Crime pervades all areas of human life, and colleges and universities are no exception. Professors are susceptible to the same failings and criminal activity as the rest of society. Professor-perpetrated crimes are linked to crime-related opportunities provided in their employment at colleges. Other crimes of violence are less likely to be related directly to professors’ position of authority and trust. Much of the phenomenon of professors as murder victims or as perpetrators has been attributed to the competitive atmosphere and intense performance evaluations for professors, referred to as “publish or perish.” By comparison, sexual harassment accusations increased dramatically on college campuses in the 1990s as legislation established stricter guidelines; such events have typically involved a male professor and a younger female instructor or student. Sexual and violence-related crimes are not linked to professors’ employment, however, but rather to underlying deviations.
Mishandling of defense secrets is not something that one would normally associate with a college professor. Nevertheless, J. Reece Roth was accused of passing information from a U.S. Air Force contract to two of his foreign research assistants, who were from China and Iran. His actions were considered crimes under the Arms Export Control Act. Roth’s materials from his office were seized as well as his computer when he returned from a lecture tour in China. He eventually pleaded guilty to 10 counts of exporting defense-related materials.
An unusual case involving former professor John J. Donovan, Sr., occurred in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Donovan told police that he had been shot and accused his eldest son of arranging the incident. Evidence revealed that Donovan had actually shot himself in the stomach and sprayed bullets around to frame members of his own family. The judge in the case ordered Donovan to stay away from one of his sons, his three daughters, and their spouses. He was also put on probation, ordered to pay $625, perform 200 hours of community service, and undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
Some of the most heinous crimes imaginable involve those that victimize children. Professor Antonio Lasaga faced charges in court for receiving 150,000 pornographic images of children. The images were found on both his home and university computers. Lasaga was also convicted of sexually assaulting and filming the abuse of a young boy. The boy was six when the abuse started, and it lasted for several years. The professor was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the electronic images and 20 years for the rape and videotaping of the assault. Lasagna was ordered to participate in sex offender treatment and register with the sex offender registry upon his release from prison.
Former professor Jack Harclerode pleaded guilty to indecent sexual assault and corruption of a minor. He received a 9- to 30-month sentence and was declared a sexually violent predator. The investigation into Harclerode uncovered 245 sexually explicit photographs of young boys, and he was convicted on 20 counts of possession of child pornography. The trial revealed long-term abuse of boys spanning four decades, according to Harclerode’s daughter.
Not all offenders succeed in victimizing children, despite their nefarious intent. Albert Snow, a chemistry professor, received a sentence of 10 years in prison after his conviction for enticement of a minor. Snow talked online to someone he thought was a 15-year-old girl but who was actually a police officer; Snow was arrested when he searched for the girl at an apartment complex. A professor in Hawaii, Marc Fossorier, was arrested for a similar incident. A state investigator was posing as a 15-year-old on the internet when Fossorier talked with her and arranged to have sex. He was sentenced to a year in jail and five years of probation.
Former professor Joshua Young Moon faced a charge of object sexual penetration after assaulting a student in his office. The student suffered from headaches and backaches, and Moon offered to give her a massage. The student fell asleep and awoke to find Moon touching her. Moon pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery.
John M. Adams was a college professor in psychiatry. He also saw patients privately. He became aware of a malpractice suit that was being filed against him by a former patient and her husband. Adams claimed that he went to the couple’s house to talk about the lawsuit. He shot Bobby Burns and threatened Michelle Burns, but she escaped to a neighbor’s house. Adams fled in his own vehicle and then abandoned it a short time later. He then forced two women to drive him to Kentucky. Adams was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years in prison for aggravated burglary, kidnapping, and murder with a firearm specification.
According to the UCR (Uniform Crime Reports), in 2008 34.7% of female murder victims were killed by a husband or boyfriend. In 2009, an argument with his wife spurred Professor George Zinkhan to shoot his wife at a community theater. He also killed two other people who were there and injured an additional two people. His children were waiting in the car at the time. Zinkhan then returned to his car and dropped his children off with a neighbor. He remained missing for two weeks. Zinkhan had committed suicide His body was finally discovered by cadaver dogs in the woods.
Kansas State University Profesor Thomas Murray and his ex-wife had shared custody of their daughter, and it is believed that this arrangement was a source of contention between the two. When Carmin Ross-Murray was found beaten and stabbed to death, investigators looked at Thomas Murray as a suspect. The investigators amassed a large amount of evidence that led them to believe that Thomas Murray was responsible for the murder of his ex-wife. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison.
In 2004, a professor with a hidden past presented the world of academia with an unusual situation. Paul Krueger had been teaching at Penn State for 15 years, and no one knew of his criminal history. When he was 18 years old, Krueger killed three men who were on a fishing trip, leaving their bullet-ridden bodies behind. Krueger received three life sentences for the crime. Parole commissioners felt that he had been rehabilitated, so he was released after serving only 12 years of his sentence. Krueger went on to graduate school in California, married, and had a son. He eventually become a college professor. When his past was revealed to the public, Krueger resigned.
Recently, Amy Bishop, a professor of neurobiology, opened fire on six of her colleagues after she learned that she had been denied tenure. She killed three of her colleagues and wounded three others. Seven years before this incident, Bishop had shot and killed her brother. At the time the crime was ruled accidental, but in 2010 Bishop was indicted for her brother’s death. A 2010 review of a 1993 attempted mail bombing at Harvard Medical School resulted in no charges filed against Bishop.
Crimes perpetrated by professors are difficult for society to grasp due to the trust that parents and students place in these individuals. When these people commit unconscionable crimes such as pedophilia and murder, it is especially horrifying. Violent offenses appear to be precipitated by consistently high stress work environments, highly stressful personal situations, and a final incident that triggers a volatile response. Following the recent rash of college shootings, most states have enacted mandatory removal of professors for threatening physical harm to anyone on campus.
The vast majority of university and college professors are, of course, law-abiding citizens. These individuals spend their lives educating others and creating research that propels our knowledge in all aspects of the sciences and humanities.
- Dewan, S., Saul, S., & Zezima, K. (2010, February 20). For professor, fury just beneath the surface. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/us/21bishop.html?_r=0
- Ellement, J. R. (2007, August 18). Ex-professor found guilty of staging own shooting. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/08/18/ex_professor_found_guilty_of_staging_own_shooting/