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May 18, 2009

Tax Protest
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:33 AM *

Today is the anniversary of the Bath School Disaster. Up until the Oklahoma City bombing, Bath, Michigan, was the single deadliest act of domestic terrorism/mass murder in US history.

On May 18, 1927, 45 people, mostly children, were killed and 58 were injured when disgruntled and demented school board member Andrew Kehoe dynamited the new school building in Bath, Michigan out of revenge over his foreclosed farm due in part to the taxes required to pay for the new school.

That’s from a great page by a Bath native, full of links, first-person and contemporaneous accounts, and general information, located here.

To my Great-uncle Arnold Victor Bauerle, who died in the explosion at the age of 8. Thanks to Kehoe, the following excerpt from “The Bath School Disaster” by M.J. Ellsworth is all there is to remember him by, other than a picture of him with his brother and sister, his gravestone, a commemorative brick, and a memorial ornament at the Bath School Museum:
Young Arnold had missed a lot of school due to whooping cough, so he was sent to school while the rest of the family went to Lansing to buy shoes.

A brief outline of the events:
Andrew Kehoe, a local farmer (and suspected wife-beater), became unhappy with the town of Bath over taxes which he owed, and the foreclosure of his farm, which he blamed on the construction of the new consolidated school. His position as member of the school board gave him unquestioned access to the school, and he used that access to plant two bombs in the basement of the school, one under each wing. The bombs were dynamite, which he’d bought in small amounts from a variety of places, ostensibly for removing stumps on his farm, and pyrotol, a WWI surplus military explosive that was distributed free to farmers. In all, he had around a half-ton of explosives hidden in the basement. The bombs were wired to alarm clocks and set to go off at 9:45.

At 8:45, using accelerants and electric detonators, he set fire to his house, barn, and outbuildings, with his animals locked in their stalls inside. The local fire department responded to the scene. He approached a neighbor and three boys who stopped to watch and said, “‘Boys, you are friends of mine and you’d better get out of here. You’d better go on down to the school house.’”

At 9:43 one of the bombs in the school basement exploded, collapsing the north wing. The other bomb didn’t go off, for unknown reasons. Speculation includes that the batteries were weak, or perhaps that the concussion from the first explosion disabled the wiring.

Kehoe then drove into town, parking near the crowd of spectators and rescuers. He spotted the superintendent of schools, and called him over. When the man arrived at the car, Kehoe detonated a dynamite-and-scrap-iron bomb he had in the back seat.

Later, Kehoe’s wife’s body was found in one of the burned outbuildings at his farm. She was buried by her family under her maiden name. Later estimates were that, had he sold the equipment that he burned, he could have easily lifted the mortgage.

What witnesses who saw Kehoe that morning chiefly remember was how big a grin he had.

I was having a conversation with someone recently […] about the BSD and made the comment that Kehoe has achieved his objectives. By that I mean he, for all intents and purposes, wiped the town of Bath off the map. Unlike other tragedy survivors who want the world to remember their loss, BSD survivors tried hard to not only forget, but to do their level best to make the world forget. I have no doubt that the town was approached to do a documentary; but the town as a whole has tried since that time to get the world to forget as well. They would argue otherwise - but the proof is that the world does not remember, and Kehoe devastated that town better than if all the dynamite would have exploded. If we really care about what was done and want the world to truly remember their loss, we should do the best we can to counteract this.
Tax-protester Kehoe added several new features to domestic terrorism. He had an initial distracting event to draw emergency responders away from the scene of the main attack. He added the car bomb. And he added the suicide bombing.

Full text, with photos, of the book on the Bath School Disaster by M. J. Ellsworth.

Oral history at NPR.

There’s a Memorial Park.

Pennies collected from Michigan school children paid for a memorial statue: Girl With A Kitten.

Comments on Tax Protest:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 12:56 AM:

If the statists never insisted on uncompetitive socialist "public education" schemes it would never have come to this!


