutic process of introspection and self-reflection, which became the basis of their collaboration on this book.

Hanlon tells a gripping story of Odle’s life as an abused child, the life experiences that formed his personality, and his tragic homicidal escalation to mass murder, seamlessly weaving into the narrative Odle’s unadorned reflections of his childhood, finding a new family on death row, and his belief in the powers of redemption.

As our nation attempts to understand the continual mass murders occurring in the U.S., Survived by One sheds some light on the psychological aspects of why and how such acts of extreme carnage may occur.  However, Survived by One offers a never-been-told perspective from the mass murderer himself, as he searches for the answers concurrently being asked by the nation and the world.


Dr. Robert Hanlon is a clinical neuropsychologist with a specialization in the psychological assessment of violent criminal offenders.  An associate professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Clinical Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, he has evaluated hundreds of murder defendants and death row inmates.

Thomas V. Odle is an inmate at the Dixon Correctional Center, Illinois Department of Corrections, serving a life sentence for murder.


“Dr. Hanlon has done a masterful job presenting the case of Tom Odle, a male adolescent who was sentenced to death after killing his parents and three younger siblings. This fascinating work covers Tom’s childhood history, the legal proceedings, and perspectives of the mental health professionals who examined the youth after the killings. It also beautifully weaves in changes in the death penalty in Illinois that resulted in Odle’s sentence being commuted to life. Most important, this book presents Odle’s reflections two decades after the crime. The breadth of this work and its careful presentation virtually ensure that it will become a classic in the field of familicide.”—Kathleen M. Heide, professor of criminology, University of South Florida, and author of Understanding Parricide: When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents

Survived by One is a profound experience. While demonstrating the moral courage of Governor George Ryan and the wisdom of Governor Pat Quinn, this book makes two critical points Americans need to learn: no matter how battered, reviled, or deeply buried, the divine spark of the human spirit can never be completely extinguished and there is always a reason for human behavior.”—Mike Farrell, president of Death Penalty Focus, author of Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist and Of Mule and Man

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