Sunday, December 1, 2013

I am a Wambaughian

Anyone familiar with the genres of police novels and of true life crime stories is familiar with the cop/author Joseph Wambaugh.  He served 14 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. He became a celebrity after his first novel, The New Centurions, and ultimately had to resign from the force when burglary suspects started asking for his autograph.  I have read a great many of Wambaugh’s books.  I respect his insights and enjoy his off-the-wall sense of humor.

Many years ago, the warden of San Quentin invited Wambaugh to speak to a writing class for the inmates and during the question/answer period, a convict asked Wambaugh what was his position on capital punishment.  After being assured that his audience wanted a straight answer and was not just trying to bust a cop’s chops, Wambaugh said, “I believe a man has the right to do his time in one piece. I will give you all the crimes of passion you want, but anyone who commits a cold-blooded murder while they are doing time or puts out a contract to have someone killed while they are behind bars, ought to get the death penalty.”  Every man present agreed with him.  In principle, I completely agree with former detective Sergeant Wambaugh, and I thought of his position when I read FBI agent John Douglas’s book, “Whosoever Fights Monsters.” Special Agent Douglas was one of the founders of the FBI Behavioral Sciences unit and was a pioneer in the practice of profiling serial killers.  He once went to San Quentin to interview Emil Kemper.  Kemper is an
especially scary individual, partially because he is a double-digit serial killer.  At the age of 15 he murdered his grandparents and spent 5 years in a mental hospital.  After he got well enough to tell the doctors what they wanted to hear, they sent him home to mom.  A few years later, Kemper confessed to killing his mom, his mom’s best friend and several young college coeds.  Kemper has been living in public housing since 1972, and I don’t think he’s going to need a moving van any time soon.  At the end of Douglas’s interview with Kemper, he rang for the guard to let him out of the conference room.  No guard appeared and a minute went by.  Douglas pressed the call button again, becoming concerned with his 6’9” 300’ roommate whose method of killing was always manual strangulation.  Still no guard. Another minute went by and Kemper commented, “They're probably at lunch.”  Another minute passed and Kemper said, “If I went all ape-shit on you, you'd be in a world of hurt. Imagine if they just found your head on the floor.”  Douglas pointed out to Kemper that killing an FBI agent would get him in an awful lot of trouble to which Kemper replied, “I'm doing 9 life sentences without the possibility of parole.  What do you think they're going to do to me?  Take away my TV privileges?”  Douglas realized that he was in danger of falling into the Stockholm syndrome of identifying with Kemper, so in a flash of inspiration he said, “Oh come on, I'm an FBI agent.  Do you really think I'd come in here without backup?” Kemper inquired, “What?  Do you have a poison pen or something?”

Douglas: “Wouldn’t you like to know?”  

Very shortly thereafter, the guards arrived to Special Agent Douglas’s immense relief.  It was a result of this incident that the behavioral science unit has a firm policy of all interviews with inmate subjects taking place with at least two agents present.

On his way out the door, Kemper said to Douglas, “You know I was kidding don't you?”  

Douglas didn’t think Kemper was kidding and neither do I.

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