Day after day the bulletins of violence, siege and terrorized hostages burst forth - New Rochelle, Cincinnati, Indianpolis, Silver Spring, Wheaton, a small town in North Carolina an Air Force base in Arkansas - 10 incidents in 12 days. An epidemic, it seemed, of people gone mad.
The lone hostage-taker-your "average" citizen with a gun - is a growing phenonmenon of our stressful times, say psychiatrists and police. It has spawned new experts unheard of five years ago - police-psychologists who specialize in the psyches of hostage-takers and in perfecting the art of hostage negotiations.
They can tell you which hostage-taker are most apt to kill their victims. And, no matter the seemingly disparate surface facts, they outline broad similarities of personality and behaivor patterns of hostage-takers.
They feel certain that media coverage or such crimes is a factor in the "contagious, imitative" second and third and fourth incident and that the stimulus of the ever present shoot-'em-up police drama makes killing or taking hostages seem like realistic alternatives to the violence-plans.
There is more to it, of course, than the desire of the hostage-taker to imitate similar acts or to get his moment in front-page headlines and on nationwide television. The complexities of behavior five negotiators and police cold sweats as they try to save lives - attempting to determine instantly the person's background, motives, goals and what will trigger more violence or calm him down.
Law enforcement officials and psychiatrists lump hostage-takers into three general categories.
First is the "classic criminal." Patrick Mulaney, an FBI special agent supervisor and psychologist in the FBI behavior science unit, labels him a "psyhchopath" with a history of crime who, for example, breaks out of jail and holds hostages or is in the act of armed robbery and grabs hostages to gain freedom. He is considered easy to deal with.
"You can negotiate in a rational way - 'Look, you'll get armed robbery if you give up, but if you shoot someone it's murder,'" says Montgomery County SWAT unit commander Lt. A.B. Wilson. On the othe rhand, this person - described as amoral, vicious, sadistic and anti-social - could easily kill in cold blood if provoked.
The second category is militant terrorists and fanatics - judged the worst to deal with. They're willing to kill or die for their cause.
The third group is the most puzzling. These are the ones who live outwardly normal lives, then one day go on a rampage: Frederick W. Cowan, the tatooed Nazi cultist who murdered in a New Rochelle moving company warehouse; Anthony G. Kiritsis, who wired his Indianapolis hostage for death with a shotgun at his neck; Stephen Gregory, who wildly fired off 200 shots in the Silver Spring bank he never intended to rob; Daniel Roger Evans, distraught over a failed marriage, who held his 6-year-old son hostage and fired 100 rifle shots in a Wheaton townhouse. They all "seem to have things in common," says Dr. Joseph Novello, of the Psychiatric Institute of Washington.
"They live lives of general failure and some final failure precipitated the event," says Novello."They tend to be people who live in conflict with themselves. On one hand, they see themselves as high achievers, destined to succeed in life, but, on the other hand, their experience is contrary. Their only 'success' is in failing - they've failed in marriage, friendships, work."
Their grandiose fantasies and delusions often go back to childhood, when their parents, also underachievers, projected their own wish to succeed to their children, Novello said.
Time and again neighbors or relatives will say of such people, "why, he was a quiet good guy"; "He didn't cause trouble"; "He always mowed his lawn."
"They tend to lead lives of quiet desperation, day dreaming, with occasional hints of violence underneath the surface' says Novello. "The hostage-taking is like acting out their day dream."
The feel inferior have damaged egos, and are described by Mulaney as "rigid" and "over-controlled." Two weeks ago, the FBI psychologist was summoned to Indianapolis from his Quantico headquarters by officials faced with the grisly crisis of Kiritis holding hostage Richard Hall - the owner of a mortgage company that was foreclosing on a loan - with a shotgun wired to Hall's neck.
After 20 minutes of listening to Kiritisis' characteristics, Mulaney astounded one of his relatives by describing Kiritisis' compulsively neat and orderly closet. As the 63-hour siege wore on, Mulaney predicted within the hour when Kiritsis would give himself up.
Mulaney knew Kiritsis had a history of claustrophobia, and his gut feeling was that, as darkness came, he would not endure another night. Kiritsis came out at 11:15 p.m.
What looks to the outsider as a high-velocity, random outburst is actually part of a "grand plan," plotted out and triggered by some real or imagined indignity, explains Mulaney.
