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Category Archives: Forensic Psychiatry

Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland Ph.D.: Day Pass for a Psychopath?

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Day Pass for a Psychopath

Treatments are not yet sufficiently effective to engender trust.

Last week in England, the notorious child killer Colin Pitchfork – the first criminal to be identified with DNA – created a stir. Now 56, he’s been in prison since 1988 for the rape/murders of two teenage girls. At the time, he was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years. That term’s end is just months away and it appears that the system is preparing for it.

The former baker was given an unsupervised day pass. This did not sit well with the parents of his victims. They fear he’s being prepared for eventual release. Prison officials possibly believe he no longer poses a danger to the community, but British criminologist David Wilson described Pitchfork’s crimes as “pathological” and believes he should not be released.

Pitchfork raped and strangled Lynda Mann on a footpath in November 1983, while his infant son slept in his car. Three years later, he raped and killed Dawn Ashworth in nearly the same spot. Then he doctored his ID and paid someone to pose as him during a community-wide DNA screening (the first ever). That guy had a big mouth.

Pitchfork is devious. This is partly what makes him dangerous. So does the fact that he strangled his victims – a behavioral red flag for persistent violence. In a 2014 report, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recognized strangulation as a marker of dangerousness, recommending increased prison time for such offenders. Between the two murders, Pitchfork had sexually assaulted at least two other young women. His crimes were considered sadistic.

Let’s not forget when hospital staff in Ontario was so optimistic in 1991 about the progress of another child killer, Peter Woodcock, that they granted him a day pass. As a teenager in the mid-1950s, he’d killed two boys and a girl. Arrested, he confessed, but his crimes were so shocking and his manner so distant he was declared legally insane. He went to a psychiatric facility. Going through numerous therapeutic treatments for decades, Woodcock charmed the staff. He was granted the unsupervised day pass. Far from proving that he was reformed, he used the opportunity to kill again. Within hours, he murdered an inmate who had jilted him, mutilating and sodomizing the corpse.

One of the facility’s staff commented that all of the therapy they’d given him had merely made him more manipulative and able to pose as safe. He wasn’t.

Last week, we also saw news of “psychopath” Randall Toshio Saito escaping from Oahu’s Hawaii State Hospital, where he’s been held since his insanity finding in a 1979 murder. He’d filed for a conditional release in 1993 but was denied when the court found that he still had sadistic sexual urges and an attraction to necrophilia. He was denied again in 2000. Fed up, Seito decided to escape and prove that he could live normally.

“They won’t give me a chance,” he said in an interview. “They’re not going to release me. I decided to run away and come to the mainland and to live as long as I can on the money that I had in the community without getting into any kind of trouble.” He reportedly had $7,000 and some help. “I can live in a community without doing drugs, without hurting anyone and prove without a doubt I did it.”

But this sounds like Gary Gilmore. He’d spent his youth in reform school and prison for numerous delinquent activities. After being allowed a conditional pass in 1973 to attend art classes, he committed armed robbery. Incarcerated again, one day he told a judge that all he needed was a chance to prove himself. He argued that “you can keep a person locked up too long” and that “there is an appropriate time to release somebody or to give them a break.” He was sure he could make it.

Eventually, a parole plan was worked out, with family support. In 1976, Gilmore was released. Three months later, he was back for the cold-blooded murders of two men. The very chance he’d requested to prove himself had been granted twice, but he didn’t know himself as well as he believed. When life got difficult, he resorted to violence.

Prisons and other facilities must show consistent results for treated dangerous offenders before they release people whose past impulses might return. Day passes aren’t likely to demonstrate much, and some of them know very well how to pose.

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Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 60 books.

Original Post on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing/201711/day-pass-psychopath

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Webinar: What Were They Thinking? The Planning of the Perfect Murder

Join me for a fun Webinar hosted by Sister in Crime-Atlanta on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time. You must be a member of that chapter to join is but if you’re already a SinC National member it’s only $20.

