Doctors and Olga Hepnarová
People from medical profession accompanied Olga Hepnarová almost throughout her entire short life. She was born to a family of a doctor, with her mother working her entire life as a dentist. Some of her former patients described her as emotionless and not willing to start any, even the most casual conversation with them. Often, the examination would occur in a very quiet atmosphere, with neither of the two sides uttering even one single word during it. It’s up to a debate of how the daily contact with pain in certain professions like dentists or surgeons can affect their ability to understand pain (either physical or psychical) in their civil life, but one thing is for sure: the profession of Olga Hepnarová’s mother played a crucial role in the life of her daughter.
It was between her 12th and 13th years of age when the young life of Olga Hepnarová took a drastic turn. As a result of her conflicts with her form teacher (which later escalated to disputes with the entire class), the (until then) exemplary and trouble free pupil suddenly began to experience some serious drop in her grades and her education would become increasingly difficult to handle. It’s worth of mentioning, though, that certain disputes and conflicts between her and her classmates were there already before. Now it’s pretty difficult to judge whether it was a fault of the school staff and other social & educational employees or her own family, and how big this failure was, but the whole situation went as far as to make her attempt a suicide. How serious this attempt was – only Olga knew, but a certain sign of mental abnormality was already evident in her. Nevertheless, despite all of this, the whole incident was closed as an accidental use of the medicament Meprobamate instead of Talbin, the young girl underwent two EEG scans and was then sent to a psychologist. Three months later, she visited the children’s psychiatric clinic again, but with the same results: hospitalized because of frequent vomiting, contact with the psychologist almost none, later released to home treatment. And here’s where her mother’s profession proved to be the undoing for the young Olga – she probably expected that the doctors who treated her in the clinic would tell her mother (who was basically their colleague) everything which they wanted to discuss with her during their meetings. And this, considering the troublesome relationship between her and her mother, and generally in her whole family, Olga certainly didn’t want to happen. Therefore, it’s quite possible that if her mother wasn’t a doctor by profession, Olga would’ve become more open and sincere to her, which in itself could’ve greatly helped in revealing a possible mental disorder which she may’ve suffered from already at that particular time.
In the end, after further problems at the school and at home, it was decided that Olga would be hospitalized in the Children’s psychiatric hospital in Opařany. Her first stay there lasted three months, after which she was released home at the request of her mother. Her second visit was much longer, over 10 months, and she basically finished her elementary school there. During both visits, the doctors who treated her came to similar conclusions: disharmonic development, negativism, affective lability, flattened affectivity, inadequate reactions, and even nicotinism – i.e. addiction to nicotine, which, for a 14-years old girl, was very unusual (allegedly, she was smoking as much as five cigarettes per day at that time). Also mentioned were the presence of a sleeping disorder and frequent vomiting in the mornings. Apart from that, however, the doctors also noted her uppish and rude behavior towards the nurses and her fellow patients, her unwillingness to join the collective, and her (often apathic) listlessness with mood swings and with tendency for depressions. Partially improved after being treated with the ataractics and undergoing a regime therapy. In both cases, however, the medical record ends with the following: prognosis uncertain.
Again, it’s hard to say how greatly these two stays in Opařany influenced her views on the outside world, but one thing certainly happened: she met there a doctor, perhaps the only one in her entire life, whom she could openly speak to, trust, and even (sort of) like. This doctor (MUDr. V. V.) was a renowned expert for child and adolescent psychiatry, serving at the Children’s psychiatric hospital in Opařany, and he was among those who were firmly convinced that Olga Hepnarová was indeed suffering from a mental disorder – namely hebephrenic schizophrenia, which later developed into paranoid schizophrenia. Almost immediately after he heard the news about what had happened on 10.7.1973, he contacted the investigator major Z. and sent him a letter which he received from Olga Hepnarová in 1967 and which he thought could bring some light into the case, especially from the witness experts’ point of view.