"Say I get a $335 bill from Pepco for my heat. I may slam the door and let off steam, then eventually pay the bill. But the rigid, over-controlled loner, the one who can't cope and feels people are out to get him, will carefully plot his revenge to get the president of that company."
Theses people walk around with their violence "frozen up - but the anger is always at a subliminal level, just below the surface," says Dr. Harold Visotsky, chairman of the psychiatry department at Northwestern University medical school.
Mulaney says that while they can appear quiet, controlled an calm, there are often peak moments of frustration when violent acts have surfaced in their past.
For example, Kiritsis seemed mild-mannered to some who knew him - yet in 1968 he had held his sister hostage in a family dispute. While he held Hall, Kiritsis alternately said he felt sorry for his captive and then threatened to blow his head off.
His well-aid plan for capturing Hall was the epitome of the over-controlled mind at work, says Mulaney. He calmly walked into Hall's office, coolly wired a gun to hall's neck with a strap and hanger, then marched him to his apartment. His revenge demands were clearly stated - he wanted the $130,000 he felt the company had plotted to cheat him out of, and he wanted a public apology.
Sometimes hostage-takers are on "missions" to dramatize their hurts, to become "important" one brief moment, to perform an act that is a "catharsis." Such a catharsis probably compelled Jessie L. Coulter to terrorize eight hostages in Cincinnaci home for unwed mothers as he looked for the son he abandoned 19 years ago, says Mulaney. Watching "Roots" on television, Coulter, she said he was an "ex-slave" felt a "spiritual awakening," he wanted his family to be together.
Media coverage is a certainty that many hostage-takers bet on recognition and on telling the world how wronged they are - bank on. Gregory - a man with a failed marriage, problem keeping jobs and past scrapes with the law - could accurately prophesy as he left his parents home for a Silver Spring bank: "You're gonna hear about me; I'm gonna be real well-known in a short period of time."
That's why Kiritsis, ending his three-day siege still holding his shotgun on his hostage, bellowed to TV crews, "get the cameras on. I'm a god-dam national hero."
The cause and effect of TV on such grandstand acts as hostage-taking are not to be minimized, authorities say.
A few days ago, television plots - rather than the real life drama they were experiencing - raced through the minds of both the hostage-taker and his victim, holed up in the Silver Spring bank for seven hours.
Gregory shot his two rifles wildly into the ceiling and screamed and threatened to kill his hostage because a ventilating system kept going on and off, causing vibrations which made him think police were crawling on the roof. That's what they do on "SWAT," he said, and he was convinced the police were doing it to him, too.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Libee cowered in fear, not from Gregory, but from the hundreds of police who ringed the bank, their rifles bathed in TV lights. "All I could think of was that they would do something wild, come in blasting away, like in "Victory at Entebbe."
Police agree with psychiatrists on one chilling factor regarding hostage-takers.
"If you're ever taken hostage and you are hooded or blindfolded or put into a closet, you r chances of coming out alive are practically nil," says Wilson. "If we find out hostages have been hooded, we take offensive action soon - he's going to kill 'em."
Atlanta psychiatrist Dr. Alfred Messer, who studies family violence, says, "In almost 100 per cent of the cases, the hostage locked in a closet or blind'folded dies. They are depersonalized pawns. A hostage in a closet should say, "Let me out, I have to go to the bathroom, I'm going to vomit' - anything to establish some contact as a human being. The more you become human to him the less likely he is apt to kill."
Libee became close to Gregory in the seven hours in the Silver Spring bank, felt sorry for him, gave him her address so he could write to her, and felt his act was a cry for help. "He kept saying he wanted to go where he could play basketball and be taken care of." He told a friend on the care of." He told a friend on the phone that he knew he was going to be locked up. That's what he wanted. "I never felt he would hurt me."
Libee's transference of trust and friendship are typical in the captive-captor "us-against-the-worlds" crises, say psychiatrists. Conveying that trust to the abductor is one of the best tools for self-preservation, law enforcement officials say. What can be done to discourage hostage-taking?
Psychiatrists and law enforcement officials feel downplaying the news of such incidents is a start. Novello points out that "when papers were on strike for a long time in San Francisco sensational suicides dropped dramatically; no one was leaping off the Golden Gate bridge."
But Messer and others point out that no one can really anticipate when a frustration might be released by hostage-taking, rather than a turn to drugs, alcohol, suicide, general despondency or a psychiatrist.
"For now, we can only hope to learn more about the psychology of these people and the best way to handle them individually when it happens," said Mulaney.
He did not say "if" it happens again but "when."