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Crime in mind

English Professor Elizabeth Klaver ’85 has studied the autopsy in popular culture and art from depictions in TV crime shows to paintings such as Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

In fields from literature to cyber security, alumni apply an investigative eye


Michael D. Wilson ’64, Joe Majka ’81, and Elizabeth Klaver ’85 share common ground as sleuths: they investigate and they seek truth. For Wilson and Majka, it’s cracking white collar crime. Klaver investigates theories of the body after death and how medical procedures like autopsies are historically portrayed in art.

From Waco to Oklahoma: an FBI life

In April 1993, FBI agent Michael D. Wilson ’64 drove out to David Koresh’s Branch Davidian Ranch to study the aftermath of the fire that burned the Waco, Texas, compound to the ground. The fire killed about 80 Branch Davidians, including Koresh, following a 51-day siege. 

Wilson stayed at the crime scene for a month after the fire, bringing in four fire chiefs to help gather evidence that would prove who had been shot and who had died in the fire. “Everyone was blaming the FBI for the fire,” he says. Evidence proved the Davidians had lit the fire within the complex.

Crime investigation is “about the people, understanding what motivates people,” says Wilson, who spent 26 years with the FBI before he helped found the Houston-based firm Integrity Partners, where he focuses on corporate compliance and financial fraud.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, East Bay sent Wilson on his way, but he says formal education isn’t enough to solve cases: It also requires street smarts. “College led me to a career I wanted to be in,” he says.

After graduating, Wilson, the son of a firefighter who grew up in the East Bay, worked as a Berkeley police officer and in naval intelligence before taking the test to join the FBI. He was accepted in 1970 and served as FBI investigator, supervisor and senior manager at some of the highest levels within the Bureau. 

Aside from his work at Waco, Wilson was assigned to numerous high-profile cases including the Oklahoma City bombing, organized crime cases in New Jersey, and the ABSCAM public corruption and organized crime sting of the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the arrest and conviction of a senator, six congressmen, and additional public officials. 

 Wilson says he loved the challenge of the FBI that led him to investigate the most notorious criminals one day — and meet with the president of the United States on another.

 “You don’t know what you’re going to be doing every day,” he says.

Art and the Autopsy

 Elizabeth Klaver ’85, who earned a master’s in English from CSUEB, was never interested in medicine or death until she closely studied Samuel Beckett plays during the 1990s.

 While reading Waiting for Godot, Klaver, an English professor at Southern Illinois University, considered that the play takes place after the characters die making “animated corpses” the main characters. 

 Klaver then became intrigued by the link between death in art and the origins of the Greek word autopsy, which translated means self (auto) and eye (opso). “It dawned on me that the word autopsy really had nothing to do with death,” she says. “It means seeing with one’s own eyes.”  

That epiphany would provide the connection to Klaver’s future work.

“You can see (autopsies) going on in places that have nothing to do with the body,” she says. “It’s used metaphorically — doing an autopsy on the economy, trying to analyze the economy. And then I started to realize there are literal autopsies taking place everywhere.”

Klaver has studied autopsy in everything from Rembrandt’s famous painting The Anatomy Lesson of  Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, which portrays a group of men gathered around a corpse, to how female corpses are portrayed in Hollywood film to how autopsies are conducted on television shows like CSI

She is author of two books, Sites of Autopsy in Contemporary Culture (SUNY Press 2005) and Performing Television: Contemporary Drama and the Media Culture (University of Wisconsin, Popular Press 2000). 

Aside from her graduate English studies (Jacob Fuchs, now retired, was a favorite professor), Klaver says physics and art history courses at CSUEB inform her teaching work today — as do autopsies. Klaver says she went from “shock to fascination” while watching an autopsy to prepare for one of her books. While pathologists say bodies speak to them, Klaver notes that autopsies are visual. “Reading a book, watching a film or the TV, you’re in the same position as a pathologist performing an autopsy,” she says. 

An interesting idea to consider the next time you read Waiting for Godot

To Catch a Cyber Thief

When Albert Gonzalez, mastermind of the largest hacking and identity theft scheme in U.S. history, was indicted in 2009 Joe Majka ’81 knew he had done his job. 

Majka, who is senior business leader in Cyber Security and Investigations at Visa, worked with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Secret Service for years tracking Gonzalez, a self-taught programmer accused of stealing data from more than 130 million credit and debit cards. 

For Majka, fraud and data theft cases are typically complex, lengthy and international in scope, involving slippery online characters who sell the data they steal. Gonzalez was “the most notorious,” he says.

Majka joined Visa in 1996 after working as a Pleasanton police officer and in bank security. Majka’s job entails policing security on a network that serves as the connection point between 1.6 billion global payment cards, 29 million worldwide merchants, and 16,600 financial institutions in 170 countries. 

While the banks typically hire their own investigators to handle smaller fraud and data theft cases, Majka’s nine-person team jumps in on cross-border investigations involving multiple banks. “If we can see that several banks are being attacked in the same way then we help coordinate (the investigation),” he says. About 90 percent of his team’s work is investigating hackers who attack merchants and credit card processors to steal data. 

Majka says his early college studies at Cal State East Bay in sociology helped him understand the criminal mind “from the street criminal to the white collar criminal.” 

Last year, Majka was asked to testify before the House Committee on Homeland Security on the topic “Do the Payment Card Industry Standards Reduce Cybercrime?” (Majka argues that they drastically do help and that the companies that adopt these standards are protected.)

Asked whether his work has made him reluctant to use bank cards, Majka laughs. “I feel very comfortable,” he says. After all, with a stolen card, he says, there’s bank protection and a trail to follow. With cash, the money’s just gone.

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