Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Cop: A Profile of Vernon J. Geberth

Stranger Than Fiction

"I had a case of a fellow who fed his face to the dogs," Geberth recalls.  "I'd been called to the scene and the hospital at the same time.  When I went to the hospital, I observed a man whose face looked like hamburger meat on a gurney screaming bloody murder. When I arrived at the crime scene no one had gone in.  I was advised that there were wild dogs in the apartment. I told them to shoot the dogs with darts so we could go in.  It was a bloody mess.  He'd been under the influence of PCP, and in his psychosis he'd smashed a mirror and began peeling his face off his head.  He took his eyes out, cut his ears off, and cut his tongue out.  But I couldn't find the face.  The only explanation was the dogs.  I had them brought down to the ASPCA to pump the dogs' stomachs.  And they found pieces of flesh."

Geberth returned to the hospital. "The man had one eye floating in his head like a Cyclops.  The optic nerve was cut.  I told the doctors to get the gauze out of his mouth and I got close to him and said, 'What happened to you?'

"All of a sudden, he goes, 'Yayayayayayayaya.'  It was all this chatter and no face.  Well, I almost lost it.  Here I am talking to a cadaver and the cadaver is talking back.   Amazingly, he survived!  His brain was damaged from the drugs and he became a ward of the state. But he did survive. The surgeons gave him a new face."

Then Geberth learned that author Thomas Harris, who had penned the bestselling novels, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, had used the case without permission.  Apparently the FBI profilers who had allowed him inside Quantico had given him Geberth's book.  He was getting rich off the gruesome details that Geberth had provided.

"So I sent him a letter and told him he should have cited his sources.  Eventually, after six months, I received a Xeroxed note.  He apologized for using the information and said that future printings would acknowledge where it came from.  He did that in the paperback of Hannibal."   

Vernon Geberth
Vernon Geberth

Whenever Geberth uses cases in his books or seminars, he acquires permission, cites his sources, and mentions them in class.  He believes firmly in teamwork and in giving due recognition to the detectives who investigated the cases he uses to teach others.  He thereby passes on to them the importance of doing so and hopes that he will inspire in them the right attitudes.  If he does, he believes, everyone wins. 

His seminars are not just training courses; they're about teaching and supporting an attitude for homicide detectives to do the right thing.

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