A Professor's Rage: The Chilling True Story of Harvard PhD Amy Bishop, her Brother's Mysterious Death, and the Shooting Spree that Shocked the Nation

A Professor's Rage: The Chilling True Story of Harvard PhD Amy Bishop, her Brother's Mysterious Death, and the Shooting Spree that Shocked the Nation

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by Michele R. McPhee

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A devoted wife and mother and a Harvard-educated scientist working as a biology professor at the University of Alabama–Huntsville, Amy Bishop seemed to have it all. But when she was denied tenure, her whole world came crashing down…and she reacted in a way no one ever could have imagined.


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A devoted wife and mother and a Harvard-educated scientist working as a biology professor at the University of Alabama–Huntsville, Amy Bishop seemed to have it all. But when she was denied tenure, her whole world came crashing down…and she reacted in a way no one ever could have imagined.


On February 13, 2010, Amy was charged with murder for opening fire in a staff meeting the day before, killing three colleagues and injuring others. How could one woman’s fury unleash such destruction? While the campus massacre made national headlines, authorities began a thorough investigation and uncovered another chilling episode in Amy’s past.


When she was twenty-one, Amy fatally shot her teenage brother, Seth. His death was ruled an accident—and no charges were pressed. But for many involved in the case, Amy’s story didn’t add up, and law-enforcement officials suspected it was murder…After the Huntsville rampage, the cold case was reopened and Amy would find herself charged with killing her own brother—murder in the first degree. If Amy had been found guilty twenty-four years earlier, three lives might have been saved.

With 8 pages of dramatic photos

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Michelle McPhee has done it again! A Professor’s Rage is her best yet.  Magnificent reporting and a compelling telling make this a tale that will sear America’s collective consciousness."Richard Esposito, Sr. Investigative Reporter, ABC News; author of Bomb Squad

A Professor’s Rage is an outrageous, infuriating tale of academic privilege, arrogance and murder. With her legendary command of the facts, knowledge of police procedure, and street-wise wit, McPhee tells a story that reads like vintage Hitchcock—except it’s all true.”—Jay Atkinson, author of Legends of Winter Hill and Paradise Road 

A Professor’s Rage is a mind blowing read! Michele McPhee takes true crime fans on a terrifying, white knuckle ride through the disturbing past of alleged spree killer Dr. Amy Bishop where family secrets, small town politics and professional jealousies created a time bomb that would eventually explode on an unsuspecting college campus.”—Casey Sherman, bestselling author of Bad Blood and The Finest Hours

Richard Esposito

Michelle McPhee has done it again! A Professor's Rage is her best yet. Magnificent reporting and a compelling telling make this a tale that will sear America's collective consciousness.
author of Legends of Winter Hill and Paradise Road Jay Atkinson

A Professor's Rage is an outrageous, infuriating tale of academic privilege, arrogance and murder. With her legendary command of the facts, knowledge of police procedure, and street-wise wit, McPhee tells a story that reads like vintage Hitchcock--except it's all true.
bestselling author of Bad Blood and The Finest Hou Casey Sherman

A Professor's Rage is a mind blowing read! Michele McPhee takes true crime fans on a terrifying, white knuckle ride through the disturbing past of alleged spree killer Dr. Amy Bishop where family secrets, small town politics and professional jealousies created a time bomb that would eventually explode on an unsuspecting college campus.

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St. Martin's Press
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Edition description:
First Edition
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6.58(w) x 4.26(h) x 0.76(d)

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A Professor's Rage

The Chilling True Story of Harvard PhD Amy Bishop, her Brother's Mysterious Death, and the Shooting Spree that Shocked the Nation
By Michele R. McPhee

St. Martin's True Crime

Copyright © 2011 Michele R. McPhee
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312535292

