Sunday, May 04, 2008

Austria cellar man 'mentally ill'

Stories such as this one infuriate me. Once again we have a lawyer who is paid far too much money to try to find a way of reducing the punishment of a man who has undeniably committed a heinous crime, and the best he can come up with is “he couldn’t help it; he’s mentally ill”.

There’s no getting away from it; some people are just bad and do bad things. People can’t always be excused for what they do. Continually using mental illness as an excuse means that bad people are not being punished adequately for the crimes they commit; the sincerity of those who do commit crime due to mental illness is called into question; and people with mental illness in general are wrongly viewed as people to be feared and avoided, as it appears that there are more people with mental illness committing crime than there actually is.

This has to stop.

Are we going to get to the stage where no crime is punishable? Will every crime be attributed to mental illness? Will all murderers, rapists, and paedophiles be regarded as victims of illness rather than bad people? Where does it end?


BPD in OKC said...

I read about this guy on another blog this morning. He is just plain sick. I don't really know what else to say about it other than he needs to spend the rest of his life trapped in a dungeon

Polar Bear said...

Some times there is a very thin line between mental illness and evil. And unfortunately this does get blurred by some (as you put it) overpaid lawyers.

I think the Austrian man should be jailed for life. He's not ill. He is the very epitome of evil.

Shiv said...

I agree with everything in the post and the comments. As the son of a (now no longer with us) schizophrenic mother, the stigma and fearmongering that the media stirs up around mental illness, especially the little understood schizophrenia, just disgusts me. The media would have us believe that all mentally ill people are physically dangerous, and the lazy lawyers are just fuelling it.
My memories of my mother are of someone incredibly loving, not just to me but to everyone she met, and who loved and cared for animals. She suffered from schizophrenia for many years, including being sectioned at least four times. But never ever was she physically (or sexually, lets just get that clear) dangerous to anyone.
Not the kind of person the average member of public thinks of when they hear "schizophrenia".
And yes, that twisted monster needs to spend the rest of his life in lonely isolation. He isn't schizophrenia, he's psychopathic.

Mr Mans Wife said...

BPD, I agree - but sick in a twisted way, not in an illness way! I think he should be locked up for at least 24 years, as that is how many years he stole from his daughter - not to mention the years he took from his children with her who had never seen day light, and the fact that he should also be locked away for the abuse he inflicted.

Polar Bear, I'm not sure if I understood you correctly, but I don't believe the line between mental illness and evil is that thin. They are two different things. Some people are both, other people will be one or the other, and then others will be neither. But I agree he should be jailed for life.

Shiv, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.
The stupid thing it that those who are scared of people with mental illness obviously don't realise just how many people suffer from it. They undoubtedly come into contact with people with mental illness almost every day of their lives, but obviously they can't tell because they are no different to anyone else.

Thank you BPD, Polar Bear, and Shiv for your comments.

Shiv said...

Not at all, thank you for your blog!
I was quite young when I was with my mother, so it is hard for me to pick out a lot of what was "real" and what things were fuelled by the illness. I am hoping that reading your blog will give me new insights into the illness and help me understand better not only my past but the person that has shaped me (learned schizophrenia is no fun!)


Diane J Standiford said...

AGREED! Hey, I am highlighting your blog on my blog Sat.

piebuko said...

This was exactly my reaction after reading that they're going to raise mental illness as a defense. I was really, really angry.

It's not surprising why people associate mental illness with homicide, murder and now, rape!

Being mentally ill does not mean that the person does not know right from wrong. That man is not mentally ill. He is just plain evil. He methodically planned the whole thing. He is a disgusting evil pervert!

Mr Mans Wife said...

Thank you Shiv. I sincerely hope you find what you are looking for.

Hi Diane. Thank you for the feature! I left a thank you on your blog too.

Piebuko, I completely agree. People seem to think that mental illness can be "dropped" as easily as it can be "picked up" too. I shall write about that soon.

Thank you Shiv, Diane and Piebuko for your comments.

Anonymous said...

