by Pat Hartman

(first published at October 19, 2007)

When Tim Masters was arrested more than ten years after the murder of Peggy Hettrick, the paperwork was based on Dr. Reid Meloy’s analysis of Tim’s juvenile writings and drawings, which the police had seized years before and kept. Meloy theorized that during those years when the accused lived in freedom and served in the military, he probably continued to write and draw. So they got a search warrant and, sure enough, found more notebooks, whose existence was pounced on like some kind of deluxe proof of wickedness. Big whoop. Artists draw, writers write. So what?

At trial, the post-crime productions, seized in 1998 when the defendant was an adult, were admitted as evidence. The jury must have been confused, and understandably so, swamped with fictions and pictures from two different batches of seized material, teen and grown-up. If they got the impression that everything was made by the adolescent Tim, how could they not form the mental stereotype of a depraved kid? This is no small detail. It was one of the matters specifically addressed by the appeals court.

So the post-crime creative material was admitted as evidence. The court is to be congratulated for not admitting the forensic psychologist’s second report, which expressed his thoughts on the second batch of productions. And from his first report, comprising 15 “Findings and Opinions,” only seven of those were admitted, while six were excluded. And from the sections of the report that were admitted, Meloy was only supposed to be permitted to discuss certain parts of them. This all sounds extremely well-intentioned, as if the court tried very hard to be fair. Of course, if the situation had really been fair, the first batch of productions would not have been admitted either, and the rationale for employing the expert testimony of Reid Meloy would have vanished.

At trial, Meloy’s theories were pretty much the prosecution’s entire case. He was hired to spin some yarns, supposedly relevant as “framework evidence,” although there is a less polite word for it. Sure, a small amount of his bleep was kept out of the courtroom, but he was allowed to distribute an astonishing variety of bleep into the ears of the judge and jury. The conclusions drawn by this expert witness are stunningly original in their refusal to agree with his own theories. In fact, none of his contentions are free of self-contradiction, as will be seen.

The Productions

As many as 2,200 pages of drawings and narratives were scrutinized by Dr. Meloy, and a big chunk of them were presented to the jury, too. Meloy said, “I’ve never seen such a large volume of productions before.” Which only means he’s never known any artists. Plenty of creative people produce thousands of pages of sketches, notes, scribbles, half-finished works, and so on. DA Jolene Blair practically had an attack of the vapors on camera, overcome with the volume of the stuff. But for any meaningful purpose, the amount is beside the point.

So, now, we not only punish art we don’t like, but measure it by the pound? What does numerical relativity have to do with morality? There’s too much confusion between the two. Remember what Dylan said: "Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king." This is pretty much the same kind of thing. “Make disturbing pictures for money, and you’re a graphic artist; make disturbing pictures for free, and you're a murder suspect.” According to Dr. Meloy, Tim imagined himself as a warrior who killed many people, without empathy or feeling. Arnold Schwarzenegger did the same, and got elected governor.

In his school notebooks, young Tim portrayed annihilation by means of stabbing, slicing, shooting, grenades, explosives, hanging, drowning, animal attack, booby traps and electrocution. And there was blood. This is not meaningful. Scenes of death and dismemberment tend to be bloody in all war narratives. Teachers at Tim’s high school stated that as many as four-fifths of their students made violent drawings. In An American Childhood, award-winning author Annie Dillard says of her troubled teen years, when she drew grotesque people with monstrous deformities, "If I didn't draw I couldn't bear to listen in class; drawing siphoned off some restlessness...” Any tattoo parlor displays pictures equally loathsome. Many art textbooks contain visuals of violent death. Hieronymus Bosch painted gruesome, exquisitely detailed torture scenes, and his priceless works are in museums.

Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was an eleven-year-old boy whose mother suddenly died. Four years later he was still mad at her. To celebrate the death anniversary, he waited for a woman to walk past who had red hair like his mother, and killed her.

This fairy tale is Dr. Meloy’s “displaced matricide” theory. Prior to the trial, he was warned not to testify that Peggy Hettrick’s murder was a displaced matricide. But he managed to get the idea across anyhow. A government document related to the 2001 appeal states, "The psychologist… opined that defendant had killed the victim and, by doing so, had symbolically killed his own mother."

