Shrunk: CRIME and Disorders of the Mind: New Excerpt

Shrunk by J. Thomas Dalby, et al. is a true crime collection of stories from forensic psychologists that delves deep into the fragile human psyche to attempt to explore the links between mental illness and crime. 

Shrunk is a collection of powerful chapters by eminent forensic psychologists and psychiatrists who write about mental health issues they face and what they are doing about it. Unlike any other book within the genre of True Crime, Shrunk is the first book that delves deeply into the disturbed human psyche to help build a solution to the problem of understanding mental illness within the criminal justice system. We asked our forensics experts to tell stories about cases that still haunt them.

Foreword by Dr. Lisa Ramshaw

A few years ago, a Toronto man ran over a police officer with a snowplow, killing him. The day before the jury began to consider its verdict, Rob Ford, the infamous then-Mayor of Toronto, called in to a local radio show to complain about the ‘not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder’ (NCR) defence. Ford talked about how it hurt to see the guy go scot-free and asserted that if you killed someone and acted mentally disturbed chances of freedom were pretty much assured. After the man was found NCR, and was to be sent to a forensic psychiatric hospital instead of to prison, the hockey commentator Don Cherry echoed Ford’s thoughts, posting on Twitter that “it seems if you kill someone and act mentally disturbed then you can be let free.” But people with psychotic disorders do not ‘act’ mentally disturbed; they arementally disturbed. John Kastner, who produced and directed the documentaries of tragic crimes and forgiveness NCR: Not Criminally Responsible(2013), and Out of Mind Out of Sight(2014), put it well by asking, ‘Do we punish anybody else for an illness? A truck driver has a heart attack and kills ten people. Is he a criminal?’

“David Milgaard: Wrongful Conviction and Tunnel Vision” by Dr. Patrick Baillie

I don’t mean to be taken as doubting that David displayed bizarre, irrational, potentially psychotic symptoms on multiple occasions during his twenty-three years in custody. At times, his sleep was seriously disrupted by anxiety over his case; at times, he accessed prison brew or other substances that might have influenced his behaviour. Likely, at times, he was psychotic. My concern relates to how those symptoms were then viewed in terms of his risk for ‘re-offence’, especially when the only delusion repeatedly cited was the one relating to David being wedded to his contention that he was innocent regarding the death of the young nurse.

“Clifford Olson Unplugged” by Dr. J. Thomas Dalby

Olson wanted desperately to be the most notorious serial killer of all time and had registered the titles of two books by himself; “Profile of a Serial Killer” and “Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer: A Profile.” Official copyright certificates were issued with these titles despite the fact that there were no books written and thankfully there never would be. This self-delusion, that he was an ‘author’ and uniquely tainted criminal was just another clue to his aberrant personality. He claimed that he was negotiating a publication contract in the range of three and a half million dollars for his literary works. Even in prison, Olson continued his constant antisocial behaviour …. He continued to taunt other inmates about his special privileges. When I went through some of his confiscated correspondence, Olson had enticed young schoolgirls, who apparently wanted the excitement of corresponding with a serial killer, to send Polaroid pictures of themselves in various stages of undress.

“The Bodies in the Barrel Case” by Dr. Jack White

Were there a law of human behaviour (akin to Newton’s third law of motion) — that for every (human) action, there is an equal and opposite (human) reaction, then Wagner’s behaviour can be explained and understood. His action of violent killing was a human reaction to his extreme suffering in childhood. This was certainly not how the Australian Courts viewed the behaviour, but it may be how many people who have been victims of child abuse may view it.

“The Case of Luka Rocco Magnotta” by Dr. Joel Watts

In the various media reports on Magnotta up to that point, I had heard that he might have a mental illness.  As such, I was somewhat sceptical of the information provided by Dr. Barth.  I was likely also biased in this way due to the seemingly organized and planned nature of Jun Lin’s murder, the video’s production and Magnotta’s escape to Europe. I knew that psychotic individuals are capable of planning and organized behaviour, but my forensic training had taught me to consider the possibility that he was faking ‘mad’, especially given the seriousness of his case and charges. My scepticism was on high alert when I met him, despite his presentation being just like Dr. Barth had said. I was surprised by how dramatically unwell Magnotta appeared.  I thought that perhaps he was skilfully putting on ‘a show’. Nagging at the back of my mind, however, was the fact that he would have had to be an exceedingly good actor to pull off such a convincing presentation of psychosis.

