Consuming Violence: forensic psychoanalyst John C. Espy on our fascination with serial killers

A Journey Through the Dark Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind

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Nathaniel Bar Jonah would regularly say, when questioned about the murder of the 10-year-old boy, “They can’t prove anything because there is no body,” and Bar Jonah was right, because he ate the young boy.

Perhaps our desire to be fascinated, not just by what serial killers do, but more importantly, who they are emerges out of our sadism.  We like to think of ourselves as being incapable of such heinous acts of violence and torture, yet we consume representations of these primitive behaviours with little restraint.

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At the time of the investigation and eventual trial, the international media printed every proclamation Bar Jonah wrote, including his last will and testament.  The media also voyeuristically waited for more.

In his writings Bar Jonah made many accusations and declarations that a ubiquitous ‘they’ were out to get him — some of the locals in Great Falls, Montana even begin to question whether the police were involved in an elaborate cover-up, as Bar Jonah would have them believe.

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Bar Jonah in court

Bar Jonah declared his innocence to whomever would listen. During interviews he would cock his head as if to take on an omnipotent performance-like persona, checking this way and that to see if his magic was seating in his potential prey, allowing Bar Jonah to live in infamy inside their being.  In fact, for most of his life Bar Jonah’s magic did in fact take hold. Most especially in children and the more psychically vulnerable. Treasa Glinnwater (‘The Horror Film: A Rapprochement Drama’, 1981) described how the loss of omnipotence precipitated the rapprochement sub-phase in an infant’s development.  It is during this sub-phase that “the toddler comes to the awful realization that he is not an omnipotent being.”  Clearly Bar Jonah never embraced this realization and used projective-identification as a way of perpetuating his fantasy of unlimited power.

The third volume of the Eat the Evidence trilogy, There is no Body, examines not only the trial of Bar Jonah but looks more closely at the relationship with his pedophilic counterpart and co-conspirator ‘Doc Bauman,’ who presented himself as a ‘retired’ psychiatrist and child psychologist of which he was neither.  However, he did have a propensity for gathering “flocks” of desperate boys to him, promising them shelter and food, until he tired of them and cast them aside for a newer and younger lot. But it was the 10-year old-boy that Bar Jonah would ultimately murder and consume that Doc would say, “captured my heart.”  Both Bar Jonah and Doc were masterful at preying upon and ultimately luring the unsuspecting into their lair of deceit and abuse. They utilized the psychic barbs of malignant projective-identification to hook their victims.

Doc and Bar Jonah competed for whose malignant projective-identifications would be the most effective at securing those most susceptible.

One of the psychologists who examined Bar Jonah for the defense said after shaking his hand, “Bar Jonah’s palm was like a colloidal gelatin, molding to the form of his hand; seeping into the crevices of his Jeevan Rekha, the palmist’s life line.”  When the examiner pulled his hand away, he felt Bar Jonah’s overtly limp, damp fingertips linger along his palm. Immediately then, Bar Jonah launched into his well-performed litany of being abused and tortured at 10-years-old by a gang of marauding rapist teenagers.  All the while he cocked his head, looking out of the corner of his eye to see if he was being believed.  Belief or empathic resonation represented for Bar Jonah proof that he had been successful in recontextualizing who he then considered his captured prey.

The courtroom drama depicted in There is no Body, takes us further into Bar Jonah’s indifference as the victims that he sexually and physically tortured testify against him at great personal risk to themselves.  Bar Jonah is depicted sitting with his arms draped over the backs of his attorneys’ chairs, his reptilian eyes gazing at the young boys testifying against him, as he attempts to invoke in them his implanted preternatural incantations which would neutralize their ability to recall anything except when he was lovingly devoted to them. As the trial continues and the prosecution prods the boys to recall their abuse, Bar Jonah slumps in his seat, hangdogging his head and drooping his face, imploring the jury to see him at his pathetic best.

Perhaps the most telling of Bar Jonah’s propensity for mastering a conscious representation of projective-identification was his relationship with the mother of the boy he cannibalized, who was as vulnerable to being psychically cannibalized as her young son was to being physically consumed.  There is no Body takes the reader on the final journey of Bar Jonah’s ontogenesis and allows one to experience the culmination of his odious life.

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reptilian eyes: “Dracula is consummately skilled at recognizing the slightest wavering of a potential victim’s claim to personal autonomy, upon which he makes his claim on the victim”

In the literature of fear, Dracula as the Mephistopheles, the deceptive-destroyer represents the embodiment of projective-identification as his means of not only capturing souls but of breeding them as his disciples.  As Glinnwater so cogently points out, “the story of Dracula is an exquisite drama of the horrors that befall the individual who is drawn into union with a powerful figure.  Dracula is consummately skilled at recognizing the slightest wavering of a potential victim’s claim to personal autonomy, upon which he makes his claim on the victim.  His invincible and ruthless air proclaims an omnipotence of evil, against which his victims appear woefully inadequate.”

