Vicious Cycle: Dorian Williams thought he was a bike champion, shrinks and FBI be damned

Vicious Cycle: Dorian Williams thought he was a bike champion, shrinks and FBI be damned
Brian Stauffer

Just after midnight on January 15, 2010, a phone rang inside Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The caller said in a soft voice that a black male passenger named "Dorian" was "possibly going to be carrying explosives" onto Continental flight 5938 to Washington, D.C.

Police officer Michael Helldoerfer pressed the man on the other end for his name and contact info, to no avail. The flight was scheduled to leave in seven hours.

"This is a pretty serious thing you're calling in," Helldoerfer said. "We need to have some information.... What do you suspect is going to happen?"

Brian Stauffer

The caller hung up.

Helldoerfer notified two sergeants and a lieutenant in his own department. Employees of the airport, fire department, Continental Airlines, the TSA and the FBI — about 100 people in all — were put on notice.

In the frigid darkness, Continental taxied the plane away from the terminal and onto a remote strip of runway. At 5:30 a.m. a K-9 unit arrived. "Lexie," a Belgian malinois, sniffed the plane. She found nothing.

Meanwhile, travelers were filtering into Lambert for early flights. Police tracked down a passenger named Doran Corbin, who was about to board an aircraft to Chicago. But he wasn't their suspect; he was an airman in the New Jersey National Guard.

At last Continental found no reason to detain the plane and cleared it for departure at 7:30 a.m. The plane roared away from St. Louis without incident.

But the matter wasn't over.

Investigators soon traced the threatening call back to a cell phone. Neither its supposed owner, "Alex Devoure," nor the address, a P.O. box in California, actually existed.

So they subpoenaed the phone log from Sprint. The record showed that the cell user had recently called Mid America Arms gun dealership in Affton. When detectives questioned the dealer, he noted that a man named "Dorian" had just inquired about a new paint job for the scope on his high-powered rifle.

Law enforcers then focused on a second detail from the call log. The cell user had often dialed the home of a Denise Williams in the Beverly Hills neighborhood of north county.

Before probing further, investigators presented their findings to assistant U.S. attorney Howard Marcus on March 1. As they talked, two names in the case struck Marcus. A decade earlier, he'd prosecuted a guy named Dorian Williams.

A check of court documents showed that 34-year-old Dorian Williams had an extensive criminal history. The files also revealed his strange interactions with Big Shark Bicycle Company in the Delmar Loop and an unusual interest in track cycling.

On March 17, 2010, an airport detective phoned Williams, hoping to trick the suspect into revealing more information. Williams answered by name.

"Hi, Dorian," the detective said, "I'm with the Missouri Bicycle Racing Association."

"I don't think so, homeboy," Williams said, and hung up.

Undeterred, investigators drove out to Denise Williams' residence in the early morning of March 25. They parked on a side street. As they walked toward the house, they glimpsed someone in the doorway matching Dorian's description. But the figure vanished.

When his mother, Denise Williams, consented to a full search of the house, they couldn't find the suspect. They asked Denise, a night nurse at St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, where her son might be.

"He comes and goes," she told them.

She wasn't fibbing. He'd been coming and going for years.

Dorian Williams has been diagnosed with "delusional disorder, grandiose type." Though he's never competed in any race, he believes himself a world-class track cyclist. In the language of the most current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, his is a "conviction of having some great (but unrecognized) talent" that is "clearly implausible."

This disorder is "relatively rare in clinical settings," write the DSM authors, adding that precise stats are "lacking," but likely less than 0.03 percent of the population suffers from it.

Doug Burris, chief U.S. probation officer of Missouri's Eastern District, says he's come across 9,000 offenders in his seventeen-year career. "I've seen fewer than ten with that diagnosis," he says.

A "grandiose delusion" is a serious mental illness but isn't menacing by itself, experts say. Certain mental illnesses do correlate with violence, but they don't cause it. In fact, most people with serious mental illnesses never act violently.

Then there's Dorian Williams. Over the past decade he has been locked up repeatedly for threatening to murder those he believes block his path to greatness, including federal officials.

He has never perpetrated any physical violence — perhaps because authorities have foiled his plots in the nick of time, or because he never intended to carry them out. But either way, he ties up public resources by entangling himself in a criminal-justice system that, despite 23 years of contact, can't seem to extinguish his menacing behavior.

Compounding the problem is that Williams denies his condition and refuses treatment — a common situation for people struggling with severe psychoses, according to Ira Burnim, legal director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that advocates for offenders like Williams.

"We don't need him to admit he's mentally ill," says Burnim. "We just need him to change his behavior. If he's really, really exceptional, maybe you just have to find people who are especially skilled."

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