Update 9/12/2012: Amy Bishop pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of attempted murder and one count of capital murder of two or more victims, withdrawing her early plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Sentencing is set for late September. According to the Associated Press, prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty. Bishop still faces charges in Massachusetts in connection with the fatal shooting of her brother in 1986. Last March, Wired magazine ran this profile of Bishop, delving into her troubled and troubling inner life, dark glimpses of which emerged in three unpublished novels she wrote.
4 pm, February 12, 2010University of Alabama in Huntsville
Shelby Center for Science and Technology, Loading Dock.
Amy Bishop stepped out of the science building and into the afternoon light. She was a solid woman5’8″ and 150 poundsand from a distance, at least, her red V-neck sweater and jeans made her look more like a soccer mom on an errand than a remorseless killer leaving the scene of her crimes. Upstairs, in Room 369R, there was only suffering. Three professors lay on the floor, dying. Three more were wounded.
Now Bishop stood near the loading dock, unarmed. On her way down from the third floor, she had ducked into a restroom to stuff her Ruger 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol and blood-spattered black and red plaid jacket into a trash can. The 45-year-old assistant professor had also phoned her husband, James Anderson, and instructed himas she often didto come pick her up. “I’m done,” she’d said.
Bishop focused her blue eyes, so fierce under the horizon of her dark bangs. She paid attention to people’s eyes. There was so much you could see in them. Pain. Hardness. Sometimes she envisioned that people’s eyes made sounds. Tick. Tick. Tick. Other times she imagined she could feel eyes boring into the top of her head. Now her own eyes scanned the street. Where was James?
More than two decades earlier, the first time she’d fired a gun with fatal results, James had stood by her. Other boyfriends would have turned their backs. But not James. In the dark days after that 1986 shooting, Amythen a 21-year-old senior at Northeastern University in Bostonhad actually broken up with him. James waited patiently for her to return to herself, then to their relationship. The shooting was ruled an accident, and soon they were getting married, honeymooning in the Bahamas, starting a family. James would stand by her again, when she had problems on the job after earning her PhD from Harvard University. She had no reason to think he wouldn’t stand by her now.
At 4:10 pm, as ambulances rushed to the scene, a Madison County sheriff’s deputy approached Bishop and took hold of her. She looked dazed as her hands were cuffed and she was put into a squad car. Later, during an interrogation that went on for more than two hours, Bishop would insist, “I wasn’t there” and “It wasn’t me.” Her assertions seemed ludicrous, of course. Twelve people who knew Bishop, who saw her almost every day, had spent nearly an hour with her before she started shooting without a word of warning. Nine of those witnesses were still alive.
Yet some would say that when Bishop claimed she wasn’t there, she wasn’t entirely wrong. It didn’t seem to be the Amy they knew who had come to that meeting; another Amy had. Bishop “was someone I trusted,” says professor Debra Moriarity, who survived the massacre. “There were oddities of personality that made you just go, oh, well, that’s just the way she is. But nothing would have predicted any behavior like this. She never appeared hateful.” But that afternoon in Room 369R, “she seemed suddenly different.” Soon, Moriarity and her colleagues would learn that they weren’t the first to have seen Bishop’s dual nature. For years, there had been two sides to this quirky, haughty researcher known for introducing herself as “Dr. Amy Bishop, Harvard-trained.” Many had met Arrogant Amy, who seemed to thrive on order and usually had the upper hand. An unlucky few had encountered another Amychaotic, confused, full of menace. Angry Amy rarely took charge. But when she did, things never ended well.
What makes a smart, well-educated mother of four go on a killing spree? In the more than 12 months since Bishop became the first academic in US history to be accused of gunning down fellow professors, many theories have been offered up. One is that she’s a lunatic. That suggestion came from her attorney.
Bishop’s court-appointed lawyer, Roy Miller, called her simply “wacko.” Later he apologized for his word choice, but he has continued to press the point. “They’re going to try to show she’s sane, that she was just mean as hell,” he tells me, referring to the prosecution, which is seeking capital murder charges against Bishop in the killings of department chair Gopi Podila and professors Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson. “If they seek the death penalty, which we have to assume they will, our only defense is mental.”
The Wacko theory is often accompanied by the Tenure Made Her Do It hypothesis, which posits that the grueling, years-long process of trying to win a permanent professorshipand the despair that accompanied being denied tenure by her peersmade Bishop snap. This explanation got a lot of traction right after the vicious slayings, in part because it seemed to open the door to a more general indictment of academia. Is the tenure process itself vicious? Some, like Katherine van Wormer, a blogger for Psychology Today who has herself been denied tenure, says it is. “I would describe the denial of tenure as an end to one’s career, to one’s livelihood,” van Wormer wrote after the killings. “Being denied tenure, in effect, fired by your peers, is the ultimate rejection.”
She would complete three unpublished novelsnearly 900 pages of strikingly autobiographical prose.
But the Tenure Made Her Do It assertion is undermined by the calendar. Bishop learned she would not get tenure in March 2009, 11 full months before she transformed a routine faculty meeting into an execution chamber. She appealed the faculty’s decision, thus extending the process. But that appeal was denied for good in November 2009still three months before her alleged crimes. What’s more, although tenure decisions are not public, university officials say Bishop had indicated she’d found out which colleagues had voted for and against her. Yet she shot some of the very people who had supported her. If this was tenure-related payback, it was carried out with less than surgical precision.