Sorry, the last site I visited got its bi-weekly visit by the resident cranky troll, who called us "chattle." [sic]

#2 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 01:34 AM:

Kehoe sounds like a violent forerunner of Howard Jarvis of Prop. 13 infamy.

I only knew of two locales named Bath, one in Maine and one in England, so perhaps the quotation above is accurate.

#3 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 01:41 AM:

I first ran across Kehoe at Crime Library. He's a perfect counter-example to use with people who think that people/society is more violent now.

Any amateur psychiatrists around here want to offer a rough diagnosis of what sort of complexes he might have had?

#4 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 01:54 AM:

Do the contemporary accounts say if he showed prior signs of violence or violent intent? In all the more recent cases I'm aware of, there was a lot of warning. Was that the case here?

#5 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 01:59 AM:

Randolph @ #4, the link to Ellsworth's book takes you to the full text; according to that contemporaneous account he was a tax hater and a man who'd been defeated for re-election to the school board.

#6 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 07:03 AM:

Just goes to show there's not much new under the sun....

#7 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 08:45 AM:

Linkmeister, #5: yes, there were signs. DAMN!

#8 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 09:05 AM:

Selling the equipment might have lifted the mortgage, but then he'd be a farmer with no equipment to work his farm. So I can see how, psychologically, that wouldn't improve things at all.

Since he's described as a "suspected wife-beater", there's probably prior history of violence.

I don't know about "warning signs", though; sure, people who do this sort of thing have a lot in common, but those things are nearly all things they have in common with the rest of humanity -- breathing, and on up. And I'm rather worried about what I perceive as a push to act on "warning signs".

#9 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 09:21 AM:

David, #8: the signs tend to be more dramatic than breathing. In the incidents I'm aware of, there's a clear obsession with violence. Usually there is also a history of cruel violence, sometimes directed at animals. Some of the perps in recent incidents of mass violence sought help and did not get it. With some of the younger perps their parents sought help, and did not get it.

#10 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 09:52 AM:

Re: warning signs: from Chapter Three of the Ellsworth book, it looks like there was talk about his stepmother's death when he was fourteen. He also killed his neighbors' dog.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 10:20 AM:

B Durbin @ 3... He's a perfect counter-example to use with people who think that people/society is more violent now.

Or that there are more pedophiles now. The difference is that things aren't swept under the carpet anymore.

#12 ::: Seth ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 10:44 AM:

You're not counting the Happy Land Fire?

#13 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 11:06 AM:

I'm not counting Happy Land as domestic terrorism.

#14 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 11:12 AM:

B. Durbin, and others: I tend to blame original sin. Sounds like Kehoe can be diagnosed as a violence-prone headcase, but it's not clear to me what difference "help" might have made. Oddly enough, in reading this story I was reminded of Timothy McVeigh.

#15 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 11:15 AM:

Um -- not oddly at all, since Jim pointed out the connection in the first paragraph of his post.

*wanders sadly off, regretting the absence of coffee

#16 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 11:26 AM:

I know I've gone through this story before, and I'm guessing somebody here pointed me to it. Not much to say, as anything I'd choose to emphasis has already been neatly framed in the post proper. Sarcasm fails me today. Pity (for the victims) and outrage (at the murderer -- and his present-day ilk) are all I've got.

#17 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 01:10 PM:

I had never heard of the Bath School Disaster. The folks who kept it quiet did their jobs very well. I don't remember hearing it referenced after Oklahoma City. That's usually what the media does, rank stuff.

The 1920's seemed to be a decade peppered with extreme crime. Leopold and Leob comes to mind. Wasn't there some spree arsonists in Wisconsin about that time? They would burn houses and take pictures of the fires IIRC.

#18 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 02:00 PM:

On "Book Talk" on C-Span this weekend, I watched a talk by Arnie Bernstain at the Bath Library on the occasion of the anniversary. He was discussing his new book, *Bath Massacre: The First School Bombing*.

He is not a great speaker, but the topic was compelling.

