Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joseph Kallinger, the Enigmatic Cobbler

First Trial

The first trial in late spring 1975 ended early.   Kallinger brought a Bible and The Life of Christ to read throughout the jury selection process and legal preparations.  However, when a sheriff's matron let slip in front of the jury that Kallinger was a suspect in a murder, the judge declared a mistral and it was rescheduled for later that year.

The second trial, which lasted eight days, began on September 8, 1975 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Kallinger was charged with four counts of robbery, four counts of false imprisonment and one count of burglary, among other charges.  He came before Judge John Dowling, and his team consisted of Malcolm Berkowitz and Arthur Gutkin.  The prosecution team was Leroy Zimmerman and Richard Guida.

Once again, Kallinger read the Bible throughout, seeming to pay little attention except when his attorney asked him something.

All four victims were called from the home where they had planned a bridge party, and three had positively identified Kallinger as their attacker.   Then police officers took the stand to testify that some pieces of jewelry they had found in Kallinger's home during a search had been identified by the victims as theirs.  They also testified that fingerprints lifted in the home where the victims had been assaulted were a match to Joseph Kallinger.  There wasn't much more the prosecutor needed to do to establish that Kallinger had been in the home on the date of the incident, and had taken the things reported missing.  His son was never brought in.

But the defense wanted to raise the issue of his mental state at the time of the offense.   They called Mrs. Kallinger and a physician, but their primary case rested on Kallinger taking the stand in his own defense.  It soon became clear during his testimony that they hoped the jury would see for themselves what a disturbed man he was.  He mentioned that "there are lots of periods that I can't recall," and claimed that God communicated with him by touching his arm and conveying specific feelings.  He discussed his "mission," which was to construct special heel plates for shoes so that people's souls would be align in the right ways for God's coming in 1978, three years hence. 

"The heel of the foot is an area of the body that controls the mind and if pressures are placed against the various parts that surround the heel of the foot, it blocks off various valves leading to the mind."   Supposedly, that situation made people feel tired.  [It should be noted that while this information may have sounded strange in 1975, it's not so far-fetched any longer, with shoe companies making many claims about the health of the foot and the right footwear, including attention to the heel.]

Kallinger also indicated that he was the son of God and that for 961 years he had existed as a butterfly.

Yet as strange as this information was, from a reading of the court transcripts, Kallinger seemed to understand the questions, to know what he was saying, to make no odd outbursts or unrelated comments, and to exhibit a coherent thought system.   While he was hesitant at first to discuss his beliefs (delusions), once he got going, he displayed the same type of manner that individuals who are faking often present—an attempt to make an impression on people with how strange he was rather than to hide from others what would be deemed abnormal.

For much of his testimony, Berkowitz took him through his workday, placing emphasis on the chemicals that he used and the fact that he had not ventilated his work space very well.   The attorney was getting at the idea that during the period when the crimes had occurred, Kallinger had suffered the ill effects of the chemical fumes.

"I was having a lot of problems with seeing," Kallinger admitted.   "I was having a lot of problems with my speech, my breathing, with - it was just ridiculous.  My eyes would twitch - hands would shake, various things like my sense of touch would be altered."

Berkowitz failed to call anyone to the stand to corroborate this sudden change in Kallinger's behavior.   Nor did he enlist professionals to testify to the effects of the fumes and the statistics on how many other people who used it suffered similar mental problems.  He merely had Kallinger read off the cautionary notes on the label of the products.  Yet it should also be noted that the prosecutor did not counter any of this with experts of his own, or even with an objection.

One rather startling contradiction was that when Kallinger's youngest daughter was having health problems, he had written numerous letters to specialists across the country in search of a solution.   That's fairly organized and coherent intellectual behavior from a man who was claiming such extensive disability.  No one seemed to notice the behavioral discrepancy.  He had also taken care of his children over the years, did the family accounting, ran a 12-hour-a-day business, and taken care of his bed-ridden mother, because according to him his wife was not very good at these tasks.

Yet despite his apparent competency to run a home life, he still claimed that he had no memory of being at the home of the victims who were now accusing him.   He could not understand how their valuables had come into his mother's home, and he believed that at the time of the incident, he was probably taking one of his regular naps.

"The only thing that makes any sense to me," he said, "is that someone came into my shop, picked up my prints and placed them on the door by reversing some tape or something."

The prosecutor did not cross-examine him much, but did ask him about the ventilation in his home.   As a parting question, Zimmerman also asked, "What kind of butterfly were you?"

This was meant to show the jury the nature of the faking.   If one was a butterfly for over nine centuries, one would presumably know what kind.

Kallinger did not have a quick come-back.   He just said, "Oh, no particular kind."

During the final day, Kallinger was literally dragged into court, protesting that he was too ill to attend.   He'd been vomiting all night.  The judge did not excuse him.

In closing, Zimmerman emphasized the positive identifications, the fingerprints, and the stolen jewelry.   The burglary was well-planned.  Kallinger's attorneys said that he was in Philadelphia on the day the crime had taken place, but even if he had been at the home where the incident occurred, he did not know what he was doing and he did not know that it was wrong.  He suffered from "toxic derangement" from the chemicals he inhaled in his years of work as a cobbler.

The case went to the jury on September 19.   Both sides wondered how these twelve people would be affected by Kallinger's testimony, but they did not have to wait long.


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