Al Carlisle, born and raised in Utah, got his BS and MS from Utah State University and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. The majority of his career has been as a psychologist at the Utah State Prison from which he retired as the head of the Psychology Department in 1989. He was a consultant for the Salt Lake Rape Crisis Center for several years and he has conducted workshops on serial homicide and other crime topics. He has done extensive research on serial killers and has interviewed the Hi Fi killers, Arthur Gary Bishop, Westley Allan Dodd, Keith Jesperson, Ted Bundy and many others. He currently resides in Price, Utah.
1. Why did you decide to become a psychologist?
Originally was going to be a nuclear physicist but I wasn't good in math. I took an adolescent psychology class in college and enjoyed it and thought psychology would allow me to engaged in research on people instead of nuclear particles.
2. When did you decide to write about your psychological findings?
A friend of mine suggested that I put my findings into print. I had thought of doing so for several years but there was always a nagging, "Let me learn a little more first." One day when watching a documentary on Ted Bundy, the commentator at the end said, "We will probable never really understand people like Ted Bundy." After having interviewed violent offenders in the prison where I worked for a number of years, I felt it was time to explain what I had learned from talking to violent offenders.
3. You said that I'm Not Guilty: The Case of Ted Bundy is only the first in your The Development of the Violent Mind series. How many books do you think that it might span?
I have a book on Westley Alan Dodd about ready to come out. He killed three boys. I interviewed him on death row a few times in prison and I have explained in the book why and how he became a serial killer who started out life as a normal child and the personality development changes which brought him from that point to a person who was going to kidnap boys and keep them as sex slaves.
I'm writing a book about a Vietnam combat marine who received medals for his heroism during the war. He returned home to become a hit man, using his Samurai Warrior beliefs for justification of his killings. When he accidentally killed a child, he had violated his Samurai system of justification and his personality disintegrated rapidly and he traveled around the country committing crimes, hoping someone would kill him.
I interviewed Keith Jesperson, the Happy Face Killer, in prison. I will be doing a book on him tracing the steps in his life from the time he was a child, through the killings, to getting caught. The emphasis on all of these books is to explain how it all happed. I minimized the details of the actual killings, as I did with the ING book.
Arthur Gary Bishop killed five kids in the Salt Lake area. He asked for the death penalty. When I first saw him on death row in prison, he said he was ready to die for killing the kids. However, he said that before he was executed, he wanted to understand how he had become a killer having come from a normal home, becoming an eagle scout, gone on a religious mission for his church, etc. I talked to him at least twice a month for about two years and he wrote an extensive amount of biographical material. I was able to show the step-by-step development of a violent mind of a child killer.
Floyd Forsberg, with a few others, pulled off one of the biggest bank heists in the country. He has written his autobiography about it and his life of crime and how he changed. He has been out of prison for many years and is doing quite well. I'm to interview him this summer, specifically regarding why and how it all happened.
4. How did you choose which murderers to interview?
My research in prison was in understanding killers and sex offenders. After having completed a psychological assessment for the court on Ted Bundy, I met Arthur Gary Bishop on death row. I saw part of a TV interview of Westley Alan Dodd and I wrote him and he indicated he was willing for me to do a history on him. Someone suggested Keith Jesperson and I wrote him and he gave me permission to do the same.
The Vietnam marine who became a contract killer gave me his story. I was told by a friend that Floyd Forsberg had written his history in pencil. I offered to have it typed, etc. I worked with many violent killers in prison.
Most of these fell in my hands. If other serial killers wrote to me and offered to give me their story, I would go to where they are and interview them.
5. What started your interest in serial killers?
It began with my psychological assessment of Ted Bundy and then Arthur Gary Bishop and other doors opened up to me after that.
6. Are there any famous killers you wish you could have analyzed?
I would like to have interviewed Jeffrey Dahmer but I believe that Westley Dodd and Arthur Bishop were very similar to him.
7. Were you a big reader growing up? What books/authors do you enjoy, then and now?
I have an extensive library but for the most part I have read only parts of them [the books]. Much of my time has been taken up reading books on psychology for my career. I like Aynesworth and Michaud's work on Bundy. My first full book was Breasted's 1000 page History of Egypt.
I like Stephen King's It along with other of his books.
8. Would you like to see a film made out of any of your true-crime novels, like they did with Mark Fuhrman's Who Killed Martha Moxley?
I think that would be enjoyable but I'm not sure just how they would do it. I did talk to Mark Harmon for a while when he came to our prison to do some filming for his movie about Bundy. That's the closest I have come to a celebrity.
9. Do you see modern science "curing" killers? I know there are differing opinions on the subject and I'd love to hear yours.
I think there are too many variables. If it is found that there is a genetic predisposition to harm others, then it will need to be determined under what conditions this genetic vulnerability becomes reality. Would it be possible to manipulate the gene(s) to avoid violence? Would it be voluntary or involuntary?
At this point I don't see it happening because it would be far more difficult than attempting to solve a medical problem, like diabetes. We would be attempting to control, or alter, the person's environment. What of the agency of the person who has the "violence gene"? We tried the Skinner Box approach in the 60's and it didn't work.
10. What do you make of Bundy saying that pornography was the root of his psychosis? His truth or just a way out of talking about the real reason?
I don't think he understood the full truth of how he became a serial killer. I think he held on to the one explanation which could have some degree of validity because it was at least one explanation which made some sense to him and would likely make sense to others.
11. When you were studying in college, did you ever think that your work would take you down this road?
If somebody told me, when I was in college, that I would write factual explanatory books about serial killers I would have referred them to a psychiatrist.
12. Who are some of the others you'll be writing about?
See question No. 3.
13. Do you see yourself ever dabbling in writing psychological fiction, like a novel?
The Vietnam Vet book I am working on now is a novel which includes all of the interview material I obtained from him, presented in novel form. When I complete these books I plan on writing psychological fiction.
14. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I hope to be writing novels full time. I have been working in the field of psychology for over 40 years and I plan to retire from my full time job and write.
15. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
1. I have been a spelunker. It's exciting to have rappelled down into deep caves with friends with only the lights on our helmets.
2. I have collected a number of books written in the 1700s and earlier. It's exciting to see how they wrote and what they believed then.
3. I'm 77 years old and I'm just beginning a writing career. I'd better hurry.
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