I think I’ve watched over three hundred crime, fraud, and serial killer documentaries now. It’s not that I like murder and mayhem, quite the contrary. I have to skip those involving children, because I can’t stand people hurting children. I watch them because I’m very interested in our common reactions to distressing situations. Crises reveal character.
We humans, all over the world and all through time, have common emotions. When a loved one dies, we always say, “No. Not (loved one) it’s not true.” We can’t take it in, we need time to process it. When we do process it, the pain begins. If you have lost a loved one, you know that pain. It is often described as a hole in your heart, even decades later and it is the same pain if you are a Ukrainian railroad conductor, an Irish professor, or a Beverly Hills celebrity.
We humans crave certainty, and if a loved one is missing, it’s more agonizing than if they are dead. We also need hope, and will cling onto hope that he or she will come home, somehow, someday. We want to know who did it? and why? ‘Who’ is often answered, but ‘why’ is more problematic. I doubt that some killers even know the ‘why’ themselves. Various answers are: Wrong place/wrong time; the usual greed, lust or revenge, or the rationalizing “bad childhood, bad DNA, head injury, paranoid schizophrenia, or nuckin’ futz.”
I reject these myself. Andre Chikatilo had a nasty childhood, no doubt. He also had siblings who had the same nasty childhood and did NOT grow up and slaughter over fifty people. They just don’t value human life? They value their own human life and go to great lengths to avoid getting caught, because they know it’s wrong and if the truth is uncovered, they will be punished.
They must be crazy? ‘Crazy’ is a loose term, it normally just means people who aren’t like most other people. The insanity plea doesn’t work very well in the U.S. One commentator said, “If the suspect can tell the difference between the judge and a cabbage, they are competent to stand trial.” Did they try to cover up their crime, hide their kill kits, wash the blood off their clothes, wear gloves? Then they obviously knew right from wrong.
I was once a program director in a facility for mentally ill folks. A counselor started an art therapy class and sold the clients paintings on the wall in the lobby. I bought one made by Patty, a plump, quiet, dark-haired woman in her forties. It was a colorful bunch of flowers, delicately rendered. How sweet.
Yet Patty had killed someone. She got mad, grabbed a tree limb and caved her skull in. Then Patty stood there with the bloody tree limb in her hand until someone came along and found them. She did not try to cover it up, run away, or even make up a self-defense story. Why not? Because she was crazy* and really did not know right from wrong
I think that’s a good test for the insanity plea: Did they try to hide their crime? If so, they are sane enough for the circumstances.
Clinical Director’s crazy diagnosis
*I was once filling out forms and asked the clinical director what Jeff’s diagnosis was. “Oh, he’s crazy.” he answered.
“I can’t put that on the form, I need some numbers from the DSM, like 296.44 , bipolar, severe, with psychotic features.”
“Sounds good, put that,” he said.