Skip to main content

Earley, Pete 1951-

Earley, Pete 1951-


Born September 5, 1951, in Douglas, AZ; married; children: seven. Education: Phillips University, Enid, OK, B.S., 1973.


Home—Herndon, VA.


Writer, novelist, educator, and journalist. Enid News & Eagle, Enid, OK, reporter, 1972-73; Emporia Gazette, Emporia, KS, staff writer, 1973-75; Tulsa Tribune, Tulsa, OK, investigative reporter, 1975-78, Washington, DC correspondent, 1978-80; Washington Post, Washington, DC, reporter, 1980-86; freelance writer, 1986—. Visiting faculty member, Goucher College, 2006.


Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Social Justice and Edgar Fact-Crime Award winner, Mystery Writers of America, 1995, both for Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town.


Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.

Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.

The Hot House: Life inside Leavenworth Prison, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.

Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.

Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.

(With Gerald Shur) WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program, Bantam (New York, NY), 2002.

Deep Cover, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Big Secret, Forge (New York, NY), 2004.

Lethal Secrets (novel), Forge (New York, NY), 2005.

Crazy: A Father's Search through America's Mental Health Madness, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2006.

The Apocalypse Stone (novel), Forge (New York, NY), 2006.


Some of Earley's writings have been adapted for audiocassette; Family of Spies was adapted as a TV miniseries for CBS Television.


Pete Earley is an investigative reporter who writes extensively on crime and espionage. He is widely respected as an "old school" reporter who covers tough stories and keeps his personal opinion to himself. Charles Bowden wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "Before we had schools of journalism, there was a straightforward task called reporting that took you where you had not been, and told you what you had not known. The Hot House is by this kind of reporter, and gives the readers reporting at its very finest."

"I want to take you places you normally wouldn't go and introduce you to people who you normally wouldn't meet," Earley said on his home page. "So far, I've writ- ten books about the two most damaging spies in recent history—John Walker, Jr. and Aldrich Ames—and taken readers ‘inside’ a hard-core penitentiary, a sex-crazed religious cult, a racially-charged unsolved murder in the Deep South, a billion-dollar Las Vegas casino and WITSEC: the Federal Witness Protection Program, which hides criminals who cooperate with prosecutors."

His first book, Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring, relates the various activities of naval officer John Walker and his relatives during a seventeen-year period in which the family relayed more than one million government secrets to Soviet authorities. During the course of his espionage work, Walker enlisted his brother and his best friend, and he even exploited his mother for delivery purposes. In addition, he assured his own security by luring his son into the spy ring, thus allowing for the maintenance of the operations—and substantial profits—after Walker personally withdrew from active spying. New York Times Book Review writer Lucinda Franks described the Walker operation as "one of the most damaging spy networks in American history," and she praised Earley for using the comments of financially motivated ringleader Walker "to expose his superficially slick but profoundly distorted mind." Franks wrote that Family of Spies is "paced and organized as seamlessly as a novel," but she also noted that it is "a thoroughly researched and unblurred work of nonfiction."

The Hot House: Life inside Leavenworth Prison is a look at the maximum-security Federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. The book concentrates on several inmates and follows their day-to-day activities. Earley reports on the conditions of incarceration of Thomas Silverstein. "Of all the guards and convicts in my book," said Earley, "I'm asked the most questions about Thomas Silverstein, who stabbed a guard to death in 1983 and has been kept under ‘no human contact’ ever since. When I met him, he was locked in a basement cell buried so deeply under the prison that the only sounds were the buzzing of the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. Those lights were kept on twenty-four hours a day. Imagine being locked up in total isolation inside four walls since 1983—your only contact is with guards who detest you—and the entire time the lights are kept burning non-stop." Occasionally, Silverstein is allowed drawing and painting supplies and his remarkable drawings are part of Earley's book.

