Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fathers Who Kill

A Father's Entitlement

Joseph Kallinger was a con man who New Jersey police tracked to Philadelphia after a man of his description took several people hostage in a home and murdered a woman. When they researched his background, it appeared that he had killed one of his children as well.

Kallinger had seven children by two different wives. At the time of the suspected filicide, the first two children were grown, but the five from his second wife were all living with him at home. Joey was the boy in question, and the issues involved in his death were difficult to untangle. It had started with an official complaint.

In 1972, when he was 12, Joey had come to the police station with his brother Michael, 9 or 10, and his sister Mary Jo, 13. They had accused their father of severe abuse. The children explained that they were afraid to go home. They offered a range of things their father had done to hurt them, like hitting them on the knees with a hammer. A physical examination at the hospital indicated that they did have suspicious burns and bruising.

However, when the police called, both Kallinger and his wife denied that such things went on and they complained that the children had run away. They might have gotten hurt any place. Kallinger was nevertheless charged with three counts of abuse and he went before the court. Two doctors gave him a psychological work-up, which indicated an IQ of 84 and a history of problems since age 15. He seemed suspicious of women. He had been diagnosed once during divorce proceedings from his first wife with a nervous disorder. Court-appointed doctors said he had paranoid schizophrenia. They recommended that he be committed and that upon release, he and his family receive supervision.

Other doctors who came into contact with Kallinger did not feel as strongly about this diagnosis. They said he had problems but was competent to stand trial. They considered him to be merely self-centered and immature. Kallinger went to trial and was convicted of all charges and sentenced to a short prison term. Since he'd already been in jail for seven months awaiting the trial, he was released.

Then in February 1973, Kallinger's accusing children appeared in court to submit affidavits to the effect that they had lied; the charges against their father were false. Joey, who had been in some trouble already, acknowledged his part in bringing false charges and he ended up in a Bucks County reformatory. Yet he received weekend passes, and he turned up in the offices of the Philadelphia Bulletin, beaten up and on a pair of crutches.

The newspaper workers called Kallinger, who came in and argued with Joey, insisting that he return to the reformatory. He did, and in May 1974 he was released. Two months later in July, Kallinger took out a life insurance policy on Joey that would pay $45,000 in the event of his death. By the end of that same month, Kallinger reported that Joey was missing.

Composite sketch, Kallinger youth
Composite sketch, Kallinger youth

In August, a wrecking crew found the boy. His body lay in a sub-basement area of a building scheduled for demolition at Ninth and Market Streets. Broken bricks and rubble had covered him, making the body difficult to see. The pathologist could not determine a clear cause of death, but he thought the boy had been buried alive.

At once, Kallinger filed a claim with the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, but they refused to honor it. Kallinger argued that he had taken out insurance on two of his sons (because of his five children they were the most reckless) and the other one was not dead. The company did not budge. They could not prove murder, but they did not buy Kallinger's tale, partly because of his history as a poor insurance risk: he'd owned several buildings mysteriously damaged by fires.

So, one son was dead and another, Michael, had been taken on various criminal expeditions with his father, to rape and rob people at random. Apparently Kallinger had used him to keep people off guard, but also to teach him how to engage in criminal acts. In New Jersey, this had gone as far as murder, and the two had fled the scene together. Michael was placed in juvenile detention, while Kallinger was arrested for murder.

Kallinger prepared his defense by acting psychotic. He talked about how God had a mission for him: he was to assist people whose brains had been adversely affected by shoes that were poorly constructed. He said that the devil in various guises had pursued him for over one thousand years.         

In August, Kallinger was given a psychiatric examination for two hours to determine if he was competent to stand trial. Dr. John Hume concluded that Kallinger suffered from antisocial personality disorder, a far cry from a real mental disorder, and that he was malingering schizophrenia. He seemed to feign having trouble with his memory and he mentioned having visitations from God. Organically, he appeared to be normal. Neurological tests came up with no glaring problems.  

Kallinger's defense attorney, Paul Giblin, hired a psychiatrist who said that Kallinger suffered from schizophrenia. Yet he also admitted that "much of the behavior is not in keeping with psychosis … much of the behavior has had a …'game playing' quality." Nevertheless, Perrs concluded that Kallinger did not appreciate the nature of his actions and was eligible for the insanity defense.

But even as these doctors examined him, Kallinger was enlisting his own spokesperson—someone he thought would have a more persuasive effect.

From prison, Joe Kallinger sent a letter to Professor Flora Rheta Schreiber, and English teacher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan who had authored the recent best-selling nonfiction book about Sybil, the woman with sixteen personalities. Schreiber had written a book that she knew would sell, though even before publication, professionals had questioned its accuracy.

She was eager to write yet another book about mental illness, and this time from a man who claimed to go in and out of reality. That left her vulnerable to be manipulated by someone who wanted to use her for his own ends. In her book about Kallinger, The Shoe-Maker, while she enlisted some psychiatric opinions, she relied mostly on her own assessment. Given her lack of credentials and Kallinger's obvious agenda, the book cannot be taken as a true account.

Kallinger might better be classified as having a schizotypal personality disorder, which involves a pattern of peculiar ideas, peculiar appearance, and deficits in interpersonal relationships. These problems are not severe enough to be diagnosed as schizophrenia, but they do show a pervasive personality structure. Such people are generally uncomfortable in social situations (Kallinger kept his family from much social contact), exhibit odd beliefs (his need to make people better via shoe supports), may look odd or unkempt (he did), and be hostile and paranoid (he was). Yet a personality disorder is not a severe mental illness and is not grounds for an insanity defense.

During the testimony of others at his 1976 trial, Kallinger acted out: He swept his arms over his head, kicked his feet, chirped, and kept talking and shouting until he was eventually removed from the courtroom. It seemed to many like a show to prove something. Medical experts with strong credentials on both sides testified to opposing diagnoses. It could have been confusing, but finally it was up to the jury.

On October 13, after two hours, they found Kallinger guilty as charged. The day after, the judge sentenced him to life in prison, with the possibility of parole. His sentence was not appealed.

In 1996, he died from a seizure.



Fathers who kill their children do so for many reasons. While some are truly tragic cases, others are either overly egotistic in their sense of ownership of their families or clearly just eliminating burdens to get a new lease on life.


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