True Crime podcasts are all the rage but did you know that most people with mental illness are not criminals, much less serial killers or mass murderers? Most people understand this, but those same individuals don’t realize that very few murderers have a diagnosable mental illness.
Join us as Killer Psyche podcast host Candice DeLong – who is also a former psychiatric nurse and FBI profiler – discusses her years of experience interviewing murderers and researching murder and how sometimes that intersects with mental illness.
Former FBI profiler and bestselling author Candice DeLong is an internationally recognized homicide expert, TV news commentator, and TV documentary host, producer and contributor. She has been a guest on CNN, MSNBC, HLN, FOX NEWS, Meet the Press, Hardball, Dateline, 48 Hours, Today, GMA, as well as Dr. Phil and Oprah. Candice was recruited by the FBI while serving as Head Nurse at the Institute of Psychiatry in Chicago- Northwestern University Hospital. For twenty years, Candice was on the front lines of some of the FBI’s most memorable and high-profile cases, including the Chicago Tylenol Murders. She is now the host of the Wondery podcast Killer Psyche.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Calling into our show today, we have former FBI profiler and best selling author Candice DeLong. Ms. DeLong has been on the front lines of some of the FBI’s most memorable and high profile cases, including the Chicago Tylenol murders. She’s also the host of the awesome true crime podcast Killer Psyche. Ms. DeLong, welcome to the show!
Candice DeLong: Thank you so much, happy to be here.
Gabe Howard: You know, whenever there is violence in our society, the first thing people say, well, there must be crazy. It gives the impression that all violence is perpetrated by people with mental illness. Now, as a mental health show, I would be remiss if I didn’t address this first off. Are all murders caused by people living with serious and persistent mental illness?
Candice DeLong: Absolutely not. But those murders that are caused by somebody suffering from severe mental illness, such as untreated bipolar disorder, and they’re in a manic storm or very decompensated schizophrenia, when they do commit murders, it usually makes headlines. But the vast majority of murders are gang murders, drug murders, premeditated spousal murders and sadly, domestic violence.
Gabe Howard: When you consider serial killers and the kind of things that like you cover on your podcast, these are extraordinarily rare events. And when there is any sort of connection, it starts to rattle around in people’s brains. Now, I haven’t sure how men have escaped this. Have you found that the majority of these large headline grabbing crimes, murders are perpetrated by men?
Candice DeLong: Well, that’s a fact, they absolutely are. Female serial killers are rare. They do exist. They’ve existed throughout recorded history going back 500 years. But the vast majority of murders, I think 75 percent of murders in America are committed by men. And women commit murders, when they do, it’s generally for different reasons. The motivation is different than when a man commits a murder.
Gabe Howard: So there’s this popular show called Snapped, I believe it’s on the lifetime network and full disclosure, my wife and I are absolutely fascinated with it. But, of course, its gimmick, for lack of a better word, is that they’re all female killers.
Candice DeLong: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: But it gives the idea that they’re all doing it for very different reasons than the true crime shows that we watch that feature male killers.
Candice DeLong: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: Men seem to always be doing it for power. Women always seem to be doing it because they feel trapped or lonely or spiteful and revenge. Is that true, or is this just a gimmick that my wife and I have fallen for on our couch?
Candice DeLong: Well, in fact, oftentimes when women murder and it’s premeditated murder, it’s for personal gain, and oftentimes that gain is monetary. Such as Gee, if I kill my husband, I can have the house and everything in our retirement accounts. I won’t have to share it. I have a new boyfriend he doesn’t know about. That kind of thing. But you are correct. Oftentimes when women commit premeditated murder, it is revenge. Not usually against another female for monetary reasons, but revenge because of jealousy. Jealousy, revenge and money are the three main motivators of all murders.
Gabe Howard: Now, you have a unique perspective because you spent 10 years as a psychiatric nurse at a private hospital. Did you encounter patients who had committed terrible crimes while you were there? Or on the flip side, who were themselves victims of violence?
