Studyofmurder's Blog

The Ferguson, MO shooting of Michael Brown and What Might Have Happened

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on August 18, 2014

Let me first preface this blog with the caveat that everything I write about the shooting of Michael Brown will be based upon limited media reports.  I have not had access to any official law enforcement documents so some of my “facts” may be in error.  With that said….

I was a police officer for more than 24 years.  During that period of time I was (earlier in my career) involved in an officer-involved shooting where the suspect died and (later in my career) involved in conducting officer-involved shooting investigations.

MY SHOOTING

Prior to becoming a police officer I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years.  Later, I completed a boot camp-like police academy before going on patrol.  I was well-trained and accurate in the use of my pistol.  My partner that evening has served in the U.S. Army in Viet Nam and was a decorated combat veteran.  You would think, therefore, that we would at all times be cool, calm and collected.  Guess again.

Shortly after midnight on March 7, 1975, we stopped our police car to investigate what appeared to be the burglary of a motor home parked on the street. We approached the motor home and saw some movement in nearby bushes.  We ordered the suspect to come out of the bushes and he started firing a .38 caliber pistol at us.  At one level, I responded to my training.  I pulled my pistol, took cover, and returned fire.  At another level, I was in a form of shock as I, for the first time in my life, confronted my own mortality.  When it was over (the suspect, though mortally wounded, had run out of bullets and yelled “I give up!”) my partner and I called for back-up.  At the time, I could not recollect, nor could my partner remember, how many shots we had fired (I had fired five; he had fired six).  My point in all of this is that, in such moments of crisis, training can take over and control an officer’s actions while reasoned, calm thinking can take a short vacation.

 

INVESTIGATING OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

Years later, as a police Lieutenant, I was part of my department’s Officer-Involved Shooting Team.  I first went through extensive and very specialized training and it was drilled into me over and over that, most importantly, my job was to find the truth.

One of the things that I learned was that it was critical to try and determine the officer’s “state of mind” at the time he or she fired. It really didn’t matter that much what was learned after the shooting occurred about the person who was shot but it was critical to determine what the officer’s perception of reality was when the gun was fired.

As an example…one evening two officers were confronted by a burglary suspect who reached into his waistband and pointed a gun at them when they tried to arrest him.  Their state-of-mind was that they were being confronted by an armed felon and they drew their weapons, fired, and killed the suspect.  Later, it was determined that this suspect had a replica firearm, a pistol that was identical in appearance to a real weapon but, obviously, could not fire any bullets.  While that made the situation a bit more tragic (and confusing….why did he do it?) it did not negate the fact that this was a lawful use of force based upon what the officers were confronted with.

 

THE FERGUSON, MO, SHOOTING OF MICHAEL BROWN

As I said, the “facts” are still in a state of flux and vary depending on which side is telling the tale.  I will first provide the general facts as I know them today and offer a few possible scenarios as to what might have happened.  You can decide for yourself which one you believe is most reasonable, or e-mail me with a different scenario as you see it.

August 9, 2014, 11:51 – A report of a robbery of a convenience store is received by the Ferguson P.D.  A suspect description matching Michael Brown is given.

12:01 – Officer Darren Wilson, 28, encounters Michael Brown, 18, 6’4″ tall and 292#, and a friend of his (who was apparently present at the robbery) Doxian Johnson, 22, walking in the street, blocking traffic.  Shortly thereafter, the shooting occurred.

 

Scenario #1

Officer Wilson, with no knowledge of the robbery, sees two black males walking in the street and confronts them about this (albeit minor) traffic violation.  Officer Wilson normally wouldn’t bother with this type of behavior, but decided to confront these two males because they are black and Officer Wilson is biased.  While the two young men are fairly cooperative, for some apparent reason Officer Wilson picks on the largest of the two and shoots him unjustifiably.  At the same time, he chooses NOT to shoot Mr. Johnson.  If this is the case, Officer Wilson deserves to go to prison for the rest of his life.

 

Scenario #2

Officer Wilson, with no knowledge of the robbery, sees two black males walking in the street and confronts them.  Mr. Brown, who has just committed a robbery of a nearby convenience store and believes that Wilson knows about it and is about to arrest him, decides to resist arrest and/or attack Officer Wilson.  Mr. Johnson, it appears, did not attempt to assist Mr. Brown in this hypothetical attack and, as a result, was not the focus of any shooting by Officer Wilson.  Officer Wilson (whose vital statistics are not known to me but whose picture seems to depict an average-sized individual), confronted with a very large and assaultive male, and who arguably was in fear for his life, pulls out his gun and shoots.  Mr. Johnson later said that Mr. Brown’s hands were raised up as if to surrender.  Or were they raised over his head in an attempt to grab him?  I don’t know.  IF Officer Wilson fired because he felt his life was in danger, he is not guilty of any crime and should not be prosecuted.

 

Scenario #3

This one is far less likely only because of what has been publicly stated by the police department.  Officer Wilson, who has heard about the recent robbery, sees Mr. Brown, who answers the description of the suspect and attempted to detain/arrest him.  Mr. Brown resisted arrest and/or attempted to grab the officer’s gun at which point, Officer Wilson, confronted by a very large and assaultive felony suspect and in fear for his life, shoots and kills Mr. Brown.

 

I don’t know, exactly, what happened.  We may never really know.  What I ask my students to do is to work past the rhetoric and seek out the facts and then apply common sense.  Is this about race or is it about the unfortunate decision of a young man to fight a police officer to avoid going to jail?