You always pick up and stir my most emotive topics MMW! :-)

Evil and mental illness is like giraffes and speedboats. There is just no connection.

Evil and psychopathy.
Like hand and glove.

The trouble we still have though is prison is just too good for these people... which says a lot for 'our' perception of those mentally ill - if we still think this is the their place in society.

The only benefit of a 'mental illness' disposal is that those laws tend to allow for indefinite incarceration based on assessment of probability and are not defined by strict time limits as in a prison sentence.
Some places, like here in Qld Australia, have laws such as Dangerous Prisoners (Sex Offenders) Act that allow for such persons to be locked up indefinitely based on the same principles of 'potential risk' rather than historical acts.

The criminal system has always presented offenders with an opportunity to 'try again' after having served their time; a privilege not so readily given to those detained for mental illness.
If a psychopath is disposed of by criminal courts - the courts are only usually vested with powers to incarcerate for time-limited periods - even murder often lasts only 25 years and offenders can be paroled in far less time.

Given that there are times where mental illness can present as a risk to society (tho this is far more limited than society actually understands - see previous multiple debates!) - And criminals clearly need some form of punishment or deterrant - What we have identified in the last 15 or so years is that there are clearly a third branch of person who require their own recognised 'special' attention - psychopaths.

Courts are limited because we continue to have to let them out even tho the risks are considered very high - many hcild sex offenders fit this description.
Mental Health legislation is not best - as psychpathy is not a 'treatable illness' - but is a condition that displays a marked selfishness, parisitic and an absence of empathy or consideration for others.
'Treatment' in mental health is only ever 'successful' by making sure they know the benefits of behaving 'their' way is outweighed by the 'costs' of what society/establishment does to them Unfortunately, 'treatment' usually requires the person to be contained in a highly structured and atypical environment and 'cure' is unlikely to such an extent they might return to mainstream society.
However, even if returned - usually they just come out 'better psychopaths' - more adept at manipulating and grooming - becuase we spent all that time on teaching them social boundaries - which they then use to find other ways to go about their deviant ways whilst now better avoiding detection.

I remember as a younger nurse the conversations of how child sex offenders ought just be put on an island and left to live out their lives in isolation from the rest of society. I used to consider this to be grossly un-empathic to those who simply lacked the ability to understand how wrong their behaviours were (and I strongly believe this personal theory: Studies are attempting to show that psychopathy originates in a failure of the analytical part of the brain to link properly with the emotional components of the brain - which is an anatomical flaw - either by congenital defect or by environmental influence such as abused childhood. Ergo it is no more 'evil' than, say, people with epilepsy who become violent before a seizure).

However, I now tend to agree that, since there is no 'cure' for some of those worst offenders - it's about time they got their own legislation and we simply ring-fence them off.

Of course, in reality we are amongst psychopaths daily and perhaps don't even notice it - but, just like mental illness, there are those in which it is more noticeable and who stand out from the crowd and those who either fear the 'cost' or simply modify themselves because they feel a natural 'want' to fit in with the rest of "us".

Sorry it's so long - but I did warn you! hehe :-)

(Using this nick to track email comments!)

Good to 'see' you again MMW


Mr Mans Wife said...

Hello Mr Ian. I realise this reply is a tad... late. :)

I agree that some people should be locked up indefinitely for the protection of others if nothing else.

I have a problem with believing that psychopathy is an anatomical flaw. Why won't people accept that some people are just bad? Why does everyone have to be a victim? We all know what is right and wrong, and sometimes we just want to do what is wrong - some more than others. Some people feel guilt over the bad things they have done, and some people don't. Those that do would no doubt accept their punishment; those that feel no guilt would fight for freedom. Either way, they should stay locked up.

Mr Ian said...

I do not wish to 'excuse' every person who did wrong but I (being an analytical person) like to understand why.

I agree there are those people who choose to do wrong and in this instance it is arguable that he went to sufficient lengths to "hide" his actions - and the only reason for doing this is that he knew he could be "caught & punished" for it.

But it doesn't necessarily have to follow that he knew 'why' it was wrong.