Candice DeLong: Yes, it’s very common for survivors of child abuse, especially child sex abuse, when they become adults, especially in middle age, to suffer very serious clinical depressions that can cause them to be suicidal. And over the years, I treated a lot of women and some men who were in exactly that situation. They had been abused as children and then became depressed and suicidal later in life, or seriously abused alcohol or drugs to deal with their depression. The vast majority of our patients and I did work on the maximum security unit, were people severely depressed or so severely decompensated because of the mental illness they could not take care of themselves and on occasion, people that were a danger to others. These days there’s only three diagnoses that will result or can result in a person ending up in a maximum security psychiatric ward, either involuntarily or voluntarily. And that’s that they’re suicidal, homicidal or gravely disabled because of their mental illness. They can’t take care of themselves. And an example of somebody like that would be. And I always use this example. Actually, we admitted a patient to our unit that was she was a sweet, frail little old lady who was found to be on the street. This was in the 70’s, arguing with a garbage can, and it was in Chicago. It was winter. Winter in Chicago can be brutal. When she came in, she had frostbite.
Candice DeLong: And what the deal was, her mind was so disorganized from schizophrenia she could not take care of herself. Now, on occasion, we would have somebody admitted to the unit who had committed a murder or had been charged with a murder. And although we were not a county jail psychiatric facility, it was Northwestern University Institute of Psychiatry, private. Sometimes in the many years I was there, we would have somebody admitted and they had been charged with murder and they were admitted to our unit for 30 days of observation and treatment. We had a young teenage boy that had killed his mother. We had a middle-aged lawyer who had killed someone else, and there appeared to be psychiatric reasons behind it. And that was when I first started working with or interacting with people that had committed murder. A lot of the nurses did not want to work with those patients. They were afraid of them. But I found myself being drawn to work with those patients. And the reason was, Gabe, I thought, wow, I mean, it was so foreign to me taking another person’s life, and I wanted to know why it happened, how it happened. What were the details? Because I thought and I was very young, I was in my 20s, that if I ever get into a situation and I’m confronted with a person that wants to kill me or kill someone else, I will have enough knowledge to know what to do or what not to do. And thus began my life of working with people who committed murder or interviewing them, interacting with them. And that’s how it started.
Gabe Howard: As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, I have been inpatient before, never in a maximum security ward and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been impatient with people who have committed murder. But I’m, but I imagine that the other patients would have to have feelings about. I keep wanting to say they would be scared of people who had committed murder or was suspected of committing murder. It seems like a very difficult environment to work in.
Candice DeLong: Well, in terms of how we made it work for other patients, when these patients would be admitted to the unit, they were not out of control raving maniacs as people kind of traditionally think of a murderer who’s been admitted to a psych unit. Anybody like that would be at the county, in this case Cook County, Psychiatric Jail. We had people that were definitely under control. And I don’t recall there being any problems.
Gabe Howard: It just seems like such a chaotic environment to be able to, you know, I’m thinking of like television, right? And I always think on television, you know, they get the scary music playing. It’s dark, it’s dimly lit. Everybody’s whispering, there’s usually a thunderstorm. And somehow the FBI agent or whomever is interviewing the person that is inpatient or in prison or jail always seems to get information. And I think how? How did you get any information in this setting? And now I know that’s television, and that’s not what it’s really like. But I guess that’s my question. What is it really like? You’re sitting down in this chaotic, abnormal environment and you’re talking to somebody who has done something that is unusual. Most people don’t kill people. And you learned from it. How?
Candice DeLong: Well, actually, there is a door locked because, like I said, I was in maximum security and upon entering the door, there’s a huge day room with sofas and chairs and tables. And then the nurses station over to the left, and that’s behind the Plexiglas windows. And then there’s a long hallway with rooms on either side of the hallway. We only had 20 beds on that unit. And then we also had a hallway in the back that had several offices. And that’s where when the psychiatrist would come on the unit to see their patient, they would meet with their patient in an office. That is where, generally speaking, the staff of nurses or psychologists would meet with patients. Although sometimes we would meet out in the day room. If somebody was out of control, psychotic and violent, they were not in the general population. They would be in their room. Generally, they’ve been sedated, waiting for the sedation to take effect because we had to control everybody so that everybody could benefit from a therapeutic environment. If somebody got out of control, threatening violence of any kind or being violent, intervention was quick so that they wouldn’t get hurt and nobody else would get hurt.