Regarding the doctor V., by the way, I’ll mention him at the end of this section once more.
In the following years, Hepnarová’s contact with the doctors – specialists, would periodically repeat in shorter or longer intervals, but always with the same result: once she visited her district doctor, he would recommend her a psychiatric assessment, which would reveal the following: she’s depressively apathic, reticent, and suffers from anxiety attacks, suspected psychotic disorder. Usual treatment of choice: Thioridazine. Later on, she also visited MUDr. Z. and MUDr. B., whom she allegedly asked whether she, in her current situation, had the right to take a revenge upon the society (she mentioned this during her trial, but MUDr. B. either couldn’t remember this conversation or it may be that it didn’t happen at all). After these visits she slowly but surely began to believe that any further visit of a doctor – specialist would be useless for her. One of the last specialists whom she visited before her crime was MUDr. N., a district psychiatrist from Prague 10. She was persuaded to do so by her boyfriend Miroslav D., and it was probably also because of his presence during this visit that this meeting ended in a total failure. That’s at least what MUDr. N. was claiming. He already knew Miroslav D. from the past and (allegedly) had some negative experiences with him, so when he visited him with Olga (who complained of being in a very bad psychical condition and tired, and also expressed her will to be hospitalized in Bohnice), he then told her that the psychiatric hospital isn’t a place for rest, and that if she does indeed feel tired, she better take a holiday. After the events of 10.7.1973, he then wrote a letter to the criminalists in which he stated that Hepnarová didn’t even fall within his district of work and that when she visited him, she did so after hours and without any previous recommendation from her district doctor.
On 10.7.1973, Olga Hepnarová rented a truck and drove it into a crowd of people waiting for the tram.
Immediately after the crime, she was treated by doctors of various specializations (for example during the toxicological examination), and also examined by the psychiatrists doc. S. and MUDr. Č. with the following conclusion: paranoia in interpretation of relationships between people, even unknowns, subconsciously forming a rationale for revenge, a thorough psychiatric assessment required.
On the same day, it was also decided (who exactly made this decision is, as of yet, unknown) that she’ll be viewed by MUDr. P., who would attend her evening interrogation for some 20 minutes (from 18:15 till 18:35). Five minutes before he left the interrogation room (i.e. at 18:30), he wrote a short summary, in which the most important passage read: “these 20 minutes are enough for me to categorically rule out any acute psychotic disorder or any state of qualitatively or quantitatively damaged consciousness.”
In July of 1973, the investigator major Z. issued a resolution in which he called in the expert witnesses from psychiatry and psychology, and also the expert witnesses from sexology to assist with the investigation. The latter were chosen also because of the fact that homosexuality, at that time, was still considered as a sexual deviation in ČSSR.
The expert witnesses from psychiatry and psychology examined Olga Hepnarová several times in September and in the beginning of October 1973, always within circa 1,5 hours. Apart from that, she was also relocated to an enclosed pavilion in Psychiatric hospital in Prague – Bohnice for a few days, and later examined by a collective of doctors at the psychiatric clinic in Prague 2 (which was one of the reasons why her attorney made an appeal in which he wanted the expert opinion from the expert witnesses to be declared as false, as the law on expert witnesses clearly forbided them to make their opinions and at the same time consult them with other persons). The appeal, however, was dismissed by the investigator major Z. The conclusion of the expert witness’ report (which consisted of three parts: Extract from the records; Actual psychiatric and psychological assessment; Summary, analysis and conclusion) could be summed up as follows:
- The indictee doesn’t suffer from any mental disorder
- She committed her crime after a long reflection and was fully aware of its consequences
- Court-ordered treatment is not possible
- The indictee is currently able to understand the meaning of legal proceedings
- The indictee’s intellect is in the zone of slightly or clearly above the average
- The motive for her crime was a revenge upon the society, which stemmed from her awareness of being psychologically and sexually aberrant to others, and her inability to establish a deeper relationship with people.
