Friday, March 20, 2015

Gaslighting--A Sociopath's Favorite Tool

The psychological phenomenon know as gaslighting has become a colloquial term to describe a form of mental abuse where a dominant individual manipulates a weaker person's sense of psychological well-being to undermine the victim's mental stability. It is the manipulation of external reality to make someone doubt their sanity.

The term derives from the popular 1944 American film entitled Gaslight--based on a 1938 British stage play. Frenchman Charles Boyer plays the sociopathic husband of the psychologically frail Ingrid Bergman. This memorable film portrays a husband's attempt to destroy his wife's sanity by manipulating her perception of reality, so he can steal her jewels.

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman
Sociopaths instill a high level of anxiety and confusion to disorient their victims. Information is twisted and spun by them so victims begin to doubt themselves. Targets lose faith in their ability to make judgments and become insecure about their decision-making abilities.

Gaslighting describes an antisocial personality disorder that relies on deception, denial, mind games, sabotage, isolation, and destabilization. It is a form of narcissistic abuse that occurs in all types of relationships and every walk of life. This syndrome is often associated with marital relationships, but anyone can be a victim. Gaslighting can be seen in abusive parent-child relationships and in the workplace with an aggressive boss brow-beating his employees. It is mental bullying that can escalate into physical violence. These narcissists are puppet masters who often manipulate people for their own personal gain or to play twisted power and control games.

Gaslighting is a deliberate and progressive method of covert control that imposes a form of psychosis on its victims. Brainwashing, interrogation, isolation, and torture are all forms of psychological warfare used by the military, intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and terrorist organizations. On any level, it is a human and civil rights violation. 


For more detailed information on gaslighting and a link to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, view the following link:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mental Health and John Norman Collins - Two Extremes Too Hard To Comprehend At Once

Doing research for The Rainy Day Murders has lead down corridors my researcher and I could not have envisioned when we began this true crime project over three years ago. But one key area of information has remained closed to us, the mental health records of John Norman Collins. That information is privileged and protected.

Shortly after Collins was arrested, his second attorney, court appointed Richard Ryan, arranged a "private" lie detector test for Collins to take. After the examiner revealed the results to the defense attorney, Ryan suggested to John's mother that they go for a diminished capacity plea, commonly known as an insanity defense. 

Loretta Collins became unglued and fired Ryan on the spot. He is said to have left the conference room shaken but no doubt relieved to be off the case. When the legal team of Joseph Louisell and Neil Fink took over, there was no more talk of an insanity defense.

Early on in our investigative research, my researcher, Ryan M. Place and I invoked the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) documents. Every time the Collins' case comes up for review and reclassification, Collins is offered psychiatric services. In the space provided on the form, he always writes, "Not interested."

Most people would agree that it is impossible to help someone who doesn't want to be helped. What good are psychological and psychiatric services to a person whose existence is built upon the mirrored reality of delusion? To break through that wall of falsehoods would be to admit guilt and responsibility; a narcissistic, psychotic personality will not tolerate this.

Several months ago, I received an email from Kristin Bronson, whose father worked briefly with John Norman Collins in an official mental health capacity. What follows is a loving tribute to her father:

"My father (now deceased) was in the mental health profession all his life, first at Mercywood Sanatorium and then at the University of Michigan Neuropsychiatric Institute. He worked with a vast number and all kinds of patients and always worked very hard to find a way to reach and help them. He usually succeeded, though not often enough. One lost is one too many.

"My father was involved in the evaluation and treatment of John Norman Collins. He was the only patient I am aware of that my father bailed out from his case. It gave him the shudders. 

"My dad said that Collins was never going to change. He was too evil. It really got to him, even just being around Collins. He was wickedness incarnate! There were other killers my father worked with, but this one was too much even for him who loved every human soul alive.

"Rest in peace my beloved father, William Arthur Bronson, born September 7, 1926. You helped so many people regain their lives and paid a price to do so."

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Linking the Rainy Day Murders--One University of Michigan Psychiatrist's View

While I was reorganizing and packing my files, I came across an interesting article that won't make it into my non-fiction account--The Rainy Day Murders--about the Washtenaw County, Michigan murders of the late sixties. I thought I would share it with my readers.


After the murder of University of Michigan graduate student Alice Elizabeth Kalom on June 8th, 1969--the sixth of the series--Associate Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Donald Holmes gave his theory on the possible mental quirks and personality of the killer.

The Detroit News reported the U of M professor's belief that "These murders have too much in common not to be linked. All of the unsolved murders were committed by the same man. The killer is a smooth operator who digs chicks. He is undoubtedly of high intelligence and supremely self-centered and a successful attention getter."

