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Category Archives: Forensic Psychiatry

Guest Blogger: Dr. Katherine Ramsland: The Unique Allure of the Scene of a Crime

 

Visits to murder sites reveal more than mere curiosity.

There’s been a lot of attention lately on why people love true crime. I can recall when publishers considered the subject a waste of their time. Suddenly, it’s big business. Psychologists are weighing in, mostly guessing at the motivation. I’ve seen no representative studies on the topic, but I’ve been among true crime fans for more than two decades, so I can speak anecdotally.

I don’t think it’s because, as one expert put it, people are fascinated with evil. That’s just a superficial sense of something deeper. Crime is specific. The fascination is not with evil itself but with the formation of the motivation to harm and the development of a mind that can think up twisted and cruel treatment of others.

Extreme behavior is difficult to fathom, especially the cold-blooded kind, and TC fans want to try to understand. Women, especially, are attuned to motives and to victim predicaments. They enjoy feeling compassion and empathy. Sometimes, they identify with the woman who snaps or plans revenge.

The intensity of emotion typically involved in murder, whether a domestic homicide or a mass killing, draws us out of everyday dullness. We focus. There’s a heightened sense of suspense and thrill. For some, it also involves the cycle of being scared by what happens in the story and then feeling safe.

Another expert said that the current interest in true crime is driven by the 24/7 news cycle. It does play a part. When news anchors hype crimes with over-the-top coverage, the networks that broadcast “all crime all the time” will scoop up the story. The media certainly contributes, but possibly only to stoke a spark that is already present. The news covers other areas of life every day that don’t become obsessions; true crime stands out. So, it’s not just about 24/7 news.

We get closer to the embrace of TC when we study the core narratives that turn up in one presentation after another. Most TC books, documentaries, and TV series build up to the same resolution. They present the lure of a puzzle, provide guidelines for protection and preparation, and resolve tension by showing how the perpetrator was caught (often by being outsmarted) and punished. Thus, TC narratives play on our desires for catharsis, safety and closure. We enter through the intrigue of mystery and exit feeling better, sometimes even smarter.

Perhaps there’s an evolutionary benefit, as some psychologists suggest, in terms of making us pay better attention to dangers in our environment. Whenever I teach a course on serial killers, multiple students tell me they now lock their doors and notice people around them. But I don’t think this fully explains the fad. It’s true that TC has always fascinated, but recently it’s become much more of a cultural obsession. There’s an emotional payoff that’s become a collective pursuit.

True crime lets us experience anxiety and fear in a controlled way. It’s not happening to us, but we can work our way through it. People gawk at terrible things sometimes for reassurance. We can let ourselves imagine monsters coming for us because they can’t really get us. We purge fear within a frame of safety. As the TC community grows, we can share our “guilty pleasure” and form groups that reinforce the payoff.

Although a small sliver of the TC fan community seeks the bloodiest, most disgusting images they can find, most immerse themselves, then and get out. They’re interested in human behavior, not a gore-fest.

This brings us to visiting actual murder sites. I once wrote a travel column about tourable murder sites and I’m currently creating a presentation about “Dark Tourism.” This involves looking for sites that people visit who want to see where a murder happened: The steps of Gianni Versace’s former South Beach home, for example, where Andrew Cunanan gunned him down, or the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin’s campus from which Charles Whitman picked off targets in August 1966 until police killed him.

It may sound morbid, but getting close to the intense energy of disturbing events initially evokes a rush. The energy of madness, anger, lust, or jealousy seems to pervade the place. People linger outside the “Amityville Horror” house where Roy Defeo shot his entire family, the home in Ohio where Jeffrey Dahmer killed and buried his first victim, and the former boarding house where kindly Dorothy Puente murdered men for their welfare checks and buried them in her garden.

In some cases, there are tours. In London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, expert guides will take you to where Jack the Ripper allegedly killed at least five women in 1888. In Wisconsin, there’s a Jeffrey Dahmer tour, and in Los Angeles, you can take any number of tours to infamous places, like where the Black Dahlia’s body (parts) were placed, where Nicole Brown Simpson was killed, or where the Hillside Stranglers dumped their victims. In Chicago, there’s an H. H. Homes tour (“The Devil in the White City”), although his actual murder castle is long gone.

