Thursday, February 11, 2010

My apologies...

Things are crazy at work right now so I've been too busy to write much.  Maybe this weekend I can get my post up about the Lyn Kelley's confession.  Go and read Dr. Epperly's post about Kelley's time South Dakota.  He was a twisted little dude...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No wait! I took the Lindbergh baby…

I am a terrible liar. A few years back I participated in a Psychological study on the efficacy of polygraph machines during criminal interrogations. It was a double blind study in which I was instructed either to sneak into a room and steal an object or leave the building altogether without stealing anything. Ten minutes later I was to return and take a polygraph. I got to steal the fake money and ten minutes later, even though the money was phony and I knew there would be no repercussions for lying to the polygraphologist (!) I completely melted down. After the exam results were compiled the professor in charge of the study said “Inspector, you are a terrible liar.”  

So why bring this up? Turns out this study was in conjunction with The Innocence Project looking at the prevalence of “false positives” in the use of polygraphs. The psychology of false confessions isn’t new. In 1908 Harvard psychology professor Hugo Munsterberg published a series of essays on psychology and crime. He dedicated one essay to “Untrue Confessions” and tried to explain the psychology behind these. He asked; why would a psychologically healthy individual freely confess to a crime they did not commit? Aside from the obvious physical and mental duress caused by investigators there are many instances of confessions being secured without outside influence. Munsterberg mentioned the case of the Boorne brothers who confessed to murdering their brother-in-law, going so far as to describe how they got rid of the body. Trouble was the “murdered” man was very much alive. It is said as many as two hundred people confessed to kidnapping Charles Lindbergh, Jr. from his crib in 1932 and who can forget John Mark Karr’s “confession?”

With regard to the Midwest Murders, in 1917 a preacher from Oklahoma arrived in Red Oak, Iowa with the story of a dying man he couldn’t remember the name of confessing to the Villisca murders four years prior. In 1932 a prisoner in Detroit confessed to killing the Moore family but knew nothing of the Stillinger girls. Another man would confess in 1951 but the most important confession would come from the Rev. Lyn Kelley. My personal opinion, as I’ve said before, is Kelley didn’t do it. I’ve addressed this opinion here.  Aside from confessing to the Villisca murders three times, Rev. Lyn Kelley also confessed to sinking the Lusitania. I do not believe Lyn Kelley was physically coerced into to confessing. I believe he fell into the category of Coerced-Internalized False Confessions, in which a weak minded suspect, usually exhausted by long interrogations, is actually convinced by the interrogator they are guilty of the crime. Munsterberg also suggested that a false confession my come from a person who feels guilty about something else, often entirely unrelated to the crime they are accused of. This certainly would have fit Lyn Kelley who was accused of all kinds of perverted behaviors. I believe if Lyn Kelley were given a polygraph today he would fail miserably on any subject asked of him. This makes it very hard to take any confession seriously, whether it was accurate or not. I do believe his confession was his own. In other words, the interrogators didn’t write something down and have him sign it. It is just my opinion the confession was false. Why I believe this I will discuss in my next post.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A question to get me back on track…

John asks: What is the deal with covering victims and mirrors with bedclothes?

Admittedly I have gone slightly off track with the original intent of the blog. Perhaps comparing other axe murders of the time to those I consider part of the Midwest Axeman’s reign interests me more than readers. So let me get back on track by addressing John’s question.

I’ll give my usual caveat: I am not a criminal profiler. The opinions expressed are mine.
The crime scenes in which at least one victim was covered with bed sheets or clothing were: both of the crime scenes in Colorado Springs, Monmouth, Ellsworth, Mount Pleasant, Paola and Villisca. Only one crime scene had the mirrors covered, Villisca, but at Ellsworth the phone was covered. Let me address the covering of the bodies first. In some post somewhere I said this usually indicates some amount of remorse on the part of the killer, an attempt to “take it back” if you will. Psychopaths don’t care about their victims so remorse was less likely to be a reason. More likely this was a compulsion or something the killer felt he had to do. It is important to note the killer only attacked the heads of the victims, usually obliterating their facial features. This was not only a means to an end (the end being the death of the victim) but a way to depersonalize the victim. Covering the victim further insured they did not have to “see” them... or perhaps for the victim to “see” the killer.

Why cover the mirrors? Contrary to what was written at the time, covering mirrors in a house after someone has just died was common place in the United States. It was speculated the reason was due to an East European superstition about the dead seeing their reflection and becoming trapped in the house. However it has long been a Jewish tradition while sitting Shiva to have mirrors covered as well. It was also common place among the “lower” classes of England to cover mirrors and windows after a person died. I don’t think we’re looking at a simple superstition here but a psychological need being fulfilled. Investigators in Ellsworth speculated the killer covered the phone in order to muffle the sound of it ringing. This seems fairly ridiculous unless the killer had a reasonable expectation the phone might ring at one in the morning. I believe the phone was covered for the same reason the mirrors and victims were covered (dramatic pause); the eyes. 

The "eyes" of a Western Electric #317 - ca. 1909

The killer either didn’t like to be watched or didn’t want to be looked at, maybe due to a perceived (or real) physical scar or defect (since I think the killer worked for the railroad perhaps it was due to a train accident). After the killer had murdered the victims he covered windows in order to block the view of any pain in the neck witnesses then proceeded to carry out his rituals, in complete anonymity, safe from the eyes of his victims and himself.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

“My name is Ida Keller. I am 30 years old.”

It’s been a while since I posted so look here for a recap of the Keller murders.
As neighbors and doctors began to show up at the Keller home during the early morning hours of June 10, 1913, Ida began to act strangely. In spite of her story of an intruder attempting to kill her entire family, Ida showed no emotion. She was found quietly bathing her daughter’s head with water. Now in my opinion, initial emotional responses to a shocking event are not enough to raise suspicions. Everyone reacts to intense emotional events differently and shock can register in many ways. However Ida would soon pull out the first red flag of the day when she asked a witness about the chances of her husband’s life insurance, through the Modern Woodmen, being paid out. Arthur would be dead before sun rise and Margaret would die later that evening.

More questions arose at the coroner’s inquest that night. How was Ida able to discern the color of the intruder’s socks if he was backlit by a burning paper sack? On a key ring filled with multiple keys, how had the killer known which key to use to lock the door while making his escape? Ida testified at the inquest that after fighting off the murderer she pulled her revolver out of a drawer. This revolver was found in the drawer when neighbors entered the house and she did not have it when she asked the neighbors to use their phone. Why did she put it back before leaving the house for help? Ida stuck with her story while on the stand and never wavered in her explanations.
On June 12, 1913, a detective from Kansas City named Harry Arthur arrived in Harrisonville at the request of Cass County Sheriff Jim Prater. By this time Ida was under observation but not arrest. On the day of his arrival he requested a private meeting with Ida May. Before supper time that night Detective Arthur had a signed confession from Ida Keller which was given in front of three witnesses. Later in the evening Sheriff Prater’s daughter saw Ida May quietly rocking in a chair in her cell and lightly humming. Some time that night, Ida May began shouting and demanding to see the sheriff. When Prater arrived Ida May recanted the entire confession.

Ida May Keller was sentenced to prison for the natural term of her life and she lost an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1915 and disappeared from the public record.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy new year...

A few days late but I wanted to wish my dozens of readers a happy and prosperous 2010.  Now that the holidays have passed I will begin posting again (thrilling!).  Upcoming events include the conclusion to the Ida May Keller saga and a post mortem of confessions (including Lyn Kelley's).  At some point I want to discuss the murders in Blue Island, Illinois and Columbia, Missouri.  Posting soon...