After John Norman Collins had been arrested for the first degree murder of Karen Sue Beineman six-weeks later, The Detroit News asked Dr. Holmes for a second hypothetical evaluation in the light of recent developments.

"As far as the murders being linked. I think they may be. I don't think it's a coincidence. They have too much in common. It may be one man or a couple (people) acting together--like Leopold and Loeb, for example, only better organized."

When the professor was asked about the stepped-up tempo of the slayings that spring and summer, he explained that "the slayer could be terrified the first time by his own act, but later the barriers were broken between reality and fantasy. He could do it more easily again."


People often ask me if John Norman Collins worked alone. There is no hard evidence to prove that he had help killing his victims, but other people knew about the first and the second murders. The same can be said for the fifth, sixth, and seventh murders.

By my count, at least three other people were privy to information that could have spared some of the victims' families and friends untold suffering--people who may not have been directly involved with the slayings but who had knowledge and were Collins' close associates. Of that, I am certain!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Some Serial Killers Seek Recognition But Not All

In his classic work, The History of Murder, Colin Wilson gives three reasons for murder. The first is for economic gain. It could be a robbery or kidnapping incident that goes terribly wrong, or it could involve an insurance or inheritance scheme. Poisoning was popular in the nineteenth century before it became easily detected in the bloodstream in the early age of forensic chemistry. Poisoning was so common during the Victorian period that police dubbed arsenic “inheritance powder.”

"No one attacks me with impunity."
A second type of murder is the resentment murder over a real or perceived slight. Somebody harbors a deep rage against society, government, religion, or even a person for some personal affront. Revenge murders fall under this category. The famous Edgar Allen Poe revenge tale “The Cask of Amontillado” begins with these all too human words, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato, I bore as best I could. But when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” What the insult was is never made clear. It is irrelevant because the killer--Montresor--admits to the cold-blooded murder fifty years later as he casually boasts of his cunning. He couldn’t die without first telling someone of his crime.

The last major reason author Colin Wilson gives for people killing one another is sexual. A sexual predator may want to prevent later identification by a rape victim, may have a psychotic hatred of the opposite sex, or may have a psychological compulsion to rid the world of harlotry or some other perceived moral evil.

Sexual homicide falls in the FBI category of unexplained murder. This type of murder is most troubling for law enforcement because of its apparent random nature. When a series of unsolved murders occurs within a well-defined area, feelings of vulnerability, panic, and fear can grip a whole community. Intense press coverage often does little more than advertise the problem to the public and complicate the situation for police. Serial killers like to act out their cat-and-mouse games with the police and manipulate the public through the media coverage their crimes generate.

John Norman Collins' perp walk
After the fourth unsolved murder in Washtenaw County, Michigan in the late 1960s, the college town of Ypsilanti went into lock-down mode. Yet, three more young women would die before John Norman Collins was arrested on July 31, 1969, for the sex-slaying of Karen Sue Beineman. The wave of mutilation murders—over the two year period—finally ended.


Psychologist Dr. Stephen Giannangelo believes that serial killers have a “lost sense of self and intimacy, inadequacy of identity, and feelings of no control.” It is thought that these killers’ minds create a mirrored reality where satisfying their sexual needs and sadistic thoughts is the only palpable reality. Stalking and the ensuing capture indicate that these killings are often premeditated and rehearsed events. What makes serial killers different than most other killers is they tend to be more intelligent and learn from their mistakes.

Dennis Rader in court
Many serial killers are perversely proud of their work as evidenced by their tendency to brag after they are caught. Dennis Rader of Kansas, Missouri was even bolder. Dubbed the “BTK” (Bind, Torture, and Kill) killer by the Wichita press, Rader began to brag in the form of a complaint letter to local news station--KAKE-TV.
“How many people do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?” he asked. 

Dennis Rader admitted to seven murders and said he was planning an eighth. He felt invisible and wanted to be noticed. He wasn’t content to torture and control a mere human being. He wanted to terrorize and manipulate a whole city. Such was his twisted ego. He was subsequently identified and captured. He boasted that he considered himself among the elite of serial killers--every bit the equal of H.H. Holmes, Jack the Ripper, and Ted Bundy.

Gerald Schaefer mug shots
Another serial killer proud of his work was Gerald John Schaefer. After being found unfit to be a school teacher, he was also rejected for the priesthood. Schaefer eventually became a deputy sheriff in Florida where he was able to hide behind the mask of a police officer. After his trial and conviction for the murder of two young women, he was so boastful and obnoxious in prison that one December night in 1995, Gerald John Schaefer had a fatal reaction to some sharpened steel--an early Christmas present from his cellmate. Serial killers often do not fare well behind bars.