There’s a lot we don’t know about Michael Brown and even more that we don’t know about Officer Wilson.  Perhaps he has a personnel file full of complaints of racial discrimination.  Or, just as likely, he has a file full of commendations for excellent performance of his duties.  There will, at least, be a civil lawsuit (I’m sure that planeloads of lawyers have been parachuting in since the 10th of August) and, perhaps, Officer Wilson will be prosecuted.  In either case, the contents of his personnel file will likely become a part of the public record.

Think about the scenarios that I have suggested.  Which one makes the most sense to you?  I’d love to hear from you.

Officer Involved Shootings and Dead Children

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 26, 2013

Two Sheriff’s deputies in Santa Rosa, California came upon what they initially radioed to their dispatcher as a “suspicious person.”  This person was wearing a hooded sweatshirt at 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22nd.  The person’s back was to the deputies but it appeared that he was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle.  Both deputies, believing this person was armed and dangerous, took cover behind their patrol vehicle.  One of the deputies, (confirmed by witnesses) twice ordered the person to drop the weapon.  For some reason we will probably never understand, the 13-year old boy holding the replica AK-47 then turned towards the deputies.  One deputy, fearing for his life and the life of his partner, opened fire and killed the boy.  Later it was discovered that the boy, Andy Lopez, was also carrying a toy handgun in his waistband.  The AK-47 turned out to be an airsoft pellet gun.

Throughout the area, people are asking why this young man had to die.  The FBI is conducting a separate investigation into the shooting.  Both deputies, as policy dictates, have been placed on administrative leave during these investigations.

At the website “Fact Sheet About Toy Guns” (http://www.irol.com/avc/fact_sheet_about_toy_guns.html) there are over 70 cases going back to 1983 where children have either been shot by police for threatening them with toy guns or who have themselves used toy guns to commit violent crimes.  Many of these stories are tragedies but not because the cops made mistakes, but because the young people did.

In my law enforcement career I was trained to investigate officer-involved shootings and had the opportunity to conduct several such investigations.  In fact, one case involved a 16-year old who burglarized a high school office late one night and stole, among other things, a replica revolver.  While fleeing he was confronted by two police officers.  His immediate response was to draw this replica revolver and point it at the officers who shot and killed him.  Maybe he thought the revolver was real (it certainly looked identical to a real revolver), or maybe he thought he could scare the officers.  We’ll never know.

In attempting to determine whether or not an officer-involved shooting was justified the most important thing to ascertain is the “state of mind” of the officer(s) at the time of the shooting.  The fact that the gun turned out to be a toy is interesting and adds to the tragedy of the situation, but it is ultimately irrelevant in determining whether the officers were justified or not in the use of deadly force.

In the Santa Rosa case there are certain facts that appear to be undisputed:

1.  The officers saw a person they believed to be carrying a high-powered assault weapon, a 7.62mm AK-47.

2.  So concerned were the officers for their safety that they took refuge behind their police vehicle while ordering the person to drop the weapon.

3.  The shots that killed Andy Lopez were in his thigh and chest….in other words, it appear as though he was facing the officers at the time they fired.

Teen carrying replica rifle shot by police

 

Look at these two weapons.  The one on the left is a real AK-47 and the one on the right is the “toy” replica that Andy Lopez was carrying and apparently pointed towards the officers.

Much is being made about the fact that the deputy who fired at Andy did so only 10 seconds after he notified dispatch of the suspicious person.  Trust me when I say that 10 seconds is an eternity if you believe someone is pointing a loaded weapon at you.

Others believe that the officers should have been able to tell the difference between the “toy” replica and a real AK-47.  It took me a few seconds looking at this picture before I could tell the difference and not one was pointing it at me.  And my adrenaline wasn’t pumping.

Some say that this child did not have to die and I agree.  He could have dropped the weapon when ordered to and he would still be alive.  I’m assuming that his parents bought him that “toy” pellet gun so they must assume part of the blame for giving such a weapon to a 13-year old and letting him take it outside.

Andy Lopez’s death is a tragedy but a tragedy that could have been avoided through common-sense on the part of Andy and his parents.  But to blame the deputies for this death is wrong.  They did what they were trained to do and acted within the law and their department policy.

Knowing cops the way I do I can tell you that the deputy who fired at this child and killed him will not be celebrating.  He will not be seeking “high-fives” from his colleagues.  The Deputy will regret this incident for the rest of his life and will always second-guess about what could have been done to save Andy Lopez’s life.

