While searching the internet for a photo of Jeffrey Dahmer (because I’m sure no one knows what he looks like), I came upon a category titled “Jeffrey Dahmer CUTE.” This is one of the photos listed in that category:
Now, I’m not sure about you, but if I was to eye him in aisle 3 at Cub Foods, I’m not sure I would break into a sweat over this “hottie.”
Anyway, this is just a side note and not the point of this blog post. On my last blog post, I wrote about types of mass murder and perpetrator profiles and this post is a continuation of sorts. So, what’s the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?
As I mentioned previously, I attended a training given by Dr. Eric Hickey where he spoke about his forensic expertise, his one-on-one experience with killers and the etiology of serial violence (man, I want his job!). During the lecture, he presented the Hare Scale which was developed in the 1970’s by Robert Hare and is used to rate psychopathology. It is primarily used with people in prison or psychiatric units to determine rates of recidivism and whether or not someone should be released. Subjects are rated on these 20 items and each item is given a score of 0-3 (I won’t bore you with the intricate details of how each one is rated because Zzzzzzzz). Items on the checklist relate to criminal behavior and character deficits. For example, Ted Bundy was excellent at presenting superficial charm and callousness because of his deep belief that he held no responsibility for any of his actions.
So now I’m sure you’re all asking, “But what do the scores MEAN, Tara?” Well, here’s a quick breakdown:
Normal Range: 4-8
Occasional Criminality: 9-17
True psychopath: 30-40
So, while I rated a 16 on the Hare Scale (kidding, just kidding), Dahmer and Bundy had quite a difference in their scores which kind of shocked me. Ted Bundy scored a 34 which makes him a true psychopath. Psychopaths tend to be more calculating in their crimes than sociopaths. They are adept at coming up with complex schemes to accomplish their goals and are less impulsive. They are charmers. For instance, Bundy was such a manipulator that people cried at his execution. Another fun fact? He got married during the penalty phase of his trial (long story) and his wife claims to have had given birth to their daughter 8 months after his execution (apparently guards were easily bribed in exchange for conjugal visits).
Where is Jeffrey Dahmer on this scale, you ask? 22. 22! In case anyone has forgotten he drilled holes into people’s skulls and kept heads in his refrigerator, so I feel maybe he should’ve gotten some extra points. Amiright? Anyway, sociopaths tend to be more impulsive and their personalities are more of a NUTURE vs. nature sort of thing. Childhood trauma, for instance, can lead to unhealthy coping skills as a way to find relief for a person’s pain.
During the training, Dr. Hickey stated that Dahmer wasn’t truly mentally ill, but that he had “compulsions” that he could not control. Dahmer was a loner with an inferiority complex and searched for love, desperately wanting attachments with people. In order to avoid the feelings of loss and abandonment, he killed these men so they wouldn’t be able to leave him. Dahmer was also known to drink quite a few cocktails back in the day and it appears that he drank before killing his victims to temper the guilt he had for taking their lives. Finally, when asked why Dahmer was only rated at a 22, Dr. Hickey stated, “Necrophiles have attachments and psychopaths do not.” Well, ALRIGHTY then. Eesh.
The Truck Stop Killer doesn’t like wishy-washy answers, as you can see from his photo above. I tell ya what, though. There are a lot of wishy-washy answers to questions about the actual diagnosis of a person such as Dahmer or Bundy. I read pages and pages and pages of articles and, basically, I ran in circles. I was reminded during the training that forensic science is fairly young and the etiology of serial violence is difficult to definitively nail down. We all want to label these killers men because then it reminds us that there is NO WAY we could be like “them.” A person has to be mentally ill in order to carry a body around in a suitcase, right? They have to be evil to pour acid into someone’s skull, right? Maybe not so much, which is a pretty scary thought.
Do you think that it’s possible to commit these crimes and NOT be mentally ill?
P.S. If you want to read a super interesting article from the Journal of Forensic Sciences about the biopsychosocial explanation for Dahmer’s behavior, you can read it here.
For even further reading, this is one of my favorite true crime books of all time.