Despite some serial killers having above average intelligence, they become bold, compulsive, and arrogant. These are often narcissistic individuals who consider themselves gifted and smarter than everyone else--especially law enforcement. Each time serial killers get away with their crimes, they become more confident until they start making mistakes. Crime studies indicate that most serial killers willingly talk about their crimes once they are caught red-handed or when the police have irrefutable evidence against them.

One notable exception to this serial killer characteristic is John Norman Collins. He has never admitted culpability for any of his crimes or shown the slightest bit of remorse. Collins has maintained his innocence for decades--despite overwhelming evidence against him.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Detroit's Stroh's Brewing Company--With Its Days of Future Passed

Founder Bernhard Stroh
Avoiding the German Revolution of 1848, Bernhard Stroh emigrated to the United States with knowledge of the brewing trade from his father Georg Friedrich Stroh--landowner and inn keeper. He was taught the Pilzen method of brewing a light-lager beer. In 1850--at the age of twenty-eight--Stroh established his basement brewery operation in Detroit with a $150 investment. Immediately, he started brewing Bohemian-style lager beer in copper-clad kettles that promoted the carmelization of the wort--unfermented beer--that made the beer lighter without reducing the flavor.

Stroh's home and first brewery building
Stroh's beer was sold door-to-door in beer buckets from a wheelbarrow, but soon horse-drawn wagons would be delivering his authentic German beer across town in barrels. Bernhard Stroh expanded his business in 1865 and adopted the heraldic lion emblem from the Kyrburg Castle in Germany. The lion icon is still visible in Stroh's product labeling.

Oldest son Bernhard Stroh Jr. assumed leadership of the brewing business when his father died on June 28, 1882 at the age of 59. The company patriarch was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan. Bernhard Jr. introduced pasteurization and refrigerated rail cars which increased the shelf-life of their product and broadened their markets. Stroh's became the Detroit area's signature beer.

In 1908, Julius Stroh took over the family business from his brother. After a celebrated tour of Europe's finest breweries, Julius introduced direct flame--rather than stream--to heat the copper kettles. The company motto became "America's Only Fire-Brewed Beer" and part of the brand's labeling.

Prohibition was tough on the beer brewing industry and many breweries closed across the country. Rather than shut down and abandon their loyal workers, the company diversified and made near-beer (non-alcoholic), soft drinks, and ice cream. It is not unlikely that Stroh's Brewery may have made specially-ordered batches of the Real McCoy for Detroit's vast Speakeasy network. The country may have been dry, but Detroit was awash in booze. After Prohibition, the business grew and Stroh's became a regional favorite.

What Detroiters recognize as Stroh's.
A statewide strike halted beer production in 1958 which gave national brands a foothold in the Michigan beer market. In the 1960s, the Stroh family wanted to move the company into the national arena. They bought the Goebel Brewing Company--their rival across the street--in 1964. This increased Stroh's brewing capacity and solved the company's short term growing pains. Some twenty years later, Stroh's was sold in seventeen states. They needed even more brewing capacity, so they bought Schaefer Brewing Company--that had recently gone belly-up in the Miller beer advertising wars.

Then in 1982, Stroh's bought the Schlitz Brewing Company to become America's third-largest brewer--producing many well-known brands like Goebel, Schaefer, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Colt 45, and many others. In 1985, the 135-year-old-brewery on the East Side was simply outdated and had no room to expand. The following year it was imploded--a better fate than many of Detroit's factory ruins.

The Stroh's company business plan was to buy up struggling breweries and drive up the company's market share. Stroh's $500 million heavy debt load to buy Schlitz weakened the company's financial position and left them cash poor to compete with the onslaught of Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company's national marketing campaigns.

In 1990, Coors moved past Stroh's as America's #3 brewer. Stroh's market share dropped 50%. Beer analysts felt that Stroh's came to the light-beer party late. In 1973, Miller Brewing created Miller Lite beer and used macho football players and "tough guys" like pulp-fiction author Mickey Spillane. Miller's "Tastes Great/Less Filling" debate was a stroke of marketing genius. The Budweiser Clydesdales were a potent marketing image for Stroh's to compete with as well.

From the beginning of the company, Stroh's catered to working-class tastes at working-class prices. But Joe Six-Pack had moved on. Beer marketing shifted away from the product and onto the drinker. Advertising slogans like "This Bud's for You" and "It's Miller time--You earned it!" had great appeal to blue-collar beer drinkers. Coors' Silver Bullet promotion was the last straw.