Adam Lanza and the Struggle to Understand Evil

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on December 29, 2012

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed his mother, Nancy while she was sleeping in her bed. He shot her four times at close range. He then drove over to the nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School where he proceeded to shoot and kill 20 students and six adults before taking his own life as the police arrived.
Since then various media outlets have written stories trying to understand why Lanza “snapped” and committed these murders. Lanza has been described as being “dark and disturbed,” “deeply troubled,” and having some form of “developmental disorder.” Others say that he “snapped” because his mother had threatened to have him institutionalized. Now we hear that his DNA is going to be studied to determine if there is a genetic link to extreme violence and/or mental illness.
Just about every reporter or commentator agrees that what Lanza did should be classified as “evil” and that every effort should be made to understand just what could have caused this young man to become “evil.”
First, let me speak to the popular notion that something, or someone, caused Lanza to “snap” just before he began killing. Those of you who have read previous blog entries know that I have a particular disdain for the careless use of the word “snap” to describe violent behavior, especially the violent behavior of a mass murderer or a serial killer.
The use of the word “snap” is a way to take from an offender part of the responsibility for committing the crime. To “snap” is to act without thinking or in some blind rage. In fact, in my opinion, very few violent acts occur when a person is not thinking. I believe that just about every violent act is a decision, something done by choice.
One common response to this theory of mine (and others) is for people to point to the consequences of these actions and ask how any sane, rational person could have made such a decision, knowing what probably would happen. My response is to point out that all of us, at one or more times in our lives, have made decisions that we would happily go back in time and change if we could. Not all “sane” decisions are good ones.
At the beginning of every semester in my “Study of Murder” class I tell my students that one of the most difficult challenges for me is to try and convince good, honest, and law-abiding people such as they that there exists in this world people who are visually indistinguishable from them who commit evil acts for their own reasons, without hesitation, and without remorse. This difficulty for me is compounded by the fact that each and every one of us has our own personal barometer for behaviors we feel are “normal,” “reasonable,” or “acceptable.” When someone does something outside of these norms of ours, especially something violent and harmful, we try to find a way to explain these behaviors in terms that we can understand and accept.
One of the first things we tend to do is to bifurcate our “good” behavior from that of the “bad” behavior of the violent offender. We start to rationalize that, if we are intelligent, logical, and “good” and would never consider committing such a violent act then the only type of person who would commit such a violent act must, therefore, be unintelligent, illogical, and “bad.” We then start to use words such as “sick,” “insane,” or “demented” to explain such an individual’s behavior and, in doing so, begin to remove from the individual the responsibility for having made the decision to commit the violent act. We reason that no “sane” person could have conceived of such a violent action, especially a young person, so something must have been “wrong” with him or her to cause them to act in such a horrific manner.
I do not disagree that there are violent offenders who suffer from some form of mental illness. Not all, of course, but some. Mr. Cho from Virginia Tech, who killed 32 people before taking his own life, had been diagnosed with depression, mutism, and was referred for treatment. Unfortunately, he also suffered from anosognosia, which, in essence, is an individual’s inability to accept that they need psychiatric help and, thus, refuse to seek or accept it.
But Mr. Cho was not “insane.” In fact, his crimes were diabolically planned. He first killed two people at one end of the campus and then, while the police were all gathered there, went to the other end of campus and, after securing the entry doors with pre-cut lengths of chain and padlocks, began to systematically kill students on the second floor of that building. It was later determined that he spent hours on a nearby pistol range practicing his reloading techniques. Like in the Lanza case, Cho killed himself as soon as the police SWAT team made entry into the building. Mr. Cho, however, did not “snap,” he made decisions that, to him, made sense in his life at that time.
Recently, I watched a movie on television. It was a relatively bad re-make of “The Three Musketeers” and I didn’t watch the movie very long. Just before I turned the channel, however, one of the “bad” guys in the movie commented to another of the “bad” guys that something he was planning on doing was “evil.” Bad Guy #2’s response was, I thought, brilliant. “Evil,” he said, “is just a point of view.”
In that one sentence is the essence of understanding behaviors that most of us consider “evil.”
People who commit “evil” acts know the difference between “right” and “wrong,” “legal” and “illegal.” They know the differences, but they don’t care. Whether it’s Timothy McVeigh who, in 1995, blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City murdering 168 people in an attempt to stir up an anti-government revolt or Dennis Rader, the self-described “BTK” serial killer of 10 people whose motive primarily was sexual sadism, there are individuals who are mass murderers, serial killers, rapists, thieves, and others who are all aware of the social and legal limitations of behavior but who just do not accept the fact that those limitations should apply to them. If you want to label these people “evil,” then do so. Just understand that they do not necessarily agree with you.
We may never know why Lanza killed his mother and all of those innocent children and adults. There are many theories and there will undoubtedly be many more expressed in books and criminological journals.
The purpose of this blog, however, is not to explain why he did what he did but, rather, to dispel the notion that it was somehow not really his fault, that he couldn’t help himself. In a word……bullshit.
Lanza gave his actions a lot of thought. He waited until his mother was asleep and helpless before killing her. He then drove to the elementary school armed with four weapons and lots of ammunition and began killing adults and children as quickly and methodically as he could.
But I doubt that Lanza thought of himself as “evil.” He may have suffered from some form of mental illness but he was not insane. In fact, there’s a good chance that he honestly believed that he was doing what he had to do for his own reasons and from his point of view.
As always, I welcome your responses and feedback.

Lanza

Book Review: “Camouflaged Killer” by David A. Gibb

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on October 27, 2011

Those of you who have been reading my all too infrequent blogs are aware that I have never before authored a book review.  During my studies on the subject of murder I have read hundreds of books, scholastic journals, law enforcement training publications, and other sources.  There’s a lot of great material out there on the subject, as dark and disturbing as it can be, but I want to take this opportunity to recommend to you my most recent read, “Camouflaged Killer” by David Gibb.

The subject is Canadian serial killer and former Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams.

I became fascinated with the Williams case from the beginning.  Here is a serial killer who seemed to have begun his rapid and progressive degeneration into a sexually-motivated serial offender much later in life than average.  He also seemed to have progressed very quickly from being a voyeur (peeping tom),  to a fetish-burglar (women’s panties), to a home-invader/sexual attacker, and finally to a murderer acting out his violent, controlling fantasies all while unbelievably maintaining a stoic mask of normalcy as the local Canadian Forces Air Base Commander.

