Criminal Genius: A Portrait of High-IQ Offenders

A Book Review



"In most natural groupings, the higher one's intelligence, the less likely one is to commit criminal acts. Yet the unexpected results in this groundbreaking books show us that, at the extreme upper end of the scale, the immunity from crime that comes with intelligence tends to lose its potency. In the end, however, this reduced immunity stems not so much from this tiny group's intelligence as from its perhaps inevitable distance from ordinary mortals." - Travis Hirschi, author of Causes of Delinquency

What drives a highly intelligent person to commit crimes? While there is plenty of information about low-IQ crime, criminals with high IQ are still a mystery. ). As recently stated by Oleson (2016: 4), “certainly, there are criminals with high IQs, but researchers know little about them: they are enigmas.” The validity of the statement is undeniable considering that looking back in history reveals a multitude of cases where highly intelligent individuals engaged in certain types of crimes, despite the general inference that low IQ is associated with criminality. Even Cesare Lombroso—who theorized about the criminal atavism, the idea that criminals may be distinguished from non-criminals through their physical anomalies, a theory widely rejected nowadays- stated that intelligence is weak in some criminals as well as excessive in others (Lombroso-Ferrero, 1911, cited in Oleson, 2016).

This where this book comes to shed light on an under-researched aspect of criminality and to provide potential arguments for the association between high intelligence and criminal behaviour.

A crucial point of interest is what exactly influences high IQ individuals with seemingly high social functioning to develop an interest in criminal activities, and particularly in committing homicide. 

Among the notorious killers throughout history who could be mentioned here are Charles Manson, Jack Unterweger, Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo, Rodney Alcala, Charlene Gallego, Mark Hoffman, Nathan Leopold, Richard Loeb and so forth (Van Hoffman, 1990; Grieg, 2005; Miller, 2010; Williams, Head and Prooth, 2010; Aamodt, 2015, cited in Oleson, 2016). The common characteristic of the specified offenders, besides the type of crime committed, was their above average intelligence, with the highest IQ of 210 being scored by Nathan Leopold (Oleson, 2016). 

Thus, the existence of such a trait among homicide offenders certainly represents an exception of the assumption drawn from previous research focused on the links between below average IQ scores and criminal behaviour (see Hirschi and Hindelang, 1977, cited in Oleson, 2016). This leads to unexplored questions related to the function of high IQ in homicide cases, where among the possibilities is the influence of high IQ upon homicide offenders’ behaviour.

The subject is interesting not only for researchers and students in the field, but also for anyone concerned with the reasons behind criminal acts committed by certain individuals.

A Must-Read Book for Criminologists

Throughout time, scholars have been interested in the connection between criminal behaviour and intelligence, and the prevalent proposition has been that individuals with low intelligence are more likely to commit crimes. This hypothesis has been repeatedly explored and demonstrated through several studies, while the existence of high IQ perpetrators has been typically overlooked. For this reason, little is known of high IQ individuals since they have been an underrepresented research population in the empirical literature. 

Criminal genius: a portrait of high-IQ offenders represents a valuable work on the issue of high IQ offenders. Within the book, Oleson competently demonstrated the importance of reconsidering the associations between criminality and its correlates within research, specifically by considering the possible existence of positive correlations between criminal behaviour and educational achievement along with other factors related to high levels of intellectual abilities. 

For a more compelling argument, the author outlined the image of high IQ offenders and described them as “criminal geniuses” which includes famous figures who today are perceived as great individuals for their exceptional work which at the time was rather considered a crime. Among such individuals were political leaders (e.g. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela), scientists (e.g. Wilhelm Reich and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier), artists (e.g. Oscar Wilde and Fyodor Dostoevsky) and religious leaders (e.g. Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.) who have been labelled both geniuses for their ideas and innovations as well as criminals at some point. Oleson provides a great insight into the world of "the genius lawbreaker," a type of criminals typically overlooked by researchers.

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in understanding the criminal mind of highly intelligent individuals and the link between intelligence and crime overall.

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