Wilbert Rideau and Ron Wikberg, Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates who jointly assessed The Hot House in the San Francisco Review of Books, noted that these individuals "evoke no sympathy" and added, "they will make readers wonder why they should sustain these prisoners' lives." Rideau and Wikberg related that their own warden, John P. Whitley, characterized The Hot House as "a damn good book." Bowden wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that The Hot House provides "reporting at its very finest," and he described it as "a very convincing piece of the truth." Bowden observed: "What we get in The Hot House is the life, and the life is brutal, dull, and filled with the constant pursuit of power and the constant flight from fear."

Earley followed The Hot House with Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town, a 1995 book that examines Walter McMillan's conviction and sentencing to death for murders committed in Monroeville, Alabama, in 1986. The police found McMillan, an African-American drug dealer, guilty on the basis of perjured testimony and withholding of evidence. But the intercession of lawyer Bryan Stevenson, together with a provocative report on CBS-TV's news show Sixty Minutes, finally prompted a new investigation that exposed questionable police practices and inconsistencies in previous testimony, whereupon McMillan was freed. New York Times Book Review contributor Glenna Whitley acknowledged that Circumstantial Evidence demonstrates "how subtle and overt racism conspired to condemn a man while giving lip service to the legal system's supposed objectivity."

Earley's next book, Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames, concerns the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) bureaucrat who spied for the Soviet Union and betrayed more than twenty U.S. agents. Ames's treasonous conduct is believed to have led to the executions of some of these American agents. Earley, who obtained access to the imprisoned Ames, quotes him as bragging about the money he made. New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, while writing that Confessions of a Spy concluded that it reveals Ames "as an example of a quintessential twentieth-century figure, the self-analytical man who doesn't understand himself at all."

In preparing his report on the new Las Vegas for Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas, Earley gained complete access to the billion-dollar Luxor casino. The owners of the Luxor, and of the Circus Circus casino as well, gave Earley unprecedented carte blanche to attend any and all meetings, to interview any staff members he chose, and to freely observe life inside the Luxor and Circus Circus casinos. The first half of the book explains Las Vegas's transformation from the old Vegas of the Mob and the Rat Pack to the corporate, family-oriented Las Vegas of today. The second half is a series of interviews and anecdotes from the Luxor. He introduces Vegas executives, dealers, floor managers, security personnel, hookers, and dancers, all of whom talk with surprising candor about their job and the casino.

Written with Gerald Shur, WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program examines the controversial program to protect those who testify against criminals in federal court. The program is especially used with organized crime figures who fear retribution from their former associates. This book had its beginnings in Earley's research at the Leavenworth Federal Prison for Hot House. Several inmates with ties to organized crime told Earley how they had been convicted by testimony of co-conspirators who were given new identities. "Unfortunately," said Earley, "I kept running into dead ends until I met Gerald Shur, the government attorney who invented WITSEC. We joined forces and Shur took me behind the scenes. He knew every top mobster who had flipped over—beginning with Joe Valachi and ending with Sammy the Bull."

Shur was a career federal prosecutor who found his calling in Robert Kennedy's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the 1960s Justice Department. His years in the task force taught him that only credible witnesses with important information could win convictions and that the government had to establish some way to get these witnesses to cooperate. Shur's creation, the WITSEC, is credited with gaining crucial convictions in the battle against organized crime and drug cartels in America. The program also has its detractors. Critics claim that some relocated criminals continued their criminal activities, and some non-criminal witnesses were treated like criminals themselves. Others criticize the use of government money to help criminals disappear into unsuspecting communities.

Shur began writing his memoirs about the same time Earley started researching the program for his own book. After several meetings, they decided to collaborate. Eric Wargo commented in Book: "This book focuses much less on WITSEC'S achievements than on its mistakes, growing pains, and critics. Firsthand stories reveal the severe psychological toll that living a lie for the sake of justice inflicts on families (something Shur experienced when he and his wife had to use his own program's services after agents uncovered a plot against them in 1991)." After finishing the book, Earley said: "My favorite section of my book is about WITNESS X, the wife of a mobster whose entire world was turned upside down when her husband testified against his real-life Soprano's mob boss. She spent hours telling me her story. After hearing it, I came to believe that the most difficult challenge most criminals and their families ever faced was entering and surviving WITSEC."

