Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Delusions & Grandeur

The Early Years

In June 1834, William Chester Minor was born in a mission clinic on the island of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, an island nation located off the coast of India. He was the son of American Congregationalist missionaries who settled in Celyon several months earlier. Two years after Williams birth, they had a baby girl named Lucy.

Map of India, Sri Lanka
Map of India, Sri Lanka

Not long after William Minor turned 3, his mother died of tuberculosis. Two years later, his father met and married an American missionary from New York. The family expanded with six more children, two of whom died young. They lived in Manepay where Williams father then worked as a printer and his mother-in-law ran the local school.

During his youth, Minor exhibited a love of knowledge. He was an avid reader, took an interest in learning the local languages, and enjoyed playing the flute. He appeared to be extremely bright and his parents hoped that he would continue his education back in America where his chances of success were greater than in Ceylon.

There was another reason why his parents were eager to have him move back to America. They feared that the young Ceylonese girls were distracting him from his studies. Minor, like many young men, had a strong sexual interest in girls and his parents thought that the temptation would be too much for him. When Minor turned 14, they decided to send him to live with his uncle Alfred in New Haven, Connecticut.

While there, Minor blossomed academically. He was accepted to Yale University where he studied medicine, worked hard and remained focused on his studies. When he was 29, Minor graduated with a medical degree in comparative anatomy. Shortly thereafter he joined the Union Army at the height of the Civil War as an assistant surgeon.

In 1864, Minor was stationed in Virginia where he doctored soldiers wounded in the bloody Battle of the Wilderness. Aside from his medical duties, Minors superiors instructed him to carry out punishments on fugitive soldiers, many of who were Irish immigrants. The gruesome task involved branding convicted soldiers with a molten hot iron in the shape of the letter D for deserter. Not only was the punishment excruciatingly painful, but it was a mark that would shame the soldier for his entire life.

A Union deserter about to be branded
A Union deserter about to be branded

Minor abhorred the cruel task of punishing runaway soldiers and it greatly affected his emotional sensibility. In fact, it was believed to have been the source of the mental problems that plagued him throughout his lifetime. Following the battle, Minor developed an intense fear of Irish people. He was convinced that many of the soldiers he had punished would seek him out and exact revenge. He made great efforts to avoid all Irish people, just in case one of them was a vindictive soldier out to get him. Eventually, Minors fears would evolve into paranoia.

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