This question, and the details, are what occupies those reporting on the murders of Amish children in Nickel Mines, PA.

The Washington Post reports a detailed account of the events which concluded with comments from Fred Berlin from Johns Hopkins.

Fred S. Berlin, a Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist and expert on sexual disorders, said it would be a mistake to accept Roberts’s statement about molesting children years ago as an explanation for what happened Monday. At most, Berlin said, the molestation, if it occurred, is just one piece of a complicated psychiatric puzzle.

“People can develop a major depression and, in the midst of that, begin to feel very guilty and troubled about perceived bad acts in a way that had not been a problem for them in the absence of depression,” Berlin said. “I’m speculating here, but it’s possible he became depressed and then began to be preoccupied and ruminative and guilt-ridden about these events that occurred so many years ago.”

If Roberts did molest two young relatives 20 years ago, when he was 12, it would not necessarily mean he was bound to repeat the behavior as an adult, Berlin said.

Although many adult pedophiles begin their misconduct as young people, “there’s good evidence that a majority of adolescent sexual offenders — if indeed he was that — do not go on to be adult offenders,” Berlin said. “People assume otherwise, but there’s some pretty compelling data suggesting that there are lots of kids who do things of a sexual nature during childhood that they ought not do, and they don’t do it again.”

While I have much respect for Dr. Berlin, I have a different speculation about killer Charles Roberts. While I believe mental illness is involved, I would guess that delusions are also involved here. This sounds more like a acute psychotic condition than severe depression, although they are not mutually exclusive. It is possible that he never molested anyone but became convinced he did due to persistent and disturbing sexual preoccupations.

I recall a case where a mother asked for her daughter to be excused from school because the daughter required heart surgery in a couple of days. The mother said her daughter would not likely return to school because of the situation. The mother described elaborate plans for her care involving a hospital stay and doctor’s appointments. An astute teacher researched the matter and found no such appointments were made and then called me for a consult. We quickly intervened with protective services. We later learned that the mother’s mental health had rapidly deteriorated and she had planned to murder her daughter and then tell the school that the surgery was not successful. Other than the illogical school request, there were no warning signs. Eventually, the mother recovered and, to my knowledge, there were no further incidents. In the case of Charles Roberts, it appears there were no warning signs at all. Tragic is such a small word in this case; where are the bigger words?

2 thoughts on “Why?”

  1. Dr. Throckmorton,

    Just curious, has Dr. Fred Berlin wrote/said anything about reorientation therapy? What are his views?


  2. the problem with berlin’s analysis is multifold.

    Depression, which is vegetative, does not explain the perpetrators ability to plan, in such detail, such a devious and visciuos plan.

    The intensely aggressive nature of the attack is troublesome for a depressive diagnosis as well.

    Furthermore, the attack seems to be on children who remind him of his daughter. He seems to be both punishing her and the parents who had the joy of raising their children.

    There is inherent narcissism in the act which is not addressed.

    Berlin creates unecessary alarm by diagnosing the perpetrator with depression (a common mental illness). If Berlin suffered from a mental illness, it was a rare form which he responded to in a narcissistic and exploitative manner…most severely mentally ill people do not become violent.


    This is a very unusual diagnostic picture but as a projective device his anger at God, his daughter and the parents who had loved their children seems inescapable.

    David Blakeslee

Comments are closed.