#19 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 02:35 PM:

I grew up in Michigan, and I never heard of this before. I don't think Bath is completely gone; I remember hearing it on the list of school closings when I was a kid.

But then I remember things that could not possibly have happened, so take that with a few crystals of NaCl.

#20 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 02:40 PM:

One needs to take "domestic" here in a narrow sense, as the Mountain Meadows Massacre for one was considerably larger, and there were other big Mormon massacres. And of course, there's Waco, depending on what one thinks happened.

#21 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 03:09 PM:

The book Toni at #18 refers to is published by the University of Michigan Press - there are links to other interviews and the like at their page.

#22 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 04:27 PM:

good lord. what a thorough job he did. what a thoroughly evil soul he was.

#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 06:02 PM:

Young Arnold had missed a lot of school due to whooping cough, so he was sent to school while the rest of the family went to Lansing to buy shoes.

Why we vaccinate...

#24 ::: Fred Moulton ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 07:03 PM:

I saw the C-SPAN Book-TV broadcast over the weekend. My memory of the broadcast is that it provides some information that is useful for context. Concerning Kehoe's background; he had been injured and in a coma for a couple of weeks when he was being trained as an electrician.

Kehoe had also been employed to work at the school on maintenance projects and thus supposedly had a detailed knowledge of the building structure. According to the broadcast other farmers in the area used Kehoe's services on their farms since he had knowledge about and experience with explosives as well as the materials.

#25 ::: David Owen-Cruise ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 09:26 PM:

Bath is still there. One of my father's old friends was their school bus driver for a couple of decades.Last time I was there, it was still a farming community, but it may be a suburb of Lansing now.

#26 ::: Geri Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2009, 10:28 PM:

Count me among the native Michiganders who grew up knowing nothing of this. Born and raised in Battle Creek; went to college in East Lansing, just a few miles from Bath.

The "You better go on down to the school house" comment is especially chilling, as is the deliberation with which he killed the superintendent. The fact that he was a member of the school board rather than just an outraged farmer in the community adds to the gross betrayal at the core of his actions.

#27 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 01:06 AM:

Randolph @ 8: "Some of the perps in recent incidents of mass violence sought help and did not get it. With some of the younger perps their parents sought help, and did not get it."

I find this especially chilling. We as a society are going to have to get a lot better at identifying and treating crazy people before they do this kind of thing. There are an awful lot of things that go boom, and it's only going to become easier to find out about and manufacture them. If someone really decides that they want to go out in a flash of violence, there's not much we can do to prevent them. The only sensible option is to institute measures to steer people away from that decision before they get there.

#28 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 02:38 AM:

Fred Moulton (#24) I've heard of an association between violent offences and previous head injuries. Maybe disinhibition. That detail about the perpetrator is interesting.

#29 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 10:10 AM:

Mental health is one of the areas of health care where we do the poorest job.

#30 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 10:15 AM:

Oh, and for lots of contemporary newspaper reports, I seriously suggest Bauerle's page at

#31 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 01:09 PM:

I'll admit that I am deeply skeptical that we will ever be able to catch all such people in time. Serious domestic terrorism/mass murder is incredibly rare, whether we're talking school shootings or mail bombs. There are 300 million people in the US, and far fewer than 300 will do this kind of horrible thing, so you're looking for less than one person per million examined. Anything short of smoking gun type evidence (say, finding the plans, bombs, and weapons) will turn up hundreds of false positives per future mass-murderer, with all kinds of awful costs. (How many people will find that their kind of weird is criminalized?)

#32 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 01:21 PM:

albatross, #31: I see this kind of comment a lot (not just from you) when discussing social issues. From where I sit, it appears to translate as, "We'll never be able to reliably stop this from happening, so we shouldn't even bother making the attempt." If that's not what you meant, could you elaborate a bit more? When it's widely acknowledged that we as a society fail miserably at getting many people assistance with mental problems even when they are looking for it, what's the benefit in just throwing up our hands and saying, "We can't be perfect, so why even try"?

