Longtime magazine journalist Kobel (Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture, 2007) documents the controversial life and death of Professor John Buettner-Janusch (1924-1992), the world's expert on lemurs and a man so out of control that he served two prison terms for two separate crimes.
Buettner-Janusch gained his reputation as an animal anthropologist at Duke University and New York University. There is no question his research on the lemur species added greatly to the knowledge of animal and human behavior. However, the flamboyant professor struck almost everybody who knew him as strange due to his moodiness, authoritarian manner, persecution complex, sartorial choices and sexual preferences. While married to a fellow researcher, he maintained a modicum of equilibrium, but after her cancer-related death in 1977, the professor's strangeness increased noticeably. Law enforcement authorities began investigating the use of his NYU research laboratory for the manufacture of LSD and other illegal narcotics unrelated to the lemur research. Charged with felonies by federal prosecutors, Buettner-Janusch ended up in prison after a jury trial. Released in 1983 but still on parole, the former famous researcher could not find meaningful employment. He began to plot revenge against men and women he felt had betrayed him, focusing especially on the federal judge, Charles Brieant, who presided at the drug manufacturing trial. In 1987, the unbalanced former professor sent poisoned chocolates to the judge's home on Valentine's Day. The judge never consumed the candy, but his wife did and became seriously ill. Buettner-Janusch pled guilty and received a new prison sentence. He died in prison in 1992. He rarely, if ever, expressed remorse and died mostly forgotten.
A well-researched, clearly written biography of a strange character.