Crazy: A Father's Search through America's Mental Health Madness chronicles Earley's earnest attempt to find help for his depressed and psychotic son within the American mental health and justice systems. During his senior year of college, Earley's son Mike experienced a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Mike's condition leads to a psychotic episode during which he breaks into a neighbor's house to take a bubble bath, causing much damage in the process. Arrested and jailed, Mike's behavior was seen as a crime rather than a manifestation of a mental illness for which he needed help. Earley traces his son's course through the criminal justice system and relates the convoluted, frustrating, and ineffectual attempt to get Mike the help he needed. In a larger narrative, Earley examines the state of mentally ill inmates at the Miami-Date County jail, where he studied conditions for a year. He found that inmates with mental disorders were often neglected, routinely beaten, and rarely received any sort of treatment for their conditions. Loopholes in the law prevent the state from ordering treatment unless the inmate has been convicted of a crime, which resulted in inmates being jailed without conviction but denied help. In most cases the inmates were free to make their own decisions about whether or not to be treated or hospitalized; the jails could not force treatment against their will. "Earley builds a compelling case that America's legal system is distorted by its deference to the irrational wishes of people incapable of understanding their own best interests," commented Allan Luncy in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He concludes that jails have taken the place of the many mental hospitals and treatment centers that have closed over the years; with nowhere else to go, the mentally ill often end up incarcerated, but without treatment for their mental problems. "Society has gone backwards in its handling of the mentally ill, he argues, and we must develop modern long-term treatment facilities where they can be helped and kept safe," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. Earley is appalled and incensed by the "barbarous illogicality of laws that allow mentally ill people like Mike to be punished yet languish untreated," noted Lynne Maxwell in the Library Journal.

In addition to his investigative journalism work, Earley is also a novelist. Lethal Secrets opens as Soviet physicist Andrei Bobkov flees to protect his life from agents who believe he knows too much about a thermonuclear bomb the Soviets have hidden in Washington, DC. Fifty years later, Deputy U.S. Marshall Wyatt Conway takes on the task of protecting Russian mob member Sergey Pudin, a government witness endangered by Vladimir Khrenkov, an assassin who wants to kill Pudin before he testifies. Meanwhile, Movladi "The Viper" Islamov, a former student of Conway's, has become a dangerous international terrorist who is aware of the bomb hidden in the American capital. A budding romance with CIA agent Kimberly Lodge spices up Conway's life. Faced with failure, Conway must remain connected with the Russian investigation while racing the clock to thwart a plan to detonate the nuclear bomb. Early "knows his stuff" as he "seamlessly works in complex detail about everything from government bureaucracy to weapons technology," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The author "keeps pace and paranoia effectively high," observed a contributor to Kirkus Reviews.

The Apocalypse Stone combines "religious magic, courtroom drama, political machinations and sexual hijinks in a potboiler that's more readable than believable," remarked a critic in Publishers Weekly. Virginia Circuit Court judge Evan Spencer lives a happy and fulfilling life, personally and professionally. When Spencer comes into the possession of a plain white stone, his fortunes change drastically. He accuses his beautiful wife of being unfaithful, suffers disturbing dreams and visions, and finds himself presiding over the trial of an inner-city African-American youth accused of raping and killing the daughter of one of his wealthy patrons. As the trial quickly progresses, the powers of the stone affect Spencer more and more, deepening his visions and causing him to manifest stigmata. In the background, a determined Catholic priest searches for the talismanic stone, well aware of the object's powers and hoping to secure it before much damage is done. Before the stone has finished with Spencer, he will experience changes at home and at work even as he faces the ultimate question of his salvation.