Tom Pettigrew wiped a dirty hand on his blue mechanic’s pants and glanced around an auto body bay at Dave Dinger Ford—a garage owned by a buddy of his in the working class suburb of Braintree, Massachusetts. It was December 6, 1986, and Pettigrew was jumpy, looking around, waiting for some unwelcome visitor or other to turn up. He’d been that way since he stole $25,000 from an ATM two weeks earlier. He had moved the cash around a bit until it was stashed in his toolbox at the shop.
Pettigrew was a punk twenty-year-old Irish-American guy from the South Shore of Boston. He was a good-looking, personable kid who lived with his mom and held down two jobs, but he had a knack for getting himself into trouble. He was always on the hunt for a big score. Where others saw danger, he saw opportunity.
It was kind of like a brand growing up Irish on the South Shore in those days. People like to say that Boston is segregated mainly by race, but that’s not true. It’s segregated first and foremost by geography. Back then, every neighborhood in Boston, and every town around it, had its own look, even its own distinct accent. Pettigrew could clearly be picked out of a lineup as a South Shore guy. He sported shell-toed Adidas sneakers. His blond, curly hair was left alone, not shaved on the side like the North Shore guys’ hair. South Shore guys abhorred muscle shirts, or “wife beaters,” and wore pastel-colored, collared Izod shirts to dress up and rock band shirts for their downtime. Pettigrew was into metal—the music that in the late 1980s had brought people from the North Shore and the South Shore together—so he was often seen wearing T-shirts from concerts he had attended at the Centrum in Worcester: Quiet Riot, maybe, or Black Sabbath. Instead of the North Shore’s gold chains, guys from the South Shore wore Irish Claddagh rings upside down with the heart facing out to signal to women that they were single (even if they weren’t). When the North Shore and South Shore guys came together, brawls often erupted as the conspicuously dressed factions fought to properly represent their respective home turfs. Pettigrew was one of those punks, a hood rat who knew how to use his fists. Sometimes he would throw the first punch just to remind his friends of that very fact.
On that cold Saturday afternoon, December 6, 1986, Tom Pettigrew didn’t need to throw any punches to assure his friends of his manhood. They were awed by him. He had practically robbed a bank. He stood inside the auto body shop, glancing around. Then he called his two buddies, Dino Malchionno and Johnny Sullivan. He needed to calm down. And there was only one way to settle that anxiety. Pettigrew pulled a fat joint from the pocket of his grease-stained pants and then leaned on the trunk of his black 1986 Thunderbird Coupe five-speed, shining in the repair bay. His baby. It was in perfect condition, with a black-on-black interior. Now that Tom had a new revenue source he was going to add some speed features that would make him unbeatable in a drag race. There was always a possibility for a drag race in a city like Braintree. He leaned in the window, popped in the cigarette lighter, and pushed the head of the joint into the orange glow. He sucked in a deep hit while Dino and Johnny, recently arrived, stood and waited.
“Boys. You ready to count the take?” Pettigrew asked as he took a long toke. He bulged out his eyes as he held his breath, his cheeks puffed out. He exhaled, looked at the grease under his nails, and scrubbed his palms against the rough cotton fabric of his mechanic’s pants again. There was something about crisp, new $100 bills that made him want clean hands. Sure, he could have counted the cash alone. But the robbery was not just about the money. It was about the moxie. And Tom Pettigrew wanted everyone in his crew to remember he had it.
“Let’s see what we have here.”
He didn’t have to ask twice. Time had slowed to an agonizing crawl since Pettigrew had come to Dino’s house all sweaty and guilty looking on the dawn side of midnight a few days earlier, with a lumpy duffel bag he wanted to stash there. Dino had let him, though he and Johnny Sullivan wondered whether Pettigrew’s talk of the score was nothing more than braggadocio, or maybe even drug-induced wishful thinking. Dino was tempted to look in the bag, sure. He had hung around with Tom Pettigrew long enough to know that the guy was capable of almost anything—especially with a few drinks in him. But Dino decided to leave well enough alone, lest his fingerprints become the only evidence on a bag from a crime scene. That morning, Pettigrew had come back for the bag. He took it to the garage and transferred its contents to his Diehard Toolbox. Dino and Johnny had been on pins and needles for days. It was killing them. And it was finally time to find out what was in the bag.
