Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The Criminal Brain
Remember that guy who went up into the tower at the University of Texas and killed those people? His name was Charles Whitman, a former Marine and a student at UT Austin. On August 1, 1966, this quiet, well-liked, academically excellent young man killed his mother and his wife in their home and then climbed the tower of the university’s administration building, killing three people along the way. From the observation deck, he opened fire on the people below. He killed ten more and wounded 32 others before being killed by the police.
The initial theories about why Whitman went bonkers posited a dysfunctional family and abuse of amphetamines. Whitman, who had been complaining of unbearable headaches, left a suicide note that asked that an autopsy be performed on his brain. The postmortem revealed that a brain tumor called a glioblastoma. The coroner’s report said it "conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions." Eagleman thinks it did. I believe him.
Eagleman insists that people who are dangerous have to be taken off the streets, but his research has enormous implications for the criminal justice system. If you would like to hear the interview, here is link to the podcast. This is all fascinating stuff and might influence the thinking of writers of crime fiction as well as the procedures of cops, judges, and wardens.
The part about criminal behavior comes in the second half of Terry Gross’s masterful (as usual) interview.