Barron's, February 7, 2000, Ann C. Logue, review of Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas, p. A36.

Book, March-April, 2002, Eric Wargo, review of WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program, p. 73.

Booklist, November 1, 1999, review of Super Casino, p. 482.

Corrections Today, May, 1992, Paul H. Hahn, review of The Hot House: Life inside Leavenworth Prison, p. 82.

Federal Bar News & Journal, July, 1992, review of The Hot House, p. 396.

Federal Probation, September, 1992, Stephen Loew, review of The Hot House, p. 85.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2001, review of WITSEC, p. 1734; May 1, 2004, review of The Big Secret, p. 410; April 1, 2005, review of Lethal Secrets, p. 372; March 1, 2006, review of Crazy: A Father's Search through America's Mental Health Madness, p. 219.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Guide, March, 1999, review of Confessions of a Spy, p. 62.

Library Journal, January, 1992, Frances Sandiford, review of The Hot House, p. 154; July, 1995, Sandra K. Lindheimer, review of Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town, p. 100; May 15, 1997, Daniel Blewett, review of Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames, p. 87; August, 1999, James Dudley, review of Confessions of a Spy, p. 164; December 1999, review of Super Casino, p. 164; February 1, 2002, Diedre Root, review of WITSEC, p. 164; March 15, 2006, Lynne Maxwell, review of Crazy, p. 86.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 16, 1992, review of The Hot House, p. 3.

Moscow News, November 25, 1994, Nataliya Gevorkyan, interview with Pete Earley, p. 14.

New Statesman, March 14, 1997, Brian Cathcart, review of Confessions of a Spy, p. 48.

New York Law Journal, October 31, 1995, Jennifer Kleiner, review of Circumstantial Evidence, p. 2.

New York Times, February 24, 1997, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Confessions of a Spy, p. C16.

New York Times Book Review, January 8, 1989, Lucinda Franks, review of Confessions of a Spy, p. 9; March 29, 1992, Dennis J. Carroll, review of The Hot House, p. 16; October 8, 1995, Glenna Whitely, review of Circumstantial Evidence, p. 26.

Pacific Historical Review, November, 2001, Hal K. Rothman, review of WITSEC, p. 627.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 17, 2006, Allan Luncy, "Crazy; How Legal System Fails the Mentally Ill," review of Crazy.

Psychology Today, May-June, 2006, review of Crazy, P. 34.

Publishers Weekly, December 20, 1991, review of The Hot House, p. 70; June 26, 1995, review of Circumstantial Evidence, p. 96; November 22, 1999, review of Super Casino, p. 47; November 26, 2001, review of WITSEC, p. 48; June 28, 2004, review of The Big Secret, p. 33; May 9, 2005, review of Lethal Secrets, p. 43; February 6, 2006, review of Crazy, p. 60; April 17, 2006, review of The Apocalypse Stone, p. 166.

San Francisco Review of Books, January, 1992, review of Circumstantial Evidence, p. 10.

SciTech Book News, June, 2006, review of Crazy.

Times Literary Supplement, July 11, 1997, L. Britt Snider, review of Confessions of a Spy, p. 28.

U.S. New and World Report, February 17, 1997, Harrison Rainie, review of Confessions of a Spy, p. 8.

Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2000, Allan T. Demaree, review of Super Casino, p. A36.

Washington Post, February 20, 2002, Anthan Theoharis, review of WITSEC, p. C03.

Washington Post Book World, March 14, 1993.


Goucher College Web site, (April 12, 2006), "Pete Earley Publishes Book on the American Mental Health System," review of Crazy.

Internet Movie Database, (December 5, 2006), filmography of Pete Earley.

Pete Earley Home Page, (December 5, 2006).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Earley, Pete 1951-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . 21 Jan. 2019 <>.

"Earley, Pete 1951-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . (January 21, 2019).

"Earley, Pete 1951-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Retrieved January 21, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.