Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joseph Kallinger, the Enigmatic Cobbler

On Trial for Murder

At no time in any of the four trials of Joseph Kallinger was his son brought to the stand.   He was sent to a juvenile facility for supervision until he was twenty-one.  He did not offer any testimony or ever talk with anyone about what had happened.  Eventually he went to a foster home and changed his name.

Kallinger went on trial in Hackensack, New Jersey on September 13, 1976 for the murder of Maria Fasching and for numerous other charges related to his taking of hostages, assault, and theft of property.  It took nine days to seat a jury and then the trial began.  Kallinger had pleaded not guilty.  If the state showed proof of his guilt, then the plea would change to insanity.

While this trial went over much of the same territory when addressing the defendant's state of mind, with even more experts on both sides, the prosecution also had the shirt and tie, along with a photograph of Kallinger wearing the shirt and tie.   They had his son's fingerprints on a broken piggy bank.  Prosecutor Larry McClure called all of the witnesses from the Romaine home who had been held hostage and assaulted in various ways, and each person who had assisted with linking Kallinger with the discarded bloody shirt.  Downs says that they had all picked him out of a line-up.

During the testimony, Kallinger acted out in ways he had not done in his Pennsylvania trials.  He swept his arms over his head, kicked his feet, chirped, and kept talking and shouting until he was eventually removed from the courtroom.  If he were truly this psychotic, it would have been noted in prison and he would have been medicated.  It seemed to many like a show even to members of the jury.

Medical men with strong credentials on both sides testified to opposing diagnoses.   It could have been confusing, but finally it was up to the jury to decide.  There was no doubt that Kallinger was involved, but there could be doubt about the degree of his appreciation of his actions.

On October 13, after two hours, they found Kallinger guilty.   The day after, the judge sentenced him to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.  His sentence was not appealed.  He then went to Camden to await a trial on his crimes in Lindenwold.

Thomas Downs tries to analyze how a man with no apparent criminal record could suddenly go off on a crime spree at the age of 39 and he uses a popular misconception about schizophrenia to make a case for a latent personality inside an otherwise normal person.   Schreiber, too, thinks of Joe's criminal side as his "sinister double," as if "that other person" was responsible and not the real Joseph Kallinger.

Yet according to Dr Richard Noll's Encyclopedia of Schizophrenia, this mental illness is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, character disturbances in affect and thinking processes.   It is not about having two personalities inside one body, but about a specific way of processing information about reality that is seriously distorted.

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.

   According to some reports, Kallinger set fire to his cell in 1977 and was transferred to a mental institution in Trenton, where he stayed for three weeks.  There he tried to suffocate himself with plastic.  Yet he also successfully argued before a judge to be allowed to defend himself in his fourth trial.  But he wrote so many letters to the judge and set yet another fire that he was removed as his own counsel and appointed someone else.  The trial lasted two weeks, with all the same experts and issues.  Among other charges, he was found guilty of armed robbery and breaking and entering.

The next year, he was moved to a hospital for the criminally insane in Waymart, Pennsylvania.  He tried to kill another prisoner there.  In 1996, he died from a seizure.


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