You can see Lizzie Borden’s infamous former house just by walking by it in Fall River, Massachusetts, although it’s worth taking the tour inside – or getting a room. You can also see the JonBenet Ramsey murder house and the house in Villisca, Iowa, where a sensational mass murder occurred a century ago. Now it’s a museum. Another museum graces the Jesse James Farm in Kearney, MO, as well as the Sarah Winchester House in San Jose, California. Frank Lloyd Wright’s tourable Wisconsin estate, Taliesin, was the scene of a massacre in 1914.

Savannah, Georgia, hosts several genteel homes in which murder occurred. The most famous is Jim Williams’ Mercer House, the setting for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which is open to tours. Then, there’s the murder-suicide in poet Conrad Aiken’s former home. Many of the ghost tours in the historic area describe criminal incidents, but Savannah has also added a few TC tours.

New York, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco – practically any large city has a crime history that lends itself to tours or museums. People go to experience the details of the horrendous acts by getting as close as possible to the physical setting.

I said above that, initially, there’s a rush. This often gives way to reflection and sadness. At the sites, people learn more about the victims than they typically know. When I stood in front of the homes where Dennis “BTK” Rader killed his victims, I thought a lot more about them than about him. Whatever one might have learned from offender-centered media, the sites themselves usually humanize the victims and invite us to imagine their plight. It’s about lore, not gore.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology and the assistant provost at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. She has published over 1,000 articles and 65 books, including The Psychology of Death Investigation, Forensic Investigation: Methods from ExpertsConfession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer; The Mind of a Murderer; The Forensic Science of CSI; Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, and The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including The AlienistCSI and Bones. She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today and has appeared on 20/20Dr. Oz and numerous crime documentaries for the ID and Oxygen Networks.

Originally posted on the Psychology Today website:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201907/the-unique-allure-the-scene-crime

 

Katherine Ramsland and Linda Fairstein in Suspense Magazine and on Crime and Science Radio

 

This month’s edition of Suspense Magazine features two of my favorite folks: Katherine Ramsland and Linda Fairstein.

First there is the transcript of Katherine’s visit to Crime and Science Radio where Jan Burke and me discussed her book on the BTK Killer. Check it out.

Learn more about Katherine and listen to the show:

http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/katherine-ramsland.html

Then a wonderful interview with Linda Fairstein, who was also our guest on Crime and Science Radio. 

Learn more about Linda and listen to the show:

http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/linda-fairstein.html

Check out all 70 Crime and Science Radio shows:

http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio.html

If you don’t yet subscribe to Suspense Magazine you should.

http://suspensemagazine.com

 

Criminal Mischief: Show #1 Murder Motives Notes

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If you haven’t yet listened to my new podcast series, CRIMINAL MISCHIEF: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF CRIME FICTION on the Authors On The Air Global Radio Network,  then jump on board. Here are the notes for Show #1 as well as links to listen to the show and to follow future shows. Hope it proves fun and helpful to your storytelling.

Murder Motives Notes

Types of Crimes: theft, burglary, robbery, embezzlement, assault, rape, ID theft/ransom, extortion, forgery, arson, kidnapping, DUI, drug dealing, trafficking, pimping/prostitution

Motives for Murder:

Financial – – insurance, inheritance, business takeovers, avoidance of alimony
Property disputes
Revenge
Political
Cults & Religions
Murder for hire
Empathy and sympathy
Crimes of passion
Domestic
Protect self-image or secrets
To protect others
Blackmail
To cover another crime
Social and hate crimes
Sex, jealousy, obsession
Mental illness – – delusions and hallucinations
Drugs and alcohol

Listen to the Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/1-murder-motives

Follow the shows on FB: https://www.facebook.com/criminalmischiefwithDPLyle/

See all shows here: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

 

Guest Blogger: Dennis Palumbo: EROTOMANIA

EROTOMANIA: When the bad guy’s motive is a delusion

By Dennis Palumbo

Nietzsche once wrote, “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

Perhaps. Then again, Nietzsche never met Sebastian Maddox, the villain in my latest suspense thriller, Head Wounds. It’s the fifth in my series about Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police.

