Sunday, November 18, 2007

Murder and Madness

I recently read Donald T. Lunde's Murder and Madness (San Francisco: San Francisco Book Co., 1976). Lunde at the time was a professor at Stanford--I'm guessing at the medical school. He seems to be in practice as a psychiatrist in Palm Springs now. The picture of him on his web site is a heck of a lot better than the one they used on the dust jacket of Murder and Madness! That picture makes him look too young to drive, much less be a professor--and he looked remarkably goofy. (I think he was just trying to look happy. I've had much worse pictures taken of me--although fortunately, never for a dust jacket!)

Anyway, Murder and Madness seems to have been intended as a popular, mass market book. It is regrettably short of footnotes. However, for what I was using it for, it is just fine. Lunde ended up being called as an expert witness in three major mass murder cases in Santa Cruz--just after California's Lanterman-Petris-Short Act went into effect.

In all three cases, the murders were tragedies that could have been prevented.
John Linley Frazier was one of the first examples of how California’s emerging concern for civil liberties of the mentally ill led to disaster. Like many other schizophrenics, the first clear evidence appeared when he was in his early 20s. He fixated on ecology, and after a traffic accident, became convinced that God had told him that he would die if he drove again—and gave him a mission to rid the Earth of those who were altering the natural environment. Frazier’s mother and wife recognized how seriously ill he was, and tried to obtain treatment for him, but he refused it.
Frazier’s behavior became increasingly disturbed, and he warned that “some materialists might have to die” in the coming ecological revolution. The following Monday, Frazier climbed the hill from the cowshed where he was living near Santa Cruz, and murdered “Dr. Victor M. Ohta, his wife, their two young sons, and the doctor’s secretary.” He blindfolded them, tied them up, shot each of them, and threw them into the pool. Then he set fires throughout the house to return it back to the environment. Frazier’s bizarre behavior and statements to family and friends soon led to his arrest. He was found legally sane, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.[1]
In other cases, there was not simply concern that the sufferer might be dangerous. Edmund Emil Kemper III was a sexual sadist who killed his paternal grandparents at age 15, in an attempt to punish his mother, who was having increasing difficulties handling him. California hospitalized him until he was 21, and then released him on parole in 1969. Over a bit less than a year, starting in May of 1972, Kemper shot, stab, and strangled eight women, including his mother. He dismembered his victims, had sex with their dead bodies, and engaged in cannibalism. After repeated phone calls to the police to persuade them that he was the killer, he was arrested, found legally sane, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.[2]
Herbert William Mullin was another of the schizophrenics whose illness arrived just as California was moving towards a more humane and less restrictive approach to mental illness. In high school, Mullin showed some odd behaviors—more obviously frightening in retrospect—but until 1969, just before Mullin’s 22nd birthday, it was not obvious that he was mentally ill. Mullin were persuaded to voluntarily enter Mendocino State Hospital, on California’s north coast on March 30. Six weeks later, having refused to participate in treatment programs—and under no legal obligation to remain—he left.
Mullin had trouble holding jobs. He would, as many schizophrenics do, refer to “hearing voices,” which understandably frightened employers, even at the menial jobs that Mullin was able to hold. In October of 1969, Mullin was again hospitalized, but this time against his will, to San Luis Obispo County’s psychiatric ward. A few weeks later, he was discharged “on the condition that [he] would continue to receive treatment at the Santa Cruz Community Mental Health Outpatient Clinic.” He did so—but then moved to Hawaii, where he again asked for mental illness treatment.
Back he went to California, where his parents picked him up at San Francisco Airport. His behavior so scared them that within thirty miles of the airport, his parents stopped to call the Mountain View police department. Mullin was again hospitalized against his will at Santa Cruz General Hospital for a few weeks, and again discharged “less noisy and belligerent” than when he entered—but not well. Like many of the severely mentally ill, he lived in cheap hotel rooms in San Francisco, before moving back home with his parents in Santa Cruz in 1972.
Mullin’s parents tried to find long-term hospitalization for their son, who was clearly dangerous to others. But California’s hospitals were busily emptying out—not looking to take new patients. In light of Mullin’s history of voluntarily entering, then leaving mental hospitals, it might not have mattered, without involuntary commitment. In four months of late 1972 and early 1973, Mullin murdered thirteen people in the Santa Cruz area. Why? To prevent the San Andreas fault from rupturing, and causing a catastrophic earthquake. Mullin had created an entire theology built around his belief that murder decreased natural disasters. Mullin was found legally sane (although both prosecution and defense agreed that he was seriously mentally ill), and guilty of ten murders.[3]
Lunde blames Mullin's failure to receive treatment on Governor Reagan, with no apparent awareness that there were larger forces at work. This is not surprising; when this book was written, the full extent of the problem was not entirely understood. Lunde also argues that murder rates among the psychotic are comparable to the general population--an easy position to take when this book was written, since much of the published work on the subject was still being researched at the time.

The first couple of chapters of Lunde's book provide a detailed examination of the realities of murder in the U.S., distinguishing it from the fictional portrayals. Lunde also seems inclined to blame murder on gun availability, which in light of the state of the research available at the time is an understandable position to have taken. To Lunde's credit, he points out that much of the very high rates of murder among young black men (a situation which has not substantially changed in the intervening three decades) is also related to the honor culture, primarily Southern in origin, so dominant in black ghetto culture then--and now. He certainly does a better job of recognizing the complexity of separating out the different factors than the average newspaper columnist today.

Reading Lunde's book is something like opening a time capsule of 1970s thought. There's a lot here that is still accurate (regrettably so), and a lot where new research has let us move on. It is still interesting to see what a well-educated and well-intentioned person of that period could see--and that the idiots that run our governments today still can't see.

[1] Donald T. Lunde, Murder and Madness (San Francisco: San Francisco Book Co., 1976), 49-52.
[2] Lunde, Murder and Madness, 53-56.
[3] Lunde, Murder and Madness, 63-81.

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