Which brings us to the Maniac in Geek’s Clothing conjecture. Let’s face it, scientific and technical fields attract more than their share of socially awkward, obsessively focused oddballs. The history of science is rife with peculiar pioneersthink Einstein, Feynman. And it’s no different today: Tech companies and R&D labs all over the country don’t just tolerate idiosyncratic geniuses; they celebrate them. Why? Because their very ability to think differently, to do or be what’s unexpected, has led to tremendous success (think Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg).
Every once in a while, though, brainy weirdos turn out to be brutal killers. It happened in 1991, when Gang Lu, a 28-year-old former graduate student in physics at the University of Iowa, killed four faculty members. He was angry that his dissertation had not been nominated for a prestigious award. It happened again in 1992, when Valery Fabrikant, a mechanical engineering professor denied tenure by Concordia University in Montreal, loaded several guns, went to campus, and opened fire, killing four colleagues.
Obviously, not all number lovers and data geeks are potential murderers, just as not all postal workers go postal. But if a scientist becomes dangerously antisocial, colleagues may be slower to notice than people in other lines of work, where eccentricities aren’t regarded as a badge of authenticity. And academia may be especially ill equipped to handle such behavior, since it is organized around protecting differences and safeguarding intellectual freedom. If you’re an academic and a scientist and you’ve gone off the deep end, in other words, you may find it just a bit easier to hide in plain sight.
We like to think that what happened at the University of Alabama a year ago might have been prevented. But the sad truth is that there may be no way to anticipate when or how someone will snap. When it comes to Amy Bishop, the mask of Arrogant Amy made Angry Amy invisible to most everyone, perhaps even to Bishop herself.
December 6, 1986The home of Amy’s parents, Samuel and Judith Bishop
46 Hollis Avenue, Braintree, Massachusetts
Amy had said something that upset her father. That morning they’d squabbled, and at about 11:30 am, Sam, a film professor at Northeastern University, left the family’s Victorian home to go shopping. When he last saw his 18-year-old son, Seth, the young man was outside washing his car. Amy, 21, was in her bedroom upstairs. She was worried about “robbers,” she would later tell the police. So she loaded her father’s 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and accidentally discharged a round in her room. The blast struck a lamp and a mirror and blew a hole in the wall, which she tried to cover up using a Band-Aid box and a book cover. She didn’t want her mother, Judy, to see the damage.
The gun, a Mossberg model 500A, holds multiple rounds and must be pumped after each discharge to chamber another shell. Bishop had loaded the gun with number-four lead shot. After firing the round into the wall, she could have put the weapon aside. Instead, she took it downstairs and walked into the kitchen. At some point, she pumped the gun, chambering another round.
It was lunchtime, and Judy had just returned home from the riding stables. Later she’d speculate that, implausibly, she hadn’t heard the thunderous shotgun blast in Amy’s bedroom because the house was soundproof. She told police she was at the sink and Seth was by the stove when Amy appeared. “I have a shell in the gun, and I don’t know how to unload it,” Judy told police her daughter said. Judy continued, “I told Amy not to point the gun at anybody. Amy turned toward her brother and the gun fired, hitting him.”
Seth dropped to the floor, blood streaming from a gaping wound in his chest. His aorta had been ruptured; his liver destroyed. Judy called 911 at 2:22 pm. The first responder on the scene found Seth lying on his left side, facedown in a pool of blood. Blood and air were escaping each time he gasped for breath, the police report says. By the time Seth was pronounced dead, at 3:08 pm, Amy was long gone. She had run out of the house and headed to a nearby Ford dealership, where she encountered two employees. Pointing the gun at them, she demanded a car and a set of keys, but when they hesitated, she left. One of the men would later say she claimed she’d gotten into a fight with her husband, who was going to kill her.
Minutes later, workers at a local business spotted Bishop. When a police officer appeared, they waved him toward the woman with the gun. The officer told her to drop her weapon, but she complied only when another officer surprised her from behind. She seemed frightened and disoriented, according to police records. Her shotgun was still loaded with two unspent shells, and she had another live shell in her jacket pocket.
Later, police asked Amy if she had shot Seth on purpose. She said noand then her mother told her to stop answering questions, police records state. Judy Bishop said her two children, both violinists, got along well. Just three years before, in her high school yearbook, Amy had pledged: “I, Amy Bishop, hereby bequeath my violin and music to my brother Seth.” Seth Bishop’s death was an accident, his parents said. A tragic accident. And for nearly a quarter century, until Bishop opened fire in Room 369R, authorities would agree.
June 19, 1988Northeastern University commencement
Graduation day was hot and humid, the sky hazy and overcast. Amy Bishop and James Anderson attended commencement together, heading to the old Boston Garden to hear Erma Bombeck deliver the morning address.
“Success dwells within you,” Bombeck told the graduates. “The trick is knowing it when you see it.”
Northeastern University had been an important place for Bishop, and not only because her father taught there. The private institution that now boasts of treating learning as “a contact sport” had helped Bishop come into her own in two key respects. First, she met the shy, baby-face undergrad who would become her husband. Second, she discovered she had a flair for writing fiction.
Years later, she would tell a friend that she’d been recognized for her writing as an undergraduate and encouraged to develop it further. But her mother and father frowned on the idea. “I think her parents steered her away from humanities and into science,” says Rob Dinsmoor, another friend, who met Bishop in the late ’90s, when they both were members of a writers group in Hamilton, Massachusetts. As a film professor, Bishop’s father knew how tough it was to make it in the arts, Dinsmoor says. “So he was pushing her.” After her brother’s death, she finished her bachelor’s degree in biology. Soon she was on her way to grad school at Harvard.