“The Carnation Killers: Folie à deux” by Dr. Donald Dutton

Joe never claimed that he was not the shooter and originally the plan was to enter the finding of shared psychotic disorder as a ‘Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity’ plea at the guilt phase of the trial. For some unknown reason, the judge ruled against that and we were forced to present it as ‘Diminished Capacity’ at the penalty phase. In the United States, a ‘diminished capacity’ plea differs in important ways from ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’. ‘Reason of insanity’ is an affirmative defence to crimes. That is, a successful plea of insanity will, in most states, result in a verdict of ‘not guilty’ and commission the defendant to a mental institution. ‘Diminished capacity,’ on the other hand, merely results in the defendant being convicted of a lesser offense in the guilt phase of the trial or, in the penalty phase as not being fully morally responsible for his crime. The jury split on the Death Penalty and Joe’s life was spared.

“Catathymic Murder and Necrophilia” by Dr. Marc Nesca

Eventually, the sounds of the victim began to gradually penetrate John’s consciousness and he became fully aware of the situation. At that point, the victim was badly injured but still alive. Instead of stopping, John killed her. He explained that he wanted to silence the victim as he found the sounds she was making intolerable. He then stood, surveyed the situation, and calmly dragged the victim to the bed, where he positioned her as she was found and performed various sex acts on the body. He then drove to the police station and confessed to the crime. Instead of panic or guilt, John experienced relief in the immediate aftermath of this crime.

“A Battered Wife Kills” by Dr. Louise Olivier

Facts that became apparent during the court case when reconstructing the few minutes before the death of the husband are the following: Mrs. M went to the main bedroom in the house but instead of fetching her pyjamas and pillow and leaving the house (which was her conscious intension) she simply, in a dissociative fugue state, went to the safe in the main bedroom, removed her service firearm – a Vektor Z88 9 mm pistol (which according to South African law she had to keep in the safe while not on duty), walked back to the sitting room and shot her husband point blank in front of the other people in the sitting room without displaying any emotion or saying anything. She then dropped the pistol and went to place herself in one of the chairs in the sitting room and looked withdrawn but did not react to the pandemonium that had broken loose around her.

“Vince Li” by Dr. Jeffrey Waldman

To someone who is psychotic, their experiences are their reality. They are responding in a way that makes sense based on what they believe is going on around them, no matter how bizarre or unrealistic it may seem to others — and the potential for that violent episode exists depending on the content of the psychotic person’s experiences and beliefs. For Mr. Li, his symptoms had persisted for three years before they reached the intensity where he resorted to violence. He was living with the belief that he was the ‘Chinese Jesus’ and that his mission on earth was being gradually communicated to him by God.

“The Tina Eisnor Murder Case” by Dr. Stephen Porter and Tianna Dilley

A troubling aspect of this case is that the Wayne Eisnor who was convicted of first-degree murder is not the ‘old’ Wayne Eisnor. It appears, ironically, that Eisnor’s self-sustained brain injury had a therapeutic effect by somehow transforming him into a nicer, more gentle individual. In the field of psychology, there have been many documented cases of major personality changes due to brain injury, although not usually in the direction of naughty to nice. One well-documented case is that of Phineas Gage, who improbably survived an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain’s left frontal lobe. Phineas, who had once been a dependable, pleasant man, reportedly changed into an impulsive, irresponsible, aggressive individual. In the case of Eisnor, we theorize that his personality shifted in the reverse direction. This begs the question: if a person’s long-standing personality characteristics are suddenly and drastically altered are they still considered the ‘same person’ as before? Should this ‘new’ person be subjected to punishment for criminal actions he or she perpetrated when they were the ‘old’ person?

