Klassified

From the files of Broward supershrink Joel Klass: The Chicken Lady, the Phantom .38 Killer, and more

"I loved having him for a witness on my side!" he bellows. "He was great. Very clever." But running against Klass had its advantages as well: "Oh, I enjoyed that too! A great debater. If he was still in practice, I'd use him again."

Family lawyer Charlotte Karlan, who argues custody cases in Broward and Miami-Dade courts, says: "I've never heard people criticize him. He has a very common-sense approach, and he's well-respected by the judges — obviously, they've appointed him again and again in both counties. In several cases we were involved in, I found his conclusions were right on the button — and very quickly, without all these fancy tests!"

Of course, Klass' no-nonsense methods don't sit well with everyone. During a high-profile murder case that reached the Florida Supreme Court, the doctor's methods were called into question. Defense attorneys representing Matthew Marshall, a convicted murderer on death row, wanted to discredit Klass' evaluation of their client. The court ruled against Marshall, saying it wouldn't waste time hiring another mental health professional.

"He usually goes to the nub of matters," Frumkes adds. "And he's very innovative sometimes."

Granted a unique ringside seat into the meshings of the criminal justice system, Klass has amassed enough material on South Florida's legendary cases to fill a library.

In the well-publicized Tate case, for example, Klass testified that the 12-year-old's aggressive behavior (which led to the death of a 6-year-old girl with whom he was demonstrating wrestling throws) didn't constitute "proof that [he was] a danger to society." He also testified that the boy was unable to show remorse because he was so terrified of jail.

Now that Tate has reentered the abyss, a 10- to 30-year sentence looming, Klass is saddened when the case is brought up, not just because his prognosis was apparently wrong but also because of Tate's gloomy prospects. "He lacked inferential capacity to an astonishing degree," he says glumly. "A lot of adolescents end up short on that end, but I wonder what was going on in his mind. Family influence, peer influence, incarceration experience, and a lack of inferential capacity — put them all together and it spells jail."

In retirement, Klass is working on several books. He says he has released others under a pseudonym — though he won't say what they are or discuss them. "Professionally," he says cryptically, "they wouldn't be helpful. I don't want to get into it."

The only available Klass-penned title is Herpes: Prevention and Treatment, co-authored with Donald A. Kullman. "A terrible book," he dismisses. "Took all of two hours to write." The books he's working on now stem from what he learned during his practice.

Still, those odd, crazy cases keep coming back. "Some are just so hard to believe," he muses. "I keep forgetting just how astounding the range of human behavior is. Just incredible."


On a recent sparkly midwinter morning, Klass is in animated conversation, discussing a recent crime that's all over the news. But when he hears the phrase ".38 right in the chest," he stops, and his eyes widen.

"Oh!" he says suddenly. "That reminds me of another case!"

"A daughter," he begins, "whose parents owned a well-known restaurant chain. She came in to see me because she was having guilty feelings. She kept saying, 'An eye for an eye, an eye for an eye. But maybe I did a life for an eye.'

"She had started hanging around some bad kids, didn't tell her parents... One night, they were all drinking and smoking pot, and a couple of guys raped her and then beat her up. They did awful things to her."

She was too humiliated and embarrassed to call her family, Klass says. "So she stayed at a friend's house for a couple of weeks, recuperating."

Then, Klass explains, she decided to settle the score. In broad daylight, she drove to the home of one of her tormentors and knocked on the door. When he answered, she said, "Remember me?" — then shot him in the chest with a .38. "She didn't care. She was so beaten up." She got back in her car and drove away, unseen by any witnesses on the suburban street. But a few years later, the pangs of guilt drove her into Klass' office.

"You always wonder if stories like that are true or not, so I took it upon myself to call the [Hollywood] police department and ask if there'd been a homicide on such-and-such a day. They were able to look it up, and the cop told me, 'There was a drug dealer who got shot in the chest with a .38. He was one of our baddest dudes.' So they figured it was a drug deal gone bad. An unsolved homicide."

Klass and the young woman are the only ones who know the truth. "Nobody else. To this day." He hasn't spoken to her in years but often wonders how she ended up.

"If I run across her chart, I might give her a call one of these days."

He does remain in touch with the subjects of his more unusual stories. Years ago, a man and woman walked into his office with a dilemma on their hands. Each had grown up in a foster home, and when they met in their early 20s and fell in love, even the shocking discovery that they were, in fact, brother and sister couldn't stop them from marrying and raising a family.

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