#33 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 01:52 PM:

*ntcpts Clrk Mrs cmng n hr t sy tht pschs stll hv th 2nd Amndmnt rght t br rms, nd s thy'r llwd t ccmlt lrg qntts f dnmt, nd f thy'r schl brd mmbr why shldn't thy str t n th schl bsmnt*

#34 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 02:38 PM:

albatross @ 31
Some of the indicators we're talking about here are in themselves behaviors that harm others, and therefore should not be ignored. The torture and killing of animals could only be acceptable to a society which a) doesn't consider animals either dependents or property of any sort, so harm to them is not harm to any human, and b) doesn't offer some rights, including the right of redress from injury, to animals which have a place in society, as our pets surely do. The fact that such treatment of animals is a common step for some people (let's call them psychopaths, though the label is probably used to cover more than it should) in the progression towards violent acts towards people should be simply another reason to investigate the earlier acts.

We probably can't find all 300 of the psychopaths who will commit some such atrocity as Bath before they kill humans, but if we can stop even a few, why not try?

#35 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 02:52 PM:

I think it's a reasonable question to ask whether particular attempts to prevent an atrocity are worth the side effects that might result from those attempts. We've certainly asked that question with respect to the "War on terrorism", stranger danger vs. free range kids, etc.

In this case, though, as Bruce noted with animal cruelty, there are things short of bombing a whole school that can be watched for and stopped (and also used as a cue to watch for further wrongdoing).

#36 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 02:58 PM:

Lee @ 32:

It looks to me as if albatross is responding more to heresiarch's post at 27, which is starting to veer to the more proactive side of things, rather than to the more general argument that we should be more helpful.

We don't make help easily available to the people who need it, and mental health issues are still poorly understood and stigmatized. However, in the past we've done a poor job on the proactive side of things from a personal liberty point of view. Also, if the wrong people wind up setting the standards, we'll wind up with the high school students who like to dress in black or the ones who play D&D being sent to the councellor's office.

I think that we need to work on taking the social stigma out of mental health issues, and making care more readily available.

#37 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 04:11 PM:

Regarding proactive mental health: it's the old war between "engineering" standards and "performance" standards. You can't define human beings closely enough to capture just the bad guys; you will always get innocent people who meet the stringent engineering-based limits for "strangeness" and yet who are not dangerous to others. In a performance-based system, you look for people whose activities are cumulatively dangerous to others, such as animals and family members, and then decide to prevent their ultimate self-destruction. This is where we don't do well, because it's fuzzy logic and fuzzy feeling-your-way-around stuff, which doesn't sit well with people who like things to go "by the book".

I deal with this dichotomy on a daily basis in my profession, and it's always a struggle. We're trying to prevent diseases from entering our clean mouse colony, but we could easily be talking about profiling people for mental health as well.

I perceive it as a networking issue: does this person have a healthy network around 'him', i.e., is family healthy, are family/neighborhood pets healthy, are the social networks around him secure? If yes*, then you have an outlier who likes to play funny games or who has a strange family. If no, then you have a potential pathology emerging. Every level of society should be involved, from school teachers, religious cohorts, colleagues, classmates, neighbors and relatives. If the network shows lots of breaks, then you have a potential danger. If the network is structurally sound, with connections, even if the connections may be different or the person may be odd, there's less cause for alarm.

*This list should not be considered all-inclusive; it's just an example of the kinds of questions we** should be asking.
**And "we" is not us, but all of society..I know, it's very idealistic. Still, if one doesn't hope, one doesn't try.

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 04:25 PM:


I expect that the costs of most of what we can do, in an attempt to find folks like this wacko before he goes off and kills a bunch of people, will be higher than the awful stuff he did. Making mental (and physical) health care easier to get, that sounds broadly sensible. But what we seem to be talking about here is a kind of pre-emptive law enforcement, checking people out for warning signs and then doing something (investigating them, forcing them into counseling, throwing them out of school, arresting them, etc.) to prevent the tragedy.

