The Man Who Loved Dinosaurs
The Man Who Loved Dinosaurs By Jerry Bilinski It was the late 1960’s on Long Island when Richard and his fraternal twin brother Robert were born. The family, which also included an older sister, eventually moved to Montauk where the father found work as the maintenance supervisor at Gurney’s Inn. Although fraternal twins, Richard and his brother Robert could not have been more different. While Robert was a tall muscular young man, Richard was almost the exact opposite. Short with thick eyeglasses and poor physical coordination – he was the stereotypical nerd. They also had very different personalities. Robert was known to be a bully, frequently getting into trouble both in and out of school. Richard on the other hand, was quiet, very serious, and studious. He also exhibited some unusual obsessions that caught the eye of his parent’s and school officials. His first obsession was hats. He collected all kinds of hats which he took turns wearing on a daily basis. The obsession with hats disappeared after a school trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Its there that Richard was introduced to the world of dinosaurs and almost immediately focused his entire life around them. He started collecting everything about dinosaurs and to the dismay of his family, teachers, and others around him; he tries to work the topic into every conversation and social interaction. He starts to acquire the vocabulary of a paleontologist and proceeds to give academic like lectures to anyone that would listen. This obsession with dinosaurs continued into his adolescent years making Richard a social pariah both at school and in the community. Although observed and identified as a childhood disorder in Europe in the 1930’s, Asperger Syndrome, sometimes referred to as the “Little Professor Syndrome”, did not become widely known in the United States until its recognition as a formal diagnosis in 1994 as a form of high functioning autism. Richard presented with this disorder when few people knew what it was or could attach a name to it. As both Richard and Robert entered adulthood, Robert became increasingly involved in trouble including drug use and involvement with the criminal justice system. Richard on the other hand, continued to obsess on dinosaurs while also working odd jobs around the Montauk community and riding his bike into town or to the then small library in Montauk. Many locals viewed him as sort of a modern day “Village Idiot” or Pee Wee Herman type of character. In January of 1985, everything changed for Richard, his family, and the small communities of East Hampton and Montauk. A 19 year old woman from a prominent East Hampton family was reported missing after leaving a disco in East Hampton. After several days of searching for her, Richard’s twin brother Robert was arrested after confessing to sexually abusing and than strangling the victim and burying her body. He eventually led police to the body. He was charged with murder. Richard, his family, and the entire community were in shock over this heinous crime. Robert was eventually convicted of the murder and sentenced to prison for essentially the remainder of his life. Meanwhile the stigma associated with such a terrible crime led Richard’s family to move up Island. Richard accompanied them. Ironically, Richard’s older sister stayed behind and later became a Town of East Hampton police officer. During the 1990’s, both of Richard’s parent’s died. He ended up living with his older sister. At that time he was considered to be disabled by the Social Security Administration due to his Asperger diagnosis. I first met Richard in 2004. Our meeting occurred because he was a recipient of community case management services by the agency that I worked for. He showed up at our offices with a large gash in his head. He told me that his sister had hit him over the head with a frying pan. We called the police as well as an ambulance. He was taken to a local hospital and given several staples in his head to close the wound. He returned to our offices after being discharged from the hospital. Despite being injured, he only wanted to talk to me about dinosaurs and a science fiction story that he was writing that involved dinosaurs. We arranged for him to go to an emergency shelter. I later learned that his sister reunited with him and brought him back home to live with her. As a sidebar, when I spoke with the Suffolk County Police about possible charges against the sister, they declined to follow through. Several months later, I received a telephone call from the case manager who was working with Richard. She reported that he had been arrested after allegedly attacking his sister with a baseball bat. This offense was reported in the metro New York media, including the New York Times, which referenced Richard’s Asperger diagnosis. He was charged with Attempted Felony Murder. His sister spent a couple of days in the hospital before being released. Her injuries were apparently not that serious. Because my work in the mental health field includes working with the incarcerated mentally ill, I was able to meet with Richard at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead. When I met him he was clearly recovering from a serious facial beating that included numerous bruises. Despite his circumstances – being in jail, charged with a serious offense, etc… He immediately went into his dinosaur mode and started telling me about a story he was working on about dinosaurs from outer space taking over the earth. After a short interval I was able to get him to tell me something about the events that led to his arrest. Richard reported that he got into an argument with his sister who told him that she was “going to throw all of his dinosaur models into the fireplace”. This was the catalyst that apparently caused Richard to attack his sister. He related that “he did not want to kill her, just wanted to prevent his collection of plastic dinosaur models from being burned up”. I agreed to help Richard by advocating for him due to the clear mitigating circumstances that shouted out for intervention. I considered Richard to be a victim and thought that the “Battered Person Defense” could be raised. Richard was a disabled person living under the care of a family caregiver. I was able to initiate an advocacy campaign that included obtaining a prominent criminal defense attorney to take his case over from Legal Aid. Despite the history involved, with Richard having no prior criminal record, and the documented prior incident of assault on him by his sister, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office stood firm that they wanted Richard to be sent to prison for at least 5 years. We ended up in a legal standoff with Richard being held without bail in the Riverhead Jail, without being Indicted , for over 2 years – a record here in Suffolk County – before the DA and Court agreed to a sentence of probation with Richard being sent to a New York State operated group home. Richard was released as scheduled and went to live in the state group home. After a couple of years he was allowed to leave and to live on his own. He successfully completed his probation and has not had any more contacts with the criminal justice system. While residing at the state group home and attending a day program, Richard’s science fiction and dinosaur themed writings were the subject of several exhibits and talent shows. Richard has never reoffended and lives on his own. His story is one of triumph over the criminal justice system. Without advocacy, he may have ended up in prison, where he did not belong, for many years. Any parent with a child with a disability should take note and make plans that protect their child after they are gone.