Recently I had the opportunity to interview clinical psychologist, writer, consultant, expert witness, and lecturer Dr. Stanton Samenow. Dr. Samenow, to quote his website, "participated in the longest in-depth clinical research-treatment study of offenders that has been conducted in North America," was appointed by President Ronald Regan to both the Law Enforcement Task Force and President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, and acted as a Conferee to the White House Conference on a Drug-Free America. He is the author of The Myth of the Out of Character Crime, Inside the Criminal Mind, In the Best Interest of the Child, Before It's Too Late, Straight Talk About Criminals, The Criminal Personality, Volumes I, II & III. He has also made several instructional videos and has appeared on numerous television programs, including 60 Minutes and Larry King Live. The following is the interview I conducted with Dr. Samenow.
Q:What are your viewpoints of nature vs. nurture? Do you believe it is a combination of nature coupled with nuture that causes children to become adult criminals?
There is no "criminal gene." Whether or not there is a genetic predisposition in some cases awaits further research. In somepeople, the patterns begin extremely early and cannot be accountedfor by the environment.
Q:In your Concept of the Month for December 2002, you state that criminals can and do feel guilt and remorse. What do you believe keeps these criminals committing crimes and other acts despite the presence of remorse, however small? Is it the draw of the fantasy or a deeper rooted psychological defect? These individuals have an insatiable appetite for excitement -- high stimulation by doing whatever is forbidden by society.
Q: How do you believe schools, parents, family, and society should deal with so-called 'problem children'? Please see my book "Before It's Too Late". The book is focused on this very subject.
Q:What do you believe to be your greatest achievement in your work? Co-authoring with Dr. Yochelson the three volume work" "The Criminal Personality." It grew out of what still, to this date, is the longest indepth research treatment program (study) of offenders ever conducted in North America. Dr. Yochelson spent the last 15 years of his life at this. I spent eight years.
Q: Do you see society becoming more violent? If so, what do you believe are the contributing factors? Human nature does not change. Society makes crime easier or more difficult depending on its laws, enforcement, offering access to weapons and drugs, and other deterrents. Violence has always been with us in different forms.
Q:There have recently been several mass shootings. Why do you think this is? Do you believe there is an acutal increase in the number of mass killings, or is crime simply more publicized? With access to firearms as easy as obtaining cigarettes (at least in many communities), violent crime has taken on a more lethaldimension. The mind of the perpetrator is no different than ever. Perhaps the caveman clubbed his adversaries. Now criminals shoot them.
Anthony Bruno is a New-Jersey based author or both fiction and non-fiction. While working in publishing, his 1988 novel Bad Guys was published and broke Bruno into the world of crime writing. The book received excellent reviews and the main characters, FBI agents Mike Tozzi and Cuthbert Gibbons, were named "the best fictional cop duo around" by People magazine. Bad Guys also became the first in a series of Tozzi/Cuthbert novels. A later book in the series, Bad Apple, was adapted into a television movie starring Chris Noth.
Bruno's first venture into non-fiction was the excellent The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer, regarded by many as the definitive profile of multiple murderer Richard Kuklinski. During research fot the book, Bruno corresponded with Kuklinski and also interviewed him at length in prison, where Bruno would spend hours alone in a locked room with the Iceman.
Anthony Bruno has also written the novelization for the film Seven, the novels Devil's Food, Espresso, and Hot Fudge, the three of which comprise a series, and the non-fiction The Seekers: A Bounty Hunter's Story.
Mr. Bruno is also a fourth degree black belt in aikido.
Q:How and why did you become a crime writer? Have you or you family ever been a victim of a crime?
I grew up in a neighborhood in north Jersey where mobsters were pretty common. The butcher, the baker, the wiseguy. I went to school with mobsters' kids. I think living in proximity to organized crime started my fascination with bad guys. But other than a few break-ins over the years, my family and I have not been the victims of major crimes.
Q:How do you choose your subjects, for both your fiction and nonfiction work?
Usually it's stuff I read about in the paper or online. Most crimes stories are just disgusting and depressing, but some just grab me. The story goes beyond pathetic desperate people doing desperate things. That's when my imagination kicks in, and the story becomes fodder for my fiction. Or I will pursue it as a nonfiction project.
Q:What crime first grabbed your attention?
The murder of JFK. I was in 6th grade when that happened.
Q:Which one of your true crime books or crime novels generated the most response from the public? Were there more negative responses or more positive?
SEVEN (the novelization) and THE ICEMAN have been my two most popular books. And I can say in all honesty that I have receivedonly one out-and-out negative review in almost 30 years of writing. It was from a paper in Tennessee. The reviewer objected to my use of foul language.
Q:How do current events in the news\media influence your work in progress? Not at all. Once I'm writing, I stick to the story in my head.
Q:Why do you think people seem so fascinated with other peoples' crimes? Do you think is it it a sympathetic interest in the victims, or a prurient interest in the sorts of people who can commit these atrocities?
I think people like to tsk at criminal behavior, but they also want to see if the bad guy can get away with it. Very few of us will try to knock off a bank, but a lot of us will root for the guy who pulls it off. Unless he hurts someone.
Q:How is writing true crime different from novels?
Good true crime writers stick to the facts and resist the temptation to spice up the story and make things up. You do your research and verify everything you say in the book. Also, you have to deal with real people when writing nonfiction, and they're not always on your side. Fictional characters don't call you up to complain.
Q:Do you have any empathy for the killers?
Q:Do you have certain conditions which you find most conducive to writing? (I myself must have an endless supply of coffee, music, and cigarettes.)
Music. Classical in the morning when I get most of my writing done. Jazz in the early afternoon. Fusion and rock in the late afternoon.
Q:Do you have any rituals after you finish a book, like smoking a cigar or having a drink?
Sleep. I'm usually hit with a wave of exhaustion that lasts for several days.
Q:Out of all the books you have written, which is your personal favorite and why?
BAD APPLE was my personal favorite. It's tight, and the personal relationships are well-integrated into the crime story. I guess that's why TNT made a film version a few years ago.
Q:Has there been a particular case that has haunted you on an emotional level?
The disappearance of Danielle Imbo and Rich Petrone. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/forensics/imbo_petrone/1.html A real-life mystery.
Q:What are your future writing plans?
I've just finished a novel called BLEEDERS about an FBI profiler who's terrified of serial killers. I hope to turn this into a series. I'm also working on a true-crime book with William St. Croix, the son of notorious Boston mobster Stevie Flemmi who was Whitey Bulger's partner.
Which notorious killer would you like to see fight a Kodiak Grizzly bear in the nude?
Q:The members of an internet forum I moderate begged me to ask this question, and it's one I'm fairly certain you've never been asked before....
Which notorious killer would you like to see fight a Kodiak Grizzly bear in the nude?
Hahaha. I'm tempted to say Richard "the Iceman" Kuklinski because I know his story so well. But technically Richie was a mass murderer, not a serial killer. (No psycho-sexual compulsion, his murders were all profit motivated.) Anyway Richie would probably just spray cyanide in the bear's face, which would kill the animal in a matter of minutes. This was his favorite method of killing. It would be sort of like a Tyson fight--over in the first round. I think coed killer Ed Kemper would be a better opponent. Six-foot-nine, 300 plus pounds. And creative. He cut off his mother's head and used it as a dart board. That would be a fight!
Special thanks to Dr. Stanton Samenow and Anthony Bruno
Thanks to the FAD Hags for helping me come up with questions!