As I've said before - Reasoning works when choice A outweighs choice B (A should be the good thing to do). B increases when there are sufficient additional influences - eg it's wrong to steal - but to steal food for a starving 3 year old? We behave because of reason.
To behave that evil towards your own children (or anyone at all in this way) defies all reason - even in the most vivid imagination. Something is seriously messed up in this man's head - but it's not psychoses.

Even in the most persistent of psychoses there are glimmers of reality and insight.

Psychopathy is a retrospective behavioural diagnoses - ie relies on certain behavioural markers to be displayed - rather than a diagnosable condition (much like psychotic or neurotic mental illness ) which is why it often falls to mental health to deal with it.

There is argument in trying to understand why some psychopaths behave in more extreme ways than others - and even that some psychopaths can still function in life without causing such extremes of pain.

But until they work it out - I'm happy to keep these kinds of people incarcerated.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Mr Ian, you're obviously far too nice to be able to understand the evils of mankind. Sometimes there is no reason - people are just bad, and they like being bad.

I agree with you that the person needs to understand that certain behaviours are bad, and why they are bad, and I happen to think this is where some parents fail their children; but by the time a person reaches adulthood they know what is right and wrong, whether they have learnt it from their parents or the society they live in.

The fact that some psychopathic people manage to refrain from hurting others shows that, anatomical flaw or not, these people are able to reason and choose which course of behaviour they will follow.

Mr Ian said...

In autism, particularly Asperger's Syndrome, there is a similar dysfunction of the brain.
I also consider that in Down's Syndrome there might also be a similar occasion of messed up brain wiring.
The similarity being that people with these syndromes present with unconventional and incongruent (to the average) forms of social behaviour.
However, since those with Down's Syndrome tend to be excessively friendly and happy - no one really minds it too much - and everyone thinks they're "cute".
People with Asperger's are considered "odd" or "eccentric".

I've certainly never seen a person with Down's Syndrome in a secure unit.

Prader-Willi syndrome is usually genetic but can be induced from head trauma. It's most striking feature is an seemingly insatiable appetite. There is a dysfunction within the hypothalanmus that means the person is constantly feeling a need to eat.

Psychopaths are remarked as having a constant need for risk-taking behaviours in a similar insatiable manner. Because their behaviours result in social consequences, they seem to learn by logical and concrete cost-benefit analysis - without having to (or being able to) consider the harm to human kind. Their decisions are based on consideration of "what this choice is going to do for/to me?"

It is clear the worst of this kind are too dangerous for society to permit them freedom once they have shown the extent of their wrong behaviours.

If people with Prader-Willi syndrome were eating small children, I am sure we would act differently.

I understand it is outside of human nature to want to 'excuse' anyone for evil doings - but having worked in this area for several years I cannot ignore the fact that some people just seem to be born without the same tools as everyone or never seem to develop past the egocentric stages of childhood.

I do however still agree that there are those who have the tools and choose not to use them. I believe these are clearly immoral people - whereas psychopaths are amoral.

Anonymous said...

as the wife of a schizophrenic, I am at a point recently where all of a sudden, out of nowhere , I can't stand him and i have no patience anymore. After 5 years.

He is a bully to the point of telling me when and where to cross the street, he orders things on line, orders credit cards, runs them up, now I AM RESPONSIBLE BECAUSE I AM MARRIED TO HIM, he wants to download a million computer programs onto my computer and when I say no, he nags me for hours, weeks, months.

I can't find a job and it's getting to be that if i could, i would walk away, my nerves are shot. This is only a TINY portion of the stuff he does and has done.

He smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day and we have no money for that.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Once again Mr Ian I have left it far too long before replying to your comments. They just make me think too hard!

You make some interesting comparisons. I'm inclined to suggest that those with an insatiable appetite for risk taking should take up extreme sports rather than hurting others for thrills.

If psychopathy is a retrospective behavioural diagnosis, then we're saying that there must be a line - a criminal is responsible for his or her actions up to a point, but but past that point he or she is no longer responsible for their own actions. I find it incredible that some can be excused because they are more callous and less remorseful than others.

