Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Never Trust a Serial Killer

Why would anyone give a violent unstable killer a day pass?

This week, Italian police conducted a manhunt for Bartolomeo Gagliano, a serial killer who’d been allowed to leave a Genoa prison on a two-day pass he’d received for good-behavior. The 55-year-old convict was supposed to go visit his elderly mother. But he didn’t go there and he didn't return.

Reports went out warning that Gagliano was on the run, and he was armed and dangerous.

What made him so dangerous? Well, maybe the fatal stoning of a prostitute in 1981, for which he was found incapable of understanding what he’d done (in the U. S. court system, this would mean not guilty by reason of insanity). He’d been sent to an asylum for the criminally insane. Just before his release date, he escaped.

This time, Gagliano teamed up with another offender to kill a female transsexual and a male transvestite. They also tried to murder another prostitute, who survived their attack. Caught again, Gagliano was once more considered "incapable" and sent to an asylum. Periodically violent, he continued to try to escape. Eventually released, he committed armed robbery in 2006 and went to prison.

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From this institution, Gagliano had received a day pass twice before and had come back (although a chaplain had been with him on one trip), but this time, he carjacked a bakery employee and forced him at gunpoint to drive. After a short trip, Gagliano ordered the man to get out. He then stole the car and drove off.

So what, exactly, constitutes the type of “good behavior” that would earn this man a pass to be on his own outside the prison? It turns out that officials who granted the pass were looking only at his burglary record and his behavior in prison since 2006. Magistrate Daniela Verrina claimed that Gagliano’s prison reports indicated “no psychopathological signs” that warranted concern.

Other prison officials have made similar evaluations, to their regret:

During the early 1900s, Carl Panzram had engaged in petty crimes as an adolescent and was incarcerated numerous times. In his autobiography, Panzram claimed that over the course of his life, he’d committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, sexual assaults, and arsons, as well as twenty-one murders. He called himself "rage personified."

During one of his prison stints, wherein his violence against others had earned him the reputation as the “wickedest man” there, a well-meaning warden, Charles Murphy, thought Panzram might benefit from a compassionate approach. Murphy believed that if he trusted Panzram by granting him unsupervised outings, he would always return to prison.

At first, it worked. Panzram returned. But one day he got drunk and failed to show up at his appointed time. So he ran off. It took a week to catch him and he tried to kill those who’d brought him to ground. This ended Murphy’s prison reform program. So much for trust.

Then there was the day pass in Canada for Peter Woodock. In 1956, when he was seventeen, Woodcock had lured seven-year-old Wayne Mallette into a deserted exhibit area in Toronto. There he strangled, undressed, and bit the boy. He'd enjoyed the experience of choking a child to death; it was the only thing that gave him pleasure, so he'd looked for an opportunity to do it again.

Three weeks later, Woodcock had strangled, bludgeoned, and bit a nine-year-old, and then decided that since he'd killed two boys, he would now kill a girl. His next victim was only four, and her body was found in a ravine. She'd been vaginally penetrated with a tree branch, and her eyes were poked in.

Woodcock was arrested, based on witness reports. He confessed to all three murders, but his crimes were so shocking and his manner so indifferent that he was declared legally insane and committed to a psychiatric facility. There, he changed his name years later to David Michael Krueger.

Going through numerous treatments, he charmed the staff until they finally decided he was trustworthy. His murders, after all, were so deep into his past. He seemed to have left all of that behind. In 1991, they granted Krueger a one-day pass. Within hours, he murdered an inmate who had jilted him, mutilating and sodomizing the corpse. He nearly made it a double homicide before he was stopped.

The staff, stunned, realized that their programs had merely given Woodcock/Krueger the tools he’d needed to deceive and manipulate them.

As for Bartolomeo Gagliano, he was caught in France and returned to prison, where the warden now faces his own evaluation.

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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