margaret thaler singer, one of the world’s leading experts on cults and brainwashing who served as an expert witness in numerous high-profile court cases, including defense testimony in the bank robbery trial from 1976 of kidnapped newspaper heiress patricia hey, she’s dead. she was 82 years old.
Singer, a clinical psychologist and former UC Berkeley professor of psychology who is also known for her work on schizophrenia, died of pneumonia Sunday at a Berkeley hospital after a long illness.
The singer, who conducted pioneering research into the brainwashing of captured American soldiers during the Korean War, was often sought out by lawyers as an expert witness and by the media to comment on high-profile cases. , including the village temple. and the mass murder-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, the Los Angeles Hillside Strangler hunt, and the Branch Davidian and Heaven’s Gate cults.
over the years, he has interviewed more than 4,000 current and former members of the cult, including charles manson and many of his followers.
The singer interviewed Hearst extensively after his capture in 1975. Kidnapped by the Symbiote Liberation Revolutionary Army in 1974, Hearst eventually joined her captors and participated in an armed bank robbery.
recruited to determine whether hearst had been brainwashed into conveying the group’s revolutionary ideology, the singer testified in a hearing outside the presence of a jury that she had studied hearst’s speech patterns, along with those of the members of the sla, and concluded that in the majority of the seven tape recordings issued by the sla, hearst was reading statements written by his captors.
but the judge, while expressing admiration for her work, agreed with the prosecutor’s argument that the singer’s conclusion should be withheld from the jury because the study was “in a field that has never before been accepted as a subject matter.” about which expert testimony can be given.”
the trial, which resulted in hearst’s conviction, greatly boosted the singer’s stature as an expert in brainwashing.
In the scientific community, however, she was even more famous for her work in schizophrenia and family therapy, said Daniel Goldstine, chief psychologist at the Berkeley Institute of Therapy.
“She was a remarkable person, the only genius I’ve ever met in our business,” Goldstine told the Times this week. “There are just very few people anywhere who had the clinical skills that she had, period. Furthermore, she was a world-class researcher.
“She was twice nominated for a Nobel Prize for her work on schizophrenia. that work revealed that the best indicator of the disturbed mind was the bizarre and peculiar use of language by the schizophrenic.”
until she was hospitalized five months ago, the singer continued to receive dozens of calls a day from fellow academics, psychiatrists and cult victims and their families seeking her advice.
singer wrote, with janja lalich, “cults in our between” (1995), which is considered a landmark in the field, and “crazy therapys” (1996), which deals with the damaging and negative impacts of the new age psychiatric. therapies.
“margaret thaler singer noted for extraordinary insight into cult psychology,” robert j. Lifton, a professor of psychology at the City University of New York and a pioneer in the study of Nazi and Chinese thought reform, wrote in the foreword to “Cults in Our Midst.”
but not everyone agreed with her views on the subject, and the singer paid a price for her work. cult “operators” rummaged through her trash, went through her mail, picketed her conferences, and sent her death threats. they also hacked into her computer countless times, once releasing dozens of live rats into her house and often leaving dead rats at her door with threatening notes.
but the singer didn’t flinch.
about two years ago, after a week of finding cryptic notes in her mailbox and hearing the sound of footsteps on the front porch of her rambling Berkeley home around 2 a.m. every night, she had had enough.
As recounted in a profile of the singer in the San Francisco Chronicle last year, the frail but still energetic 80-year-old leaned out of her second-floor bedroom window and yelled, “I’ve got a shotgun.” 12″ gauge. Up here with a spray pattern that’ll put a four-foot hole in you, sonny, and you’d better get off my porch or you’ll be sorry! and tell your supervisors not to send you back!”
the intruder never returned.
The singer was known for being unfailingly polite and outspoken, and with her gray-streaked brown hair, oversized glasses, and penchant for old-fashioned lace dresses, brooches, and sensible shoes, she projected a grandmotherly image.
“She looks like the old lady from Pasadena, until she talks. then he just grows taller, and you see how incredibly smart he is. and it lasts,” attorney Paul Morantz told the chronicle, whose reporter compared it to “velvet-covered steel.”
He was born on July 29, 1921 in Denver, where his father was the chief operating engineer at the U.S. mint and her mother was a clerk for a federal judge.
The singer, who played cello with the Denver Civic Symphony while attending the University of Denver, earned a bachelor’s degree in speech therapy and a master’s degree in speech pathology and special education.
after earning a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1943, he worked for eight years in the department of psychiatry at the university of colorado school of medicine.
In 1953, she began working as a psychologist for the Walter Reed Army Research Institute in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in studying returned Korean POWs who had been brainwashed into reporting to the United States and embrace communism.
He conducted further research, with a strong focus on schizophrenia, with the National Institute of Mental Health, the Air Force, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She moved to Berkeley in the late 1950s and became an adjunct professor at the university when her husband, Jerome R. singer, joined the faculty of the physics department. She was a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley from 1964 to 1991.
The singer, who has lectured around the world, has received dozens of national honors for her work, including the 1966 Hofheimer Award for Research from the American College of Psychiatrists and the Stanley R. Dean’s Award for Research in Schizophrenia in 1976 from the American College of Psychiatrists.
The singer is survived by her husband; a son, sam; a daughter, marta; and five grandchildren.
a funeral will be held at 1 p.m. m. Monday at McNary, Morgan, Engle & Jackson Funeral Home, 3630 Telegraph Ave., Oakland.
in lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the american family foundation, p.o. box 413005, suite 313, naples, fl., 34101-3005.