But she didn’t stop writing. Over the next 16 years, she would complete at least three unpublished novelsnearly 900 type-written pages of strikingly autobiographical prose. The Diary of Abigail White is her first book. It is told from the perspective of Abbie, a 9-year-old girl who is tormented by a shameful secret: She has killed a young boy. Amazon Fever is a futuristic thriller about Olivia, a struggling academic who finally gets the respect she deserves when she saves the world with her womb (having a baby after a rampant virus has unleashed a global epidemic that makes all other pregnant women miscarry). Easter in Boston, dated 2004, follows Beth, a gun-running Harvard researcher who’s testing an anticancer drug that has an unfortunate side effect: It makes mother rats eat their own young. Of all Bishop’s protagonists, Beth is the most fully drawn. Depressed about her life and career, she uses sarcasm to cope, tapping a vein of black humor, as in this exchange about an upcoming potluck hosted by the head of her lab:
Beth’s colleague: “I think I am bringing dumplings tomorrow to Dick’s … What are you bringing?”
Beth: “A gun… Death and destruction. Hell on earth. Horror.”
There’s a strong resemblance between Bishop’s fictional world and her real one. The protagonists in all three novels are scientists (or aspiring scientists) and have strong ties to their Greek heritage (Bishop’s father is of Greek descent). All have tumultuous, violent dreams and daydreamsBishop calls them “eyelid films.” All fantasize about the deaths of those who have wronged them. Abbie and Beth both have artistic fathers, as Bishop does. Olivia and Beth have “brittle,” overbearing mothers; both are involved with loyal but underachieving men who were raised in Alabama, just as Bishop’s husband was. Both have connections to Harvard, a place that was the main ingredient in Bishop’s fragile recipe for self-worth. Both struggle with the “black fog” of depression, lament the politics of the ivory tower, and imagine taking their own lives.
For her part, 9-year-old Abbie likes “to pretend and work herself up to peak fearfulness,” Bishop writesa quality that more than one of Bishop’s friends tell me they recognized in Abbie’s creator. Sometimes Abbie is confused by her gory fantasies but reassures herself: “My imagination strikes again.” Friends of Bishop say that statement also rang true: Bishop had a habit of making things up and presenting them as facts. “I sometimes didn’t believe everything that came out of her mouth. I can’t describe exactly why,” Dinsmoor says. But he admired her suspenseful prose: “She did dread real well.”
Abbie felt cold metal pressed against her forehead… [She] opened her eyes. Inches from her face the red head’s finger curled around the trigger of a revolver. “Surprise.” He pulled the trigger. from The Diary of Abigail White, by Amy Bishop
December 19, 1993the Home of Paul Rosenberg
14 Standish Street, Newton, Massachusetts
Paul Rosenberg was in his kitchen, opening the mail. It was about 11 pm, and the neurologist and his wife had just returned from a week’s vacation. He looked at the package on the counterthe house sitter had found it inside the front storm door. The white cardboard box was about a foot square and 3 inches deep. There were six 29-cent stamps on the box. They had not been canceled.
A medical researcher, Rosenberg had recently attended a seminar on letter bombsthe Unabomber had struck twice that yearand this heavy package looked suspicious. So, gingerly, he cut the tape around the edge with a knife and peeked inside. Two pieces of pipe, each about 6 inches long, were fixed in place. Wires were visible. He carefully shut the box, alerted his wife, and fled.
When the bomb squad arrived, they found that the contraption was designed to go off when the lid was pulled open. Rosenberg hadn’t done that. It probably saved his life.
Less than a month before, on November 30, Bishop had quit her job as a researcher in Rosenberg’s lab at Children’s Hospital Boston. She’d been there just a few months, but Rosenberg told investigators that he’d been instrumental in her departure. Rosenberg told authorities that despite Bishop’s credentialsshe’d gotten her doctorate in genetics from Harvard earlier that yearhe felt “she could not meet the standards required for the work.” One person told investigators that the episode had left Bishop “on the verge of a nervous breakdown.” Rosenberg said Bishop just didn’t seem stable.
Then there was her husband, James Anderson. One witness told investigators that the round-faced computer engineer with tentative blue eyes had it in for Rosenberg. He had said he “wanted to get back” at Rosenberg for his treatment of Bishop, according to case records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms”to shoot him, bomb him, stab him, or strangle” him. Another witness told investigators that Anderson had trouble keeping a job. Anderson and Bishop were questioned in the attempted bombing of Rosenberg, but no one was ever charged.
Beth remembered what Jack was like when they met and fell in love, alive… Over this last year, he’d metamorphosed into a flaccid, bed-loving loser… Jack wasn’t always that way, ambition-challenged, but he was now. from Easter in Boston
<h31996Beth Israel Hospital Cardiology Department
330 Brookline Avenue, Boston
Bishop was the very definition of stressed out. By now, she had three kids under the age of 6: Lily, born in 1991; Thea, in 1993; and Phaedra, in 1995. Anderson was working sporadically, helping rebuild scientific laboratories or taking the occasional computer programming gig. The couple had constant money problems, friends say, and would soon consider filing for bankruptcy.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Bishop cared intensely about appearances, particularly those that connoted status. She wanted an address in Ipswich, she told friends, because the area north of Boston seemed classier than the city. Then there was the matter of her husband’s first name. He was christened Jimmy Jr., after an ancestor who was a Greek ship captain. But Bishop told him that combined with his Southern accent, “Jimmy” made him sound low class. “They think you’re a mechanic or somethinga hick,” Arrogant Amy told Anderson, insisting that the former Eagle Scout call himself James. So he did. “James was a name that Amy gave him,” says Jimmy Anderson Sr., Bishop’s father-in-law, who lives in Prattville, Alabama. “He deserves some kind of a medal for living with her. She was the extreme end of bossy.”
