Mike DeBardeleben

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Mike DeBardeleben
James Mitchell DeBardeleben

(1940-02-20)February 20, 1940
DiedJanuary 26, 2011(2011-01-26) (aged 70)
Other namesThe Mall Passer
Criminal penalty375 years in federal prison

James Mitchell "Mike" DeBardeleben (March 20, 1940 – January 26, 2011) was an American convicted kidnapper, rapist, counterfeiter, and suspected serial killer who became known as the "mall passer" due to his practice of passing counterfeit bills in shopping malls bordering interstate highways across the U.S.[1] After his arrest for counterfeiting, the secret service found evidence linking him to much more serious sex crimes. He was sentenced to 375 years in federal prison. Although he was never brought to trial for murder, he was the principal suspect in two homicides and he remains a suspect in several others. He died of pneumonia at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina in early 2011.[2]


DeBardeleben was born on 20 March 1940 in Little Rock, Arkansas, the second of three children born to James Mitchell DeBardeleben Sr. and Mary Lou Edwards DeBardeleben. The DeBardelebens were a military family who moved frequently. After the Pearl Harbor attack, James DeBardeleben Sr. took a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and was posted to Washington, D.C. for the duration of World War II.[3] Mike's younger brother Ralph later became a U.S. Army paratrooper.[3]

In 1945, the family moved to Austin, Texas, and James Sr. was shipped out to the South Pacific for nine months.[3] In 1949, the family moved briefly to Kentucky before relocating to Frankfurt, Germany.[3] In 1950, James Sr. was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and the family moved to the Hague in the Netherlands, where James Sr. served for two years as a military adviser for the U.S. Embassy.[3] In 1953, James Sr. retired from the army, and took a federal civil service post in Albany, New York.[3]

The marriage between DeBardeleben's parents was unstable and chaotic and both had many extramarital affairs. At one point his parents had considered divorce as a result of these affairs, but ultimately chose to stay married for the sake of the children.[3] DeBardeleben's mother was a sexually promiscuous and emotionally unstable alcoholic, whose behavior could become violent at times. His mother often neglected the children when her husband was away, preferring to spend much of her time at the bars drinking and picking up men. Mike's sister Linda became a caretaker for her younger brothers. It was during this period that DeBardeleben began to develop a deep hatred of his mother, which would eventually crystallize into a hatred of women in general.[3]

As a child, DeBardeleben was subjected to considerable abuse and neglect by both his mother and father. His father was a punitive man who was very critical of his children and almost never praised them for their accomplishments. When Debardeleben was younger, his father would punish him by holding his head underwater in a bathtub and switching him with sticks. According to his siblings, these punishments began before he was old enough to attend school.[3] Even from an early age, Mike was a quiet loner, detached from the other children. According to his own account and that of his sister, he preferred solitary activities and spent a great deal of time drawing and sketching in his room. These sorts of activities became an escape for him and a way to express himself, from which he "derived much inner satisfaction".[3]

In adolescence, DeBardeleben began to exhibit antisocial behavior and aggressiveness toward others. In 1956, at the age of 16, DeBardeleben physically assaulted his mother for the first time.[3] He is also alleged to have threatened his mother at times with a hatchet or a letter opener. On September 8 of that year, he purchased two handguns and ammunition with a friend. Later that month, he was arrested and convicted of his first felony, possessing a concealed firearm. This arrest was the first of many that followed, on sodomy, attempted murder, kidnapping, and other charges.

Adult life[edit]

In the spring of 1957, DeBardeleben was expelled from Peter Schuyler High School, which effectively ended his formal education. In October of that year, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After only a year, he was court-martialed for disorderly behavior and sentenced to two months in the base stockade. In 1958, he was ordered to see a psychiatrist for counseling after he was pronounced AWOL several times. At the age of eighteen, he was discharged from the Air Force and moved in with relatives in Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1959, DeBardeleben attempted school again, enrolling in R. L. Paschal High School, but after three months was expelled. In August of that year, he married his first wife, Linda Weir, but three weeks later separated from her. Also that month, he was arrested for attempted robbery with an accomplice, followed two weeks later by his involvement in a string of auto thefts, and was sentenced to five years' probation. In October, he fathered a premature stillborn daughter with an unidentified woman.

DeBardeleben later met Charlotte Weber, who was seventeen at the time he started courting her. At the time, DeBardeleben lived at home with his parents, terrorizing his family. Both of his parents feared him and deemed him capable of killing them. Weber recalls how DeBardeleben's family endured violent outbursts in which he "lit fires in his room" and "kicked doors in". Nonetheless, Weber described DeBardeleben as a "handsome young rebel" with whom she was "enthralled".[3] In March 1960, he impregnated Charlotte and on June 9 the same year, married her. On December 12, 1960, he fathered a daughter, Bethene. Charlotte described him as preoccupied with vanity and being cold and detached but not abusive. Later wives described how DeBardeleben tortured and abused them. DeBardeleben fathered a second child with Charlotte, but was forced by her parents to give the child up for adoption.[3] In August 1961, his brother Ralph committed suicide for undocumented reasons.[citation needed]


In the early 1980s, the United States Secret Service believed they had found a geographical pattern to a string of counterfeiting cases, and distributed composite sketches to clerks in stores they projected he would visit in the future based on that pattern. This led to DeBardeleben's arrest. In DeBardeleben's car more counterfeit $20 bills were found, each labeled with the city in which they would be passed.

During the search for the equipment with which the notes had been made, photographs were found depicting the rapes and murders of women. FBI profilers speculate that in photographs where his face is seen along with the victim's, he murdered the woman and disposed of her body; whereas in photographs where he is hiding his face, he allowed the victim to live. DeBardeleben represented himself in court, and was convicted of multiple crimes and sentenced to 375 years in federal prison.[3][4]

In personality, DeBardeleben displayed marked schizoid and narcissistic traits, along with the symptoms of psychopathy. He also exemplified all eight of the outdated DSM-III-R criteria for sadistic personality disorder. DeBardeleben was characterized as having a 'Jekyll and Hyde' personality, whose demeanor could shift from affable to extremely cruel. The DSM-IV cites DeBardeleben as an example of both sexual sadism and antisocial personality disorder.[5][6]


On January 26, 2011, DeBardeleben died of pneumonia at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina.[2]


  1. ^ Sun, Lena H.; O'Neill, Tex (9 July 1984). "A Trail of Murder, Rape, Kidnaping". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Sex Criminal DeBardeleben Dies, Book Chronicles His Crimes - Authorlink". authorlink.com. Retrieved 2016-12-31.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Michaud, Stephen G. (2007-06-26). Beyond Cruel. Macmillan. ISBN 9781429934510.
  4. ^ "Sex Criminal DeBardeleben Dies, Book Chronicles His Crimes - Authorlink". authorlink.com. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  5. ^ Spitzer, Robert L. (2004). Treatment companion to the DSM-IV-TR casebook. Washington: American Psychiatric Association. p. 289. ISBN 9781585621941.
  6. ^ Spitzer, Robert L. "Treatment companion to DSM-IV-TR casebook". laurel.lso.missouri.edu. American Psychiatric Pub. Retrieved 19 April 2017.

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