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Posted by on Jan 5, 2009 in Ethics, Infectious diseases, Neuropsychiatry

Bruce Ivins as ΚΚΓ-Obsessed “jimmyflathead”

Bruce Ivins as ΚΚΓ-Obsessed “jimmyflathead”

Daschle_letter_small.jpg

Whether you believe that Bruce Ivins perpetrated the 2001 “anthrax letter attacks,” one assertion is difficult to refute: The guy was more than just an affable oddball; he was chronically and seriously disturbed.

In yesterday’s NYT, Scott Shane profiles the USAMRIID microbiologist, who is alleged to have mailed spores of Bacillus anthracis, the cause of anthrax, in block-letter-addressed envelopes to news organizations and congressmen shortly after 9/11. Shane’s profile is not so much an examination of the scientific evidence against Ivins but a character portrait derived from, in part, interviews with family and friends and Ivins’s own e-mails.

One notable feature of the NYT piece is the observation that Ivins led a highly compartmentalized life, in which he kept his long-time obsession with sororities in general and Kappa Kappa Gamma in particular from his family. His consuming thoughts about the sorority are germane to a behavioral study of the anthrax-letter perpetrator, because the Princeton, NJ, mailbox, from which all of the letters were posted, is 60 feet from a ΚΚΓ office.

Ivins’s obsession materialized most disturbingly and concretely in his fixation on microbiologist and ΚΚΓ member Nancy Haigwood, a fixation that manifested in criminal activity according to Haigwoodnamely, the vandalism of personal property and the usurpation of Haigwood’s identity in the early 1980s. This information has been previously reported by other news sources (for instance, here). Also, like reporters before him, Shane reveals that Ivins spent an inordinate amount of time posting online about sororities by using the names kingbadger, jimmyflathead, and goldenphoenix.

Notably jimmyflathead’s contributions to Wikipedia* include mention of Haigwood as an eminent ΚΚΓ member. Below are excerpts (not mentioned in the NYT article) that contribute to Bruce Ivins’s very sad, strange, and enduring legacy:

Eelmonkey, I’m not a member of KKG, but at one time I had a copy of the Book Of Ritual. I’m familiar with their secrets and rituals, but I don’t think that the organization would want them revealed. I would respectfully suggest you ask the opinions of some of the Kappas who have posted here. jimmyflathead 19:40, 7 July 2007 (UTC)

Eelmonkey, I also want to add that unless you have a copy of the KKG Cipher (decoder), or you have a decoded copy of the Book of Ritual, simply having the Book of Ritual won’t do you any good…unless you got the information from the Fraternitysecrets.com message board which has now been down for quite some time. For example, do you know about the ***** room and *** room services? Do you know the secret names of the chapter officers? Do you know the terms for voting “yes” and “no?” Do you know what the Three Ideals of KKG are and what the Spirit is? Do you know what the ΚΚΓ Greek letters stand for? (It’s NOT Key to the Kingdom of God, by the way.) The ritual book without the cipher is useless to you.jimmyflathead 19:19, 8 July 2007 (UTC)

Also, I’d like to see some Kappas put down for their scientific achievments[sic]. It’s not my job to do it, but I can think of Dr. Nancy Haigwood and Dr. Gail Williams Wertz immediately as alumae who have distinguished themselves. It would look good, but I’m not about to go create a Wikipedia page for them just so they can be on the Kappa page. I just get tired of seeing lots of TV and moviestars, but scientists get short shrift. jimmyflathead 03:14, 15 August 2007 (UTC)

Last, I created a stub for Nancy Logan Haigwood, but she does not currently meet the criteria of having a wiki page. If we are going to keep her on the list, I think it at least makes sense for a page to be created. I don’t know enough to make one – but jimmyflathead

I’m not in favor of removing Dr. Haigwood’s name from the list of notable Kappas. I believe that her accomplishments warrant her inclusion and I know for certain that she is not only a KKG member, she was the chapter adviser (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) while in graduate school. I don’t believe that fame or renown must derive from an individual’s GLO membership and, as such, we may barely see a reference to it when describing the chief of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, or a Nobel lauriate[sic] in one of the scientific fields. There is certainly sufficient knowledge that the public can obtain (such as college yearbooks and the student newspaper, “The Daily Tarheel,” to verify membership. jimmyflathead 00:25, 17 September 2007 (UTC)

* After Haigwood reluctantly struck up an e-mail correspondence with Ivins in 2006 at the behest of the FBI.

N.B. The NYT reveals that Ivins had stolen the KKG ritual book and cipher device during one of his 3 uninvited, post-college visits to a university chapter house. It is not known by me how or if Ivins ever knew Gail Wertz, PhD. Update: According to Wikipedia, there was no known relationship between Wertz and Ivins.

Public domain photograph of Daschle “anthrax” letter from Wikipedia.

Addendum: More about Ivins’s activity as jimmyflathead at Wikipedia can be found here. His edits at the online encyclopedia almost exclusively concerned ΚΚΓ and escalated into an editing war, in which Ivins threatened to post derogatory or confidential information about the sorority if his additions were deleted or edited by another contributor. In at least one instance, Ivins attempted to add (and possibly re-add) information about hazing incidents. 

The subject is important vis-a-vis Ivins, because a 1983 letter to the Frederick News-Post, signed by “Nancy L. Haigwood” defended the practice of hazing; however, Haigwood recently claimed to news sources that she never wrote the letter and suspects that Ivins did—several months after he allegedly spray painted “KKG” on property at her Gaithersburg, MD, home.  

bmartin (1130 Posts)

A native East Tennessean, Barbara Martin is a formerly practicing, board-certified neurologist who received her BS (psychology, summa cum laude) and MD from Duke University before completing her postgraduate training (internship, residency, fellowship) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She has worked in academia, private practice, medical publishing, drug market research, and continuing medical education (CME). For the last 3 years, she has worked in a freelance capacity as a medical writer, analyst, and consultant. Follow Dr. Barbara Martin on and Twitter.