We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Survived by One

The Life and Mind of a Family Mass Murderer

Robert E. Hanlon, PhD with Thomas V. Odle

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (80.0 KB)
p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (565.8 KB)
pp. 2-5


pdf iconDownload PDF (129.1 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (290.0 KB)
pp. vii-ix

On November 8, 1985, five members of the Odle family were brutally murdered in their home in a small town in Southern Illinois. Examination of the crime scene and autopsies revealed that four family members, including both parents and two children, had been repeatedly stabbed in the neck with a butcher knife. One child had been strangled to death. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (290.9 KB)
pp. xi-15

The author thanks the following individuals and institutions for their support and influence regarding this book: Aviva Futorian, for her continual support, legal instruction, and approval of this project; Kathleen Finley, for her emotional support, encouragement, and key suggestions regarding the creation of this book; Karl Kageff, editor-in-chief, Southern Illinois University Press, for his editorial ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (290.0 KB)
pp. 1-3

The deliberate, calculated, serial execution of all family members by one of the children is an extremely rare crime that represents less than 1 percent of all homicides in the world. Survived by One is the true story of one such unconscionable act. ...

read more

1. Mother and Son

pdf iconDownload PDF (439.3 KB)
pp. 4-14

The city of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, was established in 1817 and named after George Washington’s home and plantation on the Potomac River. Town founder Zadok Casey was a career politician who was elected to the state senate in 1822, became lieutenant governor in 1833, and served in the U.S. Congress between 1833 and 1843 (Mt. Vernon, Illinois, 2011). It is easy to ...

read more

2. Discipline, Deprivation, and Resentment

pdf iconDownload PDF (435.1 KB)
pp. 15-24

The house I grew up in was built sometime in the 40s, maybe earlier. That’s when that part of town was built. It was a basic box-style house. During the 70s, rooms were added on to try to keep up with the growing family. ...

read more

3. Beatings, Chains, and Fifth Grade

pdf iconDownload PDF (440.6 KB)
pp. 25-36

All four of the Odle children attended Horace Mann Elementary School. The building was typical for its era: a brown-and-beige-brick structure with a strip of windows in every classroom, tile floors, and hallways lined by lockers, and all activity underscored by the steady hum of fluorescent lighting. ...

read more

4. Cycle of Violence

pdf iconDownload PDF (548.7 KB)
pp. 37-46

In the wake of the Odle family murders, a single portrait of the family taken within a year before the murders was circulated and accompanied many of the front-page stories. Fourteen-year-old Robyn would have probably grown up to look like her mother. Robyn had her mother’s dark eyes, oval face, and dark hair. They even had similar haircuts. ...

read more

5. “I Was Doing Really Well”

pdf iconDownload PDF (578.3 KB)
pp. 47-65

By the early 1980s, America’s youth culture was being driven by a relatively new art form: music videos. When MTV took to the airwaves in 1979, new stars were born. They were fashion icons as well as rock stars, and they could sell a million T-shirts or pairs of shoes—as well as records—with a single close-up. ...

read more

6. Dead Inside

pdf iconDownload PDF (450.5 KB)
pp. 66-81

The rust-red-brick and gray Southern Indiana limestone façade of Mt. Vernon Township High School suggests that it was in many ways no different from other American high schools in 1985. The school was committed to serving the career needs of both vocational and academic students, striving for a balance between shop and technical classes and accelerated ...

read more

7. Murder: November 8, 1985

pdf iconDownload PDF (448.7 KB)
pp. 82-95

When Carolyn Odle left her house that morning to fulfill her community duties at the elementary school and run a few errands, she grabbed her jacket on her way out the door. It had been unseasonably warm for Southern Illinois. But it was still November, two weeks from Thanksgiving, and it was like Carolyn to be prepared should the weather turn cold. ...

read more

8. Arrest, Confession, and County Jail

pdf iconDownload PDF (581.5 KB)
pp. 96-109

Tom Odle would spend his last night as a free man in the Travel Inn Motel in Mt. Vernon. The warm and welcoming motel sign dominated the property. Rooms were accessed from the parking lot, and cars were parked in front of the room doors. That’s where Tom parked his father’s car, a brown, 1978 Mercury Marquis. The motel room’s interior was typical ...

read more

9. On Trial for Life

pdf iconDownload PDF (501.2 KB)
pp. 110-133

The next phase of Tom Odle’s life would unfold in a series of courtrooms. Following a coroner’s inquest, the pretrial hearings took place in the Jefferson County Courthouse, in Mt. Vernon, the county seat, from December 1985 through February 1986. The trial, however, was moved to Richland County in response to a change-of-venue motion by the defense, who ...

read more

10. Life on Death Row

pdf iconDownload PDF (462.7 KB)
pp. 134-150

At the age of nineteen, Tom Odle was the youngest death-row inmate in the Illinois prison system. He spent the next ten years in the condemned unit at the Menard Correctional Center, one of the oldest prisons in Illinois. Built in 1878, Menard is a daunting structure cut from the sandstone on the bank of the Mississippi River about sixty miles south of East Saint Louis. ...

read more

11. Moratorium and Commutation

pdf iconDownload PDF (454.9 KB)
pp. 151-164

In the wake of the moratorium, Tom Odle began a long period of self-examination as well as self-expression. The change in his perspective on his past, and his future, was reflected in an interview he gave to Punk Planet, a small, independent magazine, in an article titled, “Finding Life on Death Row” in April 2001. ...

read more

12. Atonement

pdf iconDownload PDF (330.2 KB)
pp. 165-175

In 2013, Tom Odle will turn forty-seven. He has spent twenty-eight years in prison, more than half of his life. Seventeen of those years were spent on death row. He has developed a powerful build after years of weight training and basketball. He still wears his hair long, similar to the look he had as a teenager. He keeps his mustache and goatee neatly trimmed. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (169.3 KB)
pp. 176-177

On March 9, 2011, the death penalty was abolished in the State of Illinois. From 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated, to 2000, when the moratorium on executions was instituted, 298 men and women were sentenced to death in Illinois. Of those 298 individuals who were convicted of murder and sentenced to death by Illinois courts, 12 were executed, and 20 were ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (818.7 KB)
pp. 196-207


pdf iconDownload PDF (294.4 KB)
pp. 181-183


pdf iconDownload PDF (263.1 KB)
pp. 185-195

read more

Author Biographies, Back Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (302.1 KB)
pp. 223-224

Robert E. Hanlon is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist with a specialization in forensic neuropsychology and is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. He has more than twenty-five years of experience as a forensic expert, evaluating hundreds of murder ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780809332632
E-ISBN-10: 0809332639
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809332625
Print-ISBN-10: 0809332620

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 23
Publication Year: 2013