By 1996, Bishop had found employment as a researcher at a Harvard teaching hospital, Beth Israel. She was also doing work at the Harvard School of Public Health, but it eventually began to dawn on her, friends say, that she was not going to rise through the university’s ranks. She had taken multiple maternity leaves. She also had to deal with her severe allergies, which required her to take steroids that sometimes made her “zone out,” she told friends, and lose track of reality.
Bishop was starting to wonder whether it might be a good idea to take her Harvard credentials where she’d be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Maybe then, she confided to friends, she’d get the recognition she deserved.
As it was, her resentment flared when she felt slighted. Hugo Gonzalez-Serratos, currently a professor of physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, collaborated with her on a 1996 paper about deficient cellular cyclic AMP while they were at Beth Israel’s cardiology department. The paper had nine authors; Bishop was listed second. “She was very angry because she was not the first author,” Gonzalez-Serratos, who was listed eighth, told The New York Times. “She exploded into something emotional that we never saw before in our careers.” Again, Angry Amy had seized control, this time with self-destructive results: Her contract, the Times reported, was not renewed.
Beth’s temper flared and she couldn’t stop herself even though she knew it could be the death of her career… The thought of being some unemployed loser, a non-Harvard, a non-scientist made her shiver at her loss of identity. from Easter in Boston
1999Hamilton Public Library
299 Bay Road, Hamilton, Massachusetts
In her writing group, Bishop said what she thought, whenever it occurred to her, and then was surprised when people didn’t take it well. “She’s kind of clueless socially,” says Rob Dinsmoor, who was a regular. “She would read someone’s story and say, ‘Second paragraph. Doesn’t help. Kill it.’ Or ‘I don’t like this character. Kill it.’ It really wasn’t tactful.”
At one meeting not long after she’d joined the group, Bishop arrived toting hefty manuscripts. Usually, people brought passages or maybe chapters to share. But here was Arrogant Amy, distributing a massive tomeher first novel, the one about Abbie. “She said, ‘I’m sorry to spring it on you like this, but I wanted everyone to look at it before I gave it to my agent,’” Dinsmoor recalls. This was more than the group leader could bear. “He goes, ‘Agent? I don’t think you’re ready for an agent.’ He just went ballistic.”
Bishop didn’t care. She’d hatched a plan that would allow her to escape academia: Writing best-selling novels, Dinsmoor says, would be her ticket out of the drudgery of grant-writing and research that occupied her days and nights.
She aimed high in her role models. Lenny Cavallaro, a friend and writing teacher, recalls that when he told Bishop she could be marketed as “a female Michael Crichton“Crichton also went to Harvard”she was very excited. She was almost foaming at the mouth.” Soon she was hosting the writers group at her home. It was easier, what with three small kids and a fourth on the way.
As in many demanding professions, it’s difficult for women in science to climb the ladder while raising children. But Bishop was determined to master both. In one of her novels, she observes that “in this era of the supermom who’s a great wife, mother, and CEO,” if you’re not all three “you’re a failure.” Maybe the life of a writer would be more accommodating to motherhood than doing research had been.
To read Bishop’s books back-to-back is to be struck by a recurring plot point in all three: a little brother who has died too young. He’s called Luke in two of the novels, and ghostly memories of him appear frequently to those who’ve outlived him. Abbie suffers most from these visions. She is sure she killed Luke by throwing a “fist-sized rock” that hit him in the head. She “fired” it in anger, she admits, but she immediately feels remorse. Now Abbie is doomed to relive the moment of impact, again and again. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Bishop was channeling her own awful memories of her brother’s death.
By all accounts, Seth Bishop had been his sister’s doting companion, her fellow brainiac, even her savior. Years before his death she was quoted in the Braintree Forum and Observer as saying, “One day when he was about 7 and I was with him, I fell down a small cliff and couldn’t get up.” According to the account, Seth managed to hoist her to safety. “He saved my life that day,” Bishop said.
But as an adult, friends say, she never mentioned his name. Members of her writers group had no idea she’d even had a brother. It was as if Seth Bishop had never existed. But on the printed page, at least, he was always there.
Abbie closed her eyes and saw, almost like a film, the rock hit Luke’s head over and over again. Abbie opened her eyes then closed them again. The eyelid film still played. from The Diary of Abigail White
March 16, 2002International House of Pancakes
It was Saturday morning, and Bishop was about to have a meal with her kids. She asked for a booster seat for her youngesther only son, then an infantbut was told that the last one had just been given to another woman.
Bishop exploded. “I am Dr. Amy Bishop!” she screamed, launching into a tirade. The manager asked her to leave, but before she did, Bishop punched the other woman in the head. Several witnesses said Bishop seemed to have initiated the dispute. But when an officer followed up later, Bishop insisted that the other woman was the aggressor.
She told friends the same thing, explaining that the woman was neglecting her child and that she, Amy, was simply trying to help. She also said that she’d beat the rap by wearing her white lab coat to court, trumping the woman by looking more professional. “She’s like, ‘I’m going to make it go away,’” one friend recalls. Bishop was eventually charged with assault and disorderly conduct, but the charges were dismissed. Her record was still clean.
