We got to know an awful lot about Jack Ballentine during 2005, the year we spent with him and his fellow Phoenix Police detectives of the C-32 squad -- after which we published several stories in our "Murder City" series.
Ballentine was and is a classic character: He worked as a cop for three decades, most famously as an undercover operative (he infiltrated motorcycle gangs) and as a "bad guy" who pretended to be a hitman in murder-for-hire cases. He ended up putting a lot of folks behind bars.
Last night, at Scottsdale's wonderful The Poisoned Pen bookstore, Ballentine spoke and then autographed his newly released book, aptly titled "Murder For Hire."
The turnout was terrific, and included former colleagues Jason Schechterle, Patrick Kotecki, Lois Weiss, Andy Hill, and a bunch of old-timers who worked with Ballentine decades ago. Also in attendance were investigators from the Phoenix Fire Department, where Ballentine now works as the director of the arson unit.
Ballentine read selected excerpts from his book (completed without the help of a ghostwriter), and then took questions from the audience. Several wanted to know how he avoided going to the "dark side" during his undercover work, as do so many other cops.
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Ballentine answered in several ways, most memorably by gesturing to the back of the crowded room where his family (wife Patti and two sons) looked on.
"I would go home after work and focus on them and be myself," he said. "I was very determined to keep my head on straight and stay true to my family, myself, and the department."