Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blood Simple: Sam Sleeps

In the annals of pathological behavior, the case of Col. David Russell Williams, the high-ranking Canadian air force pilot run amok, must rank high. Williams’s crime spree started with breaking and entering houses of young girls to steal their underwear, and ended in several grisly murders involving battery and asphyxiation. He recorded most if not all of his exploits and saved them as computer files (“Top Canadian Commander Pleads Guilty to Murders,” NYT, 10/18/10). Without playing amateur sleuth or psychoanalyst, one would have to conclude that Colonel Williams wanted to be caught. Another salient feature of the crime spree was that it was characterized by a continuing escalation, in which the equivalent of a high school prank evolves into fetishism, masturbation, and finally acts of assault, starting with stripping and blindfolding his victims and culminating in two acts of murder. Bank robbers and other criminals often go on sprees, but it’s unclear if their adventures are characterized by continually upping the ante, with more daredevil-type robberies of ever larger and seemingly well defended institutions. Also, it seems rare that felons wish to be caught. Thus, Williams’s pathology is distinctive in its evolutionary and self-defeating character. Williams was not the classic criminal who simply sets out to get the things he can’t have. In fact, one would think that a high-level pilot of his type would be a sex symbol to certain women, which makes his bevy of transgressions all the more puzzling. His persona would hardly seem to be that of the retiring misfit who would be unattractive to women. Indeed, if he had wanted to engineer it, he probably could have found willing partners in debauchery. What was driving this latter day Jack the Ripper? Was he hearing voices like the famed Son of Sam, David Berkowitz? How does he compare to Hayes and Komisarjevsky, the two criminals recently involved in the grisly Petit murders? Were drugs involved? And how is such behavior defined? Is Williams, who led a double life as criminal on one hand and as husband and family man (who golfed with his wife) on the other, insane, by legal definitions of the word?  In the lifetime of incarceration that undoubtedly awaits him, authorities and mental health professionals will have a unique opportunity to explore the subterfuges of one of the more extreme examples of criminal pathology.

1 comment:

  1. All pathology may be called masochistic, "victory through defeat"


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