The reason I'm skeptical of our ability to do more good than harm here is that we're dealing with amazingly rare people. Less than one person in a million rare. Rare like other kinds of terrorists, or like geniuses.

When you're looking for one person in a million, and each person you find is going to have their life pretty seriously messed up (at least, his house and locker will be searched, he'll be questioned by the police or a psychologist, he may have gun licenses taken away or be forbidden to take part in some normal activities), you can't tolerate many false positives at all. If you get a false positive rate of one per thousand, and a false negative rate of one half, you will upend 2,000 lives for each mass shooting you prevent. (Assuming you prevent it--your intervention is not guaranteed to be successful, and making it more certain of success involves making it even more intrusive and destructive[1].)

What I've seen when we've tried to do this stuff has been ugly. The war on terror, with coerced confessions and prosecutions on trumped up charges and lives wrecked. The whole current mania about pedophiles lurking under every bed, with all the damage that's done. The search for high-ranking Communists in the government, many years back. And surely many more examples could be found.

[1] At the extreme end, you could pre-emptively lock up for life anyone who tripped too many red flags. The collateral damage here gets a little ugly, however.

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 04:39 PM:

Ginger @ 37... you will always get innocent people who meet the stringent engineering-based limits for "strangeness"

As for myself, I don't know a single person like that.

#40 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 07:03 PM:

Serge@39: Me, neither.

#41 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 07:04 PM:

Serge@39: Me, neither.

#42 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 07:10 PM:

I perceive it as a networking issue: does this person have a healthy network around 'him', i.e., is family healthy, are family/neighborhood pets healthy, are the social networks around him secure?

I sense a large danger of stigmatizing (or actually harassing) people who have a lower-than-average tendency to build and rely on social networks (and sheesh, it's not like such people aren't already stigmatized; I first wrote "lower-than-normal capacity", which I would be inclined to hide on revision, except that it illustrates my point so well).

Is that paranoid, or a rational estimation of what the fear industry will do with this idea? (Did we always have a fear industry, or is it newish? And either way, how dangerous is disproportionate and unreasonable fear? I'm inclined to say pretty dangerous, but maybe that's disproportionate and unreasonable.)

#43 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 07:50 PM:

Xopher, some feedback:
I found your comment about Clark upstream fairly offensive, and I'm not a gun owner nor particularly a gun advocate. You're pretty directly saying "If you support a right to own arms, then you're in favor of psychotics committing mass murders." Would you also like to try casting Terry or Jim Macdonald as psychotic and dangerous rightists, since they're self-identified gun owners, and I would assume believe in their own right to own guns?

We've recently had at least one Making Light participant give up on any attempt to discuss firearm ownership after a string of fairly offensive stereotypical comments were directed their way. I decided to shut up about the subject in that particular discussion, too. If disagreement on some subject makes people the butt of personal attacks, then you can be sure you'll hear a lot less contrary information - even if your basic facts or premises are wrong.

In any case, I can't see that dragging somebody's name into the discussion by making sarcastic comments about them does anybody any good.

#44 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 09:01 PM:

Xopher, it just struck me that I might have been completely misreading the tone of the post I reacted to. If you and Clark are old friends or acquaintances, and take such comments as good-natured raillery, then I apologize unreservedly for my criticism.

#45 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 09:09 PM:

chris #42:

Well, we had witchhunts, so I expect we had an efficient fear industry in the past.

#46 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 09:19 PM:

Chris@42: Good point, which is why I would not rely on just one or two data points. Mentally-ill homeless are not totally lacking in social networks, though, or at least not all of them (we volunteer at the local shelter once a month), but your point is still valid. My point is, folks lacking strong social networking skills still exist in a web of connections. It's this web we need to strengthen, to better serve everyone.

#47 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 10:34 PM:

Bruce (StM): That sounds a lot like we're getting into "Minority Report" territory. What do we do when we think we've identified one of these types? What's the false positive rate? How do we keep the definitions of indicative behaviors from expanding when someone slips through the net?

