The interview I have watched is devoted to the life of Arthur Shawcross, an American serial killer, who was famous for numerous cruel murders. Although most of his victims were killed in the late 1980s, his case still evokes a lot of debate since he is considered to be one of the most demonstrative examples of prisoners who were released without any warrant.
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What was the most surprising for me is that after twelve years, social and prison workers concluded that this prisoner was no longer dangerous even though psychiatrists warned that he was a schizoid psychopath–the diagnosis that made it impossible to release him even on parole. Although numerous psychiatrists evidenced that Shawcross’s report concerning his Vietnam experience was untrue, it still seems to me that releasing a man with this diagnosis was unreasonable.
Watching the documentary “Interview with a serial killer”, I could not help focusing my attention on Arthur’s behavior. Since I was well aware of his biography and crimes, it was particularly interesting to me to observe his reactions. The first thing that leaps to the eye is his frequent blinking of blepharospasm. This term refers to any abnormal contraction of the eyelid and in most cases disappears without any medical intervention. However, in difficult cases, the condition is chronic and persists throughout the whole life. Although there is no particular psychological distortion associated with it, in some cases it indicates that the patient was subjected to home violence or had some other experience connected with sexual, physical, or psychological abuse.
In the case of Shawcross, this detail is particularly interesting taking into account the fact that his voice is unemotional whereas his non-verbal expression is minimal. No matter if he is talking about his normal social experiences or murders, his voice remains unchanged. Besides, his hands and face remained unemotional regardless of the facts that he was reporting. For instance, when he was talking about the woman whose head he cut off in Vietnam his expression did not change. They say that it is one of the major indicators of psychological distortions, which is supported by the fact that the majority of maniacs are unable to express their emotions using verbal and non-verbal means. To reveal their hidden feelings, they have to resort to violence.
The interview with Shawcross reminded me of the case of Jeffrey Dahmer–one of the cruelest serial killers ever. The similarity that was striking to me was connected with the manner of behavior of these criminals during the interview. Both of them were self-possessed, calm, reasonable, and rather eloquent. Any person who has no relation to criminology may think that these people are adequate. It seems especially strange when they start to talk about rapes, tortures, murders, and vivisection without changing the tone of the voice. In the case of Shawcross, several experts concluded that his reports about Vietnam (including confessions about cannibalism) are fake even though he believes in his tales.
Another thought that the video triggered in my mind was about the appearance of the criminal. It may sound awkward but Shawcross simultaneously looks like a criminal and an innocent man, depending on the information that is programmed in our minds. If I did not know that this man was a criminal, I would never think that he is capable of harming people. This makes me conclude that we are often wrong when we underestimate the level of danger posed by others.