Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

British Maniac Patrick Mackay

Unchecked Aggression

Generally priests are figures of comfort and forgiveness, but for some people they may represent a symbol that triggers brutal aggression. So it appeared when the police came upon the bloody crime scene in a cottage in the village of Shorne, Kent around midnight on March 21, 1975.

Father Crean's home
Father Crean's home

Father Anthony Crean, 64, lay dead in a bathtub, still fully dressed, the water around him red with blood from the open wounds to his head. A series of crimson spatters on the bathroom walls and ceiling indicated repetitive blows, although it had taken him some time to die, as if the offender had wanted to watch the effects of his handiwork for as long as possible. It appeared that the priest had been hit with the sharp edge of an axe, splitting open his skull and exposing his brain. He'd been repeatedly stabbed as well, and there were fresh bruises all over his face.  From all appearances, there was something deeply personal about this assault.

Father Crean had been the chaplain for a Carmelite convent and was a friendly sort. He believed that showing the love of Christ to wayward people could transform them. In 1973, he had shown a great deal of patience and kindness toward a young man who had then turned around, broken into his home, and robbed him. But like the benevolent priest in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, who gave the escaped convict Jean Valjean the silver that he'd initially stolen, Father Crean continued to be tolerant. That was a dire mistake, for that same man found himself an easy target when anger overcame the man he befriended.

Father Anthony Crean
Father Anthony Crean

The only book devoted to this unfolding horror, Psychopath, was penned by Tim Clark and John Penycate, a team of journalists who also developed a controversial documentary on a legal and mental health-care system that had failed to properly assess and treat a disturbed young man who eventually became a killer. Other writers address the case in the context of the 1970s, and Brian King includes some of the offender's writings in Lustmord, his collection of artifacts from murderers (although they're all taken from Penycate and Clark's book).

It did not take the police long to find the perpetrator of this bloody crime, because they knew about the priest's association with a neighborhood troublemaker. Within 48 hours, say Lane and Gregg, they had located him and placed him under arrest. He immediately confessed, offering unbelievable details about how he had watched the priest die. But it turned out that this bludgeoning was only the most recent of a long list of crimes, including other murders. What this man had to say for himself provides a stark study in the psychology of a psychopath. It also poses a challenge to the field of risk assessment.  Although the murder occurred in the 1970s, the ability to predict violence is not an exact science.


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