Monday, February 11, 2013


"The Incident in Alabama"

“I was like, What?” Sullivan told me. He recalled complaining to the captain, “If we let every person go because their mother didn’t think they committed a crime, there would be no point in arresting anyone.” But he was told that Polio had ordered the release, and that he was “to obey that order.”

The New Yorker on the sad and disturbing past of Amy Bishop. For further reading, check out Wired's "What Made This University Researcher Snap?"

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Aaah aaah so good! Also left me singing Neil Young's 'Alabama' in my head for days.

I guess my only complaint is I expected the writer to offer some insight into Sandy Hook, but then that wasn't a part of the article.


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I think he did the majority of the research / writing / editing before the event.


Yes, I thought of that. But I think the editors should have sent the article back for a rewrite. Though perhaps the New Yorker editors felt they couldn't afford a rewrite.


more awesome!@a


Such a fascinating piece of reporting. The whole time I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading crime fiction. That feeling might have been compounded by the fact that I was sometimes reminded of the Amy character in Gone Girl. Not the same, but some character traits seemed similar.

Beatrix Kiddo

@vunder YES! I was thinking of that Amy character as well.


Hmmm...I actually found the article a little unsatisfying. It's setting itself up to answer the question, "What happened and why?" But the answer, basically, is: "We don't know."

(I recognize that maybe that's the point--of this and a lot of other crime journalism. We just don't know. But it didn't give me that aha-y, David Grann-y feeling.)

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@spex I feel you. I think we're spoiled with crime fiction because it always wraps up tidily, even if that ending is a sad one. In real life, though, do we ever really know what compels people to do horrific things?

I mean, we can say, "Oh, well they are mentally disturbed or have schizophrenia," and comfort ourselves with that, but I think this story really shows how events in a person's life can snowball, and there is rarely just one root cause of violence.


@spex I'm leaning toward "Amy killed her brother in a moment of anger and her mom covered up for her," but we'll never know for sure. I think it's best to let the whole thing rest since she'll be in jail for the rest of her life now anyway.

What bothered me about the article was how the author continued to press the mother even after it was obvious that she was sticking with her story/the truth (delete as applicable). If the mother was lying to protect Amy, the deception was so deep that no amount of pressure would make her change her mind after all of this time. If the mother really was telling the truth, then it just seemed cruel on the part of the author.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Yeah, she punched a woman in the head for using the last booster seat at a restaurant. I think we do try to comfort ourselves by saying "oh, she's crazy," but she also sounds like she raised four kids without much incident (that we know of), and she was at least competent enough at her job to hold it down for several years. I think this sort of violence has nuanced causes.


@Megan@twitter That bothered me, too - it was obvious that the parents weren't going to change their story NOW, and were still pretty upset about all the media attention from the grand jury indictment and the murder trial in AL. Sitting them down and presenting ANOTHER painful explanation theory is really selfish - you're not helping them, or their relationship with their neighbors.


@Amphora Also, the reporter's renewed questions were based on something that an unnamed source told a dead lady about the mother's timeline of the events on the day the son was killed. That sounds kooky to me, at best.


Guns transform the common murderous impulse into the ability to put actual holes in other people.

Knives can make holes in people too, but you've got to really, really want to do it.


@laurel Yeah, her mother is quoted as saying Amy "snapped" when she killed her colleagues, but I have a hard time believing that a person can snap weeks in advance, get a gun (illegally, I think the article said), sit through a faculty meeting, and then kill several people. While a person can certainly put that sort of planning into killing people with a knife, it just seems much more difficult.

Daisy Razor

@dtowngirl Her husband bought the gun illegally a decade before the murder. Which, frankly, is an aspect I would have liked to have seen explored more. He was married to a woman who'd shot her brother and brought and kept a gun in the house? What's up with THAT? It seems insulting/traumatic to her aside from any other safety concerns.


@dtowngirl I read a thing about how opportunity contributes to suicide; it may have been in that NYer article about the Golden Gate Bridge. The author cited the drop in sticking-your-head-in-the-oven suicides in Britain after a technical change to how ovens are supplied with gas when the pilot light is out to make the case for a suicide barrier on the bridge. Often people in despair take up the means available.

Is there a correlation with homocide? Do people enraged take up the means available? I wonder about how many gun deaths and injuries are the result of impulse + firearm, rather than significant motive + firearm. Reducing access to guns may have no bearing on the Sandy Hooks, but it might change Saturday nights in Chicago--or faculty meetings at UofA.


@laurel In the article her mother says to Amy's husband, "You had a GUN in the house?" It's such a loaded (pardon the unintentional pun) statement. The article really gives you so many ways to think about guns, motive, accidents, access, etc etc etc.