Bishop’s Ipswich neighbors didn’t know about the booster seat incident, but it probably wouldn’t have surprised them. To hear Arthur Kerr tell it, the problems had begun in 1998, the day Bishop and her family moved to 28 Birch Lane. Their rented moving truck backed into the freestanding basketball hoop where all the neighbor kids played, knocking it down. “At first we thought it was just an accident,” says Kerr, a Boston tax lawyer who lived next door at the time. “But it turns out they did it on purpose. It was just the start of a long, long battle with them.”
In the four-plus years that Bishop and her family lived on Birch Lane, they called the police more than a few times to complain about their neighbors. They didn’t like noise: A boom box on low volume, the sound of bouncing balls, even the ice cream truck was an affront. Bishop “would harass the driver,” Kerr says. “Finally the truck just stopped coming down our street.”
But on Birch Lane, bizarre behavior wasn’t considered normal or acceptable. From the moment he met Bishop, Kerr says, he “could just tell she wasn’t right. I said to my wife right away, stay away from her. She’s bad news.” There was something about her eyes, he addssomething off.
One night, after a new portable basketball hoop in the neighborhood had prompted a series of altercations with Bishop, a couple of parents asked her why the sound of kids playing bothered her so much. The argument almost escalated into a fistfight. “She was belligerent, confrontational, a bully,” Kerr says.
When word spread that the Bishop-Anderson family was moving to Alabama and their home was up for sale, neighbors rejoiced. Everyone agreed: While the house was on the market, they’d keep their lawns immaculateif only to make the neighborhood as appealing as possible to potential buyers.
Kerr remembers the afternoon in 2003, when he came home to see their moving truck pulling away. “Everyone was out in the street, and someone said, ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead,’” he says. Pizza was ordered. Someone brought beer. It was, Kerr said, “a party to celebrate: Good riddance, Amy. We had a period of darkness, and it was really unpleasant. And then they left, and we were happy again.”
Every time Bishop had gotten into scrapes with the law, she emerged unscathed, her record never seriously marred. Now she had a new job. She was on her way to a tenure-track position at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Since the killings last February, university administrators have reviewed the process by which they hired Bishop. President David Williams, who hadn’t yet been appointed when Bishop arrived, says he worried that perhaps her Harvard credentials made some at UAHa well-respected but second-tier schoolturn a blind eye to problems that should have given them pause.
Faced with a candidate who had a doctorate from Harvard, he says, “the natural reaction of a small university trying to grow is to think, wow.” But a review of the file, Williams says, showed no corners had been cut. “We got recommendations from leading academics,” he says. “We went through the process that we go through for everybody we hire.”
Williams acknowledges that no criminal background check had been performed on Bishop before she was hired. It’s not standard procedure. But the week after the killings, he asked the Huntsville Police Department to put Bishop into their system, just to see what they would have found. The review came up clean: no prior convictions.
In the wake of the massacre, plenty of scrutiny was aimed at the Braintree Police Departmet, whose investigation of the 1986 shooting of Seth Bishop many felt was incomplete. Had Bishop been charged, tried, and convicted for that incident, three UAH professors could still be alive. “At some point in this woman’s life, her bad behavior should have been recognized before she got to UAH,” Joe Ritch, a member of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, told The Huntsville Times. “People kept sweeping her bad behavior under the rug, and now we’re paying a tremendous price for that.”
But once Bishop was in Alabama, working in her own lab, conducting research that she hoped would address devastating neurological diseases like Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, was there any way her colleagues could have known? She could be rude and dismissive to students and colleagues alike, and her teaching was often seen as disjointed. Was her unusual behavior and abrasive manner a red flag that got missed because some of her fellow academics could be just as odd? The truth bears repeating: Eccentrics are eccentrics; murderers are murderers. One does not imply the other.
If Bishop stands trialpresumably sometime in the coming monthsjurors will be asked to consider her psychological makeup. If convicted of capital murder, she will face either the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole. To spare her the harshest punishment, her lawyer must show that Bishop did not know right from wrong. But he has yet to reveal what exculpatory diagnosis he plans to offer.
According to Brenda Wade, a clinical psychologist who has followed this case closely, Bishop’s feelings of insecurityher fear of being slighted, her mood swings, her lack of impulse controlare symptoms of borderline personality disorder. People with this condition often toggle between two extremes, experiencing love-hate relationships, idealizing someone one minute, then being furious with them the next. But they aren’t typically violent. “She’s got something else going on: a remarkable lack of remorse,” Wade says. “That’s a huge feature, and it makes me wonder whether she also has what we used to call sociopathic or psychopathic behavior. Psychopaths have no remorse. In some way, they are disconnected from real life and real relationships.”
While the maze of Bishop’s mind will surely be explored in court, it may never be fully mapped. This much, though, seems clear: The memory of her brother, Seth, haunted her.
They had been friends for years before Luke and after, although after Luke, Ian was ticking. She could hear the ticking in his eyes. She knew how far to push him and usually didn’t go too far but now she was sure she had. from Easter in Boston
March 2008McDowling Drive
The two-story green clapboard house that Bishop and Anderson bought when they moved to Huntsville had a strange defect: a split personality. Though their address in the Tara subdivision is listed as McDowling Drive, half of the house actually sits on Greenview Drive. If you stand facing the front door, McDowling heads left, Greenview right. Even Bishop’s house showed two faces to the world. “They’d lose mail all the time,” Bishop’s father-in-law says.
That ongoing confusion proved more than an inconvenience in the spring of 2008, when Anderson Jr. collided with a police car, totaling it. After the accident, police discovered he had an unpaid traffic citationwhich had never arrived in the mailand he was taken into custody on the spot. His father remembers getting a callnot from his daughter-in-law but from a bail bondsman.
