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November 01, 2008, 3:30 PM

True Crime: Inside the Mind of Mayhem

Participants: John Coston, Spencer Eth (moderator), Joe Loya, Shoba Sreenivasan, Qiu Xiaolong

In a recent case in Poland, a detective working on an unsolved murder discovered clues in a novel that was published several years after the crime was committed. Following leads in what he began to see as a novelistic description of certain elements of the crime, he eventually tabbed the author as the prime suspect, leading to a conviction. The case raised many questions about the blurring of reality and fiction in the mind of a killer, and in our own minds. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment explores the tortures of a guilty conscience (exposing at the same time the author's own reputed sociopathic tendencies), and the gamesmanship of serial killers like the Zodiac taps into the contradictions of our collective dread, and fascination, when confronted with the diabolical. What does the allure of the criminal mind say about our own latent compulsions? Can the insights of those who work to understand criminality and, in some cases, decode it and bring about a prosecution, illuminate how the criminal impulse germinates in the mind, and how the criminal conceives of his own guilt or innocence? Forensic psychologists, an author of crime novels, a journalist, and an ex-convict will address the spectrum of criminal thought and behavior, exploring patterns ranging from the predictable to the confounding.

Watch America Undercover Report on the Iceman, Richard Kuklinski

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Watch A&E Biography Report on the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway

John Coston is a News Editor on the National Desk at The Wall Street Journal and a veteran journalist. He is the author of two nonfiction books. To Kill and Kill Again, published in 1992 and nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Mystery Prize, is the story of a Montana serial killer. Sleep, My Child, Forever, published in 1995, is about a divorced mother in St. Louis who killed her children to collect death benefits on life-insurance policies. Mr. Coston also reported the story of child killer Arthur Shawcross in Watertown, N.Y., in the 1970s. Mr. Shawcross was sent to Attica, then paroled, and went on to serially kill prostitutes in Rochester, N.Y.

Spencer Eth is Professor and Vice-Chairman in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at New York Medical College. He serves as the Medical Director of Behavioral Health Services at Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, whose Manhattan campus was the closest trauma hospital to Ground Zero. For the last 20 years, Dr. Eth has studied and treated children, Vietnam veterans, and others struggling with issues of trauma and grief.

Joe Loya is an essayist, playwright, and author of the memoir, The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber. He currently works with men and women in and out of prison who are changing their lives in order to better reintegrate into society. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern California.

Shoba Sreenivasan is a forensic psychologist who conducts sexually violent predator evaluations for the states of California and Washington, and general criminal mental capacity evaluations for the state court system. She is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, where she teaches psychologists and psychiatrists undergoing post-doctoral forensic training. In addition, she works as a staff psychologist for the V.A., providing outreach services to veterans incarcerated in prisons and at a state forensic hospital.

Qiu Xiaolong is the author of five novels—Death of a Red Heroine, A Loyal Character Dancer, When Red Is Black, A Case of Two Cities, Red Mandarin Dress—in the critically acclaimed, award-winning Inspector Chen series. His books have sold over a million copies and have been translated into twenty languages. In addition, he has published three poetry translations and a poetry collection.Born in Shanghai, China, Xiaolong published prize-winning poetry, translation and criticism in Chinese, and worked as an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences before he came to the United States as a Ford Foundation Fellow in the late eighties.


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