Pettigrew grinned as he opened the box. Hidden under tools were bundles of $100 and $20 bills. His lifelong buddies gasped. “Holy shit,” Dino said. The cash in the toolbox seemed limitless. Slowly, Pettigrew spread piles of $1,000 stacks across the trunk of the Thunderbird, which was painted a black so shiny that the fresh new bills against the sports car looked as green as fake grass. The take was $25,000: more money than any of them had seen in their lives. With the money spread out on the car’s trunk, Pettigrew took another hit off the joint and told them how he had done it.
Pettigrew worked the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift as a clerk at the Convenient Food Mart, a little store right up on Washington Street, not far from the auto body shop. It was a convenient location because he could work at the body shop all day and then walk over to the store for the night shift. Better still, when an armored car came by once a week to refill the store’s ATM, it was during Pettigrew’s shift.
“I was working the night shift,” he told his buddies. “No one was around. I was sweeping up the back near the ATM machine. The thing had a safe like on the back and every night I would just get this feeling to pull on the safe handle to see if it would open. I would yell out to the kid that I was working with—John Bradley—‘Pick a number’ and try the safe. It never worked.
“But that night the door didn’t close all the way. I was like, ‘Holy shit, the door’s open.’ I could see the money cassettes all lined up.”
Pettigrew had pulled a pair of gloves off the deli counter and put them on. He kept his eyes on the mirror positioned over the door so he could spot any new customers—potential rats—coming in the store. Then he started to pull the cassettes out of the safe. His neck tensed as he wondered if there would be some sort of alarm to alert the armored truck guards that the money had been tampered with. He stacked the cassettes near the safe just in case and waited. It seemed like hours, but after forty-five minutes it was clear no one was coming back.
“I didn’t even know how much money was in them,” Pettigrew said. Then for effect, he sucked in another hit off the joint. “I ran out to my car and grabbed my gym bag and just started filling it up.”
Of course every convenience store had a video camera, so Pettigrew and Bradley erased it. Those things always malfunctioned anyway. They grabbed Windex from behind the deli counter and wiped down the inside and the outside of the safe. Then they stuffed the money in a bag.
“It was fucking awesome. No one even noticed,” Pettigrew bragged.
*   *   *
Once their shift at the Food Mart ended, Pettigrew suggested he and Bradley count the take at Bradley’s place. Bradley, no seasoned crook, was terrified, but he agreed anyway. The charismatic Pettigrew could be hard to resist. Just as the pair had pulled all the money out of the cassettes from the ATM, however, Bradley’s older brother came home. That surprise cost Pettigrew five grand. He and Bradley peeled off half of one bundle and handed it to Bradley’s brother in exchange for his silence, or so Pettigrew said. Pettigrew stuffed the rest of the money back into the duffel bag and dropped it at Dino’s place with a promise that the bounty would be spread around.
The morning after the heist, Braintree police detectives had shown up to fingerprint the ATM. Pettigrew wasn’t worried. He had carefully wiped down every surface. He had worn the deli gloves. Of course, Pettigrew and his coworker were the prime suspects in the case. The Braintree police were so sure that they were involved—especially after they discovered that the night shift security videotape had been mysteriously erased—that they called in the FBI to give both men lie detector tests. Then again, the money had been FDIC-insured, so the feds would have been called in even if the cops didn’t immediately suspect the two hood rats working the night shift. Now they just had to prove it. So far they had not. Somehow, Pettigrew beat the lie detector test. Surprisingly, so did Bradley. The cops had nothing.
With the FBI lie detector test behind him and the detectives off his tail, Pettigrew finally felt comfortable enough to tally the score. He’d transferred the loot from his bag to his toolbox in preparation for the big unveiling at the garage. He knew it was a major score. He had seen the armored car drivers fill the machine enough times to know how fully they stocked it. Now it was almost a high to count the cash. It seemed appropriate to do it on a sexy machine like the five-speed T-Bird. Made him feel like a high roller. A big shot.