The expert witness’ report from the expert witnesses in sexology, even though quite extensive, had to answer only two questions. The expert witnesses answered them as follows:
- The indictee’s psychosexual status is unbalanced, with homosexual preferential traits. Further deviations weren’t discovered.
- The aforementioned deviant homosexual acting didn’t play a role in her criminal act and didn’t affect her ability to understand and control her actions.
In the addition to the expert opinion, the expert witnesses from psychiatry and psychology then stated (very briefly, in a couple of highlighted sentences) the following: they categorically rule out any future improvement of her negative psychological traits, resocialization is not possible, positive effect of a longer imprisonment very unlikely (here, they also mention that the indictee may actually use it to her advantage and as a result establish further homosexual relationships). This addition to the expert opinion practically meant one thing: everything else than the maximum, capital punishment for Olga Hepnarová was out of the question.
Despite the circumstances being clearly against her, there were still two people (both doctors) who believed they could save the life of Olga Hepnarová. One of them was the aforementioned MUDr. V., who was willing to speak in front of the court’s senate about his belief according to which Olga Hepnarová did indeed suffer from a mental illness. The presiding judge, however, denied his request, which he (allegedly) accepted with a great deal of sadness. The other doctor who tried to overturn the course of the events was the actual attorney for Olga Hepnarová JUDr. T., a graduate psychologist, whose intention was to point out some serious flaws in the expert witness’ report:
- the expert witnesses didn’t question the witnesses, i.e. they haven’t met any of these persons in person and therefore didn’t have the chance to verify whether any of these conflicting situations which the indictee talked of having experienced with them actually happened, and if they indeed happened, whether they happened in a way in which the indictee described them. Here, I’d like to mention two examples. One of them was the time when Hepnarová worked for the City Traffic Branch of Posts and Telecommunications (i.e. the time which can be viewed as one of those “more difficult” periods in her life). Here, the expert witnesses haven’t met even one single person who would prove them if and how exactly these said situations occured. All they needed was to hear the investigators’ opinion or to see the protocols on the witness’ interrogation conducted by the investigators – nothing else. The second example is the Zábrodí case – i.e. the indictee’s attempt to burn the family estate of her parents, which was the second criminal offense she’d been charged with. The whole incident ended before it even began, with the only damage being a partially burnt doors with a cost of mere 50 Kčs. The case had been investigated by a local VB office member who, within a couple of hours, put it on the shelf because of “insignificant damage and lack of available evidence”. All in all, the incident wasn’t a big deal for the criminalists and the same can be also said about the tenants. The investigative VB member suspected Olga’s sister Eva, whilst the subtenant H. (who, together with his wife, lived there and in turn kept the estate in good condition) suspected Olga’s father (who he thought would set it on fire because of his ongoing disputes with his wife and also because of a hefty damage compensation which he could possibly cash in from the insurance company). Three years later, the investigators then reopened the case (taking some additional photos of the scene by doing so) and exhibited a charge against Olga Hepnarová. Even the expert witnesses themselves mentioned this case in their report (underlining it in red) as a further proof of the indictee’s negative psychological traits, but once again, all what they needed was the indictee’s statements (during one examination, they asked her seven questions regarding this topic, which, together with the answers, took exactly 14 lines in the whole 78 pages of their report) and a very brief announcement of OO VB in Červený Kostelec about putting the case on hold.
- same as with the witnesses, the expert witnesses didn’t question Hepnarová’s relatives as well, and this in spite of the fact that the indictee mentioned the situation in her family (especially her relationship with her father) as one of the reasons for committing her crime. They haven’t met Hepnarová’s parents and her sister even once, and again used exclusively the interrogations conducted by the investigators (out of which the one of Hepnarová’s father, for example, was very brief and not covering his relationship with his daughter almost at all).