At first, when the book was released a little more than a year after Williams was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, I was skeptical that this was some quickie pulp-sensation book full of speculation and based entirely on media reports.  I was, happy to say, quite wrong.

David Gibb has clearly been deeply involved in investigating this case as a journalist from the very beginning.  Using police investigative reports and the input of witnesses, law enforcement sources, criminal profilers and psychologists, he has written a chronological description of the events that occurred and provided insightful analysis into just how Russell Williams may have developed into a cruel and sadistic rapist and murderer.

The Author recreates the crimes in detail, a process made fairly easy by the fact that Williams kept video, photographic, and written records of all of his crimes. The reader is taken through Williams’ life story and his stellar rise through the ranks of the Canadian Air Force.  The police investigation and the subsequent arrest and interview of Colonel Williams are recreated.

For me, however, the best part of this book begins with Chapter 24, entitled “Character Unbecoming.”   In this chapter the Author uses experts such as former FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood (The Evil that Men Do) to meticulously dissect and analyze Williams criminal behavior to closely examine his motivation.  It is, to me, the most enlightening part of the book and, quite interestingly, the part of the book Mr. Gibb’s publisher suggested that he not include.

If you are one of my “Study of Murder” students, or if you are a student of criminal behavior, I commend this book to you as an extremely well-written and though provoking case study of an absolutely fascinating, and at the same time, evil, serial murderer.

 

Murders, the Media, and The Long Island Serial Killer

Posted in Uncategorized by studyofmurder on April 16, 2011

Since late 2010, the New York press has been reporting on an apparent serial murderer they have dubbed “The Long Island Serial Killer.”  It began with the discovery, in December, 2010, of the bodies of four women, all found in burlap bags and about 500 yards apart from one another in the thick brushy area off a Long Island beach.  The women were apparently prostitutes who used Craigslist to find their clients.  Since then, at least four, and possibly six more bodies have been found along the beach, spread out over an area of about 3.5 miles.  As of the writing of this blog, not all of the victims, including the body of a child, have been identified.  The cause of death for several of the victims has been reported as “homicidal asphyxiation” which could be manual strangulation, ligature strangulation, or smothering.

Serial murderers are rare and they always seem to stir intense interest, especially among people who, for some reason or another, seem to get a thrill out of gruesome murder mysteries.  In fact, I have to confess that these cases interest me as well for I have spend a good deal of my life studying murder in its many iterations. Each semester I teach a class called, “The Study of Murder” and each semester, sadly, there are always new cases to study.

In our class discussions on criminal profiling (I do not present myself as a trained criminal profiler, but as someone who is familiar with the process), I always point out to my students the folly of generalizing, of using inductive logic to try to solve any crime or series of crimes.  In most high-profile cases such as the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK), law enforcement officials, of necessity, always hold back as much significant information as they can.  They do not want information published in the media that might (1) aid the serial killer in avoiding detection, or (2) encourage “copycat” killers from using the opportunity to try and disguise their murder as the act of another.  In case after case, such as the Atlanta Child Killer or the Night Stalker, information that was leaked to the press and subsequently published assisted the murderer and potentially delayed his capture.  As a result, homicide detectives tend to keep sensitive information close and usually only release it when they feel it might help their investigative efforts.

Based on limited information…and speculation….and “highly-placed sources close to the investigation”…and, frankly, rumors…members of the print and television news media begin to seek out “experts” to provide their opinions.  These experts are typically retired FBI agents, some profilers, retired homicide detectives, and college professors like myself who have spent years studying homicide in all its many forms.  These experts then provide intriguing soundbites that are used to spice up the retelling and re-retelling of all of the limited information that officials have released.  While I have no quarrel with these experts and their opinions (after all, I have mine as well), the real purpose of this blog is a cautionary one.  Since none of these experts, despite some of their so-called “connections”, have all of the information that would be required for a professional criminal profile, it is important that you know that, for the most part, they are using what a former instructor of mine called the S.W.A.G. method…….the Sophisticated Wild-Assed Guess.  Retired FBI agents and retired homicide detectives present their opinions because active-duty agents and cops will not.  And that, in part, is because these SWAG generalizations can often be wrong.  Dead wrong.

Wally Zeins, a former NYPD homicide detective is quoted as saying, “He could be a copycat of the BTK killer.”  Really?  The BTK (Dennis Rader) killer did not prey on prostitutes.  The BTK killer invaded women’s homes, killed them, and left them all (except one) behind; he didn’t dump their bodies anywhere, much less along a beach.  None of BTK’s victims were found in burlap bags.  Other than that, though, he might be a perfect match.

Another uncredited report surfaced last week that “authorities” are considering that the offender might be a cop, or an ex-cop, because he appears to be familiar with police procedures and leaves no evidence behind.  Really?  BTK wasn’t a cop or ex-cop (though he was a code enforcement officer) but he did have a degree in Criminal Justice from Wichita State.  Ted Bundy wasn’t a cop, but he read everything he could find about serial killers.  Danny Rolling, the Gainesville, Florida, serial killer of the early ’90s was an organized murderer who wasn’t a cop (but his father was). The Hillside Stranglers weren’t cops, but they used phony badges to gain control over their victims by pretending to be cops.  And Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer who killed around 50 prostitutes and who was active for many years not only wasn’t a cop, he wasn’t what you call extremely intelligent, either.

