If caught, can one simply fake insanity to manipulate the charges?
A tribunal is about to decide whether Moors Murderer Ian Brady is moved frommental hospital back to prison. Brady has said he used “method acting” techniques to fool psychiatrists, but how often does this really happen?
The staff at Ashworth Hospital argue Ian Brady is a paranoid schizophrenic and should stay in their care.
But Brady, who killed five children, says he was pretending all along, using the method acting techniques of Constantin Stanislavski to fool doctors and psychologists.
Whether or not Brady is telling the truth, the issue is one psychiatrists – particularly those working with criminals – have had to deal with for many years.
In 2007, Stuart Harling was jailed for life for the murder of nurse Cheryl Moss in Essex. Harling’s lawyers claimed he suffered from a personality disorder, but the jury didn’t believe his unstable behaviour in court – which included hurling papers from the dock and shouting threats – and rejected his claims of innocence on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
In 1996, a jury in Glasgow rejected James Lindsay’s insanity plea and he was sentenced to life for murdering 15-year-old Emma Thomson. While awaiting trial, Lindsay wrote to a friend from Barlinnie Prison: “I’ve a cunning plan to get into Carstairs [mental hospital] and be released after eight years.”
But the Hillside Strangler, Kenneth Bianchi, represents perhaps the classic case of a criminal faking a mental disorder.
Apprehended for a dozen murders of young women in California, Bianchi managed to persuade several respected experts – while under hypnosis – that he had an unpleasant alter ego “Steve”. It was this “Steve” that had committed the horrific crimes.
If the experts’ diagnosis of multiple personality disorder was allowed to stand, Bianchi would be able to plead not guilty by reason of insanity and would be unable to give evidence against his co-accused Angelo Buono.
But investigators brought in another psychologist, Martin Orne, an expert in hypnosis, who was able to uncover Bianchi’s ruse.
Told by Orne that multiple personality disorder patients usually had at least three personalities, Bianchi promptly invented another one called “Billy”. Bianchi also exaggerated his confusion at seeing the evidence of actions committed by “Steve” – such as the removal of filter tips from cigarettes during a previous interview.
A police search of Bianchi’s house turned up a raft of textbooks on psychology, behavioural science, hypnosis and police procedure law. He had also viewed the movies Sybil and Three Faces of Eve, both dealing with multiple personality disorder.
He had taken the name of his alternate personality – Steve Walker – from that of a psychology student whose identity he had faked earlier in order to obtain accreditation.
While Orne and the police were never fooled, several experts had been.
Sentencing Bianchi, the judge said: “In this Mr Bianchi was unwittingly aided and abetted by most of the psychiatrists who naively swallowed Mr Bianchi’s story hook, line and sinker.”