Cult expert Margaret Singer dead at 82

Associated Press/November 25, 2003

Berkeley, Calif. -- Psychologist Margaret Singer, an expert on brainwashing and cults, has died. She was 82.

Singer, who studied the Peoples Temple, Branch Davidian and Symbionese Liberation Army among other groups, died Sunday after a long illness at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley.

Born in Denver, where her father was the chief engineer at the U.S. Mint, Singer received her degrees from the University of Denver.

She began studying brainwashing in the 1950s at Walter Reed Institute of Research in Washington, D. C., where she interviewed U.S. soldiers taken prisoner during the Korean War.

Singer testified in the 1976 bank robbery trial of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She interviewed more than 3,000 cult members, assisted in more than 200 court cases and was a leading authority on schizophrenia and family therapy.

"My mom spent her whole life assisting other people - victims, parents or lawyers - and often for free," said Sam Singer, a San Francisco public relations consultant.

Occasionally threatened, Singer refused to back down. In a 2002 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, she told how, at 80, she had frightened off someone who'd been leaving menacing notes in her mailbox.

"I've got a 12-gauge shotgun up here with a spray pattern that'll put a three-foot hole in you, sonny, and you'd better get off my porch, or you'll be sorry!" she shouted out the window.

Singer was the author of "Cults in Our Midst," a 1995 study on cults that she revised earlier this year with analysis of the connection between cults and terrorism.

She won the Hofheimer Prize and the Dean Award from the American College of Psychiatrists, among other honors.

She is survived by her husband of 48 years, Jerome, and by her children, Sam and Martha, all of Berkeley.

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