Xopher: I'd say the comment about Clerk was a bit outside the realm of being charitible with each other. Yes, he's pretty absolute on the issue of guns, but you cast him as saying things which, in context were the sort I'd be offended to see ascribed to me; on the subjects where I am extreme in my defense.

When you said you anticipated Clark coming to defned psychos instead of the generic right, is where I think it went off the rails.

Because, all things being equal... unless one knows the person in question is anti-social in those ways, there isn't any reason to deny them access to legal activities.

Clifton: I don't recall that piece of history on guns... pointer?

#48 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 10:47 PM:

Well, I did once attempt to say that Clark wasn't really a complete nut because after all he wouldn't support (and this next bit is me trying to state a clearly absurd position) "guns being sold from vending machines in high school cafeterias."

When he said that he would have no problem with that, I decided he really was an extremist.

However, my comment was uncalled for. I probably shouldn't have named him; it would pass well enough to say "some gun nut" or something, because while I'm not certain Clark would actually take the position that being a violent psycho should be no bar to owning weapons, I'm quite certain someone would.

If the Gentle Mods would consider disemvoweling, deleting, or otherwise deprecating my inappropriate comment, I would take it as a favor.

#49 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 01:45 AM:

#28 ::: Epacris:

I've heard a theory (possibly about serial killers) which claims that they've had head injuries, are paranoid schizophrenics, and were suffered physical abuse as children.

#47 ::: Terry Karney:

This reminds me of a general principle-- anticipating the stupid or otherwise offensive thing someone else is going to say is *never* worth posting.

At best, it's redundant. More likely, it's inaccurate, and just serves to say you dislike them and want to make them look bad.

#50 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 07:24 AM:

re 38: It seems to me that the kind of trade-offs you discuss are at least one of the motivators for the bill of rights. In practice I'm also dubious of the possibility of identifying people accurately enough; also, the kind of powers necessary to implement the results of such identification are clearly open to substantial abuse. And further, that kind of interventionism is precisely the sort of thing that gets the paranoid wingnut faction going. They aren't paranoid; we really are out to get them.

I also think that part of the reason that things are "getting worse" is that the increasing size of institutions has made the targets bigger. Never mind the dynamite (see under "Gunpowder Plot"): an 1820s Kehoe wouldn't have had a school board and consolidated school to rebel against.

#51 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 08:24 AM:

"Why didn't we see this coming?" is a question a lot of people here in Athens are asking these days. As far as I know, though there were signs that his family was not a happy one, the first actual crime George Zinkhan III committed was the triple murder last month. His (murdered) wife was a family court attorney, who certainly should have known all the potential warning signs.

I am certainly an advocate of better and more readily available mental health services, but I think the (many!) people who will be helped by such services will probably not include outliers like Zinkhan and Kehoe. One thing those gentlemen seem to have had in common is an inability to be on the losing side of an argument; not a position that's amenable to seeking or accepting help.

It may be that the only thing we can do to soften the impact of such individuals is to have in place a strong community, rapid and skilled emergency response, and a willingness to deal with terrible grief from time to time, and go on with working on what we *can* change.

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 08:32 AM:

Terry Karney @ 47

There's got to be some ground between "The Minority Report" and never attempting to prevent a violent crime. The most egregious case for me is the (unfortunately common) case of an abuser (almost always male) who has seriously injured his victim, and who then goes on to kill that same victim. Even when the abuser's intent has been recognized by the law with a restraining order, the situation is not taken seriously enough by police and courts.

The case of recognizing a psychopathic killer before the deed is committed is less clear. In my previous post I was pointing out that often there are previous acts of violence which indicate the potential. But these acts are often not even illegal (in a lot of places cats are not legally property, and so in law no one is harmed by killing one). I'm saying not that we ought to label someone psychotic because of a guess at what they might do, but that we should be much more concerned about some of the things that they have done.

As a separate issue, I'm also of the opinion that animals should have limited rights; but I don't want to conflate the two discussions.