Anderson Sr. drove three hours from Prattville and bailed out his son. Even before this, he acknowledges, he didn’t feel particularly warmly toward his daughter-in-law, mostly because of how she mistreated his wife, Sandy. Bishop, who has a fear of the herpes virus, wouldn’t let the woman near her grandchildren because she sometimes got cold sores. “My poor wifeshunned,” Anderson Sr. says.
Anderson Jr. always chalked up Bishop’s weirdest behavior to the pressure she was under. He knew his wife could seem brusque. “She’s a Harvard grad,” he says. “You’re not going to get ‘gushing’ out of somebody like that, sorry.” But he believed they were a team. “We were going to do a lot of work side by side and bring the kids in on it, just like the Curies did,” he says. In the meantime, he’d run the house while she focused on getting tenure.
But by 2008, Anderson Sr. says, when he came to town to pay his son’s bail, the arrangement seemed to be breaking down. The house was “a disaster,” he saysunopened mail amid a storm of clutter. Over a few days, he says, he tried to excavate and set things right. But he cut the visit short after a chilling altercation with Bishop. They were talking in the kitchenabout what, he can’t remember”and suddenly I said something that set her off, and she just totally changed. I have never seen anyone before or after whose face, whose body language, changed so 100 percent. I saw a major difference in her eyes. The color of her skin even changed. It was menacing.”
He takes a deep breath, remembering how the hostility in Bishop’s face made him pack up and head back to Prattville that day. I remind him that right after the killings, he told a reporter he’d called his daughter-in-law “evil,” saying he’d seen “the devil in her eyes.” He nods. “It definitely was frightening,” he says. “I didn’t know who I was talking to.” Until last year, when Bishop was put in jail, he didn’t visit Huntsville again.
In short, Olivia’s career was DOA. from Amazon Fever
March 2009The Provost’s Office
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Bishop sat at the table in provost Vistasp Karbhari‘s office. On the wall in front of her were three of those stylized motivational posters that herald an attribute to which we should all aspire: “Commitment.” “Vision.” “Imagination.”
At times, Bishop had exhibited all three. And yet, her overall academic achievement was lacking, her colleagues felt. Her teaching was scattered; her publication record thin. And when she did publish, the output could be bizarre, as in the case of a paper titled “Effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on motor neuron survival,” which would soon appear in the International Journal of General Medicine. It listed five authors: Bishop, her husband, and three of their four children: Lily B., Phaedra B., and Thea B. Anderson. The B, of course, stood for Bishop. The daughters were kidsnone out of their teens. “It was creepy and kind of weird,” says Moriarity, the professor who survived Bishop’s shooting spree.
Bishop was not without her successes. Much of her research had focused on nitric oxide, which acts as a sort of carrier pigeon between cells, communicating information. But in large amounts, it can turn toxica phenomenon thought to be connected to the onset of certain cancers as well as MS and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
She was researching genetic therapies that might lead to treatments for these neurological disorders by turning on cells’ ability to resist nitric-oxide toxicity. This work had yielded her a $219,750 grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2008. And then there was the new kind of cell incubator, called the InQ, which she and her husband had invented together. UAH president David Williams had highlighted the invention on his blog in November 2008, calling it “remarkable.”
Still, the tenure committee voted Bishop down. Now Karbhari was letting her know: She was out. Asked to describe Bishop’s reaction, he said she seemed disappointed but not angry. “Normal,” he says. (The families of two professors killed in the shooting have since filed wrongful death lawsuits against Karbhari, Bishop, and Anderson.)
When Bishop found out that a member of her tenure review committee had referred to her as “crazy,” however, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging gender discrimination and citing the professor’s remark as possible evidence. According to court papers filed in a lawsuit against Bishop and her husband by some of the victims of the shooting, the professor was given a chance to back off from the comment, but he did not. The court filing states, “I said she was crazy multiple times and I stand by that… This woman has a pattern of erratic behavior. She did things that weren’t normal… she was out of touch with reality.”
It was a wonder none of his ex-employees didn’t come back to the lab shooting. Getting fired was bad enough, but to have everyone but her know about it for perhaps weeks in advance was worse. from Easter in Boston
Summer 2009An Indoor Shooting Range
Target practice would be fun, James Anderson says his wife told him. “It’s a sport,” he recalls her saying. “And I’m like, you can do this?” If the thought of her brother, Seth, dead from a shotgun wound to the chest, crossed his mind then, he doesn’t say so. But Anderson confirms he did accompany his wife to aim and shoot guns. “I’ll just try it,” he remembers her saying.
2:30 pm, February 12, 2010Tara Subdivision
After spending the morning on campus, Bishop drove her classic scarlet 1991 Cadillac back to Tara, to the green clapboard house with the confused identity. Later, Bishop would say she didn’t remember a thing about what she was about to do.
Around 3 pm, her husband took her back to campus. She had a faculty meeting to attend. And when she took her seat, she was carrying a bag with a 9-mm Ruger inside.
The empty clip slid into the 9mm easily. Beth sat on her bed, the gun and its paraphernalia, strewn about, while she worked on it… [She] sat back down with the dictionary. She mulled over words like love, loneliness, hopelessness, despair. She looked at words like suicide and murder. from Easter in Boston
3:56 pm, February 12, 2010University of Alabama in Huntsville
Shelby Center for Science and Technology, Room 369R
When she heard the first deafening boom, Debra Moriarity thought the walls were caving in. “What’s falling?” she wondered as she looked up from the notes she’d been taking. She could hardly make sense of what she saw: Bishop was firing a pistol at her fellow scientists. For the better part of an hour, Bishop had been sitting at the end of a long conference table, listening to a dozen people discuss the biology department’s budget and other matters. Now standing near the room’s only door, she was transformed. Aiming at one colleague’s head after another, she pulled the trigger again and again. Boom. Boom.