In fact, throughout the history of organized, intelligent serial killers very few of them had any connection to law enforcement at all.

And, finally, we come to the actual criminal profile itself.  The basic profile being provided by the experts in this case is a white male, 25-45 years old, intelligent who is socially competent and not a loner.  Really?  This would be the same profile generated by any one of my college students or, quite honestly, by anyone who has been a consistent reader of John Douglas, Robert Ressler, Gregg McCrary, or other former FBI Criminal Profilers who have published their memoirs….and they did not have a 100% success rate when they were profilers.

The SWAG method of criminal profiling has been around for years and is always an interesting conversation starter.  But it is almost never accurate.  Remember the D.C. Snipers back in 2002?  The media brought dozens of high-profile “experts” to their news and talk shows for their opinions.  As I recall, however, not a single one of them said, “You know, it’s probably two black guys in a modified sedan.”  The cops caught Malvo and Muhammed, not based on the televised “expert” profiles, but because of their diligence in following the evidence they discovered and did not share with the media.

Is there one LISK, two, or more?  I don’t know.  Is he white, black, asian, hispanic?  I haven’t a clue.  Do I know what his motivation is?  Nope.  I can only hope that this guy (or these guys) are caught soon.  And when they are, the arrest will most probably have nothing to do with the efforts of the media and their “experts” but they’ll always be out there.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

People Don’t “Snap” – Part II

Posted in 1 by studyofmurder on February 16, 2010

In my first blog I opined that people do not “snap”, but that they often make rash and foolish decisions.  I realize that it sometimes seems that people fall prey to what some psychologists have called “temporary insanity” but, quite frankly, that’s a large load of crap.  “Insanity” is a severe mental illness and mental illness does not come upon one suddenly.  Mental illness is generally a slow degenerative process.  Take a chronological look at the paintings of Vincent van Gogh and you can see how, near the end, his mental illness is reflected in his brush strokes.

On Friday, February 12, 2010, University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) Professor Amy Bishop stood up at a faculty meeting, took out a pistol, and began shooting people in the head.  In the end, three people were dead and three people wounded, two in critical condition as of this writing.  It was revealed shortly thereafter that Dr. Bishop had apparently been denied tenure earlier that same day at UAH and it was then speculated that she had “snapped” and shot her colleagues.

Bullshit, I told myself, people don’t snap.  Rather than writing a blog response at the time, I awaited further developments and information about Professor Bishop’s background.  The results were, to quote Mr. Spock, “Fascinating“.

The first revelation was that, in 1986, Professor Bishop had shotgunned her 18-year old brother to death in what was, at the time, considered an accident even though two rounds had been fired.  The case was investigated but, for some reason, the case file has disappeared.  An investigation into the decision not to charge Bishop at the time and the surprising disappearance of the case file is ongoing.

In 1993, Professor Bishop and her husband were both questioned regarding a pipe bomb which had been sent to one of Dr. Bishop’s colleagues at the Childrens’ Hospital in Boston.  The pipe bomb did not explode and no charges were ever filed.

Now we learn from Professor Bishop’s husband that, just days before the shooting at UAH, she decided to go to the pistol range to practice her shooting.  The pistol range.  For no apparent reason, he said.  Right.

Professor Joseph Ng who was present during the deadly UAH faculty meeting last Friday, said that everything was going along like a typical faculty meeting until Amy stood up, took out a 9-mm pistol, and began “shooting her targets in the head” until her gun jammed. (Apparently, no one taught Professor Bishop that you’re supposed to clean your weapon after visiting the rage to avoid blockages.  A fact that may have actually saved some lives.) Afterwards, Bishop then left the room and discarded the pistol in a bathroom trash can.  She was taken into custody a short time later.

Amy Bishop has a history of dealing with problems with force.  She killed her 18-year old brother with a shotgun and probably sent a pipe bomb to a “colleague” she was undoubtedly having some sort of dispute with.  While she may have made stupid, rash decisions, she nonetheless made decisions; she did not “snap.”

Now she finds herself in the position of probably losing her teaching position at UAH.  She was denied tenure which, in academe, generally occurs for good reason.  She had engaged an attorney to fight her tenure denial but the odds were against her.  Her response was to go to a pistol range and practice loading and shooting a 9-mm pistol.  She then attended a faculty meeting where, after 30-40 minutes, she took out the pistol and began deliberately shooting her colleagues in the head.  Those same colleagues who, earlier in the day, had voted not to grant her tenure.

The two most glaring bits of information that point to the fact that Professor Bishop did NOT “snap” are the facts that (1) she had gone to the pistol range only days earlier, and (2) she had a pistol with her during the faculty meeting.  Basically, everything points to the fact that this was a premeditated and calculated murder.  Was this the wrong way to handle the situation?  Absolutely!  Were her emotions involved in making this decision?  Clearly.  But did she suffer from “temporary insanity” when she brought a loaded pistol to a faculty meeting where she methodically began shooting her colleagues in the head?  Not only NO! but HELL NO!

Dr. Bishop’s mass murder makes her eligible for the death penalty.  Alabama is a state with a history of using the death penalty.  To give this murderer anything less than she deserves would be……insane.

As always, I welcome your response.