“A Cat-and-Mouse Game” by Dr. Sven Å. Christianson

The convicted serial killer Sture Ragnar Bergwall, alias Thomas Quick, whom the Swedish people had followed in the media for fifteen years as the personification of evil, suddenly declared himself innocent of eight murders he had been convicted of in six separate trials held between 1994 to 2001. He played a cat-and-mouse game with justice where he provided two versions of the truth. In the first version, he admitted to many murders, claiming at one time up to thirty. In the second version, he took back these confessions. No matter which version he represented, signs of a psychopathic personality, sexual deviation, and sadism were obvious in his makeup. The genesis of Bergwall’s retracted confessions was his association with Hannes Råstam, an investigative journalist whose specialty was tracking down false confessions of convicted offenders. Two to five years after Bergwall and Råstam first met, and with massive media support, decisions were made to refer each of the cases to the Swedish Court of Appeal. Prosecutors decided to withdraw public prosecution in all of these cases, and subsequently, in 2014, Bergwall was released from a high security clinic as a free man.

“Not Criminally Responsible; Or Not” by Dr. Barry Cooper and J. Kanipayor

Mr. Tupan asked that subsequent interviews transpire in the mornings so he could spend his afternoons outside with his peers. “I want to enjoy the outdoors … it helps with my healing,” is the way he put it. Although there were suspicions at the time, it was only after all of the interviews were completed that it was discovered that Mr. Tupan had been trafficking methamphetamine in the afternoons. In the afternoon interviews, he was concerned with completing the session by a certain time, often looking at his large, bright and flashy watch as that time approached.

“A Day in Mental Health Court”  by Mr. Justice Richard D. Schneider

It took me a moment to make the connection. The wild and crazy Miss Shaw had not been to court for several weeks, or at least not while I was presiding, and I had completely forgotten about her. We sometimes have as many as eighty accused on a list in one day and many are quite unwell. So, while I was eventually able to recall ‘the other Miss Shaw’, she did not really stand out in my mind. What stood out in my mind now was the contrast between the Miss Shaw presently before me and the Miss Shaw that I’d recalled from several weeks before. The transformation was remarkable. A completely different person was now before me. Once the dots were connected in my slowly grinding mind I was absolutely flabbergasted. The young lady before me looked like a Bay Street lawyer, almost too neat and tidy to have fit in well with the regular criminal lawyer ‘rat pack’.  I couldn’t contain myself.

“Phil, Eddie, and Margaret” by Dr. David Dawson

Now Margaret drops in unannounced quite regularly. She stays a while. Sometimes she sings a hymn. Sometimes she babbles incoherently. Sometimes her ramblings are interrupted with asides to God. Upon His silent instructions she continues or alters her current discourse. Sometimes she brings jars of liquid, which she claims contain all the nutrients any human should need. She wants to teach the patients of the hospital her survival skills, her nutritional knowledge. Sometimes when she has sung loudly I realize she is drunk. I am always fascinated by the way she constructs a sentence. She uses some combination of Germanic inversion and Schizophrenic association.

“Taming the Lion” by Dr. Lawrence Ellerby

Darren’s progression to violence began with spending time in his head, ruminating about the abuse he had endured and fantasizing about revenge and becoming the one with the power, control, and dominance. His aggression began with fighting those who bullied his female friend and evolved to acting out his anger by hurting animals. At age fifteen, he began to rebel by frequently lying, stealing, avoiding home, and staying out all night. He also commenced what would be a life-long pattern of aggression against inanimate objects—throwing, breaking, punching, and kicking things in close vicinity. Also at fifteen, he began sexually acting out at school by grabbing at peer-aged female students’ breasts and genital areas. The education system was of course alarmed by his behaviour and child welfare was brought in to assist and manage this difficult young man. The focus however was predominantly on setting limits and establishing external controls with little attention to addressing ‘why’ he was behaving so badly.

“Defending the Mentally Ill” by Mr. William Trudell

Seconds later, slashed and bleeding from his neck, the officer un-holstered his gun and fired at the escaping young man, shooting him in the leg. The officer then collapsed. The abandoned hospital parking lot was soon filled with the flashing lights of police cruisers, as chaos shattered the night. Hiding behind the trees, not far away, shotgun at his side, Troy watched the unfolding of his life and the ending of another. He began to run, through backyards, over sidewalks, his leg pounding in pain, until exhausted, he stopped. That is when he called his mother. His nightmare had begun and I soon became a part of it.


These excerpts are from Shrunk: Crime and Disorders of the Mind,
edited by Lorene Shyba PhD and J. Thomas Dalby PhD.

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Contact Dr. Lorene Shyba or Dr. Thomas Dalby

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