Gabe Howard: And in this environment were you able to have meaningful conversations?
Candice DeLong: Yes, they were certainly not the conversations I had with people that had committed murder later in my life. Remember I was in my 20s and also a therapeutic interview, which is what clinicians do, is vastly different than a police interview.
Gabe Howard: Now, after 10 years as a psychiatric nurse, you moved over to become an FBI agent, which is, that is the career change of career changes. Was there an impetus for this or did you just wake up one day and think, hey, I want to join the FBI now?
Candice DeLong: Well, no, I was actually recruited, I had become head nurse at the Institute of Psychiatry at Northwestern, and I was in that position when I was recruited by the FBI and I didn’t even know women, this was 1979. I didn’t even know women could be FBI agents because in fact, they could not be FBI agents until 1972. But I remember when it was suggested to me, this person that knew me was an FBI agent who said, you should be an FBI agent. And I said, Excuse me? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a nurse. But it planted the seed about, you know, all that I’ve learned. Maybe I could apply it to investigative work. And when I became an FBI agent for the next four years, I was not a profiler. I was just a regular agent in Chicago, running around, surveilling criminals, arresting murderers. And it was great fun. And then the opportunity came up where the behavioral science unit at Quantico was looking to train an agent in every field division in the techniques of profiling to be the liaison from that field office, in my case, Chicago to the behavioral science unit. And so for me, that’s where everything started and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Gabe Howard: It’s absolutely incredible for so many reasons, and I want to tell our listeners that I wish I had more time to explore the psychology of being a female law enforcement officer in the early 80’s
Candice DeLong: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: In a new science involving murder.
Candice DeLong: Yeah,
Gabe Howard: It’s fascinating. Fascinating.
Candice DeLong: You’re absolutely right. Gabe, if I hadn’t been raised with three brothers and no sisters, a very dynamic father and our grandfather lived with us, if I hadn’t been raised in that all male environment, I don’t think I would have been able to handle the FBI because in those days, a lot of the instructors did not feel women should be agents and were trying to wash us out of the academy. It was kind of a four month long stress test. It was very difficult back in the 80’s for a female agent to maintain their footin. That’s just the way it was.
Gabe Howard: I have a story that I tell, and if you’re a long-time listener to the show, you’ve heard it before, but it’s about a group of men who designed the courthouse in Columbus, Ohio. It was a beautiful courthouse and on day one it opened and the feature when you first walked in the door in the lobby was a giant glass staircase that led you to the second floor. It was absolutely beautiful, and of course it was. It was a glass staircase. So if you stood under it and looked up? Yeah, every woman listening to this upon hearing glass staircases is like, that’s a really bad idea,
Candice DeLong: Right.
Gabe Howard: Right? Right. But it was a group of men
Candice DeLong: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Working in isolation that made this mistake. Now I’m applying that to the situation of establishing profiles and learning about serial killers and learning about very, very violent crimes. And they’re all men. Did you being a woman add a different perspective and open up doors that may not have been opened had we not had this diversity of you being present in the early days?
Candice DeLong: Well, I can’t be sure, but I can tell you that back then I was aware of that and I decided to always talk about the crimes in clinical terms. And a lot of these crimes are sex crimes. And I used to teach cops, I was a police instructor, so I had to overcome this hurdle of they’re not going to listen to me. So I would pretty early on in the interaction with anyone, make sure they knew that I was a psychiatric nurse. I worked in psychiatry for 10 years and that opened a lot of doors. It knocked down a lot of barriers like, Oh oh, well, OK. She’s seen some stuff, so she’s OK.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with former FBI profiler and best-selling author Candice DeLong. I’m thinking about your podcast, Killer Psyche, and you’ve had several episodes that focus on severely mentally ill killers. While the vast majority of people with serious and persistent mental illness are not killers, some killers have serious and persistent mental illness, and we’ve got like Mark David Chapman, I believe you covered and Richard Trenton Chase, but you’ve also have purely psychopathic killers like the Ken and Barbie Killers, the Lipstick Killer, the Unabomber and the D.C. snipers, just to name a few. But what’s the difference? Many people think that mentally ill killer and psychopathic killer are exactly the same thing.