Here is the info on the event:

When your character plans and executes “The Perfect Murder,” he always, ALWAYS makes a mistake or two. These errors ultimately lead your sleuth to the solution. In this session, Dr. D.P. Lyle deconstructs the planning, execution, and post-crime behavior of two headline-grabbing murderers–O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson—to help mystery writers and fans better understand fictional killers from social, psychological, forensics, investigative, and motivational points of view. Q & A follows a 1-hour presentation. Forensic questions welcome!

Webinar: https://www.meetup.com/Sisters-in-Crime-Atlanta-Chapter/events/239240813/

SinC-Atlanta: https://www.sincatlanta.com

 

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Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Check out the new posts John Raab of Suspense Magazine and I put together. Read the Q&As and listen to the expanded discussions. Hope each proves helpful for your crime fiction.

Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/20/d-p-lyles-forensic-file-episode-1/

In 1863, Could An Autopsy Accurately Determine the Cause of Death?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2017/01/09/in-1863-could-an-autopsy-accurately-determine-the-cause-of-death-d-p-lyle-answers-this/

Can My Female Character Cause Her Pregnancy To Become “Stone Baby” By Shear Will?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/31/can-my-female-character-cause-her-pregnancy-to-become-stone-baby-by-sheer-will/

More to come.

Want more cool questions from crime writers? Check out my three Q&A books.

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More Info and List of Included Questions

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More Info and List of Included Questions

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More Info and List of Included Questions

 

Psychopathic Brains and MRIs

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Psychopath, sociopath, borderline personality disorder, choose your phrase as these are often used interchangeably but in the end they are terms used to describe certain criminal offenders. In many cases, the worst of the worst. These individuals are often impulsive, lack self-control, and have little, if any, empathy with others, particularly their victims. The annals of serial predators are filled with such persons.

Forensic science has for many years searched for a true lie detector and a reliable method of determining someone’s criminal tendencies. Most have not panned out. One recent investigative arena is the use of functional MRIs to determine segmental brain activity in both “normal” and “psychopathic” individuals. The hope is to discover reliable and repeatable differences that might prove useful in criminal investigations.

MRI

One current study at Radboud University in the Netherlands has revealed some interesting results. It appears that persons with sociopathic tendencies possess an overly active “reward” area of their brains while at the same time showing some loss of communication between this area and one that is used for “self-control.” Obviously this leads to a dangerous combination of psychiatric defects. If someone is reward driven, impulsive, and narcissistic, while at the same time lacking any sort of consistent control of these impulses, it is easy to see that criminal behavior could follow.

Though this study and none of the others that have looked into this area of psychopathology have delivered the “smoking gun” of psychopathic behavior, they are intriguing investigations.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Dangerous Instincts: An Interview with Senior FBI Profiler (Ret) Mary Ellen O’Toole Ph.D.

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BIO: MARY ELLEN O’TOOLE, Ph.D. has spent her career studying the criminal mind. One of the most senior profilers for the FBI until her retirement in 2009, Dr. O’Toole has helped capture, interview and understand some of the world’s most infamous people including:

•Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer

•Derrick Todd Lee and Sean Vincent Gillis, both serial killers in Baton Rouge

•The Collar Bomb Case, a bank robbery and murder of a pizza delivery man

•Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber

•The Polly Klaas child abduction

•David Parker Ray, a serial sexual sadist

•The Red Lake School Shooting

•The Monster of Florence serial murder case

•The Zodiac serial murder case

•The bombing during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT

•The mass murder in Florence, Montana in 2001
Dr. O’Toole also worked the Elizabeth Smart and Natalee Holloway disappearances, the Columbine shootings and many other high profile cases. Her law enforcement career spanned 32 years, beginning in the San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office when she was a Criminal Investigator. Dr. O’Toole worked as an FBI agent for 28 years, spending more than half of her Bureau career in the organization’s prestigious Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU)—the very unit that is the focus of the hit crime series “Criminal Minds.”