Savor the absurdity: The prosecution calls a young woman who last saw Tim when he was 9 and she was 7. Her family moved, and the two kids have never met again. On the witness stand she is asked the color of her hair, and replies that it is dark brown with red highlights. The purpose of this pointless testimony? To bolster Meloy’s theory. The jury is supposed to conclude that because Tim once lived next door to a little red-haired girl, he grew into his teens with a lust to kill redheads.

There are some problems with the “displaced matricide” theory. For starters, Tim’s mother didn’t have red hair. In pictures it is brown, and her driver’s license said brown. The moon was nearly full the night Peggy was killed, so there was some light, but certainly not sufficient for long-range hair color identification. And what was this nutty theory based on? Where is the research to show that killers choose victims with the same hair color as their own mothers? Where is the documentation showing a correlation between killers and the anniversaries of their mothers’ deaths?

Photo: Margaret Masters.
Hair: not red.

A copy of Margaret Masters’s death certificate was in a kitchen drawer, said the police. Well, why not? It was her house, inhabited by her widowed husband and orphaned son. She was taken to the hospital on February 11th and died the next day. Peggy Hettrick was killed on February 11, four years later. This coincidence, while striking, and very unlucky for Tim, is no more bizarre than many of the odd things that life throws at us. For example, Tim and Peggy shared the same middle name, Lee. Does that mean he killed her?

Dr. Meloy claimed that Tim’s drawings were “rehearsal fantasies” – in other words, practice for the actual murder. Yet among his drawings there is no victim resembling either Peggy Hettrick or Mrs. Masters. The shrink hypothesized a connection between the fictional productions depicting stranger attacks, and the attack on Peggy, a stranger. He testified that Tim’s preferred victim “would be either a stranger or, at best, a casual acquaintance." Unfortunately, this doesn’t fit with Meloy’s other theory, the one that says Peggy died as a substitute for Tim’s own mother, who was neither a stranger nor a casual acquaintance.

Supposedly, two Mothers Day cards were found in Tim’s backpack when he was questioned and searched. A source within the police department says this was just plain not true. The kid is half an orphan, with an only sibling who grew up and moved away. And now the police show up and accuse him of some really weird stuff, even weirder than the stuff he thinks up in his stories. And they blame it all on his feelings about his dead mother. What a cruel hoax.

An Equal Opportunity Misanthrope

Women were victims in less than 10% of the violence portrayed in Tim’s productions. The imaginary violence was nine times as likely to be aimed at men. Even the Court of Appeals admitted that, amongst the plethora of savagery, there was no picture or fiction where a middle-aged woman was stabbed in the back or mutilated in the way that Peggy was.

The material did contain insulting language and violent deeds committed upon people of the white, black, Jewish, Asian and Hispanic persuasions, people of all ages and genders; also animals and extraterrestrials. Any claim that mature women were picked out as targets in the fictitious productions cannot be validated. All types of people were targets. So, the kid had a bad attitude. That’s not good enough grounds for sending him to prison for life. Here’s the important thing: If the police had wanted to lay at Tim’s door a victim of any age, race or gender, killed with any conceivable weapon, a similar situation could probably be found amongst the more than 2000 pages of creative output. So it wouldn’t signify a heck of a lot.

Sexual Homicide

In his role as expert, Dr. Meloy defined a sexual homicide as one in which "there is sexual activity or evidence of sexual activity." In other words, the guy gets off. It was an audacious move on Meloy’s part to label this a sexual homicide, despite there being no semen found in, on, or near the body. It was a surgical homicide, yes. Who really knows whether it was sexual?

In fact, the forensic psychologist was not allowed, at the trial, to give an opinion that this was a sexual homicide. But instructions of that kind are a nudge-and-wink artifice. He could allude to it, innuendo it, hum it, semaphore it, do anything but come right out and say “This was a sexual homicide.” He was forbidden to say that Tim fit the characteristics of a sexual homicide perpetrator, or that he committed the crime. He was forbidden to say that any single drawing or story was evidence that Tim did the murder. But really, what were the jury members supposed to think was the purpose for all those notebooks being passed around? Either by implication or by ignoring the rules, the state’s shrink managed to get his point across.

Meloy testified about sexual homicide, and why its practitioners mutilate their victims. He talked about rehearsal fantasies and trigger events. He also talked about the modus operandi, which is a criminal’s characteristic pattern of operation, method and style. Question: Since there was not a series of murders, but only one, how could an MO - a pattern - be defined from a single instance?

