Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joseph Kallinger, the Enigmatic Cobbler

The "Definitive" Profile

From prison while awaiting his murder trial, Joe Kallinger sent a letter to Professor Flora Rheta Schreiber.   At the time, she was teaching English and Speech at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and had authored one other book, the best-selling nonfiction book about Sybil, the woman with 16 personalities.  No one then realized that much that would happen after Sybil's diagnosis would place in doubt many people involved in that case and in the multiple personality syndrome movement it inspired.

To give some background, before the 1973 book, there were around 50 known cases throughout the history of psychiatry.   During the two decades following it, more than forty thousand had been diagnosed.  That was a perplexing increase.  A movement sprang up and many therapists made a living at specializing in multiple personality disorder.  Many of these "alters" were induced with hypnosis and once people realized that their "recovered memories" weren't accurate, quite a few specialists in MPD were successfully sued.  Then Dr. Herbert Spiegel spoke up and his revelation eroded the movement's foundation.

He had taken over Sybil's care while her regular psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, was on vacation.   He told the New Yorker that Sybil was not a genuine case but was merely an impressionable patient with other problems.  While he was with her, she asked him if he wanted her to be "Helen."  She told him that's what Dr. Wilbur would want.  He told her just to be herself and she seemed relieved.

He thought she had been coached and had yielded to it.    In Spiegel's presence, she had shown dissociative characteristics and an ability to enter into a hypnotic trance, but he had seen no evidence during his sessions with her of a single one besides her own. 

Although Schreiber was an English professor and not skilled in clinical issues involved in psychosis and malingering, she appeared to be 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 potentially left her rather vulnerable to manipulation by someone who wanted to use her for his own ends: she had prestige, media influence, and she was willing to give part of her earnings to her subject.  In The Shoe-Maker, while she enlisted some psychiatric opinions, she relied mostly on her own assessment. 

Her primary problem throughout the book was that she accepted the hearsay gossip of neighbors, third-party reports of what someone said, and also the self-report of a man who was trying hard to make people view him as psychotic.   First, conspicuousness is an unusual behavior in the truly psychotic, and second, with little corroboration from others of his internal confusion, we have no way of knowing how true the information is.  If Kallinger was a psychopath, as indicated by Dr. Hume, then he had a strong tendency to indulge in the "poor me" themes found throughout the book, and in a "see what the world has made me" attitude. 

 

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