Robert Stroud (1890-1963) is better known by his nickname, The Birdman of Alcatraz. The 1962 film by that name, starring Burt Lancasater in the title role, depicted Stroud as a sensitive, misunderstood fellow. Incredibly, some of the theaters that showed the film set up tables featuring petitions in favor of the commutation of Stroud’s sentence.
The real Robert Stroud was an extraordinarily vicious sociopath. As a young man, he was a pimp in Anchorage, Alaska, who murdered one of his patrons. Since Alaska was then a territory and not a state, Stroud was sent to prison, where he murdered a guard. That ensured that he never drew another free breath. (When he was being transferred from one federal prison to another, the guards discovered that he had been inventive enough to construct a still out of equipment he was supposed to be using for his aviary studies.)
Shortly before he died, Stroud represented himself at a parole hearing. When the board asked him why they should release him, Stroud stated, “Well, I’m getting to be an old man and I’ve got so many people I want to kill that if I don’t get released pretty soon, I’ll never get around to killing them all.” People who were there state that Stroud was not joking.