In October 2002, Susan Polk, a housewife and mother of three, was arrested for the murder of her husband, Felix. The arrest in her sleepy northern California town kicked off what would become one of the most captivating murder trials in recent memory, as police, local attorneys, and the national media sought to unravel the complex web of events that sent this seemingly devoted housewife over the edge.
Now, with the exclusive access and in-depth reporting that made A Deadly Game a number one New York Times bestseller, Catherine Crier turns an analytical eye to the story of Susan Polk, delving into her past and examining how over twenty years of marriage culminated in murder. Tracing the family's history, Crier skillfully maneuvers the murky waters of the Polk's marriage, looking at the real story behind Susan, Felix, and their unorthodox courtship. When Susan was in high school, Felix, who was more than twenty years her senior, had been her psychologist, and it was during their sessions that the romantic entanglement began. From these troubling origins grew a difficult marriage, one which produced three healthy boys but also led to disturbing accusations of abuse from both spouses.
With extraordinary detail, Crier dissects this dangerous relationship between husband and wife, exposing their psychological motivations and the painful impact that these motivations had on their sons, Adam, Eli, and Gabriel. Drawing on sources from all sides of the case, Crier masterfully reconstructs the tumultuous chronology of the Polk family, telling the story of how Susan and Felix struggled to control their rambunctious sons and their disintegrating marriage in the years and months leading up to Felix's death.
But the history of the Polk family is only half the story. Here Crier also elucidates the methodical police work of the murder investigation, revealing never-before-seen photos and writings from the case file. In addition, she carefully scrutinizes the many twists and turns of the remarkable trial, exploring Susan's struggles with her defense attorneys and her shocking decision to represent herself.
Dark, psychological, and terrifying, Final Analysis is a harrowing look at the recesses of the human mind and the trauma that reveals them.
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February 20, 2007
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Excerpt from Final Analysis by Catherine Crier
Susan sat quietly in the passenger seat as her mother parked the car in front of the yellow clapboard house on the corner of Ashby Avenue in downtown Berkeley, California. She and her mom were right on time for her first session with Frank Felix Polk, the Alameda County psychologist that school officials had ordered her to see.
For several months in the fall of 1972, Susan Mae Bolling had been playing hooky from Clayton Valley High School in neighboring Contra Costa County. At fifteen, the willowy brunette did not fit the profile of a truant. Recently, she had been called to the principal's office, not to be admonished, but to be congratulated for her score on the standardized IQ test.
The principal was so excited he could barely contain himself. It was almost embarrassing how he gushed over the ninth grader with the "genius" IQ. News that the quiet freshman with the long, curly hair and hazel eyes was the school's top scorer spread quickly through the student body, and Susan soon found herself a celebrity of sorts. Being the center of attention was not something she was comfortable with; she was awkward, reserved, and even a bit withdrawn. Being hailed as "gifted," however, made her feel powerful. Suddenly, she was recognized as a person with superior qualities, and everyone at school was making a fuss over her. She felt extraordinary, even a bit conceited.
Susan decided she no longer needed to study. Why waste time when she was a genius? Instead of homework, she spent her after-school hours doing what she really enjoyed--reading, looking up words in the dictionary, doing crafts, and watching Dialing for Dollars, a fast-paced television game show.
Then she simply stopped going to school.
It was not something she planned. It just sort of happened. It all began the day of her ninth grade math test. She had not studied and could not bear the thought of tarnishing her genius reputation--so she just skipped school that day.
Things snowballed from there. At first, she attended classes intermittently, but soon she was falling behind. Being a genius wasn't enough if she didn't attend classes.
Then it happened. She received an "F" on a math test.
Realizing she was in trouble, Susan went to her teacher. He was kind and attentive, immediately offering her extra help. Their impromptu session was helpful, and the teacher told her to come back. But Susan didn't follow through. All of a sudden, everything seemed too hard.
The walk to school was too long, especially on the days that the neighborhood bully and his buddies were on the street. At the time, Susan was living with her mother and older brother, David, in a two-bedroom apartment in Concord, an area of the East Bay about forty-five minutes outside San Francisco. She didn't feel safe in their blue-collar neighborhood, where gunshots were not uncommon, and there'd been several murders in the hills behind her house. The little girl who lived next door had been struck in the head by a stray bullet and needed surgery to have it removed. Susan had babysat for the child several times and was horrified when her father came by to share the news. It made her nervous to pass the older boy and his friends, and she didn't like the way they looked at her.
Even at school, she didn't feel safe. During her first week at Clayton, a girl jumped her, and then several others joined in, shoving her repeatedly, until a teacher intervened. Susan was convinced the attack was racially motivated, and that the girls at the mostly black and Hispanic high school were jealous that some boys had taken a liking to her. She was trim and attractive in a natural sort of way, with porcelain skin, hazel eyes, and long curly hair the color of dark chocolate. Staying home with her books and visiting the imaginary world of David Copperfield was infinitely preferable to the anxiety of traveling to school and the realization that she was falling behind in class.