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 critically.
The only problem with the story is that it wasn’t without warning. There was lots of warning 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 soon