Sunday, July 31, 2011

Woman's Intuition

I believe in the academic enterprise.  Really, I do.  I studied and taught English literature before (and even after) going into law.  My wife's a university professor.  My kids are pursuing Ph.D.'s.  Many of my good friends are university faculty or faculty spouses or retired faculty.
So you won't find me readily dissing what academics do and how they think.  
But did Mary Myers, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Akron, really say this?
The minds of serial killers are very much like those of middle-school students in some ways. They want what they want when they want it, and they don’t care who’s hurt while they’re getting it.
Sure, that was (if the quote is right) an answer to a silly question by Abby Cymerman in an interview for  Akron Life. But still.
Myers says her goal is to help students recognize the personality disorders of serial killers so they can avoid becoming a victim: “It’s such a wake-up call when they realize these killers are our next-door neighbors or that charming person sitting next to them at the bar.”
And, of course, in the halls of the junior high where every student is one.
Here's Cymerman's brief bio of Myers.
A psychologist and retired Akron Police captain, Myers is one of about 120 recognized “police psychologists” in the United States. She was the detective supervisor of Akron’s homicide squad in 1997 when Brett Hartmann killed Winda Snipes, and she served on the team that investigated the 1997 murder of Akron physician Dr. Margo Prade by her former husband, Akron police officer Capt. Douglas Prade.

As assistant professor of criminal justice at The University of Akron, Myers has been teaching a course on “Profiling Serial Killers” since it was added to the curriculum in 2003 — a class that’s filled every semester with criminal justice majors, as well as those who are fascinated by the topic.
Of course, we know the public is fascinated with serial killers.  TV, movies, the best-seller lists.  And the trials.  God help us the trials.
And Akron's right near Cleveland and Cleveland is where Anthony Sowell was found guilty a week ago of murdering 11 women over a period of time.  Which makes him a convicted serial killer.  And the trial isn't done.
Tomorrow morning they start up with Round 2.  That's when the state will try to convince the jury to tell the judge to have Sowell murdered while his lawyers urge the jury to order a sentence of death in prison. You can salivate just thinking about it if you're that sort. 
As you'd imagine, the media is priming the pump.
Which is how, via Leila Atassi's article in the Plain Dealer, the one with this screaming headline, I came upon Professor Myers. 

Serial killer profiler scrutinizes courtroom behavior of Anthony Sowell

Myers is not a witness.  She's just the nearest, handiest, professional serial killer profiler (is that an actual job title?) to Cleveland.  (At least, I assume so.)  And as a professional, she can tell by just looking at his eyes.  Say, when the verdicts were read.
His blink rate went up to about 120 blinks per minute -- about two every second. At that rate, and for such a prolonged period of time, the world becomes like a disjointed movie. It's hypnotic. It removes him from reality and allows him to see his surroundings screen by screen. Normally when a person blinks like that they're trying to hold back tears. But if that were the case, his nose would have been running. It seemed to be a conscious action, and it might be a technique he learned in the military to cope with stressful situations, such as interrogation.
Get that?   Consciously, he blinked 120 times a minute.  Twice a second.  For a full minute.  For minutes on end.  You try it.  It's damned hard.  Of course, he's a trained professional or something.
Of course, it's more than the eyes.
The breathing, however, was unconscious. He took about 18 shallow breaths per minute. You could see his pectoral muscles rise with each breath, like someone running a marathon.
At this point, I really thought he was going to lose it -- that he might use those shackled hands to hurt someone and go out his way, in a big blaze of glory. I almost called down to the courtroom to warn them that he's on the edge and to prep the officers guarding him.
And it would have been a good thing, too.  I mean, just think of how much better it would be had she given the warning.  The way he somehow got hold of that guard's gun and began shooting up the place.
What?  That didn't happen?  Nothing like that?
As a legion of sheriff's deputies escorted Sowell from the courtroom, he raised his shackled hands above his head and cast a sharp glance at cameras. 
Oooh, that "sharp glance."
He was so angry when he raised those hands. I could see it in his eyes, and no one around him was ready for it. He could have been sending a message, to an ex-girlfriend perhaps -- "See what you did to me. It's your fault." Or it could have been a hand sign that a Marine would use to signal fellow Marines when he's being taken prisoner. The gesture also might simply be a sign of indignation and pride -- that he survived the trial and couldn't be broken.
Let's see.  Really angry.  Blaming some girlfriend (one he didn't kill, I guess) and sending her a message.  Signaling one of his marine buddies to . . . I don't know; bust him loose?  Or maybe it was pride (which is, of course, the same as anger and messages to girlfriends and code for marines.
Or maybe he was stretching but with the handcuffs his range of motion was limited.
So many possibilities.
Serial killer profiling is, Myers told Cymerman,
intuitive guessing based on research.
Which is a fancy way of saying it's all about guessing and hunches.  And of course we all know the profile from TV and movies and best sellers.
Serial killers are loners, they're the folks nobody would ever suspect, they're introverted geeks, they were bullied, they're striking out at the world, they're in it for the fun, they're charming, they have lots of friends.  They're tall and short and white and of color and educated and uneducated and . . . .
Here's what we actually know about serial killers.
  • We don't know who they are until we catch them.
  • Most of the ones we catch are men.
  • We don't know shit about the ones we don't catch.
I suppose I'm not being fair.  As a profiler, Myers wants to help catch serial killers.  As a teacher she wants to help people avoid them.  As a person, she wants to stay away from them (as do we all).
They’re sociopaths who have no need to follow the rules of our society. They’re lacking the ability to control their impulses to kill. To protect myself, I increase my awareness whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t follow these tiny, unwritten ‘rules’ that govern our everyday behavior in our society. For example, if someone enters the elevator and stands too close to me, I simply exit the elevator. They’ve broken the unwritten rule of where one is supposed to stand in the elevator. 
Which is fine.  I don't like it when people stand uncomfortably close either.  Then again, I'm not telling others to beware of the socially inept because they're all budding serial killers.
You know, like those kids in junior high.

1 comment:

  1. Akron University Associate Professor and self-proclaimed serial killer profiler Mary Myers is trying to earn a living, the same as most people. She gets up in the morning and goes to work, doing what ever it takes to make it to the bell. I do not attach any significance to her opinions, because that's all they are. Opinions. Guesses.

    What we, the great unwashed, know about serial killers is roughly the same thing the so-called experts know about serial killers: They do it because they enjoy it. That's it.

    The real question is: Was Sowell legally sane when he committed these crimes? Because if he wasn't, he should not be executed. Otherwise assemble a firing squad and put him out of our misery.