In 1999--unable to compete in the twenty-first century--the 149 year-old brewer closed, and its assets were broken up and sold for the sum of their parts to Pabst Brewing and Miller Brewing companies. Many of the Stroh's brands were discontinued or sold off to other companies. Pabst acquired the well-known brands Colt 45, Schlitz, and Old Milwaukee--Miller got Mickey's Malt Liquor and the Henry Weinhard's line of beers.

Today's Stroh's is produced by Miller Brewing Company. They don't use the special open-flame copper kettles, and the taste reflects the difference. The traditional Stroh's label read "America's Only Fire-Brewed Beer," but now it reads "America's Premium Brewed Beer."

As for the Stroh's family legacy, somehow the seventh generation has managed to lose over $700 million. Forbes magazine reports that by 2008, the family fortune was completely tapped out.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How FBI Serial Killer Profiling Works

Because of the growing number of requests for profiling services in the 1980s, the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit made their services available to law enforcement nationwide through their Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP)--which maintains a nationwide network of computer databases dedicated to taking violent offenders off the streets as quickly as possible.

The VICAP Crime Analysis Report runs for ten pages of detailed law enforcement reporting for each murder. Factors such as age, gender, occupation, intelligence, acquaintance with the victim, residence, mode of transportation, modus operandi, ritualistic behavior, victim characteristics, and offender characteristics are recorded and entered into their database.

When two or more murders have been committed over time by the same person(s), a dynamic synergistic comparison can give investigators a systematic look at the presence or absence of evidence, the crime scene signature, the comfort zone of the killer, and the possible motives for the murders. Other indicators such as emotional intensity, the rationale for the murders and any number of factors that stand out to investigators can help law enforcement identify offenders. Criminal profiling gives investigative agencies the ability to connect details, recognize patters of offender behavior, and review national fingerprint and DNA databases which facilates the work of narrowing down suspects.

The intent of crime scene investigation and psychological profiling is to identify the key elements of the scene and the behavioral factors related to serial killers--enabling homicide investigators to prioritize leads and apprehend offenders before they can kill again. A developing composite profile does not provide the identity of the offender but merely indicates the type of person most likely to commit such a crime having these characteristics. One researcher, Geberth (1981), found that a murderer’s behavior and personality is reflected in the crime scene “much the same way as furnishings reveal the homeowner’s character.” Sexual homicide crime scenes reveal information about the killer’s behavior and how he furnishes his mind.

When crime scene characteristics are combined with profile characteristics, a composite picture of the behavioral traits of the offender begins to take shape. With serial killers, the profile comes into sharper focus with each new victim. From these elements, investigators are able to draw assumptions about the killer, but they need to be always on guard against tunnel vision—making conclusions that place limitations upon the investigation.


The FBI’s Behavorial Science Unit (BSU) researchers found that serial killers suffer from antisocial personality disorder, a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others. They have no conscience and usually show a history of petty crime. Serial killers make the leap from sociopaths to psychopaths when the predatory urge overwhelms them.

The BSU study discovered that most serial killers share many of the same formative experiences growing up: 

  • They had a history of being bullied or socially isolated as children and adolescents.
  • They often engaged in petty crimes like theft, fraud, or vandalism.
  • They are practiced liars.
  • Many come from unstable families and have experienced a serious family disruption like divorce, separation, or a breach in the parent/child relationship.
  • Many have a history of being abused emotionally, physically, and/or sexually in their youth by a family member.
  • They often manifest attachment disorder due to early childhood trauma like violence, neglect, rejection, or pervasive alcohol or drug use in the home.
  • They suffer from low self-esteem and retreat into a fantasy world where they are safe and in control.
  • They are fascinated by fires and fire starting.
  • And they often show cruelty to younger children and/or small animals.

Additional common traits of serial killers documented by the BSU were:

  • A serial killer’s motivation is usually psychological gratification of some sort.
  • They have a compulsive need for power and control over their victims.
  • They suffer from mental illness with psychotic episodes and have mental illness or alcoholism in their family backgrounds.
  • They have a passion for throttling which leads to overkill.
  • They often display a blood lust by mutilating, dismembering, or disemboweling their victims.
  • They have an overwhelming desire to inflict pain and terror, and many violate the bodies of victims with foreign objects.
  • They are predators of victims weaker than themselves: children and defenseless women in particular.
  • They lack remorse or guilt and project blame upon their victims.
  • They suffer from impulsivity and are oversexed with intense sexual frustration.
  • They have fits of self-pity and resentment.
  • They often begin their crimes with peeping in windows and home burglary--which often escalates to rape and murder.
  • They are compulsive liars and petty thieves.
  • They usually stalk their victims but will take advantage of crimes of opportunity.
  • They often take trophies from the crime scenes, photos, or body parts as souvenirs to relive their orgies of depravity.
  • They often wear a mask of sanity in public for protective coloration.
  • Their boundaries between fantasy and reality are lost.
  • Their fantasies turn to dominance, control, sexual conquest, violence, and finally murder.
Not every serial killer fits each one these traits, but it is striking how consistently many of these traits appear in the profiles of every known serial killer.