#53 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 11:24 AM:

Cruelty to animals is criminal here, even if you own them, partly thanks to Anna Sewell. Killing 'without cruelty' I'm unsure; you can still buy mouse traps.

Does anyone remember a short story rather like a precursor to Minority Report? It cut between a drunk starting up in the morning and a writer having the (mechanical?) murder detection system explained to him. It included a joke about the writer feeling like killing an editor who rejected a story about Sean O'Claus.

#54 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 12:18 PM:

Mez, is that the story about the universal surveillance system, where the protagonist carefully arranges things over a period of months or years, so that he could commit a murder while having it appear to the surveillance system and to everyone that he was accidentally lashing out in self defense?

If so, it's been bugging me for several years now that I can't remember who wrote it or where I read it. It was in somewhat the style of Pohl and Kornbluth, but I think it wasn't by either of them.

#55 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 12:38 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 54:

Yours sounds a bit like Asimov's story "The Singing Bell", but in that story he carefully arranges things so that the police know he's always on Earth for one particular month of the year. That's definitely not the story Mez remembers.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 12:39 PM:

Thank you, Gentle Mods.

#57 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 12:47 PM:

I'm sure the one I remember is not an Asimov story. Mez, is the last line of the one you remember something along the lines of "Take a good look"?

#58 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 01:17 PM:

#54 ::: Clifton Royston:

I'm pretty sure the story you're thinking of was by Kuttner. The murderer was haunted by an "eye of God" painting that was part of being punished when he was a kid.

The murder involved substituting a real neuronal whip(?) for a fake tourist copy so that the murderer could claim he was caught by surprise by the pain and killed by accident.

In other words, I don't remember the title.

#59 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 02:34 PM:

Bruce (StM): The question isn't one of poor enforcment (the questions which surround the issues of domestic violence are several discussions, all by themselves, some of which [IMO] relate to those of animal cruelty. So long as women are seen as property/extensions of/subservient to, their [male] partners, there is going to be these sorts of problems. We are doing better with child abuse, but that too is a parallel problem).

But what of the case where there is no prior abuse? What of the guys who, "just snap"? Where shall the interventionist line be drawn. How do we propose to reconcile those interventions with "presumed innocent".

This isn't just theoretical. A huge chunk of the problem with Guantanamo is related to that. We have a judge who says we can hold those prople prisoner; for as long as we like, with no charges, no day in court, because they are alleged to have taken part in, "planning, aiding or carrying out," terrorist attacks.

That's a pretty broad brush to wipe out the 4th Amendment.

Which means the false positive rate need to be nil. Even if we posit one in 10,000 false postives, that's 30,000 people we lock up. If it's one in 5,000 we have 60,000.

Either one of those is a lot of money. We can't treat them as convicts, so what shall we do? We can't (if they are that dangerous) risk them escaping, but what of the fact that we know only 30 of the people we've locked up are likely to commit such an act?

How do we avoid excesses? There's a long history of such things being gamed to get rid of enemies, both personal and political. That's without worrying about it being used as a tool of social engineering (the Soviet use of mental problems to deal with "radicals").

I'd love to be able to stop such things. I don't think it can be done, not and keep a society worth living in.

As with terrorism, I'd rather not let fear rule the day. I'll take my chances on, The Wall of Death (YouTube)

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 07:44 PM:


It happens I agree with you on this issue. My concern is that there have been too many situations where no action has been taken against someone who has committed a crime (or what should be a crime), often in the name of not anticipating the possible later acts.

Where no prior act has occurred I agree it's best to tread very carefully. However, there are some actions that might be taken: counseling could be offered, on a confidential basis, to the individual, or the parents where the individual is a minor. If there's no permanent law enforcement or social services record of such an offer, much of the danger of labeling is eliminated.