“Safe Haven” Laws and Murdered Babies

Posted in 1 by studyofmurder on December 24, 2009

On December 23, 2009 – just two days before Christmas – Stanton, California, police discovered the body of a full-term infant in a trash dumpster behind a restaurant.  As of this writing, they have not yet released a cause of death but it does appear that the baby was born alive.  Sadly, this type of tragedy occurs all too often and media reporters are always amazed at these incidents in light of the so-called “Safe Haven” laws.

“Save Haven” laws have been around for more than a decade.  In most states, as in California, a person can bring an infant to either a hospital emergency room or a fire station and drop the baby off without question or identification.  These laws were designed to prevent exactly what happened in Stanton…..the death of an unwanted baby.  So, one might ask, if all a parent has to do is take the infant to a “Safe Haven” location and give the child up, why would anyone kill an infant and risk going to jail?  The answer is frighteningly simple; these parents simply do not care about their baby.

In a previous blog I mentioned that one of the difficulties I have with students in my “Study of Murder” class is convincing them that there really are evil people in this world who care for absolutely no one but themselves.  These individuals will break into houses, steal from their relatives, and rob anyone, anyplace, and anytime if it is in their own perceived best interests.  Some of these evil persons get themselves pregnant and the prospect of having to deal with the care and feeding of a baby just does not fit into their plans.

Take the case of Melissa Drexler.  In 1997, Melissa went into labor while driving to her high school Senior Prom.  While at the prom, she went into the bathroom where she delivered her baby.  She then placed the baby in a trash bag, knotted the bag closed, and threw it into a trash dumpster.  She then went back to her prom.  In the statement she read at her sentencing she stated, “I knew I was pregnant.  I concealed the pregnancy from everyone.” She then went on to describe how the baby was born alive in the bathroom. “I knowingly took the baby out of the toilet and wrapped a series of garbage bags around the baby. And I was further aware that what I was doing at the time…would most certainly result in the death of the baby.”

In other words, Melissa’s High School Senior Prom was more important to her than the life of the baby she had carried for nine months.  In November of 2001, after having served just three years of a 15-year sentence, Melissa Drexler was released on parole.

It is very difficult for the average person to believe, especially a parent, that anyone could possibly harm a child.  That’s because the average person would not intentionally do so.  But evil people would.  And evil people do.

People (mostly biological mothers) who kill newborns do so in most cases because the life of the child would be a burden to them and simply does not fit into their personal future plans.  They have no difficulty in murdering their child because they have not formed any emotional attachments to the baby.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  They usually want the pregnancy to end, not to enjoy the birth of their child, but to put an end to the inconveniences they have suffered throughout their pregnancy.

Lest I am misunderstood, please understand that if the life of just ONE BABY is saved through “Safe Haven” laws, then the laws have been successful.  The sad reality, though, is that the parent who brings their baby to an emergency room or to a fire station to give up their child probably would have found another way for the child to survive and be cared for had the “Safe Haven” law not existed.  We know this because they took efforts to ensure the child’s survival.  They cared for the baby enough, at least, to try to find a place for the child to live and grow up.

One of the basic tenets of criminal profiling, and the one stated by Criminal Profiler John Douglas over and over is that “Behavior reflects personality.”  In the case of the parent who brings their baby to a “Safe Haven” their intentions are clear – please care for my child.  In the case of the parent who kills a newborn and tosses the body into a trash dumpster, their intentions are just as clear – let me get rid of something that I no longer need in my life.

I hope and pray that in 2010 there are fewer and fewer discarded innocent lives.

As always, I welcome your responses.

The Mind of a Child Murderer

Posted in 1 by studyofmurder on November 20, 2009

Shaniya Davis

Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, has been charged with the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 5-year old Shaniya Davis in North Carolina.  According to the coroner, the probable cause of death was asphyxiation.  Earlier in the week Shaniya’s mother, Antoinette Davis, was charged with human trafficking, child abuse, and prostitution.  Law enforcement officials have not released all of the details, but it appears that, after selling her daughter to McNeill for sexual purposes and not getting her back, Davis reported her missing.

Elizabeth Olten Meanwhile, in St. Martins, Missouri, 15-year old Alyssa Bustamante has been arrested and charged with the murder of 9-year old Elizabeth Olten.  According to police reports, Olten was reported missing and, a few days later, Bustamante led them to her body that she had buried in the woods nearby.  The victim had been strangled, had her throat slashed, and had been stabbed.  According to police investigators, Bustamante told police that she committed the crime because she “wanted to know how it felt to kill someone.”  She also indicated that, earlier in the week, she had dug two holes in the woods in anticipation of having someplace to bury Elizabeth’s body after she killed her.  Due to the nature of the offense, Bustamante has been charged as an adult.

When tragedies like this occur one of the first, and most natural, reactions is one of disbelief.  Honest, decent people can not begin to understand how anyone could, in cold blood, viciously take the life of an innocent child.  We begin to search for logical excuses.  Perhaps, during his sexual assault of Shaniya, McNeill somehow “snapped” and killed her.  Maybe her mother was a brain-addled drug addict who didn’t really know what she was doing when she “sold” her daughter.  And certainly no sane 15-year old could ever plan and follow through with the execution of another child.  Surely she is suffering from some severe mental illness that clouds her judgement.  We reason that, since WE are sane and would never contemplate such brutality, anyone who does must, therefore, be INsane.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

One of the most difficult concepts for me to get across to my students each semester is that there are people in this world who happily exist in a different moral universe than the rest of us.  There are those who think only of themselves and their personal pleasures and who care not the least about the care or comfort of others.  These people are called “sociopaths” or “psychopaths” or are said to have an “antisocial personality disorder.”  Oh, we can accept the fact that monsters like Ted Bundy and Aileen Wournos existed, but they were both adults when they committed their murders.  How does that explain 15-year old Alyssa Bustamante?  How could a mere child be a murderer?