These common characteristics help investigators form a composite picture of an offender. Drawing conclusions about a suspect from profile characteristics is as much art as science, and it takes a trained eye and a bit of luck to pay dividends, but when done properly, the likelihood of catching a serial killer is greatly enhanced. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Toxic Behaviors--Recognizing Sociopaths

One in twenty-five people is a sociopath. These are people with an instinctual ability to exploit weakness and vulnerability. Sociopaths read and study their victims--this is their great advantage over us. They know us better than we know them. Their propensity to exploit weakness is their hidden skill. Once they target their prey, their victims are compromised. People who can see through a sociopath’s deceptions are avoided or eliminated. Discovery is the last thing they want.

But this speaks to them. What about us? Why do so many of us seem vulnerable to sociopaths? One answer may be that many of us have a mild to moderate affinity for danger and a hunger for excitement to punctuate our otherwise mundane lives. Many people enjoy controlled risks and love cheap thrills they can get an emotional rush from and then return to the safety of our homes. Vicarious experiences from action and thriller fantasies on the silver screen, to riding the latest and greatest amusement park rides, fill this void for most of us.

Leonardo Dicaprio in The Great Gatsby.

American pop culture presents a high-octane lifestyle of the rich and famous, often fueled by drugs, alcohol, and conspicuous wealth that create an unrealistic expectation for success that most Americans can never hope to achieve. We idolize famous actors, successful athletes, dubious celebrities, and people with money. We long for our own sense of celebrity--anything to quell the routine boredom of our conventional lives. We hunger for excitement, so most of us are willing to take the occasional risk and let down our guard.

Part of our American folklore informs us that dangerous people are charismatic. Going for the bad boy seems like a coming-of-age ritual for many young women in our culture--the proverbial moth attracted to the flame. How many intelligent women get over their heads in relationships with men who aren’t as smart because they perceive the man to be exciting, sexy, or notorious? The answer is simply too many. These relationships often become controlling, degrading, and violent. Sometimes, they become fatal.

Everyday life is routine and tedious much of the time, and we are creatures of habit. So every once in a while, many of us like to step out of our hum-drum lives and relax our defenses. Predators know this. When someone or something doesn’t seem right, people should go with their instincts and not ignore the warning signs.

Here are ten traits of sociopaths to watch for:

Sociopaths don’t have a conscience.

2. They suffer from attachment disorder.

3. They are easily bored and need continual stimulation.

4. They are not comfortable in their own skin.

5. They are absolutely self-involved and high-strung.

6. They tend toward hypochondria and seek pity to manipulate others.

7. They are not team players.

8. They show unremitting self-interest.

9. They use and abuse people with impunity.

They are narcissists who know the words but not the music of life.

(Source unknown.)

Sociopaths make full use of social and professional roles which provide a ready-made mask. Many of us are irrationally influenced by people in positions of authority or in uniform. Conventional wisdom insists that You can’t judge a book by its cover, but people do so routinely. We have all heard and seen news reports of police, teachers, clergymen, and childcare providers who abuse the trust placed in them. Their roles or the masks they wear constitute their protective coloration or camouflage.

Serial killer Gerald John Schaefer became a teacher after college but was fired for “totally inappropriate behavior” by the school’s headmaster. Next, he tried to get into the priesthood and was quickly rejected. Then, he became a policeman. Each of these authoritarian roles would have placed Schaefer in a position of power to exploit and abuse people.

As a patrolman, Schaefer picked up two teenage girls who were hitchhiking on July 21, 1972--one seventeen and the other eighteen. He took them to a secluded place in a remote wood, tied them to a tree, and threatened to kill them or sell them into prostitution if they tried to escape. He had to answer a police call on his radio and left. When he returned, the girls had escaped and made their way to the local police station, the same station where Patrolman Schaefer worked. He was arrested and posted bail. Two months after his release, he pulled the same stunt. He abducted Susan Place--age seventeen--and Georgia Jessup--age sixteen. Schaefer tortured, murdered, and buried them on Hutchinson Island, Florida.

Most people readily accept the superficial trappings of authority unquestioned. Too often the danger signs are there, but people choose to ignore them. When they finally see what’s behind the mask, it is often too late.