Urology Pearls: A serial killer in Jerusalem

Shahar Madjar, MD

Jerusalem. 1981. Evening. The wind blew gently bringing fresh, crisp air. The streets were empty and dark. The city was on alert as it has always been, barely containing the forces that had shaped it–the tensions between the sacred and the secular; Jews and Palestinians; the old, walled city, and the new city; the yearning for peace, and the reality of war and of madness. Jacob got up from his chair and walked to his mother’s bedroom. She was sleeping on her back, wrapped in a blanket, her head on a pillow. He approached and quietly positioned himself, sitting with his legs spread over her belly. He put his hands around her neck and strangled her with as much force as he could summon. She woke up in a panic, her eyes bulging out of their sockets in terror, and tears running down her cheeks. She tried to escape his hold, to fight back, but then, after a moment, a realization sank in, a submissive version of acceptance, “My boy, Jacob, the troubled one, is killing me, and there is no escape, today, just at this very moment, I’m going to die.” Exhausted, heart-broken, defeated, she almost gave in, but, in the last moment, she managed to escape from under his grip and run toward the front door. It was locked.

Jacob went to his room and pulled a metal pipe from under his bed. He found his mother in the kitchen, lying on the floor. He raised the metal pipe and slammed it over her head once, then again, and again, smashing her skull. Her blood painted the kitchen floor in red, and splattered on the walls, and on the ceiling. Jacob’s shirt was soaked with blood. His metal pipe was dripping blood. When the police arrived on the scene, they followed the blood drops on the floor all the way to where Jacob was, asleep in his mother’s bed.

Jacob was the first serial killer apprehended in Israel. Committing one murder after another without getting caught isn’t an easy task in Israel: most cities are densely populated, police and soldiers are everywhere, and neighbors know one another. The country has been in war since its conception, and everyone is raised to be on alert, and suspicious.

Jacob confessed to eight murders over an 11 year period. He provided the police with details on five unsolved murders including details that were unknown to the general public, therefore proving his involvement in these cases. The rest of his stories might have been just imaginary tales.

He killed his mother, his father, and three other elderly people, all of them by strangulation. He then completed the mission by several blunt blows to their skulls. He had sought psychological and psychiatric help from an early age, but didn’t follow through. At his initial psychiatric evaluation, immediately after his arrest, no psychotic features were found, but shortly after his incarceration, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is important to mention here that while some criminals demonstrate psychotic features, most people diagnosed with schizophrenia are not violent.

Jacob’s story was described in detail in two scientific publications written by Israeli psychiatrists, and in an interview Jacob gave a reporter in Yediot Aharonot, a daily Israeli newspaper. I will return to Jacob’s story later.

What compels a person to become a serial killer? Is the killing always a symptom of a psychiatric condition? Can serial killing be prevented by proper psychiatric evaluation and treatment? Can serial killers be “cured,” or rehabilitated?

These questions have been on the minds of psychiatrists, psychologists, criminologists, and philosophers. It has also been a great subject of investigation in the arts–in books and in movies. Some of these stories are based on true events, and some are imaginary. Remember the movies Frenzy, and Psycho (both directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in 1972, and 1960, respectively)? And how can you forget Zodiac (2007), and Se7en (1995)? The list of imaginary and reality-based tales about serial killers goes on and on, and dates back to ‘Arabian Nights’ –the story of Queen Scheherazade who managed to evoke emphatic curiosity in the serial killer, Shah, by telling him one story a night.

Perhaps the most interesting questions for me are: Why are so many people fascinated with stories of serial killers? Is it because in these stories we find partial answers to our own pathological drives and shortcomings? And, Is serial killing (or any other misdeed) a matter of a person’s free will, or is our behavior, and misbehavior, pre-determined, written in our genes, dictated by the environment in which we grew up, designed in the structure of our brains, and the architecture of our minds?

I will try to explore these questions in this series of articles.

Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Aspirus and the author of “Is Life Too Long? Essays about Life, Death and Other Trivial Matters.” Contact him at smadjar@yahoo.com.


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