What makes the brilliant, tech-savvy Maddox so relentlessly dangerous is that he’s in the grip of a rare delusion called erotomania, also known as De Clerambault’s Syndrome.

Simply put, erotomania is a disorder in which a person–in this case, Maddox–falsely believes that another person is in love with him, deeply, unconditionally, and usually secretly. The latter because this imaginary relationship must often be hidden due to some social, personal, or professional circumstances. Perhaps the object of this romantic obsession is married, or a superior at work. Sometimes it’s a famous athlete or media celebrity.

Not that these seeming roadblocks diminish the delusion. They can even provide a titillating excitement. Often, a person with erotomania believes his or her secret admirer is sending covert signals of their mutual love: wearing certain colors whenever a situation puts them together in public or doing certain gestures whose meaning is only known to the two of them. Some even believe they’re receiving telepathic messages from their imagined beloved.

What makes the delusion even more insidious is that the object of this romantic obsession, once he or she learns of it, is helpless to do anything about it. They can strenuously and repeatedly rebuff the delusional lover, denying that there’s anything going on between them, but nothing dissuades the other’s ardent devotion.

I know of one case wherein the recipient of these unwanted declarations of love was finally forced to call the police and obtain a restraining order. Even then, her obsessed lover said he understood that this action was a test of his love. A challenge from her to prove the constancy and sincerity of his feelings.

As psychoanalyst George Atwood once said of any delusion, “it’s a belief whose validity is not open to discussion.”

This is especially true of erotomania. People exhibiting its implacable symptoms can rarely be shaken from their beliefs.

Like Parsifal in his quest for the Holy Grail, nothing dissuades them from their mission.

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In Head Wounds, Sebastian Maddox’s crusade–when thwarted in his desires–turns quite deadly and requires all of Rinaldi’s resourcefulness to save someone he cares about. In real life, the treatment options for the condition are limited to a combination of therapy and medication, usually antipsychotics like pimozide. If the symptoms appear to stem from an underlying cause, such as bipolar disorder, the therapeutic approach would also involve medication, typically lithium.

What makes erotomania so intriguing as a psychological condition, and so compelling in an antagonist in a thriller, is the delusional person’s ironclad conviction–the unshakeable certainty of his or her belief.

Nonetheless, as philosopher Charles Renouvier reminds us, “Plainly speaking, there is no such thing as certainty. There are only people who are certain.”

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BIO: Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineThe Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, all from Poisoned Pen Press), feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. For more info, visit http://www.dennispalumbo.com 

 

Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.: Killer Pen Pals

 

Killer Pen Pals

Whenever I give talks about my work, people sometimes ask how they can be pen pals with a serial killer. They’ve gotten hooked on true crime shows and they have the idea that because offenders are behind bars, they’re no longer dangerous. This would give the would-be correspondent a “safe” form of titillation and something cool to tell friends.

Sometimes, people just want to ease someone’s (or their own) loneliness. So, they look for an inmate who seeks connection.

I’m not talking about criminologists and journalists who correspond with killers to acquire information to improve our comprehension. I’m talking about people – especially kids – who think it would be fun to write to a killer. Often, they don’t grasp the potential consequences of having an offender focused on them. Not only do inmates know people on the outside whom they might persuade to be their proxy, but some of them eventually get out, too.

There are plenty of stories about pen pals becoming so enamored that they turn into prison groupies. In fact, in British news this week, a young pen pal from Poland supposedly became engaged to the ailing Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe. He’s 72. She’s 17. This kind of bond can make a person more vulnerable to manipulation.

It doesn’t take much searching to find examples where such relationships have ended in murder. Phillip Carl Jablonski murdered his wife in 1978. He was serving a sentence for it when he placed an ad for a pen pal. Carol Spadoni answered it. In 1982, they got married while he was still in prison. He got out in 1990. A year later, he sexually assaulted and shot Carol’s mother and suffocated Carol with duct tape before stabbing her to death. (That same month, he also murdered two other women.)

