We vastly overestimate our ability to spot “red flag” behaviors and get dangerous individuals into treatment. Take Amy Bishop, the neurobiologist who shot up a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville:
Amy Bishop shot her own brother, after all. She punched a woman at a pancake restaurant. She stood accused of mailing a bomb to one of her supervisors at Harvard. Red flags don’t get much brighter than that. Yet, nobody stepped in.
Why not? Collective denial — and the fact that she was a woman:
In her article, MacFarquhar relates gruesome tales of so-called Black Widows (women who murder their husbands or lovers) and Angels of Death (women who kill those placed in their professional care). These women often skirt suspicion and kill prolifically because it doesn’t occur to the cops until much, much too late that a female could be capable of such a thing. In retrospect, the crimes seem gallingly obvious: Genene Jones, an Angel of Death who worked as a pediatric nurse in Texas, is believed to have murdered as many as forty-six children before authorities caught up with her, in 1983. But as the murders are actually being committed, investigators prove far too ready to attribute the mounting body count to accidents, medical error, or a male perpetrator.