- the results of the diagnostic tests performed on the indictee didn’t correspond with the diagnostic conclusions of the expert witnesses (in other words, the values recorded in these tests already suggested the presence of a mental disorder, whilst the conclusions of the expert witnesses still claimed the opposite).
The presiding judge, however, dismissed all the aforementioned arguments, and on 6.4.1974, the City Court in Prague found Olga Hepnarová guilty of all the criminal offenses she’d been charged with and sentenced her to death.
The events that followed (the appeal of her mother, the request for renewal of the proceedings, the subsequent hearing and verdict of the Supreme Court of ČSR, the reviewing proceedings and the subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court of ČSSR, examination by a prison psychiatrist, couple of other doctors, and a “expert witness’ commision” – which, however, consisted of the same expert witnesses who had already examined her before) were only academic and didn’t have any significant impact on the future fate of Olga Hepnarová.
As you may’ve noticed, I’ve intentionally refrained from judging the work of the expert witnesses and its result – i.e. the expert witness’ report. However, I’d still like to point out one thing: to this day, no one has ever explained why the conclusions of the expert witnesses regarding the diagnostic tests which were performed on Olga Hepnarová didn’t reflect the actual values recorded during these same tests.
In the end, I’d like to feature the letter which Olga Hepnarová wrote to MUDr. V. V. (in its entirety). She was 15 (one week shy of her 16th birthday, to be exact) at the time when she wrote it.
Dear Mr. ...
It's been a long time since I wrote you last. Whether you’ll be surprised by this letter or not, I don’t know...
I've changed a lot since I left Opařany and frankly, I don’t even know if it makes some sense to write you this letter or whether it did the previous time I wrote you. I’m alone and therefore I’m writing you. I haven’t spoken with my father since autumn when he gave me the last beating. I recently beat my sister. For stupid and little things and it’s strange I don’t feel sorry for this. She used to beat me before. Right now, the only person who I exchange a few words with during the day is my mom. Actually, I have nothing to speak with her or anyone. She still suspects me of the things that I haven’t even thought about, and she doesn’t believe me. I guess she’s wrong with that. I don’t like her. Wherever I move to, I’m always alone – at school, in my job, there and back. They just talk, swarm and laugh at things which aren’t funny to me at all. They speak just to say something and they don’t even think it’s strange. At school, I just sit there, without saying one single word for the whole day. I got used to this. I approach people with prudence, maybe they take offense but I don’t despise them, I don’t. I have an old teacher for math. They just laugh at her and make her the worst things you can imagine, but I can’t do that because I hate them. I hate people, Sir. You know, I wonder how my relationship with them will look like as the time goes by. I want the people to not exist for me at all, their words and chatter to be indifferent to me. That’s what I want. It’s better for me when I’m alone than when I’m with them. The loneliness and anything else I prefer over their company. I feel unimaginable aversion for crowd of people. They always have to have someone whom they can condemn, whom they can despise and whom they can admire. Everyone falls for their smiles and fellowship. They mutilated my soul. And that’s the reason why I hate them. I don’t know how to explain it, Sir. They knew nothing about me. All they knew was that I used to smoke. I’ve never spoken to them about myself. They said I’m strange, didn’t know what’s wrong with me and had a sense of fear before me. When the new school year began, we got the report for the ninth grade. A week before, our form teacher let someone from our class to hand it over to everyone. He could’ve done it by himself but he didn’t. And now everyone knows I was in a psychiatric hospital. Finally, they won’t be all that worried about my oddity. That day I felt so sorry. And I still feel like that, Sir. I hate them but why can’t I do them any harm? In The Quiet American, one could read: “Wouldn’t we all do better not trying to understand, accepting the fact that no human being will ever understand another, not a wife a husband, a lover a mistress, nor a parent a child?”
