New Yorker magazine this week has a piece by Carl Elliot (“Letter from New Zealand”) entitled “Mind Game.” It chronicles the remarkable story of a psychiatrist, Colin Bouwer, who was convicted of murder and is presently serving a life sentence. You must subscribe to the magazine to read the full article. Here is the abstract:
LETTER FROM NEW ZEALAND about a psychiatrist who killed his wife. Dunedin, New Zealand, is an uncommonly peaceful place, yet when it does have a murder, it’s spectacular. What is striking about the case of Colin Bouwer, a psychopathic psychiatrist who was once the head of psychiatry at the University of Otago Medical School and is now a convicted murderer, was the man’s ability to fool his colleagues, many of whom would have studied psychopaths in their medical training. In November of 1999, Dr. Andrew Bowers faced two mysteries. One had to do with Colin Bouwer’s ailing wife, Annette, who had been in good health until a few weeks earlier, when she began having peculiar symptoms. On the morning of November 20th, she slipped into a hypoglycemic coma although she didn’t have diabetes. The second mystery was Colin’s behavior. After a few days in the hospital, Annette was discharged; four days later, she went into another coma. After being discharged a second time, she began having symptoms of hypoglycemia again. Early on the morning of January 5, 2000, Colin called Bowers and told him Annette was dead. Bowers wanted to order a postmortem exam, but Bouwer objected. Bouwer was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1950. He met Annette at a meeting of Mensa, and they married in 1981. In early 1997, he immigrated to New Zealand; Annette and their two children soon followed. Bouwer quickly rose to the top administrative post at the University of Otago. He told his colleagues that he’d been involved in the South African resistance struggle and tortured. By all accounts, he was charming and an excellent psychiatrist. On September 15, 2000, nine months after Annette’s death, the Dunedin police arrested Bouwer and he was charged with murder. Bouwer had written false prescriptions for glucose-lowering drugs, ground them up with a mortar and pestle, and given them to Annette, most likely in her food. The day before she died, he picked up a false prescription for a thousand-unit vial of Humalog insulin—a dose large enough to kill her. Although Bouwer was indeed a qualified psychiatrist, much of his autobiography was constructed out of lies and half-truths. Bouwer had actually been trained as a doctor by the South African military. By the time the police completed their surveillance after Annette’s death, investigators believe that he was sexually involved with at least four hospital staff members in Invercargill and Dunedin. Bouwer’s behavior prior to the murder was stunningly reckless. What personality type does this kind of thing? In 1941, Hervey Cleckley published a book about psychopaths called “The Mask of Sanity,” which told the stories of charming and friendly men and women who had a kind of moral blindness. The fact that even clever psychopaths show such poor judgment about their own interests suggests a deeper neurological impairment, and at least some aspects of psychopathy appear to be genetically related. Mentions Colin Bouwer, Jr., who was arrested for killing his wife, Ria, in 1999. Colin Bouwer was given a life sentence in November, 2001, with a minimum of thirteen years; he appealed the decision, but his sentence was later increased to a minimum of fifteen.