During her time in the unit, Dr. O’Toole developed an expertise in Criminal Investigative Analysis (CIA) as well as offender behavior. She has provided assistance to law enforcement and prosecutors on a wide range of violent and criminal behavior including serial and single homicides, sexual assaults, kidnappings, product tampering, school shootings, arsons and bombings and extortions. Dr. O’Toole is also a trained FBI hostage negotiator and has a unique expertise in the areas of targeted school violence, workplace violence and threat assessment.

Dr. O’Toole is recognized as the FBI’s leading expert in the area of “psychopathy.”  Her work in psychopathy has put her on the forefront of mental health and law enforcement efforts to apply the concepts of this personality disorder to both violent and white collar offenders and their behavior and crime scenes. She lectures internationally on the application of the theory of psychopathy to real life situations. She continues to lecture at the FBI Academy on psychopathy and interviewing. She has served as adjunct faculty to the FBI’s Prestigious Leadership Development Institute (LDI) at the FBI Academy and also frequently lectures at the Smithsonian Institution about everything from Sherlock Holmes to personal safety. She is a Fellow with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2017/03/04/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-mary-ellen-otoole

Link will go live Saturday 3-4-17 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Mary Ellen’s Website: http://maryellenotoole.com

Mary Ellen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drmaryellenotoole/

Mary Ellen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryellenotoole

Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us: https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Instincts-How-Feelings-Betray/dp/1594630836

Dangerous Instincts: The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/dangerous-instincts-fbi-profiler-explains-the-dangers-of-that-nice-neighbor/2011/10/17/gIQAkvNCDM_story.html

Learning How To Read People: http://www.theironjen.com/learning-how-to-read-people-dr-mary-ellen-otoole/

Psychopathy: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: https://leb.fbi.gov/2012/july/psychopathy-an-important-forensic-concept-for-the-21st-century

Orlando Shooter Profile: CCTV America: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhTjGAsUuzk

Why Are American Cops So Bad At Catching Killers?: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/02/why-are-american-cops-so-bad-at-catching-killers#.PFh6oYRhF

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King Henry the VIII’s Brain Injury and Behavioral Changes

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King Henry VIII was often a bad boy. I mean, he had two of his many wives executed, for starters. But he was an historical giant—-he took on the Pope and established the Church of England—no small feat in the 1500’s.

But he also developed erratic behavior later in his life. Many date his significant personality change to a head injury following a fall beneath a horse in a 1536 jousting match. He apparently remained unconscious for two hours.

But could a blow to the head cause a dramatic personality change? Absolutely.

There are many types of brain injuries that could lead to such an outcome: Concussions (usually multiple such injuries are needed before personality changes would occur—if at all); Cerebral contusions (brain bruises); intracerebral bleeds (bleeding into the brain tissue; and subdural hematomas (bleeding in the space between the brain and the skull). In Henry’s case, I suspect the later might be the case.

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Subdural Hematoma

Subdural hematomas follow blows to the head and here blood collects in the dural space—between the brain and the skull. It can be small and inconsequential or larger and compress the brain. It can occur immediately or be delayed by hours, days, weeks, and even months. The increased pressure on the brain can lead coma and death. Less dramatically, it can cause headaches, visual impairment, weakness, poor balance, sleepiness, confusion, and, yes, personality changes.

 

The Black Dahlia: The Cold Case That Even 70 Years Later Won’t Go Away

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Elizabeth Short

The shocking and graphic murder of Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) has never been solved and likely never will be. Seventy years ago yesterday, on January 15, 1947, the nude body of a young woman was found in a vacant lot on Norton Avenue in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles. She had been bisected (cut in half) and her two body parts displayed in a spread eagle fashion.

The victim was identified as Elizabeth Short and she soon became known by the moniker The Black Dahlia. Her death has remained one of the truly iconic American crimes. It’s hard to believe that after 70 years little progress has been made in solving her murder.

During the initial investigation, the police were at a loss as to who could have and would have killed Elizabeth, and since then many theories about the killer’s identity have been postulated. But none have ever been proven. Still many are intriguing.

An excellent article from Crime Magazine by Stephen Karadjis was published in 2014. It summarizes the case, its investigation, and the various theories that have circulated about this murder.

 

 
 
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