Gopi Podila, the department chair who specialized in the molecular biology of plants, was already down and bleeding. So was Stephanie Monticciolo, the staff assistant who’d attended the 3 pm meeting to keep the minutes. Those two had been on Bishop’s right. Now she turned left and shot the person nearest to her: Adriel Johnson, an expert in gastrointestinal physiology. Next to Johnson was plant scientist Maria Ragland Davis. Bishop shot her, too. Then the department’s newest faculty member, molecular biologist Luis Cruz-Vera, was wounded in the chest by a ricocheting bullet or bone fragment. As Joseph Leahy, whose research focused on the biodegradation of hydrocarbons, ducked for cover, a bullet tore through the top of his head, severing his right optic nerve.
Moriarity had dived under the table. Now, kneeling on the rug, she grabbed hold of Bishop’s blue-jeaned leg. “Amy, don’t do this,” she pleaded. “Think about my grandson. Think about your daughter.” Bishop’s eldest daughter, Lily, was a student at the university; she studied biology with some of the people trapped in this room. “Please snap out of this,” Moriarity thought. “This has to stop.” As if in response, Bishop pointed the gun at Moriarity and pulled the trigger. Click. It didn’t fire. Moriarity, still on hands and knees, half-rolled, half-crawled toward the door, Bishop right behind her. Bishop’s eyes seemed cold and “very, very evil-looking.”
Just a few weeks before, Bishop had invited Moriarity, an expert on growth-factor signaling, to collaborate on a grant application to study an enzyme that might inhibit breast cancer. “You know, no matter where I end up, we’re going to write that grant together,” Bishop had said. Because she’d been denied tenure, Bishop would be leaving UAH soon. Still, she’d told Moriarity, “I really want to do that project.” Moriarity thought they were friends.
Now they were in the hall. Bishop took aim at Moriarity again, and again squeezed the trigger. Click. The gun still wouldn’t fire. “Somebody help us!” Moriarity screamed and threw herself back into the room, slamming the door. In the few seconds she was in motion, she could hear Bishop trying but failing to get her weapon to work. Click. Click. Click.
With six people wounded, there was blood everywhereon the table, on the chairs, on the white drywall. Someone used a coffee table to barricade the door. Someone else found a cell phone and dialed 911.
Moriarity and the five others who were unhurt tried to aid their ravaged colleagues, but all they had to stanch the bleeding were napkins and their own clothes. Podilathe affable 52-year-old department chair who had been one of Bishop’s biggest supporterswas on the floor. He would soon die from his wounds. So, too, would associate professors Johnson, also 52, and Davis, 50. Three of the six injured would survive. Cruz-Vera would be hospitalized briefly. But the other two wouldn’t be so lucky. A bullet had entered Monticciolo’s right cheek and exited through her left temple. Her sinuses were shattered, the teeth on the right side of her mouth knocked out. The shot left tooth fragments in her airway. She would be blind in her left eye. Leahy had numerous fractured facial bones that would require wiring his jaw shut, implanting a feeding peg into his stomach, and affixing a titanium plate to his forehead. Eventually he would develop an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. But that would come later. Right now, they huddled in the windowless, fluorescently lit conference room. Just 17 by 21 feet, it was their safe house and also their prison. They had no idea whether Bishop was coming back.
June 16, 2010Norfolk District Attorney‘s Office
Norfolk district attorney William Keating didn’t mince words. “Jobs weren’t done, responsibilities weren’t met, justice was not served,” he said in a news conference where he made an announcement: Nearly 24 years after Seth Bishop’s death, a grand jury had indicted his sister, Amy, on a charge of first-degree murder.
Keating said law enforcement officers in Massachusetts had failed in 1986. Police never told the district attorney’s office that after Bishop shot her brother, she tried to commandeer a getaway car at gunpoint and that she refused to drop her gun until officers repeatedly ordered her to do so, Keating said.
After Keating’s media event, William Delahunt, who was district attorney in Norfolk at the time of the 1986 shooting, released a statement along with his former top assistant: They would have prosecuted Bishop back then, but the Braintree police did not provide them with necessary reports and photos from the crime scene.
One photo of Bishop’s bedroom showed a National Enquirer article on the floor. It was about the killing of the parents of actor Patrick Duffy, who played Bobby Ewing on the television show Dallas and also involved the use of a shotgun and the commandeering a vehicle from a car dealership.
Sam and Judy Bishop made their first lengthy statement since the Alabama killings, releasing a pointed four-page statement that reasserted their daughter’s innocence in the killing of their son, accused the news media of sensationalism, and scolded law enforcement for seeking a scapegoat. “This prejudicial, biased review of the 1986 facts is an enormous waste of public resources that does not in any way provide a benefit to the public and proceeds only for the purposes of assessing blame where no blame was involved,” the Bishops said. While they felt “a deep, unremitting sorrow for the families involved” in the Alabama shootings and could not explain what happened there, they said, “we know that what happened 23 years ago to our son, Seth, was an accident.”