You know, I’ve thought a lot about this. Maybe it’s true. It’s nice when somebody tries to understand the others. But the worst thing is when they understand them wrong. Nobody understands me. And I no longer want them to. I’ve removed myself that far away from the people that I sometimes don’t even bother to explain their behaviour. If there’s any freedom on this world, then it is certainly greater for someone who isn’t bound to other people or a collective rather than for an individual who can’t live without people, needs them for his life and his existence and who can’t imagine himself living anything differently than together. But do I have this freedom in myself or it’s still being forced? I don’t know. Even if I’m alone, Sir, I’m happy. I’m happier without people. Firstly, they rejected me and now I should go back to them, with humbleness? No, I won’t do that. I don’t value myself that high to be against them, but I’ll never be with them. Just my hatred will protest, a hatred that won’t do any damage to anyone but will do a harm to me. People won’t find me anymore, I’ve changed so much that it’ll be a futile task for them to do so. It’s too late. I want the loneliness not to be a burden for me. I try to be happy living in it, despite all the sadness and bitterness.
There’s one girl studying with me. She’s already been in Bohnice, everybody knows it because she speaks about herself with everyone. She’s arranged it in a way that she will be fired at the end of the year. She’s quite cheerful and sociable, but despite all this she feels miserable and doesn’t mind to be seen like a fool. They say she’s a nutcase. Whether they say this about me, I don’t know. Once I took sides with her for something, but you know, they are stupid, not knowing how is it like to be a nutcase. Next week we’ll do Nezval in Czech. If the teacher asks whether somebody knows something from him I will raise my hand and say, for example, “Akrobat”. And one day I will tell her: „Vanda, I did that for you.“ She has a sense for poetry. But other than that, I don’t speak with her, or anybody else. Nobody speaks with me, I don’t give away anything to anybody and I don’t want anyone to do the same to me, but the worst thing is that all this what I’ve spoken about I’m not quite sure of. What I’ve written here, Sir, are just my thoughts, which I’m too not sure about. Do I really feel so unhappy or happy? I have no idea what would I’ve done if someone of them had said to me: “fool”... Whether I’d just give him a disdainful look and say: "poor soul" or beat him to a pulp and say "even if I’m a fool you won’t be saying this to me" or if I would just stoop again and be silent and sad for the whole day. I don’t know. What I’ve written you here, this and something that’s simply inside me, divides me from people. You know what I mean. Your job is to know the people.
At school, I do quite well. I’m very good at Czech. I was the only one from our class who had an A. Other than that I usually have Bs and I like bookbinding. I mean, I say “like” when someone asks me. I like it as much as I like another jobs, but the main reason I enjoy it is because I like books. The books are something which I won’t be able to exist without. It’s also because of the books that I know a lot more than the others. On Saturdays and Sundays, I do some work in the factory. I’ve arranged it only recently, because the money that I get from school can barely cover my expenses for smoking, and I’d like to buy books and also travel to Morava on bike during the holidays. When I mentioned this at home, my mother asked me: „And you want to do this alone?“ She doesn’t know I’m alone. When I have a half-day off, I usually go somewhere outside Prague. I just wander around and if I want, I just lie down in some grass and tell myself some poems. I’d like to live my life just like that: travel and stay anywhere where I like it, and then go on. They wonder why I’m reluctant to attend the dance-lessons. To enter the society and say the usual social phrases. No, thanks. If I’m able to live without people, I can live without dance as well. Sir, I’d love to overcome myself with my life just as you wrote me. Thank you.
And as fate would have it, one of the seven people who witnessed the last moments of Olga Hepnarová was a doctor as well. This time, however, it was the prison doctor, who, on 12.3.1975 pronounced her dead at 6:40.
(Note: The above posted photos of the Opařany psychiatric hospital were taken roughly at the time of Olga Hepnarová's stay there.)
ČSR – Česká socialistická republika; The Czech Socialist Republic
ČSSR – Československá socialistická republika; The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
OO VB – Obvodní oddělení Veřejné bezpečnosti; District Public Security Service Headquarters
VB – Veřejná bezpečnost; Public Security Service