Candice DeLong: Yes, and I think where the problem comes up is the clinical term psychotic and the clinical term psychopath or psychopathic. They sound the same and they both have the word “path,” which means illness, patho, pathology, but psychotic means out of touch with reality. And generally, that means someone has a thought disorder. Classic example: schizophrenia. Their thoughts are disordered. There’s mood disorders, thought disorders, anxiety disorders. Thought disorders are very severe, they absolutely can destroy a person’s life. And part of the nature of that illness is being suspicious of medication. So they don’t want to take their medication. And frankly, the medicines are much better today. But when I was a psych nurse, they weren’t. And in the 80’s and 90’s, they weren’t much better. The side effects so problematic, a lot of people wouldn’t take their medication. And so that’s the thing psychotic means. Psychopathic psychopath is a personality disorder. A person is not mentally disordered. They can think clearly, understand right from wrong, but they choose to do wrong, and they have no guilt or remorse about it, for the people they hurt, for anyone that is affected by what they do. Very famous psychopath, Ted Bundy. Wanted to hurt women.
Candice DeLong: That’s what he did. Did it over and over and over. Example of disordered psychotic person, Richard Trenton Chase, also known as the Sacramento Vampire Killer, and we did an episode on him. Out of his mind psychotic and his delusion, psychotic people frequently have a delusion. A delusion is a very strong, overpowering belief in something that is not true. And his delusion was that his own blood was turning to powder and he had to replace that blood, or he would die. They caught him trapping birds when he was in the psych unit, and then killing the bird and drinking their blood. Of course, they would stop him from doing this, but he’d say I have to have the blood or I will die. Eventually, animal blood wasn’t enough for him and he started killing people. The crimes committed, murders committed, by someone who was psychotic, clinical term, make headlines because they are unbelievably gruesome. And fortunately, the offenders are usually caught very quickly. Because of their disordered mind, they leave evidence all over the place, and discovery of that evidence leads to their identification and apprehension generally pretty quickly.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I keep thinking about while we’re talking is the person is mentally ill. There’s a lot of headlines that get caught quickly, but we don’t hear about not guilty by reason of insanity very often. We have this sort of weird dichotomy in our society where they’re both mentally ill, insane, whatever word you want to use, and they don’t need treatment, they’re perfectly able to stand trial. They know what they did and they should be treated just like everybody else. It’s a little bit difficult for me to comprehend if the person’s sick, they need treatment. If they’re a criminal, they need prison. But we really do talk about it in terms of, well, they’re sick, but they need prison.
Candice DeLong: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Where is that disconnect?
Candice DeLong: Well, the person I just described talked about Richard Trenton Chase had a long history of severe mental illness when he committed five gruesome murders in a three day period in Sacramento in 1978, long history of mental illness. It was clear to everyone he was compelled to commit murders because of his mental illness and mental illness is through no fault of the person that suffers it. Clearly, he should have been sent to a psychiatric facility for the rest of his life. However, Gabe, if the crime is gruesome enough and scares the public enough, the person will, there’s a good chance they will eventually, maybe not right away, be considered fit to stand trial and juries send them, in his case, the death penalty. For me, having worked with mentally ill people for so long, I think a society can be judged on how we treat the sickest among us and to execute someone who committed a murder because of their mental illness is horrible. And he did end up taking his own life before that happened. The jury was polled as to why did you give him the death penalty? And a couple of them said, Oh, we know he was mentally ill. Oh, that is clear to us, but we don’t ever want this guy out on the street and, Gabe, back in 1978 in California.
