At first he took on a variety of cases, but eventually, especially after his books began to generate revenue (Burke’s first novel, “Flood,” appeared in 1985), he focused exclusively on cases involving children, which tend not to be particularly lucrative. .
Mr. Hechler said these were not the types of cases where the child’s parents hired him; rather, Mr. Vachss was often a court-appointed guardian of a child’s interests. Sometimes it was the parents he was protecting a child from, such as in a case in the mid-1980s when he represented a young boy who was being abused by his parents. After a four-year legal odyssey, he arranged to have the child adopted.
He filed three lawsuits in the 1980s against the Fresh Air Fund, which runs experiments around the country for urban children, on behalf of children who were abused in its programs.
Mr. Hechler, who has written about these cases, said the Fund had finally recognized that it needed better screening procedures. Stephen Heard, director of the charity, praised Mr Vachss in a 1987 interview with Newsday. “He can be a hysterical guy on this subject and there was real animosity when we started,” he said.
“But he was more right than us,” added Mr. Heard. “He helped us.”
Mr. Vachss’ literary alter ego, Burke, is a classic antihero, and that was necessary given his focus with these books, Mr. Vachss said.
“I wanted to show people what hell was like,” he told “The Early Show,” “and I didn’t think an angel would be the right guide.”
Mr. Vachss has also written stand-alone novels, comics, and even poetry. In the real world, his wife said, his recent passion had been the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Welfare, which, according to its website, works “for clearer, better documented and more easily enforceable laws. in the area of child protection.