These potentially violent inmates can hook people by talking about how lonely they are and how they’re looking for love. They promise that they’ve reformed, they’re “spiritual” now, and they just need a friend. Some pen pals want to give them a second chance. Laura Jean Torres offered a helping hand to violent ex-con Robert Hernandez, who’d served time for aggravated battery. Torres ended up fatally stabbed.

David Goodell, 33, murdered pen pal Viviana Tulli, 22. They’d met when she was 16 and began a relationship through correspondence when he went to prison for assault. Once Doodell was out on parole, they reunited. Their mutual affection was short-lived as he soon strangled her to death. Hoping to avoid prison, he decided to fake a fatal car crash. Putting sunglasses and a hat on Tulli’s corpse, he placed it in the front seat of her car. His staging failed and he was arrested. In 2013, he pleaded guilty.

Darren Pilkington, convicted of manslaughter at 18, had a reputation for being a troubled kid. From prison, he put out word that he wanted a pen pal, which got the attention of 15-year-old Carly Fairhurst, five years younger than him. When she was 16, she visited him in prison, and after he was freed, he moved in with her. He soon began to abuse her. In 2006, after they came home from a pub, they argued. Pilkington hit Carly and she fell down the stairs. He covered her, waiting until morning to call for help. She died a week later from her injuries.

And it’s not just females who are vulnerable.

In 2014, Scott Kratlian fatally strangled 82-year-old Harry Major, a former high school teacher. The men had become pen pals while Kratlian was serving a sentence for manslaughter. Upon his release, Major invited Kratlian to move in. That was a fatal mistake.

Then there was Thomas Knuff, on parole in Ohio after serving 15 years for armed robbery and home invasion. He’d become acquainted with John Mann, 65, and his girlfriend Regina Capobianco, 50, through a prison pen pal program. He’d asked them to pick him up. Since he had nowhere to go, they brought him to their home, where he tied them up and stabbed them, killing both. He then lived in their home, with the bodies, for a week.

Edward Andrews started a correspondence with Thomas Jeffrey Brooks, nearly forty years younger than him. Upon Brooks’ release in 2007, he moved into Andrews’ mobile home. They became lovers, or so Andrews believed. Brooks had other ideas. With an accomplice, he killed Andrews, wrapped his body in duct tape, entombed it in a cement egg in a former employer’s rock garden and drained Andrews’ bank accounts.

“It’s not shocking when inmates behave like criminals,” says former U. S. Probation Officer Sally Keglovits. “It’s what most people expect. Manipulation comes with the territory and it’s not difficult for them to project a sympathetic image while in prison. What is somewhat shocking is the number of people who invite and encourage manipulation. They fall in love with an image that an inmate created. Reality can slap them in the face, often literally, upon the inmate’s release.”

Although many offenders do benefit from a kind word and a helping hand, those people who wish to assist (or acquire a more serious friend) should learn the behavioral red flags. Past violence is among the best indicators of future violence. So is a lack of remorse for harming others, a history of deception, a lack of respect for others, and a tendency to blame others for one’s own behavioral issues. Convictions for murder, sexual or physical assault, home invasion and crimes involving deadly weapons all foreshadow a dim future with such offenders. Often, they have poor skills for inhibiting impulses and for negotiating in relationships.

More to the point, what they’re like behind bars is no indication of what they might be like once free. Those who seek to become an inmate’s pen pal need to educate themselves about risk factors.

Follow Katherine on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.ramsland

Originally posted on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201807/killer-pen-pals

 

Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.: Redheads and Serial Killers

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Redheads and Serial Killers

Several killing sprees have targeted women with red hair.

Last week came news that police in Texas and Louisiana are investigating whether a serial killer is killing and decapitating redheaded women. The heads were discovered in plastic bags, tossed near lakes 150 miles apart. On March 1, one was found in undergrowth near Lake Calcasieu, and the other turned up three weeks later near Lake Houston. Witnesses described a man who got out of a pick-up truck and stood on a bridge to toss a trash bag over the rail. Investigators hope to track him down. 