Candice DeLong: It was the case that if a person was sent to a mental facility because of a crime they committed, they were found not guilty by reason of insanity. They could be out within two years, no matter how horrible the crime. They could be out within two years if a psychiatrist said they had been cured. And that did happen, and the public in California knew that happened and they didn’t want it to happen again. If the crime is bad enough, Gabe. If it’s gruesome, if it’s headlines, the offenders are going to get the death penalty. That’s the way our society seems to be going. But the thing about it is mentally ill people should not be in prison. They should be in maximum security, psychiatric facilities and not in prison.
Gabe Howard: As I’m sitting here, I think about the alarming statistics from 2020, from 2019, from just recent memory that county jails are overflowing with psychiatric cases.
Candice DeLong: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Why is this happening? Are we making no progress with this?
Candice DeLong: We’re going backwards. When I was a young psychiatric nurse in Chicago in the 70’s, Chicago greater area of eight million people in the inner city of Chicago, three and a half million people. That’s a very large population and their mental health department had a system of zone centers. And this was a mental health, emergency mental health, center where the police could bring someone that was on the street acting crazy. Or maybe mom would call the police and say, My son is mentally ill. He’s not taking his meds, he’s threatening me, and the police could go get that person instead of taking them to jail if they hadn’t committed a crime, take them to a zone center for, even if it was involuntary, for diagnosis and rapid treatment, rapid medication. And then the movement began in the late 70’s, early 80’s throughout the country that it was not a crime to be mentally ill. Well, of course, that’s true. And that it was not a crime to be homeless. Of course, that’s true as well. And coupled with the interesting phenomena, and this, a lot had a lot to do with Reagan becoming president, shutting down mental facilities. Mental facilities are supported by taxpayer funds. And it seemed to be a systematic movement in the country to not fund mental health care.
Candice DeLong: A and a lot of people who had been living in these facilities for 20, 30 years, their families were getting phone call saying, Hey, pick up your brother tomorrow at eight o’clock, he’s being discharged. And maybe that person had been in the facility for 20-30 years and this happening throughout the country. And unfortunately, so now when someone is acting crazy on the street or they commit a crime, maybe stealing a loaf of bread and scream and yell at someone on the way out that’s saying, Hey, don’t take that bread. The police pick them up. Now, where do they take them? County jails. And it is estimated many of the county jails throughout the entire country are a minimum of 40 percent of people really should be in psychiatric facilities and not in the county jail. And then they’re prosecuted for whatever minor crime they may have committed. And, Gabe, I mean, the answer to me is clear we need to go back to the old system of zone centers and taking people that require help immediately into a place where they can get compassionate care and medication and be triaged and that kind of thing. But nobody wants to write a check. Governments, municipalities, they do not want to write checks for that.
Gabe Howard: Your career has spanned decades, and to get us all back to where we started, you were a psychiatric nurse for a decade, 50 years ago and then back in 2009 you became a psychiatric nurse again. Have you seen any changes? What have you noticed? What are your final thoughts on the bookending of your career with being a psychiatric nurse?
Candice DeLong: Well, I got back into psychiatric nursing for the summer of 2009 for two reasons. I wanted to get updated on new medications and how they worked and possibly new treatments and after three months, Gabe, I can tell you that medications were better. They acted faster with fewer side effects. Treatment was much worse. Very ill people were going in and out the door within three days. And that really the only thing I can say that had changed in 40 years was medication.
Gabe Howard: And other than that, as we’ve already discussed, many things have gone backwards in terms of treatment and services and the ability to pay for the treatment and services that we’ve need.
Candice DeLong: Yes, that’s correct.
Gabe Howard: Incredible. Thank you, Ms. DeLong, so much for being here. How can people find your podcast? How can people find you? Plug everything you have.
Candice DeLong: The podcast is called Killer Psyche, and it’s produced by Wondery. You can get it on Apple Podcasts or Wondery or anywhere you get podcasts. I think you and your listeners will find it quite fascinating.
Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. Thank you to all of our listeners for being here. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who is available for your next event. My book is on Amazon, or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me just by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free and recommend the show to people. Use your words, send an email, send a text message, put us on social media. Whatever you have to do to let people know that we are here and that we are awesome. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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