It might help for you to understand that, at one time, both Bundy and Wournos were 15-years old as well.  They didn’t suddenly “snap” when they became adults.  Both Ted and Aileen were involved in self-pleasing criminal and anti-social activities when they were young.

The main point of this post is to reinforce one very important point: these murderers are NOT ill.  There is no known treatment for their condition and they can NOT be rehabilitated.  Face it, how can you possibly REhabilitate someone who has never been habilitated to begin with?

It is indeed a tragedy that all of these lives have been destroyed, in one way or another.  And it is only human nature that we look for explanations and a way to make things “right” again, especially for the 15-year old murderer who will undoubtedly spend the rest of her natural life in prison.  But, while medical science has provided us a preventative vaccine for the H1N1 flu and a laser-cure for nearsightedness, there is nothing that can be done to change the moral universe of a sociopath.  Nothing.

I welcome your responses…

Mass Murder – Reflections on the Ft. Hood Shooting

Posted in 1 by studyofmurder on November 7, 2009

Please note that this blog is based upon the limited information that has been obtained from news media resources over the past 24 hours and is, of course, subject to change.

INITIAL REPORTS – The initial reports regarding the Ft. Hood shooting were, as expected, confusing and contradictory.  I was listening to the original radio reports while driving home and there were some “facts” that, quite frankly, did not make sense.  “Initial reports” indicated that there were possibly two or three shooters and that they were armed with M-16 rifles.  There were, however, no reports of any explosions.  This struck me as odd because, if this was a coordinated terrorist attack on a U.S. Army base by multiple attackers I would have expected the use of explosive devices in an attempt to maximize the body count.  In fact, I really can’t think of any terrorist attacks on government facilities where explosives weren’t used.  When it became clear that the attack was focused on a facility used to prepare soldiers for deployment, this started to sound like the “Disgruntled Employee” Mass Murderer.  I originally felt that this was probably a soldier who did not want to be deployed, perhaps for the second or third time, and had become so frustrated that his objections were not being taken seriously that he decided to “make his point” by shooting people at the location that most threatened him.  In the end, I think my conclusions were only partly correct.

THE SHOOTER – Major Nidal Malik Hasan is being described as a 39-year old Army Doctor/Psychiatrist who was born in the United States (Virginia) and was raised as a Muslim.  After joining the Army as an enlisted soldier, he spent 8 years before, after completing his Bachelor’s Degree at Virginia Tech, he was sent to Medical School and then completed his internship and residency in Psychiatry.  Some reports have indicated that he has had some “difficulties” which may have required counseling and extra supervision. Relatives have indicated that Major Hasan had reported being “harassed” about being a Muslim since September 11th and had wanted to be discharged from the Army and not be deployed to the Middle East. (Initial responses from the Army indicate that Major Hasan had not filed any complaints of harassment.) It has further been reported that he was vehemently against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and openly criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East. Another important fact is that, as a psychiatrist, Major Hasan had been treating numerous soldiers for post-traumatic stress symptoms and had undoubtedly heard many, many horror stories about combat activities in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

PRE-SHOOTING BEHAVIOR – News outlets have spoken with Major Hasan’s neighbors who report that recently he has been giving away his possessions telling his neighbors that he was about to be deployed.  This is not an uncommon behavior for someone who has decided to commit suicide.  One of the common traits among most mass murderers is that they expect to die at the scene, either at their own hands or the hands of the police.

THE SHOOTING (based on initial reports) - Major Hasan was seated at a desk at the Soldier Readiness Center where approximately 300 soldiers and civilians were in various stages of being medically examined for deployment.  At some point around 1:30 p.m. Major Hasan took two firearms out of the desk (two privately-owned and not military firearms) and began calmly and methodically shooting people.  With that many people in the building, he could hardly miss. It has also been reported by multiple sources that, during his shooting spree, Major Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great).  He then moved outside to continue shooting before being confronted by two civilian police officers.  There was an exchange of gunfire and a female police sergeant, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, and Major Hasan, were both wounded.  In the end, Major Hasan fired more than 100 rounds, killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others.

MASS MURDER TYPOLOGY AND MOTIVATION - This case is an excellent example of how one offender can have multiple motivations.  One one level, Major Hasan is an example of a “Disgruntled Employee Mass Murderer.” This type of offender blames others for his own problems and, in the end, feels that the only way to “get his message across” or “make a statement” is for him to go out in a blaze of glory.  Again, these offenders usually expect to die at the scene and view this as a form of suicide. (There are exceptions, of course, like Jason Rodriguez who, the very next day, killed one person and wounded five at an Engineering firm that had fired him.  He was arrested without incident at his mother’s home.) What is important in this type of shooting is not only who was shot but WHERE the shooting took place.  In this case, Major Hasan shot people at the Soldier Readiness Center, a location which represented to him the impending deployment that he had been unsuccessful in getting out of.

At the same time, Major Hasan has some of the attributes of the “Ideological Mass Murderer.” This type of mass murderer kills to further his religious and/or political agenda (i.e. Timothy McVeigh, or a suicide bomber).  Again we need to look at the target location, a U.S. Army base.  Major Hasan seems to have demonstrated that his actions were designed to support the radical Islamist belief that by killing others while giving up his own life, he would become a martyr to Islam.  Killing soldiers about to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan would make his actions that much more beneficial.

