F655Z Crimes and the Psychopath
Tuesdays, 9:40—11:05, Apr. 25—May 16
Instructors: Mary Ellen O’Toole, Steven Burmeister, Robert Zorn
Apr. 25—May 2: How History Whiffed Regarding the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. Robert Zorn. The course involves the telling of the real story of the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping case. The conventional tale set in motion 90 years ago—that the 20-month-old son of world-famous aviator Charles Lindbergh died as the result of a man’s accidental fall from the ladder used to abduct him—is not supported by the evidence. It was an intentional murder committed by a never-caught German immigrant deli clerk from the Bronx named John Knoll. The story has twists and turns only a clairvoyant could anticipate and is psychologically complex and haunting in ways no detective, prosecutor, or student of the case has ever realized. This lecture will show how the instructor, the first person to conduct an in-depth scientific re-examination of the kidnapping and to reconstruct the “Crime of the Century” from planning stage to post-offense behavior, is the first to get to the heart of this crime that sent shock waves around the world. The importance of the scientific method, of gumshoe detective work, and of the willingness to design and carry out experiments is highlighted. The course emphasizes the importance of the search for objective truth—that which is true regardless of who says it is true. It also demonstrates how the slightest inaccuracies—in measurements, in observations, or in word choices to describe things—can land one quickly “in the weeds.” So can confirmation bias, a trap easily fallen into, and muddled thinking. Open-mindedness, imagination, curiosity, and a willingness to admit mistakes and then correct one’s course: all these are invaluable to the cold case detective. And for our instructor, the Lindbergh kidnapping wasn’t just a cold case: it was frozen solid!
Robert Zorn is the son of the late economist Eugene C. Zorn, Jr., who as a teen-aged boy growing up in the Bronx, inadvertently witnessed three men—two of them his neighbors—conspiring to commit the Lindbergh kidnapping. Robert is the author of Cemetery John: The Undiscovered Mastermind of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, whose foreword was written by pioneering FBI criminal profiler John Douglas, the author of Mindhunter. The book was made into the PBS/Nova documentary Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?, a documentary on which Robert collaborated with John Douglas. Robert is a graduate of Duke University and of The Wharton Graduate School of Business.
May 9: Forensic Explosion Investigations: Accident or Bombing. Steven Burmeister. This short course will take you behind the scenes when investigators are called to an explosion. We will walk through the steps used by forensic scientists, bomb technicians, and others to determine if the explosion was caused by an accident or something nefarious. The course will highlight details from several notorious incidents throughout history.
Steven Burmeister served as a special agent in the FBI for over 23 years. Prior to the FBI, Mr. Burmeister earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Susquehanna University, Pa. and graduate degree in Forensic Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. In 2016, Mr. Burmeister became a faculty member of George Mason University’s Forensic Science Program and currently serves as an associate professor.
May 16: The FBI Profiler and the Psychopath: A Glimpse into the Mind of This Most Devastating Personality Disorder. Mary Ellen O’Toole. In the speaker’s career as an FBI special agent “Profiler”, the most intriguing, frightening and challenging personality she ever dealt with was the psychopath. In this session, she will take you into the mind of the psychopath. Psychopaths can present an enormous challenge for everyone they interact with—family, friends, co-workers, law enforcement, mental health professionals, prosecutors, judges, and others. How psychopaths treat people, their behaviors at work, at crime scenes, as neighbors—wherever they are, can be shocking because of their stunning lack of empathy, their lack of guilt for their actions, their pathological lying, and their complete disregard for the consequences of their bad actions on others. FBI agent profilers have probably dealt with psychopaths more than most people. So understanding this personality disorder from a behavioral perspective is critical, whether we are interviewing a psychopath, investigating a crime, prosecuting a psychopath, interacting with one in a prison setting, or living next door to one. Psychopaths are not “crazy”. They are not mentally ill, and they know right from wrong. But the rules don’t apply to them. Are they all serial killers? Absolutely not. They can run companies, serve in politics, and work in the government. Their arrogance and narcissism is only part of their complex and dark natures. It’s a combination of personality traits and characteristics that make these people fascinatingly horrifying.
Dr. Mary Ellen O’Toole is currently the director of the Forensic Science Program at George Mason University. As the head of the program, Dr. O’Toole helped to develop a number of new initiatives for teaching and research, including the Forensic Anthropological Research Laboratory (aka the “Body Farm”) at Mason’s campus in Manassas, VA, and the Crime Scene House Laboratory in Fairfax, VA. Prior to coming to Mason, Dr. O’Toole served as an FBI agent for 28 years, and for 15 of those years worked in the Bureau’s renowned Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) where she was involved in some of the FBI’s most high-profile violent crime cases. Her specialized areas of study and practice in the FBI included psychopathic offenders and violent criminal behavior. She is the editor in chief of Violence and Gender and is the author of Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us.