John C. Espy, PhD, LCSW, has been practicing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for the past thirty-five years. He was supervised by R.D. Laing for many years and conducted a weekly supervision group with Sheldon Kopp. He has worked extensively in the area of primitive and psychotic personalities and has interviewed more than twenty serial murderers and pedophiles in the United States and Europe as part of his research on the manifestation of malignant projective-identification. His current practice primarily focuses on clinical and forensic consultation and long term treatment. He was previously a neurotoxicologist with NASA and has taught at numerous universities throughout the United States. Dr Espy is also a long standing member of the American Academy of Psychotherapists, the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work and northwestern United States group moderator for the International Neuropsychoanalysis Society.

The final part of his trilogy based on the life of the violent serial pedophile and murderer, Nathaniel Bar Jonah, Eat the Evidence, is published this week by Karnac Books

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6 thoughts on “Consuming Violence: forensic psychoanalyst John C. Espy on our fascination with serial killers

  1. Pingback: Integrative Gestalt Practice: Transforming our ways of working with people, by Mikael Sonne and Jan Tønnesvang |

  2. I have followed with great interest this series and Dr. Espy’s comments on this blog. First I must say that I stand by my previous comments that Dr. Espy’s insights regarding projective-identification,, especially when this series makes greater headway in the market place (I see that it is not on Karnac’s best seller ‘lists’,) and when his insights concomitantly make their way into the clinical sector, will not only profoundly deepen the understanding of projective-identification but will also revitalize the discussion of projective-identification and primitive personalities. The Eat The Evidence series has done what NO other book or series has done in the exploration of a serial murderer/pedophile and that is, as Dr. Espy has said he attempted to do, let the reader be entered by the projective-identification being made manifest by ‘Bar Jonah.’ This series should be MANDATORY reading and discussed for psychiatric residents and other clinical professionals. There is simply NOTHING like it in the clinical literature. Not only that, but it is written in a manner than immediately captivates the reader and is literary. This is written by not only an obviously gifted clinician but also by a writer of the highest form. I had the pleasure of knowing Norman Mailer and can say with some assuredness that had he read this work, he would in fact be seeking out Dr. Espy to discuss it. I obviously cannot recommend this work enough and I look forward to whatever Dr. Espy will hopefully be publishing in the future. I do wish I knew who ‘Glinnwater’ was as I find their comments with regard to horror films to be spot on. And apparently this insight was cultivated in 1981. I would appreciate a more complete reference for this work should that be possible. JG

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  3. I cannot agree with JG’s comments enough. This article is amazingly well written. The thought of Bar Jonah’s psychic barbs of projective identification has been embedded in my mind as I read and reread this trilogy. The reader is also fully aware that due to the UNBELIEVABLE cocktail of misfortune (misfortune for all with the possible exception of Bar Jonah himself) upon Bar Jonahs brain that his thinking is so stunted and undeveloped. What is so important about this book is that it teaches you with examples that you will never forget. Thank you Dr. Espy.

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  4. I have followed this author with great interest since Eat The Evidence first appeared. I have a particular interest in primitive personalities and those individuals who engage in heinous crimes. I ordered Eat The Evidence and expected it to be of the usual ‘true crime’ genre. I was completely taken by surprise when I read the book and now all three volumes. Truly the Eat The Evidence trilogy is a classic. The material in this book could be studied for years to come. The writing is exquisite. Dr. Espy is clearly not only an extraordinary researcher, he is able to bring the material to the reader in such a way that it almost ‘sneaks’ in on you. His understanding of projective-identification is the most profound, as far as I am concerned, since Bion. He has clearly taken projective-identification to a new level. I am using the trilogy in a course I am teaching at NYU on ‘The Criminal Mind”. I most certainly look forward to Dr. Espy’s future writings. I see on the Karnac author’s site that he has a new book coming out. I will consider it an ‘event’ once it arrives at my door step.

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  5. After reading the Eat The Evidence trilogy I would agree with the above reviewers that Dr. Espy has written the quintessential work of this genre. I had never heard of Nathaneal Bar Jonah until I read Eat The Evidence and now, after reading it, I can’t shake him. I think that we as psychologists and psychiatrists often fail to realize the psychic penetration that individuals who fall on the more primitive spectrum have. Dr. Espy’s work will certainly cure any naivete that one might possess about these individuals. Again I would agree with the other reviewers that this work penetrates deeply. The examples of Bar Jonah’s crimes against children are stark without being gratuitous in their descriptions. But the way Dr. Espy describes these heinous acts makes one experience them as though they are secretly observing them, fearful that Bar Jonah may, at any moment, turn his aggression toward the reader. How does one say that a work of this type is ‘beautifully’ written, bizarre as it may sound, it is. Eat The Evidence is a work of the first order. I highly recommend it.

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