Dr. Meloy says that in other kinds of murders, the motive may be fairly obvious - but in a sexual homicide the motive is "intrinsic, internal, very psychological." What’s that supposed to mean? That the standard motives of love or money are not intrinsic, internal, and psychological? That would be an awfully stupid claim to make.

Now, get ready for another big contradiction. In one round of theorizing, he says the object of sexual homicide is sexual gratification. Then, he says the motive for sexual homicide is mysterious and hidden. This makes no sense, because if sexual release is the motive, there’s nothing subtle about it. How much more obvious does it get, than a guy whippin’ it out? If, on the other hand, Meloy was having one of his murky motive days, the psychologically intricate dead mother myth would come to the foreground. But these are two totally different things.

If Tim was supposed to have killed Peggy because she reminded him of his mother, and he meant to punish his mother for dying, that’s in a whole different ballpark from sexual homicide. Conversely, if he’s supposed to have killed Peggy for a carnal thrill, that comes from an entirely different place than the intrinsic, internal, psychological diagnosis of “displaced matricide.” Not a problem – just ignore logic. Whenever possible, Meloy would present the jury with two opposite theories and let them pick, didn’t matter which, because both were damning to Tim.

It’s worth noting: at one point Meloy predicted the killer would keep the excised body parts as souvenirs. Again wallowing in contradiction, Meloy remained silent about the fact that no such items were found in Tim’s possession.


At a hearing before the trial, Dr. Meloy explained that fantasy is the motivation for sexual homicide. Now check the definition of “motive” in Black’s Law Dictionary. It’s "an inducement, or that which leads or tempts the mind to indulge a criminal act."

From watching detective stories, we know that motives for homicide come in several flavors, chiefly greed, thwarted love, and jealousy. A potential killer is tempted by an inducement such as money or the satisfaction of revenge. In other words, there is a belief that doing the murder will bring a reward of some kind. But fantasy? As a motive? Getting off is a motive. If the sexual gratification experienced by the killer in a sexual homicide is the motive, why not just say so? Fantasy is not a bleeping motive.

Now, if we’re talking about the desire to live out a fantasy, that’s different. That could be a motive. But fantasy itself is not a motivation, any more than breathing is a motivation. Meloy claimed that the writings and drawings were not only fantasies (which, in his mind, equaled motive), but rehearsals for murder. Furthermore, he postulated five different categories of rehearsal fantasy. This is nonsense on top of foolishness. Any reasonably adept fiction writer could make up fifty categories.

Unbelievably, the Supreme Court bought this ridiculous baloney, solemnly intoning that the drawings plus Meloy’s interpretation of them "explain an otherwise inexplicable act of random violence." In other words, they’re saying we know the kid did the violence because he drew pictures of violence. This is a very dangerous conclusion for citizens to let judges get away with.

Here’s the concept the prosecutors sold the court: Because some of the productions represented stabbing or dragging, then all of them were “logically relevant to defendant's motive, intent, and plan to commit the crime," and should be admitted into evidence. To buy that one, you have to forget that, in all the 2200 pages of Tim’s notebooks, there was not one picture of a woman being stabbed in the back. And if these were “rehearsal fantasies,” as Meloy claims, then where are the enactments of the many unusual fantasies? In one of the drawings, someone nailed a woman’s tongue to a table. But Tim never did such a thing in real life. The person here who seems least capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality is Dr. Meloy.

Researchers Prently and Burges found that violent fantasy was an element in only 23% of single murders. How can anybody know this stuff, anyway? Another whole study waits to be done: Do convicted murderers who participate in these studies always tell the truth? M. MacCulloch says “the significance of the link between prior fantasy and behavior would be more obvious if normals did not engage in sadistic fantasy.” David M. Buss’s research into homicidal fantasy shows that 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women have entertained a detailed murder fantasy at least once.