CONCLUSIONS – In the end, it is my opinion that, first and foremost, Major Nidal Malik Hasan was a coward.  Perhaps, after hearing so many horror stories from returning soldiers, he became deeply afraid of what might happen to him during a deployment, especially if he was captured. He made every effort not to be deployed even going so far, apparently, of offering to repay the Army for his medical education.  In the end, it became apparent that he would rather die than be deployed.  His anger and frustration at the Army for wanting to send him to the Middle East against his will helped him to reach the decision to become a mass murderer.

But even though he, himself, was a trained psychiatrist, he apparently could not come to grips with his own cowardice and had to find another reason to justify his murderous attack.  That reason seems to have been the defense of Islam.  While he could not envision coming face-to-face with his God and explain that he had died a coward, he could very easily convince himself that God would welcome a martyr with open arms.

Major Hasan is currently expected to survive his wounds.  The analysis, and criticism, of this event will go on for months.  He will be described as someone who has “snapped” (see my first blog for my perspective on that) and who suffered from depression and other forms of mental illness.  There will undoubtedly be an effort to invoke the insanity defense.  It will be difficult, in my opinion, for the insanity defense to prevail for it will be hard for a jury, and it will be a military jury in this case, to conclude that a man who would purchase two handguns and over a hundred rounds of ammunition, and who then secretively brought these weapons to Fort Hood, and who then methodically shot over 40 people, was insane at the time.

But, I guess, stranger things have happened.

The Cleveland Serial Killer

Posted in 1 by studyofmurder on November 1, 2009

Fifty year-old Anthony Sowell is in custody in Cleveland, OH, charged with forcible rape and suspected of the murder of at least six women.  This is not Sowell’s first arrest for rape.  In 1989, Sowell lived in East Cleveland where he lured a 21-year-old woman into his bedroom where he choked her and repeatedly raped her.  He was convicted and spent 15 years in prison.  He was released in 2004.

Sowell was required to register as a sex offender and to check in with authorities every 90 days.  On September 22, 2009, Sheriff’s Deputies went to Sowell’s home to do a “spot check” to make sure that he was, in fact, living at his registered address.  Eight hours later a woman told police that she had been inside Sowell’s home drinking with him when he punched her in the face, choked her with an extension cord, and raped her.

Police officers investigated the reported rape and, on Thursday, October 29, went to Sowell’s house with both arrest and search warrants.  Officers entered the home and, while Sowell was not present, the officers discovered two decomposing bodies.  Over the next two days officers discovered the remains of at least six women, all of whom had been strangled.  After a massive search of the city, Sowell was quietly arrested while walking down the street about a mile from his home on Saturday, October 31st, almost fittingly on Halloween.

MOTIVATION – While the investigation is continuing, it seems clear to me that Sowell is driven in large part by anger with much of his anger directed towards women. The Anger-Retaliatory Rapist is usually motivated by the anger felt towards a specific woman, or group of women, that he feels has done him wrong in the past.  In some instances it is an angry encounter with one of these women (mother, wife, authority figure) that serves as a trigger causing him to go out and seek another victim upon which to vent his built-up anger. (It would be interesting to find out whether or not one of the deputy sheriffs that went to do the spot check on Sowell just eight hours before his last reported rape was a female deputy.)

A sketchy family history that has emerged indicates multiple female authority figures in Sowell’s past.  Sowell’s brother Allen, 66, indicated that he has not had contact with Anthony from some time but, while they had the same father, they had different mothers.  The home where Sowell was living was being rented from Segerna Sowell, a woman who was a stepmother to both brothers indicating at least three different “mothers” that he has had.  Interestingly, Segerna Sowell seems to be missing.  When Allen last spoke with her in 2008, she indicated that she was in the process of evicting Anthony because of his drug use and failure to pay rent.  Neighbors have said that they believe she is in a nursing home, but Allen feels that Segerna would still maintain contact with him and he is worried.

Another woman from the neighborhood, Nancy Cobbs, 43, has been missing since April.

The expression of anger through rape is also about control.  An individual who, for most of his life has felt that he has NOT been in control and feels that he has been subjugated by women, or at least one specific woman, wants to be able as an adult to have control and to express it without contradiction or opposition.  In fact, resistance makes this individual even angrier.  A telling comment was made by Teresa Hicks who, apparently, has known Sowell since high school.  “He was crazy,” she said. “Sometimes he would just go off if he didn’t get his way.”

Based on the information released by the police so far, it would appear that Sowell’s M.O. (Modus Operandi, Method of Operation) hasn’t changed much over the years. He probably lured most of his victims into his home with the promise of drugs or alcohol and then attempted to sexually assault them.   If it does turn out that he is a serial killer, he is not the most organized of serial killers.  Rather than being planned, these murders have all the markings of spontaneous bursts of anger, most probably while overcoming resistance to the act of rape.

In the end, if Sowell does decide to speak with the police and he confesses to his crime, he will not take full responsibility for his actions.  He will undoubtedly place some of the blame on the victims themselves.  He will rationalize, I’m sure, that if these women had only submitted to his sexual assault, they would probably be alive today.

And please don’t think that such a position is a symptom of insanity, for Mr. Sowell is not insane.  He is simply a cold-blooded rapist/murderer.

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