- Privileged Information – The Gripping True Story of an Attorney Who Risked Everything to Protect His Client’s Horrifying Secrets
- by Tom Alibrandi with Frank H. Armani
- Publisher – Harper Paperbacks
- Copyright 1984
- 314 pages
Rating – 8.5/10
Summary – This a true-crime story with a twist. On one level, it’s the story of Robert Garrow, a cold-blooded- but canny – rapist and murderer who terrorized upstate New York in the 1970s. On another, it’s the story of an attorney wrestling with his conscience about his duties to a client who has brought agony to so many lives.
Review – A few weeks ago, I was loafing in a thrift store and I came across Privileged Information. I was uncertain about whether I should buy it, but I thought that it had to be worth a dollar. It was a good decision as the largely-forgotten story makes for a top-notch book.
The villain at the center of Privileged is Robert Garrow. Garrow was born in 1936 in Mineville, New York. His childhood was horrific. He suffered physical abuse by his dysfunctional parents who sent him to live on a neighbor’s farm at age seven. On the farm, Garrow had no children to play with, worked all day long, and eventually began having sex with the animals. Garrow later joined the Air Force but spent most of his service time behind bars.
Unsurprisingly, Garrow became a violent criminal. He had a particular animus toward long-haired men and petite women. Garrow spent eight years in prison but, after his 1969 release, seemed to calm down and live an exemplary family life. However, Garrow could only stay on track for so long; as the book begins in July 1973, Garrow is roaming upstate New York, committing rape and murder.
One good “hook” in the story is that Garrow’s considerable “street smarts” make him more interesting than the typical, violent criminal. He was skilled at eluding capture and showed that he knew how to manipulate both the legal and prison systems.
Enter the Attorneys
Author Armani found himself appointed to defend Garrow. At the time, Armani had a wife, two daughters, and a successful Syracuse law practice. But the Garrow case would nearly destroy him.
Given the mountain of evidence against Garrow, an acquittal was very unlikely. Armani and his co-counsel (a flamboyant man named Francis Belge) tried to construct an insanity defense. A moral dilemma arose when Garrow revealed that he had committed several murders and told the attorneys where he had left the victims’ bodies.
The victims’ families were desperate to find their loved ones. However, the attorneys could not reveal the location of the bodies – information that clients reveal to their attorneys is privileged. When it later emerged that Armani and Belge had failed to help authorities locate the bodies, the two attorneys faced dire consequences. (Forty years later, the case is still widely cited, as a Google search will reveal).
The “confidentiality” angle adds a lot, but Privileged Information would still be terrific without the issue. Simply put, the book is “well done” on all levels.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the authors’ vivid portrait of upstate New York. I took a trip to the region way back in 1981 and it brought back some fond memories. As in the best books, the authors make you feel as though you are there. Another bonus is that you learn a lot about the practice of law in a small town. The attorneys and judges all know each other – at least by reputation – and it influences the way they conduct the case.
Privileged Information doesn’t look like much, just a mass-market paperback with 8 pages of grainy pictures. Don’t be fooled. It’s a fascinating, well-written story that will appeal to all true-crime fans.