Friday, July 2, 2010

Inside the Criminal Brain...for Life + 99

Day 144 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I have a feeling some satisfied Babbitt's customer is reading Life Plus 99 Years, by Nathan F. Leopold, Jr, and introduced by Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason crime stories, because I can't find our Babbitt's copy on the search page....and it was a real deal compared to the ones I can find online.

It was a 1974 reprint edition of the 1958 book by the convicted murder of Bobby Franks in the famous Leopold and Loeb case, where lawyer Clarence Darrow had them plead guilty, since they were, and made a famous speech that saved them from the death penalty. The judge sentenced them to "life plus 99 years," which might have meant forever, but Richard Loeb was knifed in the shower and died in prison, and Nathan Leopold was paroled and evidently really did try to do some good things after the really bad thing of cold-blooded kidnapping and murder. Which he did after reading Nietzsche.

It's the cold-blooded part I'm interested in here, and the structure of his brain, after hearing a fascinating story on NPR's Morning Edition, coming back from my morning swim. It's a special series called Inside the Criminal Brain, and in it researcher Jim Fallon discovers true crime in his own heritage and a black hole of remorselessness in his own brain.

It's pretty freaky, but he's not disturbed, and neither is his wife, and neither is his mother, who is the one who suggested he look into his family history, on his father's side, in the first place! There are 3 main ingredients that lead to criminal behavior, says Fallon. One is brain structure, and one is genes, so he also looked at his immediate family's DNA. Again, he's got the freaky genes, the possible psychopath or sociopath genes.

But, fortunately, he had a happy childhood. The 3rd ingredient is abuse or exposure to violence in childhood. The abused child who has icky brain patterns and icky DNA has a tough time ahead.
One thing that confused me is that Fallon called this a "young science" when I know from handling other books that doctors and criminologists and people in law enforcement have been looking at the brain for years to discover tendencies of the criminal mind. Not to mention phrenologists! Anyhoo, new knowledge and new measurement techniques have no doubt produced new (young) theories, yet to be fully tested...but people have known from observation for a long time that some people tend toward criminality. It's interesting how what we know and what we assume and what we are allowed to study or to say...keep changing.

And will continue to change, probably for life plus 99 years.


Sheila A. Donovan said...

I've always wondered why some children who were abused grow up to lead a normal life, others go on to abuse their own children and others end up murderers. The extra two factors that you mentioned (DNA and brain structure)are what makes the difference.

Ken said...

Where did you get the illustration for "Inside the Criminal Brain...for Life + 99"? I saw it in a 1993 history article and I'm not sure it's still under copyright.

Kathleen said...

Ken, I am trying to track that down for you now! I thought I had got it from the Wikipedia article I linked back to, and I hope I have not intruded on a copyright for this image. If you learn I have, please let me know, and I will take it right down!