Pairing of Sex and Violence

Supposedly, the productions contained frequent pairing of sex and violence. For instance, a drawing of a porno magazine on the same page with two drawings of knives. Huh? (Bear in mind, we’re talking about “evidence” that put a guy away for life.) Like the Bronte sisters, Tim wrote epic sagas for his own amusement. Unlike Charlotte or Emily, Tim had one of his characters say, “It gives me a hard-on to see ten Reds drop.” (Shoot, you can hear worse than that in the country club locker room.) Tim drew a horror story illustration where a woman who has been raped and killed returns as a vengeful zombie. By the prosecutor’s count, the materials in question contained 186 references to knives, 291 references to death, 126 surprise attacks, etc., but it’s all straight violence. Where are the fabled pairings of violence and sex?

There was a 70-word narrative, not from the juvenilia, but one of the adult writings. Apparently inspired by rumors about Hollywood stars and the use they found for gerbils, it concerns a man and a hamster. It’s obviously a satire, as would have been clearly shown if the Navy friend who was the butt of the joke had been called as a witness. This fellow had a pet hamster in the barracks where pets were not allowed, so the other guys ragged him and Tim wrote the gross little “love story.” Meloy said it proved that Tim regarded all women as pieces of bleep, and the Supreme Court called it the “most explicit example of sex/violence pairing in Defendant’s productions.” Such misinterpretations would be funny, if not for the fact that they sent an innocent man to life in prison for murder.


In piquerism, a victim is stabbed or sliced for the attacker’s sexual pleasure. Meloy interpreted many of the productions as symptomatic of that deviation. Some were just the standard drawings of arrows, knives, blades, Freddy Krueger. A knife cutting a throat may be unpleasant to see, but it doesn’t prove the person who drew it stabbed someone in the back. The teenage boy was into horror movies and war stories. So, what else is new?

It was inaccurately reported that one drawing explicitly depicted a mutilation very much like what was done to Peggy’s corpse. The untruth was repeated until even the state Supreme Court believed it. The prosecution focused intently on this drawing. To many eyes, it has an Escher-like quality, as the knife cuts the very paper on which it is drawn. Tim says the knife is ripping the side of a tent. It was in one of his junior high school notebooks, drawn well over a year before Peggy Hettrick was killed. Of course, whether it was a year or a century, somebody like Meloy would simply explain it (weasel word alert!) as a “long-term rehearsal fantasy.”

The Supreme Court judges probably never even saw that picture. They were briefed about “a drawing that could be interpreted as a knife cutting a vaginal opening.” Yeah, but those three words - “could be interpreted” - cover a lot of territory. Consider this: One of Meloy’s areas of expertise is the Rorschach test. The client looks at ink blots. The test is diagnostic. Its purpose is to enable the shrink to select a label for the client. What do the random blobular shapes resemble, to the client’s eyes? Supposedly, the answers reveal everything about the mind. So, dig it: If Dr. Meloy looks at a picture of ripped canvas, and what he sees is genital mutilation - that says more about Dr. Meloy than about anyone else.

What a Drag

Another drawing also captured the prosecution’s attention. It was described to the Supreme Court judges as “a person dragging a body of another by the armpits. Blood drips from the back of the body as it is dragged, leaving a bloody trail.” Most likely these guys never even saw the drawing, but just accepted the prosecutor’s word for it. The official document says, “This is exactly how investigators suppose the victim was moved from the street to the field.”

A very short person drags a tall man, who has arrows sticking out of his chest, as another arrow flies toward him. The victim is already dead, or at least unconscious. This is not murder, but transportation. Dr. Meloy proclaimed it “an accurate and vivid drawing of the homicide as it is occurring,” which is obviously bogus. In the drawing the victim is male, the assailant is a midget, and the weapons are arrows. How does that correlate to stabbing Peggy Hettrick in the back with a knife? It doesn’t. But the police insisted the drawing was equal to a confession, because of the similarities.

What similarities? Actually, only one: the dragging factor. The theory went like this: Tim had no way of knowing Peggy’s body was dragged - nobody had told him that! Well, duh. If tire tracks are absent, the body of someone dumped or killed at a curb, and moved into a field, was either carried or dragged. Okay, it might have been dropped from a helicopter, but if you guess “dragged,” there’s about a 50% chance of being right. And if the trail extends backward from the feet, chances are the body was dragged headfirst. Armpits make natural handles, and the whole process is more aerodynamic. And…while questioning Tim, the police had mentioned a “drag trail” several times. Plus, he had crossed the drag trail on his usual path to the bus stop.