Where it starts to get sticky is when counseling is accepted, and the counselor believes that the counseled person is a real danger to a specific individual or group. At some point in any potential law enforcement situation you have to depend on the judgment of the person on the spot, whether police officer, criminal profiler, or psychiatrist. Sometimes the person fails by going too far in preventing potential crimes, sometimes by not going far enough. Consider a beat cop who sees someone acting suspiciously when going into a store. How much should the cop be allowed to do before the criminal intent is certain? I don't think there's a principled answer to that question that works, because the only certainty occurs after the crime is committed. So do we tell cops not to check out what might be a crime, or psychiatrists that they should ignore their informed judgment about the intent of a patient?

Mind you, I don't have any good answers to those questions. I just think that solutions to these sorts of problems have to come be allowing action at some point, while creating a check and balance system that corrects for people who go too far, or not far enough.

#61 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 07:50 PM:

"Sean O'Claus" is an unusual phrase. So I googled it.

Here's the story: The Circuit Riders, by R.C. FitzPatrick.

#62 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2009, 10:31 PM:

Bruce: The beat cop can do something. He can go into the store. He can be seen to be paying attention.

He can do that without actually confronting the person who has tripped his radar.

That's the sort of profiling which works. That's direct observation, and passive intervention. I don't think there's much of a way to have passive intervention in the cases we are talking about.

#63 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2009, 01:14 AM:

One more thing to worry about: a huge increase in ammo sales since the presidential election.

#64 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2009, 03:49 AM:

Nancy, that's exactly the one, and Kuttner definitely fits the style where Asimov didn't. (As I recall, the whip was a poisonous stingray's tail, some kind of tribal artifact, substituted for the tourist replica.)

#65 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2009, 05:49 AM:

Caroline (#61), yup, that's the one alright. Thank you. That little incident and the whole mood of the drinker were what had stuck. The name of the surveillance system hadn't struck me before.

Though the other story described here by Clifton and Nancy sounds a little familiar too.

#66 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2009, 01:37 AM:

Terry Karney, #59: "But what of the case where there is no prior abuse? What of the guys who, 'just snap?' Where shall the interventionist line be drawn. How do we propose to reconcile those interventions with 'presumed innocent'."

Well, to begin with, we can offer help to the ones who ask, and the parents who ask. That's the easy part. Other than that, I don't think there are very many who "just snap." As far as I can tell big warning signs are the norm. That said, when the signs are observed, I think it's important to have real judicial proceedings, with rules of evidence and a real defense. And maybe we don't know enough yet to even commit someone as potentially violent. Or maybe the solution is some sort of surveillance, a kind of middle ground.

I put this problem in a class of law enforcement problems that we don't know how to cope with, because the laws were made before psychology was invented. In this class I also include the problem of negligence through forgetfulness (those children who die because they are left in cars) and the problem of the confident, wrong eyewitness. The law does not yet know how to cope with human fallibility and many forms of mental illness.

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2009, 07:43 AM:

After we saw a movie last night, just as I got into our minivan I noticed a note under the windshield wiper.

Its author had noticed our bumper stickers and thought we'd interested in knowing about the web site for the local tea party.

What are our bumper stickers? One is Ben Franklin's quote about those who give up freedom for safety deserving neither. The other says "I am a Constitution voter".

Obviously they never noticed the bumper stickers that Our Side sported last year during the Election.

What a bunch of maroons.

#68 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2009, 07:13 PM:

Randolph: I suspect the difference is the level of "snap". If they don't break any laws, until they commit the crime, what can we do?

Because that seems to be the question, when one says, "We need to respond proactively to the signs."

#69 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2009, 10:20 PM:

Followup @63 (re: ammo shortage): KOS SEZ NRA FUD

#70 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2009, 08:52 AM:

One quote from a recent American Terrorist story jumped out. From my local paper's report, via Associated Press, also in variations from several sources

"The anti-tax stuff came first, and then it grew and grew. He became very anti-abortion," said Lindsey Roeder … he became involved with the Freemen movement, an anti-government group that discouraged the paying of taxes.
That story seems to be getting more publicity than this one.

It'll be interesting to see how the Tiananmen Square massacre 20th anniversary, and some others are remembered in the next few weeks.

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