Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Evil Brain: What Lurks Inside a Killer’s Mind


Homicidal madmen don’t have much of a capacity for gratitude, but if they did, they’d offer a word of thanks to Charles Whitman. Whitman was the 25-year-old engineering student and former Marine who, in 1966, killed 17 people and wounded 32 in a mass shooting at the University of Texas, before being shot and killed himself by police. Earlier that day, he also murdered his wife and mother. Criminal investigators looking for a reason for the rampage got what seemed to be their answer quickly, in the form of a suicide note Whitman left at his home:
I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts…please pay off my debts [and] donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type.
Whitman got his  wish—after a fashion. With the approval of his family, an autopsy was conducted and investigators found both a tumor and a vascular malformation pressing against his amygdala, the small and primitive region of the brain that controls emotion. A state commission of inquiry concluded that the tumor might have contributed to the shootings, earning Whitman a tiny measure of posthumous redemption—and providing all killers since at least the fig leaf defense that something similar might be wrong with them too.

For the rest of the story:

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