This is an interesting debate though - just the other week my counsellor tried to tell me that she thought my brother was mentally ill. He's not. He's just bad. It hurts me to admit that he is bad because he is my brother, but I can not and will not make excuses for him.

Thanks for your comments Mr Ian.


Anonymous, welcome to my blog and thank you for sharing your experience.

I am truly sorry that your husband is putting you through so much. I wouldn't necessarily conclude that these behaviours are due to his illness though. As mentioned in my blog previously, people with Schizophrenia still have their own personalities. If he is inclined to be controlling anyway, he may have led you to believe that "he can't help it" because of his illness, to get his own way. Understandably, you have reached your limit.

I don't know where you are from, but here in the UK carers are entitled to a carers assessment to help identify where their needs are not being met. Ask your Community Mental Health Team for this. The assessment will help identify emotional needs such as support groups, but also more practical needs such as finding out which benefits you are entitled to (which might help with some of your financial worries). They can also provide information on your husbands illness, so that you know what is due to his illness and what isn't. There are many things they can help you with, but sometimes it's knowing what to ask for. You may even have a Carer Support Worker in your area, who is there to provide YOU with support.

I really hope this helps. Please pop back and tell us the outcome.

Mr Ian said...

I, too, enjoy the debate.

I find it incredible that some can be excused because they are more callous and less remorseful than others.

If you have two kids - one is overweight and has poor physical fitness - He can run 100m in 2 minutes.
He is able to improve on this by exercising physically - he is 'encouraged' to improve because people think it possible and important to do so.
If the other kid is in a wheelchair he is more disabled. He is also simply unable to run the 100m no matter how much he might be encouraged - and that fitness remains good for his health. He just cannot do it.

The boy in the wheelchair is more disabled similarly as a psychopath is more disabled by not having the ability to feel empathy.

Ought we condemn the wheelchair bound boy for not trying harder to do the 100m dash as we do the psychopath for not trying to live within the moral boundaries as we do?

Psychopathy would, were it not for the damage it does to others, be accepted and considered as sympathetically as perhaps those with Downs Syndrome, learning disability.

Psychopathy is not, IMO, the same as antisocial personality disorder which is an insipid condition that can hopefully be 'reversed' with time and support.

Someone blind from birth knows not what they are 'missing' and therefore cannot 'appreciate' the differences of sight and no-sight.

Someone who later in life becomes blind would understand what they were missing as they had seen it.

Both are called 'blind' - yet have very different stories.

And neither are permitted to drive a car as they present too high a risk to themselves and others.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Your reasoning is flawless as always Mr Ian.

But if psychopathy is an anatomical flaw, and yet there is no test for it, surely "symptoms" would have to be consistently present and apparent from early childhood - just as in the conditions that you mentioned previously, Autism and Downs Syndrome - and not just applied to unremorseful killers/rapists/men who lock their daughters up in dungeons.

If a person had not shown a single act of remorse in their entire life from birth, then I would have to agree that there must be something anatomically wrong with them. Do parents pick up on things like that?

Mr Ian said...

In the olden days (I'm talking about the 1960s) psychopathy was often diagnosed on 3 things:
Cruelty to animals.
But these have since been shown to lack reliability and validity.

Wiki has a very good, balanced article here:
but I've pasted the (lengthy) bit about kids below:

Childhood precursors

Psychopathy is not normally diagnosed in children or adolescents, and some jurisdictions explicitly forbid diagnosing psychopathy and similar personality disorders in minors. Psychopathic tendencies can sometimes be recognized in childhood or early adolescence and, if recognised, are diagnosed as conduct disorder. It must be stressed that not all children diagnosed with conduct disorder grow up to be psychopaths, or even disordered at all, but these childhood signs are found in significantly higher proportions in psychopaths than in the general population. ...

Children showing strong psychopathic precursors often appear immune to punishment; nothing seems to modify their undesirable behavior. Consequently parents usually give up, and the behavior worsens.