@vunder Can it be for some that it's literally like having Chekhov's gun on the mantlepiece? 'I've got a gun, so it stands to reason that it's got to come into play before we're through.'


@laurel I can't help but agree with you. I mean, there's some implication in the piece that this particular woman may have unsuccessfully tried to mail a pipe bomb to someone, and that she also gave some bomb making chemical to someone else "as a joke" so she may have found another way to cause some damage, but still, putting that gun in the mix just seems to have foregone consequences.


@vunder I'm not sure I even agree with me, but ugh, I wonder. It just seems like people kill far fewer of themselves and one another when not armed. It's not like primates are so great with impulse control.


I think everyone in this article's elevation of Town Meeting is a little weird? I mean, I'm from a town that's run by a Town Meeting, and...being a Town Meeting member is good, but it's not, like, being elected to Congress (per Wikipedia, my town of 70,000 people has 216 Town Meeting Members).

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Ophelia I found the idea of Town Meeting fascinating, because we have nothing like that where I live. It also sounds frustrating? Does it actually make decisions, like a city council would?


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Basically, it's kind of the equivalent of the legislative branch. Larger towns have representative town meeting instead of open town meeting (where everyone can come and vote). You've also got a Town Manager and a Board of Selectmen that function as the executive. If I'm remembering right, it does make decisions, including on town-level appropriations, but I *believe* that the Board can veto those (probably depending on the Town's bylaws). Interestingly, even in my largish town, it was pretty easy to get onto the docket for Town Meeting - if you're not a Member, you can't vote, but you can come in and speak - in 6th grade, for example, my class got to speak to present a proposal for paper recycling in the schools. It passed, and we got funds appropriated for bins, etc.


@Ophelia Also, if I'm not mistaken, a town meeting is where Taylor Doose gets mad and yells at people who aren't taking the town meetings seriously enough.


@Decca I believe that's actually a standing point of order on all New England Town Meeting agendas.


I feel like no matter the context of the situation, if someone has a colorful history of past violent outbursts, it's sort of hard to use "she just snapped" as a defense. Whatever else may be going on with her, it's not "just snapped." It's a pattern.

Daisy Razor

That was thought-provoking regarding what parents can/should do for their children. I suppose it just proves that even when we think we're doing the right thing, it can still have unexpected, awful consequences.


@Daisy Razor
Yes. It made me think about that (and parent favoritism -- what about justice for Seth?), as well as the dangers of identifying too closely with your job. So that your job becomes who you are, and if you lose that status, you lose everything. (Particularly common in academia, where your ideas are your currency).


@harebell I've thought about the justice for Seth issue, too, but one way or another, it seems that the mother simply didn't want to lose both of her children. I wonder what would have happened if Amy had had psych treatments after the first shooting incident.


@Daisy Razor I'd recommend We Need To Talk About Kevin but it's creepy as hell.

Champagne and potato chips

Ahhhhh so many of the details of this are so haunting to me. The son named Seth born on the original Seth's birthday is spooky! The daughter Phaedra is named after a character in Greek mythology who betrays her sister and leaves her on a desert island to steal her fiancée, then falls in love with her stepson, is spurned, cries rape leading to his death, and kills herself--so dysfunctional! The husband providing the gun and not needing an explanation of what, exactly, is "done" and knowing to pick her up at the loading dock is so suspicious!
This is going to haunt me....I really hope this is one sensational crime Law & Order doesn't adapt.

Vera Knoop

@Champagne and potato chips
Yes! It was really hard for me not to think about the Furies while reading this-- you spill family blood, and they will pursue you and ruin your sanity. Makes you wonder about self-fulfilling prophecies.


Gawd, stop quoting her unpublished novels randomly throughout the piece like they explain everything, Wired. Hate that crime writing trope.


I've been having a lot of The Angers lately due to some stuff largely that I cannot control, and sometimes I think I should get help for Being So Damn Angry.

Then, I read this and I'm like "uh, well I've never even contemplated punching a stranger in the head for stealing my booster seat, I'm doing ok!"

Terror of the 416

It's my understanding of this article that basically everyone is lying. And she totally meant to shoot her dad. And she might be a little nuts, but she's definitely not insane.


As disturbing as I found the whole story, I loved that she described Huntsville as the "MIT of the South." So much more nuanced than the "Harvard of the South."



"... campus police received a series of reports even stranger than the shooting itself. Several people with connections to the university’s biology department warned that Dr. Bishop, a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D., might have booby-trapped the science building with some sort of 'herpes bomb,' police officials said, designed to spread the dangerous virus."


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