Pettigrew, Dino, and Johnny “Sully” Sullivan high-fived one another as the count was confirmed. A thousand dollars in each bundle. Twenty bundles, plus the half-stack left over after he’d tossed his coworker’s brother five grand to shut him up. Nice. Big money for small-time punks in the late ’80s. Ecstatic but still uneasy, the boys began to talk about the likelihood that the bills were marked and accounted for. The discussion turned to ideas: schemes to spend the bills undetected, or sell them at a loss to launder them. Marked stolen bills all spent in Braintree might be just the thing the cops needed to pin the heist on them.
Suddenly, there was a loud banging from the back door of the shop leading to the rear stairwell. It was roughly 2:30 in the afternoon, and ordinarily no one entered the auto body shop from back there. “What the fuck?” Dino said. “You hear that?” Johnny Sullivan began to shovel the bundles of cash back into the toolbox as Pettigrew moved toward the back. The body shop was part of the Dinger Ford dealership, and an employee there, Jeff Doyle, had also heard the noise and had begun to make his way toward the commotion. The way the dealership was set up was that Dinger Ford sold cars in the back and there were three bays that private mechanics could rent out to conduct their own side business—like the auto shop. It was a cold Saturday. Tom Pettigrew and his buddies were the only ones working in the bays and Jeff Doyle was trying to unload Fords off the lot for the dealership. Both men heard a clatter near the back entrance that linked the dealership to the repair bays.
Pettigrew swung open a door and stopped short. His chest bumped right into the business end of a Mossberg 500A pump-action shotgun. Aiming it at him was a young woman with sharp-cut bangs. The gun actually thumped him hard enough to leave a bruise. Jeff Doyle stood next to him without saying a word. “Whoa,” Pettigrew said. He began to sweat. For a minute he thought it was a holdup. How the hell did this girl know about the money? Who is this bitch?
Despite the frigid New England temperatures, the tall, heavyset woman was wearing a heavy blue jacket over her grey sweatpants and white sneakers without socks. She was also surprisingly calm for a twenty-one-year-old who had just shot her own brother. His body lay unmoving on the kitchen floor of her family’s picturesque New England Victorian home just around the corner from the car dealership. There were no tears. Her eyes were fixed on the men in front of her. A lock of hair was blown into her eyes, but she made no move to brush it away. She held the shotgun steady. Her name was Amy Bishop, and she would become very famous about two and a half decades from that day.
“Put your hands up,” she ordered. “I said put your hands up!”
Pettigrew’s tattooed arms shot straight up into the air. Doyle followed his lead.
“I need a car,” Bishop said. She was nervously looking around but her grip was steadfast on the weapon. “Give me your keys.”
Pettigrew thought to himself: What about the money? Truth is, Pettigrew was a street guy. While it was wholly unlikely that he would give up the cash, there was absolutely no way in hell he was giving this crazy bitch his Thunderbird.
“I just got in a fight with my husband,” she stammered. “He’s trying to hurt me. I have to get out of here. He’s going to kill me. You have to give me a car. He’s looking for me.”
Pettigrew looked over at Jeff Doyle. Pettigrew had grown up in Quincy, a hardscrabble blue-collar town on the southern border of Boston. Doyle lived in Marshfield, which was considered a wealthy waterfront community. Pettigrew knew the guy, but they weren’t friends. Their backgrounds were too different. At that moment they shared something in common, though: the will to stay alive.
“Step back,” the woman barked, keeping the gun trained on them the entire time.
Both men stared at one another as if the look could form a plan. They nodded. Then they ran like hell for cover.
“I remember running with my hands up,” Pettigrew would say more than two decades after his encounter with Amy Bishop. He ran out of the garage, down Washington Street, and flagged down a passing patrol car—an atypical move for a guy like Tom Pettigrew, especially considering he had in his possession a toolbox stuffed with stolen cash—but police had already been called to the scene. Bishop had attempted to carjack a driver before she ran into Pettigrew, but the would-be victim took off, raced to her nearby home, just down the street from the Bishops on Hollis Avenue, and called 911.