The following childhood indicators are to be seen not as to the type of behavior, but as to its relentless and unvarying occurrence. Not all must be present concurrently, but at least a number of them need to be present over a period of years:

* An extended period of bedwetting past the preschool years that is not due to any medical problem.
* Cruelty to animals beyond an angry outburst.
* Firesetting and other vandalism. Not to be confused with playing with matches, which is not uncommon for preschoolers. This is the deliberate setting of destructive fires with utter disregard for the property and lives of others.
* Lying, often without discernible objectives, extending beyond a child's normal impulse not to be punished. Lies that are so extensive that it is often impossible to know lies from truth.
* Theft and truancy.
* Aggression to peers, not necessarily physical, which can include getting others into trouble or a campaign of psychological torment.

The three indicators—bedwetting, cruelty to animals and firestarting, known as the MacDonald triad—were first described by J.M. MacDonald as indicators of psychopathy. The relevance of these indicators to serial murder etiology has since been called into question, and they are considered irrelevant to psychopathy.


I also note the short BBC article from 2007:

Brain wiring link to paedophilia
Lead researcher Dr James Cantor said the latest study found a signficant lack of white matter connecting six different areas of the brain all known to play a role in sexual arousal.

His theory is that the lack of adequate wiring between the different centres results in paedophiles not being able to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate sexual objects.

However, Dr Cantor stressed the latest study did not suggest that paedophiles could not be held criminally responsible for their actions.

He said: "Not being able to choose your sexual interests doesn't mean you can't choose what you do."

I'm not sure if I accept the assertion that if someone lacks the ability to understand that their thoughts are wrong - they should not do it. This is a legal concept of 'mens rea' and 'acteus rea' meaning simply to know that the act was wrong.

Sorry if post is lengthy.

Mr Ian said...

... though not that sorry to avouid making another short post!

The Mask of Sanity is a seminal work from the C20th by Cleckley on psychopathy.

The following wiki extract may clarify some debates:

Cleckley is very clear that there are important distinctions between the psychopath and the average criminal:[9]

1. The psychopath very seldom takes much advantage of what he gains and almost never works consistently toward a goal in crime or anything else, seemingly lacking purpose
2. Criminal ends, though condemned, can usually be understood by the average man. It is not hard to understand why a criminal steals money. However, the psychopath, if he steals or defrauds, appears to do so for an obscure purpose, sometime incomprehensibly throwing away so much of value for short-term gains.
3. The criminal usually spares harm to himself as much as he can and harms others. The psychopath, although he causes sorrow and trouble for others, usually puts himself in a shameful position. His most serious damage to others is often through their concern for him and their futile efforts to help him.
4. The typical psychopath, from Cleckley's observations, usually avoids murder or other offenses that lead to lengthy prison sentences. The larger part of the psychopath's antisocial behavior can be interpreted as purposely designed to harm himself. Cleckley adds that most of the people who commit violent and serious crimes fail to show the chief characteristics of a psychopath.

Cleckley states that although a "considerable proportion" of inmates in penal institutions show indications of a psychopathic disorder, only a small proportion of typical psychopaths are likely to be found in an incarcerated environment.

Mr Ian said...

And to wrap my thoughts up on the cellar man....

He was (is) a psychopath, I have no doubt.

However, he was clever enough to cover his daughter's "absence" by mailing postcards and setting a fake scenario.

Ergo he knew it was wrong and tried to cover it over so as to continue his evil habits.

However, he probably only saw it in the same sort of white lies we might use to try to cover over a bad debt or a badly kept promise and the deeper he got into his lies the more he tried to cover his mistakes with more lies.

Was he:
Wrong? Yes.

Mentally Ill? No.

Evil? Debatable in the context of psychopathy as his awareness is compromised. He knew not (by lack of empathy) how what he did to his daughter was wrong (to the same extent you or I understand it) -

Culpable? Yes, as he did know it was wrong and tried to cover it up to sustain it by avoiding detection - now matter how little he understood it was wrong - he still realised it was wrongful.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Thank you for all the information Mr Ian - I need time to digest it before I comment. But first I need sleep. Sleep. Lovely sleep.