Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ruthann Aron: A Deadly Campaign

Diagnostic Evidence

During the course of the trial, jurors heard the testimony of various witnesses, many of whom included mental health specialists who spoke of Ruthann's mental problems. One of the first to take the stand was Ruthann's former psychiatrist, Dr. Nathan Billig, who treated her between 1974 and 1978 in Washington. Billig testified that when he treated Ruthann, she exhibited symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, a serious mental illness characterized by difficulty controlling emotions and impulses, inappropriate anger, interpersonal relationship problems, black and white thinking (or splitting), poor self-image, suicidal threats and fear of abandonment.

Billig said that Ruthann also exhibited intense rage against her father during therapy sessions. He said that she "hated" him and even considered "murdering him," Shaver reported. He believed that the rage she felt for her father was transferred to her husband Barry and to Kahn, resulting in their being targeted for murder. Interestingly, when asked if Ruthann ever broached the subject of sexual abuse, he exclaimed that she never mentioned it in therapy, although it was "possible" he molested her, it was further reported.

Dr Alan Brody, who treated Ruthann between 1989 and 1993, was the second psychiatrist called to the stand. Like Billig, he claimed that Ruthann never mentioned sexual abuse by her father during earlier therapeutic sessions. Yet, she did mention it to him for the first time shortly after her arrest when she broke down under stress and regressed into a 'primitive state,' Shaver quoted him as saying. Brody testified that Ruthann likely suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder, although he diagnosed her years earlier with Dysthymic Disorder, a depressive mood disorder.

Other mental health experts, testifying for the defense, followed in line with Brody and Billig's testimony, including that of neurologist Dr. Lawrence Kline, who found that Ruthann suffered Temporal Lobe Encephalopathy after her physical argument with Barry, as well as Bipolar Disorder and Depersonalization Disorder. His testimony was followed by psychologist Dr. Sallyann Amdur Sack, who diagnosed Ruthann with PTSD.

Testimony from Ruthann's mother on March 12th provided the jury with some insight as to why Ruthann was so psychologically unstable. Frieda Singer testified that her daughter suffered immensely as a child, tearfully blaming herself for not being able to protect her from her "brutal" husband. Singer told jurors that when Ruthann was young, the family was extremely poor and were forced to temporarily live in a barn without plumbing or electricity. She claimed that her husband "brutalized her frequently" and "had no sense of family," and that she once caught him fondling Ruthann when she was 8 or 9 years-old, Valentine reported.

Singer suggested to the court that Ruthann was not only maltreated by her father but also by her husband Barry who cheated on her during the marriage. She said that her daughter was so distraught that she attempted suicide on two separate occasions, once on Mother's Day, Valentine reported. She further suggested that during one of her suicide attempts, Barry responded cruelly by buying her the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a manual that promotes suicide. Valentine quoted Singer as saying, "I don't know how she got where she is with all that happened to her."

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