Chaos ensued. Police radios began to squawk orders to the patrol cops working the city. It was 2:22 p.m. Braintree police officers hurtled toward the scene when another call came in. This one was from Judy Bishop, Amy’s mother, who said in a surprisingly calm voice: “My daughter just shot my son.” It could have been the shock, but the mother’s voice did not quiver. The 911 operator thought it might be a prank call. It wasn’t.
As commanding officers sped to the Bishop home at 46 Hollis Avenue, patrol officers began to hunt for the woman with the gun. After Pettigrew and Doyle got away, Bishop had made her way toward another nearby business called Village News, a newspaper distribution center. Workers, primarily a cluster of teenagers who loaded bundles of local newspapers—the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and the Patriot Ledger—onto waiting trucks, looked up at the sound of approaching sirens. Amy Bishop was weaving through parked cars. The shotgun was cradled against her chest like a baby. She looked dazed.
“What the fuck?” Tim Greene, who was 17, mumbled aloud to himself. “Guys, check this out. There is some girl out here with a gun!”
Greene turned around and Bishop now had the gun pointed directly at him.
“Do you have a car?” the woman asked.
“No.” Panicked, Greene yelled inside: “Hey, this girl needs a car.”
“No fucking way,” came the response from inside the building where Greene’s coworkers crouched behind stacks of newspapers. A Globe truck pulled into the lot. So did Braintree police cruisers. Greene and his coworkers shouted over the din of the police radios toward the cops.
“She’s right there! She has a gun!”
Braintree Police Officer Ron Solimini was the first to spot Amy Bishop out of the corner of his eye making her way toward the trucks. He picked up his radio and transmitted a message: “I have located the suspect in the rear of Village News on Washington and Parkingway Drive.” He swung his cruiser around.
Solimini climbed out of his cruiser and began to make his way toward her with his gun drawn at his side, clutched in his right hand next to his holster. As he approached the woman, she just stared at him wild-eyed and refused to lower the weapon.
“Miss Bishop seemed frightened, disoriented, and confused,” Solimini told his bosses. “She kept both her hands on the shotgun at all times as I was talking to her trying to get her to drop the gun.” He moved toward her with the gun steady at his side. “Drop it!” he ordered. The woman just stared. He softened his tone. “Look, hon. Why don’t you put that down and come with me over to the cruiser? We can straighten this all out.”
Then another Braintree police officer arrived. Timmy Murphy moved slowly from the other side of the building so the woman wouldn’t see him. Solimini spotted his fellow officer and tried to keep Amy Bishop’s eyes on him. Murphy jumped up on the back of the news truck and tried to see which would be the most successful way to grab the powerful shotgun from her without it going off. He knew it would take five pounds of pressure to squeeze off a shell. He leaped from the back of the truck, got about five feet behind the woman, and pulled out his own gun. He pointed it at the back of her head.
“Drop it!”
Nothing. Bishop didn’t move.
“Drop it!”
Again. She acted as if she didn’t hear him.
By then other cops had arrived on the scene. Greene remembers one officer screeched with his hands shaking: “Put that gun down or I am going to blow your fucking head off.” Those types of commands usually don’t find their way into a police report.
After a third and final command, Murphy moved in behind her and grabbed the end of the shotgun. She loosened her grip and the weapon fell to the concrete with a clank. Murphy grabbed the gun as Solimini held the woman’s wrists. The gunpoint standoff lasted roughly ninety seconds, but for the suburban cops unaccustomed to that kind of action, it seemed a lot longer.
The weapon was loaded. Murphy patted the woman down and felt another shell in her pocket. What Murphy didn’t know was that the shotgun had been fired twice already that morning—meaning the woman had already racked and re-racked the weapon within the hour of her arrest.
Amy Bishop was not after Tom Pettigrew’s ill-gotten money. She wasn’t trying to escape an abusive husband. Amy Bishop was on the run. She had blasted a hole through her little brother’s chest in her family’s kitchen around the corner from Village News. Even as Seth Bishop bled to death face down on the linoleum floor, his horrified mother was seeking to deal with the fallout from the shells squeezed off by her daughter that just blew up her family. And Judy Bishop had enough juice in the town to help her. Attractive, blonde, and powerful in local politics, Judy served on the town committee, an elected legislative panel of 240 people who had control over how the town spent its money, including how much money was funneled to the police department. She was close to Police Chief John Polio. She put a call in to her friend before the ambulance even arrived to pick up her son.
