Watch out for perfection.

I Find Karma (
Tue, 7 May 96 20:29:22 PDT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ A perfectionist mathematics professor whom
friends say was driven over the edge by fear colleagues would ridicule him
for an error in his latest textbook is accused of bashing his wife to death
with a hammer.
In the wee hours of Monday morning, Rutgers professor Walter
Petryshyn smashed his wife's skull with a claw hammer 30 times, Middlesex
County Assistant Prosecutor Thomas J. Kapsak said Tuesday. Police arrived
at the couple's North Brunswick townhouse to find Arcadia
Olenska-Petryshyn, 61, dead amid ``some indication of a struggle'' and have
charged the 67-year-old Ukranian immigrant with murder, Kapsak said.
Petryshyn had been devoted to his wife, a painter who exhibited her
work internationally. But Petryshyn, plagued by mysterious health problems,
deteriorated into depression and then paranoia after his second mathematics
textbook, ``Generalized Topological Degree and Semilinear Equations,'' was
published a year ago, said longtime friend Bohdan Boychuk.
``I noted very drastic changes (in his personality) about a year
ago,'' said Boychuk, a Ukranian poet who lives in tony Riverdale, N.Y. ``He
discovered that there was some mistake in that book and he told me that
mistake was very serious, very big and he couldn't solve it. He felt that
his prestige was destroyed, that his colleagues in mathematics would laugh
at him, so he really went into a depression.''
But Boychuk said he understood that Petryshyn's editors at Cambridge
University Press in England said ``the error was small, that the book was
very good, well received and selling.''
``That's the irony. It was all in his mind,'' said Boychuk.
Petryshyn's editor, Lauren Cowles, said he simply left out one
assumption that was the basis for one of the book's central logical
arguments _ ``a technicality'' Cowles addressed by sending corrections to
book reviewers for academic journals.
``It sounds as if his perfectionism drove him to insanity,'' said
noted Rutgers mathematician Felix Browder, who has known Petryshyn for
``I feel that really broke him,'' agreed Boychuk, noting that his
friend also grew increasingly concerned about apparently imaginary health
problems, complained of ``all kinds of pains'' and began losing weight.
``He went through all kinds of tests, and nothing was there.''
Petryshyn's wife and sister tried to help him, and Boychuk called
frequently to boost his spirits. The highly regarded professor even got
treatment from a psychiatrist, but when the doctor suggested he enter a
mental hospital for observation, Boychuk said, Petryshyn ``got scared'' and
stopped trusting everyone, even Arcadia and the doctor.
``He was constantly in fear that they would come to get him to the
madhouse,'' Boychuk said.
That worried his wife, who complained to Boychuk recently that it was
``very oppressive'' living with Petryshyn's terrors.
Petryshyn is being held in the Middlesex County Jail in lieu of
$500,000 cash bail.
An expert in theoretical and applied mathematics, specializing in
nonlinear functional analysis and numerical functional analysis, he became
a professor of mathematics at Rutgers in July 1967 after teaching at
University of Chicago the previous three years. Petryshyn held bachelor's,
master's and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, had authored some
90 articles for academic publications, and won numerous professional
Antoni Kosinski, chairman of Rutgers' mathematics department, said
Petryshyn was given a medical leave in February because he was losing his
voice frequently, which made it difficult for him to lecture. By then
Petryshyn had long been complaining to colleagues in the mathematics
department about his health problems.
``He was a liked and respected member of the department ... a good
teacher,'' said Kosinski. ``I'm absolutely stunned by this.''
Boychuk said Petryshyn had taken the Rutgers job so his wife could be
close to the New York art scene.
``He was really deeply in love with her. There's no doubt about
that,'' said Boychuk, who married his first wife the same day the
Petryshyns were wed, Labor Day 1956.
He said the couple seemed happy with each other and frequently
traveled and attended cultural events together. Petryshyn helped nurse
Arcadia back to health when she was stricken with breast cancer three years
ago, and during a 1994 Christmas party in their home, Petryshyn celebrated
her recovery.
``Walter raised a toast, thanking God that the trouble they had was
over,'' Boychuk recalled.