“I’m sorry I was spared! I’m sorry I was spared! I’m sorry I was spared!” Olivia in Amazon Fever
June 18, 2010Madison County Jail
Two days after being indicted in Massachusetts, Bishop slashed her wrists with a razor blade. She’d imagined, in Easter in Boston, “how easy it would be to just step over the railing and fall backwards onto the parking lot below… Six stories should be high enough.” But killing oneself wasn’t easy after all; she survived. “I tried to kill myself because I was hallucinatory/delusional and could not take UAH and being indicted for my brother’s accident,” she said in a letter to her friend Dinsmoor.
The two had kept in touch after she’d moved to Alabama. She would call him sometimes late at night, just to talk. They’d spoken about two weeks before the killings. She was upbeat about a new project, he said. “She was working on the cell incubator, which I think was going to segue into something called the neurister, which was going to be a computer made of neurons,” Dinsmoor says. It sounded like something right out of a Crichton novel.
Months later, Bishop began calling Dinsmoor frequently from jail. But it was a different Bishop, neither arrogant nor angry. This Bishop was beseeching. She wanted him to try to sell her writingthe three existing novels as well as a diary she was keeping about life behind bars.
Bishop’s dream of being a famous writer hadn’t died. Recently, she asked Dinsmoor to try to sell a poem, writtenimprobablyin rap style. Once, she mentioned sending some money to the families of her victims. “Here we are sitting in jail. Let me go ahead and tell you our tales,” goes the poem “Jailhouse Rap,” which, Bishop told Dinsmoor, has been adopted by her fellow inmates as a sort of anthem. “We sleep and dream our way out of here. Our powerlessness is very clear. ”
She wondered whether she could survive her boy’s childhood. She wondered if she could, without crying, watch her child that looked like Luke run and play. She wondered if she would fear losing Luke again so much that she would wish she were dead. from Easter in Boston
Jim Anderson’s houseMcDowling Drive
Bishop’s framed Harvard diploma still hangs in a cubbylike office off the laundry room in the home that her husband hopes like hell he won’t have to sell. With his four children to feed and a wifethe family’s main breadwinnerawaiting trial for murder, money is tight. “Might even go get food stamps,” Anderson says, shaking his head.
He’s calling himself Jim now. Not James. Not Jimmy. Just Jim.
Lately, Anderson says, his family has spent more time than usual in this house. The kids still go to school, of course. Although she’s sitting in a jail cell, their mother remains adamant about that. “Are they doing their homework?” she quizzes her husband when she calls from lockup. “Are they getting out and exercising?
On this night, their three teenage daughters and 9-year-old son have shared a pizza after attending a martial arts class. They’re not shut-insAnderson seems to want to make that clear as he sponges down the blond-wood table in his white-paneled kitchen. Still, he says, it’s often easier to stay close to home.
With the kitchen cleaned up, Anderson leads a tour. First stop is the tiny office where the diplomas hang. Smiling, he points out Bishop’s two and his own “lonesome” one from Northeastern. He leads me past a corkboard that displays a bumper stickerI Love My Country, But I Fear My Governmentand out to the garage.
“That’s where they blew up the pipe,” he says, his voice dismissive. He’s talking about investigators who executed a search warrant back in March. He points to a spot on the floor where they found something suspicious. “They’re like, oh, my God, what’s this? It’s a piece of pipe. Quick, call the robot out. What didn’t get their interest was right above it,” he says. He’d been looking for a way to sterilize cartridges for the InQ cell incubator. He’d built a little chamber that was clamped in the vice. “Gauges, knobs, with a tube leading down to this tank of compressed gas on the ground. I had it labeled so it would be scary: “Do Not Stand In Front of This Device”. And guess where they were standing? I felt like saying, guys, you didn’t notice I had a tank of compressed oxygen in there? And two tanks full of propane?”
He rolls his eyes. Then he heads to his workshop, which doubles as a playroom. There is a low table covered with Legos, a huge periodic table on the wall, a terrarium filled with frogs. On his workbench sits a device that looks like a canister of gas with wires sticking out of one end. Anderson has affixed a handwritten label, block letters on blue packing tape: “This is NOT a Bomb”. He added the label after the search warrant was served, he says, “just in case they showed up again.”
Back in the kitchen, I ask him whether he or his wife ever kept a gun in the house, as has been alleged. “No, no, no. Not with three teenagers,” he says, chuckling faintly. I ask him about the 2008 incident his father describes, when Anderson Sr. and Bishop faced off in the whitewashed kitchen. Does Anderson recognize the kind of transformation of his wife that his father witnessed? “I think I’ve seen it once or twice,” he says, looking down. “But maybe it was just the angryyou know, some people get the angry face.”
I ask Anderson about whether he thinks eccentricity and scientific aptitude go hand in hand. He doesn’t hesitate. “Yeah, I think there’s a certain brilliance and a certain insanity that goes along with it,” he says matter-of-factly. “People ask, well, didn’t you see that in her? Didn’t she act unusual? It’s like, she acted no more unusual than any other scientist I’ve ever been with. You sit down with a bunch of scientists andI hate to say it, buttheir demeanor is more like him.” He nods toward his only son, curled up in a worn armchair in a corner. “You know, like a 9-year-old. Impulsive. Selfish. Me-first.”
Anderson and Bishop’s son, introduced to me earlier as “Kid Number Four,” is bright-eyed and skinny, like he’s going through a growth spurt. He has a drawing pad and a picture book about scary monsters in his lap. His face is rapt as he uses a pencil to copy a plaintive-looking creature, with its arms outstretched.
The boy’s last name is his father’s: Anderson. But his first name is the haunting one. It honors Amy Bishop‘s brother, a violinist who died too young. Seth.
Amy Wallace (email@example.com) wrote about the anti-vaccine movement in issue 17.11.