At 2:45 p.m., Officer Solimini transported Amy to the Braintree Police Station in handcuffs. As they drove the less than two miles to the station, Amy had an eerie look on her face. Without a tremor in her voice she volunteered: “I had an argument with my father.” Solimini did not ask her to elaborate. He wanted to get her into a booking room. This was a big case and he wanted to handle it by the rules. Besides, he was still rattled at how close he had come to potentially being hit by a shotgun blast. He would write up his encounter with Amy Bishop and his experience with her in the booking room.
Solimini recited her Miranda rights. “Do you want to talk to me, Amy,” he asked. “Did anything happen at home? Everything all right?”
Solimini recounted the conversation in a police report that he filled out that night, writing:
She stated that earlier there had been a family “spat” and that she had gone to her room. (Unknown at this time how much earlier this family “spat” had been.) She stated that she loaded the shotgun because she had been worried about “robbers” coming into the house. Sometime in the past her brother had shown her how to load the shotgun but not how to unload it. After loading the shotgun, she accidentally fired a round in her bedroom which struck a lamp and the wall. She tried to cover this up so her mother would not see the damage. Sometime later (again how much later is unknown at this time) she went downstairs and into the kitchen where she approached her mother and asked her if she knew how to unload the shotgun she was carrying. She said her mother told her not to point it at anyone. At this point she turned and the shotgun went off striking her brother. I asked her if she shot her brother on purpose and she said no. At this point her mother came into the booking room with Sgt. [Kenneth] Brady and [her] mother said she didn’t want to make any further statements or be asked any more questions. Amy then said she wouldn’t answer any more questions. I left the booking area.
Many Braintree cops would soon be outraged to learn that Amy Bishop was not charged. Not with a single crime. The commanding officer on shift that afternoon was a well-respected guy named Pete D’Amico. The captain in charge of detectives, Theodore Buker, would be called in from home. This had the potential to be problematic, so the brass needed to be involved.
Buker would be the one to declare that “no charges would be brought against Amy Bishop at this time.” The Northeastern University student wouldn’t spend even an hour behind bars. Not for killing her brother. Not for the attempted carjacking of a neighbor. Not for threatening Tom Pettigrew and Jeff Doyle. Not for brandishing the gun at teenager Tim Greene. Not for refusing to obey a police command.
Amy Bishop was ordered to be released by the Braintree Police Chief, John Polio. Literally. He called the station and ordered that the college student be released into her mother’s custody, a decision that would not sit well with the Braintree police officers who had been menaced with the loaded shotgun. Amy would not lay her head on the hard metal of a prison cot on that night in 1986. She would not be fingerprinted or photographed. In fact, no detective would even have an opportunity to fully interrogate her. The case was squashed. She escaped any criminal penalties for that December day. Vague reports would be written by a respected state police trooper assigned to the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office. He would later argue he was never armed with real facts about the events of December 6, 1986. Even the initial Braintree police reports were hand-scrawled under the heading: “accidental shooting.” That determination had been made official before an investigation could take place.
Judy Bishop was heard telling a police officer that afternoon: “I just lost one child; I am not going to lose both.”
Judy Bishop was right … for the time being. There would be no jail for her twenty-one-year-old daughter.
Not until the year 2010, when the respected Harvard University–schooled scientist would go on a shooting rampage at the University of Alabama that killed three of her colleagues and left three others wounded.

Copyright © 2011 by Michele R. McPhee


Excerpted from A Professor's Rage by Michele R. McPhee Copyright © 2011 by Michele R. McPhee. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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