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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

Lonnie Athens

Lonnie Athens is the main focus of the book. He was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1949. He got a doctorate in criminology at the University of California at Berkeley. Traditional law enforcement was opposed to his ideas and pushed back on them for years.

Athens scorned criminologists who wrote about violence without ever experiencing it or at least talking to violent criminals. He experienced it at home and out on the streets of Washington, DC.

Athens believed in interviewing criminals and that there was a four-step process that made them violent. He said it's about them slowly accepting that violence is a reasonable solution to conflicts. Richard Rhodes wrote Why They Kill in part to tell Athens's tale and to credit his ideas.

Petro Athens

Petro Athens, known as Pete, is Lonnie's father. He's a cruel and abusive man. He got a job at Pop's diner at the end of World War II. He was in the army as a medic. He also works many jobs, because he's unable to hold one for long.

Irene Athens

Irene Athens is Lonnie's mother. She met Petro at a church picnic and told him that maybe her father would hire him. The two had three sons and two daughters. She's close to her father and often gets monetary help from him. When Lonnie is away at college, he gets letters saying Pete is beating her. When he visits, she's injured.

Rico Athens

Rico Athens is Lonnie's brother. He takes more physical abuse than Lonnie and learns to abuse Lonnie in turn when they're both children.

Lombros "Pop" Zaharias

Lombros "Pop" Zaharias is Irene's father and Lonnie's grandfather. He is a kind man who owned the Manchester Cafe in Richmond. It was a diner for mill hands. Rhodes says that more than anyone, Pop "steadied Lonnie's turbulent childhood."

Reverend Constantine Dombalis

Reverend Constantine Dombalis was a positive influence on Lonnie who helped him avoid the cycle of violence begun by his father. At times, he chose Lonnie to accompany him on visits as a stand-in for Christ as a child. He was the dean of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Richmond.

Michael Markowitz

Michael Markowitz is another student that Lonnie makes friends with in class. His parents were hardworking professionals, and his brother was in college. Spending time with them showed Lonnie an alternative way of living than the way his father did; it's another thing Rhodes credits with helping him escape from the cycle of violence. His mother encouraged and helped Lonnie apply to college with Michael, and they both went to Virginia Tech.


Marilyn is Lonnie's first wife. They meet in college. She was a government lawyer, and they had a daughter named Maureen.

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