Like a lot of people who write mystery and suspense novels for a living, I regularly comb the news for true crime stories that might
someday form the basis of either a down-the-road Mike McCabe thriller or
possibly a stand-alone. When I find one, I cut and paste it into something I
call my “What If?” file. When the news recently broke about the murders
recently committed by Dr. Amy Bishop, I thought to myself this might be the basis
of something interesting. Here was
an educated professor and scientist and a mother of four children who,
supposedly without warning, gunned down six of her colleagues at a University
of Alabama faculty meeting, killing three and wounding three others, two
The only problem with the story is that it wasn’t without warning. There was warning, lots of it, that Bishop was the kind of deranged
person who would do almost anything to retaliate against people she felt had
wronged her. According to a report by Shaila
Dewan, Stephanie Saul and Katie Zezima. in the New York
Times, “Dr. Bishop had shown evidence that the smallest of slights
could set off a disproportionate and occasionally violent reaction, according
to numerous interviews with colleagues and others who know her. Her life seemed
to veer wildly between moments of cold fury and scientific brilliance, between
rage at perceived slights and empathy for her students.”
In 1986, when Bishop was twenty-one, she shot and killed her eighteen year old brother with a shotgun in their home allegedly after a family
argument. It’s been chargesd that
the incident was never adequately investigated by local police, possibly
because Bishop came from a locally prominent family in Braintree, MA. Eight
years later, in 1994, Bishop and her husband were suspected as the culprits in
a mail bomb plot against a doctor she worked with at Harvard Medical School.
The bomb failed to go off and no one was ever charged here either. In 2002 she
finally was charged, this time with assault, after punching a woman in the face
in an IHOP restaurant because the woman had taken the last child booster seat.
She was never convicted.
According to those who knew her, Bishop flew into frequent rages over perceived slights. And after the Huntsville shooting, some in the
University’s Biology Department feared that she might have booby-trapped the
science building with some kind of “Herpes Bomb.” Apparently, she had threatened to do just that.
The real mystery is why nobody chose to say or do anything about Bishop before she
finally exploded in a frenzy of gunfire. She’d been hired by the University of
Alabama without anyone questioning or even being aware of her history of
irrational behavior. Why? My guess is, as my fictional hero, Detective Sergeant
Mike McCabe puts it In The Chill of Night, “It’s
a familiar scenario. Citizens not wanting to get involved. Too polite. Too
fearful. Too lazy. It was a problem for police departments across the
country. It bugged the hell out of
McCabe but it was tough to figure out what to do about it.”
The Amy Bishop killings were a preventable tragedy. Could they ever become the basis of a future novel? Some sort of female version of
American Psycho? Maybe.
Well-educated female killers with a few screws loose often make interesting
villains. Just look at Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell and Basic Instinct’s
Catherine Tramell for proof.
However, for now, the cut and paste on Ms. Bishop will remain in my “What
If” pile. Her crimes are too
recent and the pain they caused too raw for me to do anything with them anytime