Tim made this picture in class on Feb. 12, the day after the murder, when he had already been questioned for hours. They asked why he drew it. The answer was, to get something out of his system, because it was bothering him. These are the words of a confused kid, not a vicious killer.

Here’s a good one. At the trial, the prosecutor said Tim couldn’t have known just from looking at the body, that it had been dragged from under the arms, just like his picture. Which means, the police couldn’t know either. And actually, the method by which Peggy’s corpse was moved is still in question today.

The Famous Trigger Event(s)

Another of Meloy’s treasured theories, explained at a pre-trial hearing, concerned the “triggering event.” This is like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the stressor that tips a disturbed personality into acting out. At the trial he was then allowed to testify “hypothetically” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) about “the type of event that might be a trigger for a sexual homicide...”

Once the shrink had prepared the ground, the prosecution theorized that the anniversary of Tim’s mother’s death was the triggering event which caused him to kill. In oversell mode once more, coached by Meloy, they also offered a second possibility for the “trigger event.” A few weeks before the murder, Tim was reading a book of his own in school. The teacher confiscated the book and wouldn’t return it after class. Although Tim accepted this stoically, his non-reaction was characterized as cold-bloodedly malignant. The Supreme Court, asleep at the wheel, later deemed this nonsense to be a properly admitted piece of evidence, proving the teenager’s motive and preparation to do murder! The appeals court had also welcomed the “evidence” as probative, saying it demonstrated how in the weeks leading up to the murder, the defendant showed increased anger and aggression. One incident was barely enough to show a pattern of growing rage, but one incident could be – yes, that’s it! A triggering event!

So, which was it? The anniversary of a death that occurred four years before? Or the confrontation with the teacher the previous month? Neither one is close enough in time to fit any sane definition of a triggering event.


Peggy had some small cuts on her face, and to this day it hasn’t been established whether they were made on purpose or accidentally. One court document calls the scratches “distinctive,” but in what way? This is not explained. The prosecution tried to say they were intentionally made: in other words, the killer’s “signature”. Supposedly – and this was duly reported by the Supreme Court in the majority opinion – many victims in Tim’s drawings had “distinctive scratch marks on their faces.” In those scribbly little sketches and doodles, how could that possibly be ascertained?

Dr. Meloy opined that the signature in this crime was the mutilation of Ms. Hettrick's sex organs, and – as usual, covering all the bases - possibly the facial scratch marks. Here’s a question: how can anything be called a "signature" when there was only one occurrence of it? “Signature” can’t be a meaningful concept unless applied to a series of two or more murders.

Here’s the real problem. If the marks were made intentionally, that would negate another part of the prosecution’s case. A tenet of the standard profiler’s creed says mutilation of the face implies a relationship: the killer knew the victim well enough to nurture personal hatred. Tim didn’t know Peggy, so if the marks on her face were intentionally made, that would indicate she was killed not by him, but by someone who knew her.

The High-Concept Stuff

Some hairy legal issues come into play here. Justice Rice wrote that the drawings and writings have "substantial probative worth. .. ." A Supreme Court Justice said, "They establish the motive for the crime; they indicate preparation for the crime; they reflect defendant's knowledge of the crime." The productions supposedly had to be admitted to give the jury a basis for evaluating Meloy’s testimony. And that's crucial. To say the stuff helps the jury know what the psychologist is talking about, is to put the cart before the horse. A huge question was not adequately addressed: the question of whether the psychologist, who never even met the defendant, should have been allowed to testify in the first place. This is not a trifle to take for granted or lightly dismiss. The admission of the expert's testimony was a matter the Supreme Court was supposed to look at. Disappointingly, it was swept aside.

Nowhere in Tim’s artwork or writings was a depiction of the exact horror that happened to Peggy. But you know what? It wouldn't matter if there were a hundred pictures of a hundred women stabbed in the back, or if a hundred forensic psychiatrists said those pictures were significant. It wouldn't prove squat. Yet the state based its entire case on character assassination, portraying Tim Masters as a violent person because of the violent writings and drawings he created.

According to many authorities, violent art proves a kid is unbalanced, disturbed, bent out of shape, screwed up, even “at risk” for something or other. The one thing it cannot prove is that the kid killed anybody. When the American justice system functions as intended, doodles, marginalia, graffiti, and even oil paintings are not probative of murder.