If it turns out that the same person is responsible for both, the case might be similar to a few others, like trucker Charles Floyd. On July 1, 1948, he broke into an apartment in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attacking a woman and her two teenage daughters. He raped her, but a neighbor interrupted, so he fled before he killed anyone. Down the street, Floyd cut a hole into the door of another home, entered and bludgeoned a woman to death. The victims all had red hair.

A witness outside the second house described Floyd to police and they traced him to where he worked at a trucking company. Under arrest, he admitted that redheaded women triggered an overwhelming lust in him. In fact, he said, he’d killed before. Six years earlier, Floyd had murdered the redheaded pregnant wife of a fellow trucker. Later that year, he’d raped and murdered a mother and daughter, both redheads. Two and a half years later, he’d killed a redhead he’d seen undressing in her apartment. Due to Floyd’s low IQ, a judge sentenced him to life in a mental institution.

Glen Edward Rodgers also seemed to have a thing for redheads. The “Cross Country Killer” traveled from state to state between 1993 and 1995. He’d cozy up to women and ask for a favor. He even moved in with one, briefly. He was convicted of five murders, but bragged that he’d murdered more than 70 people, including Nicole Brown Simpson. Four of his victims were women with reddish hair. It turns out that his mother was a redhead and Roger’s brother says that she’d rejected and abused him.

Then there’s a series of incidents known collectively as “the Redhead Murders.” You’ll find different ideas about who should be counted among the victims, but according to one source, this set of murders started in 1978 and possibly continued until 1992. Some people identify three victims, but others say there are more (between 6 and 11). Most were strangled and their bodies dumped along major highways, as if they’d been hitchhiking or offering services to truckers. One young mother who disappeared from her home, mentioned on some lists, was found years later in a river. Most of the victims remain unidentified.

Many believe that a serial killer is responsible for all of the victims, and some have suggested links to Glen Rogers. Two truckers became suspects, but both were cleared.

The FBI got involved in 1985 to investigate possible links among victims found in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. Linkage analysis turned up significant inconsistencies, such as their state of dress and evidence of sexual activity. The agency also ruled out a victim in Ohio and four in Texas. They did not solve the cases.

Jane Carlisle published a brief e-short, The Redhead Murders. She believed that the killer targeted victims who had no one who might come looking for them. This would suggest that the killer picked up redheads, queried them, and then decided to kill them based on satisfactory responses. Carlisle starts with a body discovery in 1983 in Virginia. The next one was in Arkansas. Several turned up in Tennessee in 1985. Only a few have been identified.

The murder in 1992 in Tennessee that some believe is linked involved a nun. An arrest was made, which undermined any link to the other redhead victims. Since most of the “Redhead Murders” remain unsolved, it’s not possible to know if a serial killer with a preference for redheads committed them, but it’s an intriguing mystery. 

Follow Katherine on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.ramsland

Originally Posted on Shadow Boxing on the Psychology Today Blog

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201805/redheads-and-serial-killers

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My Cough Medicine Did It

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Whenever someone does something stupid, like crash a car, get in a bar fight, or, say, stab someone 123 times, they are always looking for an excuse. Somewhere to lay the blame. After all, they couldn’t have done anything like that, so it must’ve been some outside person, or situation, or invisible force, or even a miasma. Perhaps alcohol or drugs. Maybe even cough medicine. Really? I don’t buy it.

That’s apparently the defense of one Matthew James Phelps, a young pastor in North Carolina, who apparently inflicted 123 knife wounds on his wife. He stated that a dose of Coricidin Cough and Cold medicine made him do it. Or as he said: “I know it can make you feel good and sometimes I can’t sleep at night.” Too bad he didn’t simply go to sleep.

No doubt various drugs can cause anger, aggression, and even psychosis in some people. Cocaine has done it, and Phencyclidine (PCP or Angel Dust) was notorious for it. Meth, too. There are others, but I don’t think Coricidin would be a likely member of that group. 

Possible? Maybe. Likely? No.

 
 
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