How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath, Part 2

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:

Jeffrey Dahmer

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.

Psychopath-Checklist-7

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

Sociopath: 18-29

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).

Ted_Bundy_in_court

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.

Truck Stop Killer

 

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.

 

 

 

 

How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath

“You ruined this for kids. I will applaud when you die.”

Who was the recipient of these words, you ask? John Wayne Gacy. What did he ruin for kids, you ask (besides their lives)? He ruined clowns and Eric Hickey, Ph.D. wanted to make sure Gacy knew that the whole world now hated clowns, thanks to him. I would like to add that I’m not sure this was a concern of Gacy’s. If you spend your life wondering how you’re going to bury 27 boys under your house, clowns are the least of your concerns, but maybe that’s just me.

P.S. I have never seen a black and white photo of him dressed as a clown and YIKES.

JWG USE THIS

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I attended an all-day training called Mass Murder: Psycho-Behavioral Profiles, Incidents of Bifurcation, Manifestos and Best Practices in Prevention presented by Dr. Eric Hickey.  This training had absolutely nothing to do with my job, but I willingly handed over $100 to listen to this forensic psychologist/expert talk to me for 8 hours. Luckily, it wasn’t just me (because that would be weird), but there were about 75 people there, all on the edge of their seats in anticipation of hearing about psychopaths, sociopaths and how the Unabomber has terrible grammar (really, it’s true).

I have had several people ask me what I learned so I compiled a list of some of the most interesting tidbits:

  1. There are various types of mass murder (domestic, workplace, school, bifurcated, stranger, terrorism, psychological coercion and copy cat).
  2. When women are involved in domestic murder, it’s typically due to them being mentally ill, psychotic or overwhelmed. Men? They commit domestic homicide primarily as a result of a breakdown between himself and his wife/partner (according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice). A woman named Khoua Her from St. Paul, MN and a man named Ronald Simmons are examples of these types of domestic killings.
  3. Stranger mass murders involve, you guessed it, people killing people they don’t know. Dr. Hickey included a story about five boys in South Korea  that went frog hunting in 1991 and never came back. The area that the boys went to was searched over 500 times and they weren’t found until 2002 when a man stumbled across their graves. Dr. Hickey was called into the case to help determine how the boys died.
  4. Psychological coercion mass murders are things like Jim Jones getting everyone to “drink the kool-aid” and Heaven’s Gate. HOW or WHY anyone would believe that by killing themselves they would get a ride on a sweet spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet is beyond me. I mean, I know you’ve seen him, but just look at this guy:

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     5.  Most mass murderers have kept some sort of diary of sorts before the killing                      including manifestos, blogs, diaries or letters. All of these include one or more of                these themes: ego survival/revenge, pseudocommando mindset of persecution/envy,          thoughts of obliteration, nihilism, entitlement or a heroic revenge fantasy (Knoll,                 J.L., IV (2012), Mass Murder: Causes, Classification, and Prevention).

     6.  Most mass murderers such as James Holmes and the Columbine shooters had at                 least 2 of these themes in their manifestos, but Elliot Rodger met all six of them.

     7.  Finally, I’ll end it (excuse the unsavory pun) with bifurcation. I had never heard                 of it before, but it completely makes sense (in an I’m-a-lunatic kind of way). This                 means that someone commits murder at one location and then moves to another.               Usually, the first murders are used as a distraction such as setting off bombs to                   force police attention in one location and then moving somewhere else to                             commit the “bigger” crime, like Anders Breivek. Ever heard of the Bath Massacre?               Yeah, I hadn’t either. When I think of mass murders, my mind jumps to modern                   day episodes, not 1927 Michigan. Andrew Kehoe was an already angry dude                         who was elected treasurer of the school board. When people didn’t agree with his               thrifty ways, he bombed the school building, killing 45 people and injuring 58. At                least 38 kids were killed.

It should be noted that most discussion of these perpetrators revoloves around them being mentally ill, but that is not always the case. I found it terrifying that Dr. Hickey stated that only approximately 40% of mass murderers have a diagnosed mental illness. They rest of these people have some sort of psychopathy, which is based on control and power. In my next installment of “How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath” I’ll share the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath and how they figure out where a criminal falls on the scale between the two.

Just for fun, let me ask you a question. Would you say that Jeffrey Dahmer was mentally ill? Would you call him a sociopath or a psychopath? I’ll give you a hint: my answer was wrong.

 

How to be the sweetest mother-daughter family NEVER.

Imagine being trapped in a wheelchair for nearly 20 years and being told not to walk, let alone move your legs. Being coerced to play the part of a leukemia and muscular dystrophy patient. To act as if you are five years behind your peers developmentally and suffer from “retardation.” And all of this is forced upon you by your own mother.

THEN, what if you were OVER IT and just killed her already?

GYPSY ROSE

This craziness is the basis of the HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, which tells the story of Dee Dee Blanchard and her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard. I watched it this weekend and it was fascinating, weird, upsetting and…..did I say weird? My husband said to me while we were watching it, “I’ve never seen you so engrossed in a movie this late at night.” Watching pretty much anything at 10:30 at night is quite a feat for me, especially when there are no Doritos involved.

Long story short, Dee Dee was really, really good at manipulating everyone around her and gaining accolades for being a wonderful, loving mother. Not only that, but she used her daughter’s “illnesses” to get a house and vacations for free.  She was able to get her daughter prescriptions which mimicked the symptoms of serious illnesses and when a doctor would catch on, she would just move onto someone else. Dee Dee supposedly had Munchausen syndrome by proxy which is a disorder in which a caregiver feigns or exaggerates the illness of someone under their care, with it typically being their child. By doing so, these “caregivers” get sympathy and attention. And free trips to Disneyland, apparently.

mugshots

Fast forward to 2015. “That bitch is dead” appears on Gypsy Rose’s Facebook page and Dee Dee has been found, stabbed to death in her bed. After a short investigation it was found that Gypsy Rose had met a young man named Nicholas Godejoh online and, after forming a very bizarre relationship, they completed “Plan B.” This plan involved Nick stabbing Dee Dee to death while Gypsy Rose waited in the bathroom. Afterwards, the two travel around, laughing and sharing brownies in bed together (they recorded this and it was, uh, very awkward).

So, now what? After the killing, Gypsy Rose is walking and healthy, shocking most everyone around her. She relays these horrific stories that she had never been able to tell anyone. Gypsy is initially charged with first degree murder, but as the stories of abuse and other mitigating circumstances are revealed the court allows some leniency. Is Gypsy Rose Blanchard better off in prison than living with her mother? Was Gypsy Rose just as manipulative as her mother? How much of this really is the truth? WE MAY NEVER KNOW.

This disorder occurs pretty rarely, but there are some other notable cases that I’ve listed here:

  • Lacey Spears was convicted of killing her son with table salt through a feeding tube and while he was “sick” she kept a blog about their life. I remember reading it with a heart full of sympathy before it was revealed that she had been poisoning him the whole time. Yikes.
  • In probably the worst case of Munchausen by proxy, Marybeth Tinning found that by having nine of her children die between 1972 and 1985 under “mysterious circumstances” she got a lot of sympathy and a lot of prison time.
  •  Julie Gregory wrote a book about growing up with a mother who coached her to exaggerate her medical symptoms and fed her foods she was specifically told not to by her doctors. This sweet mother also became upset when doctors would not perform (unnecessary) open heart surgery on her daughter.

One last thing. According to Dee Dee’s family members, she wasn’t very well liked. In fact, after her death her own sister suggested that they just go ahead and flush her ashes down the toilet. If I’m ever acting like someone who deserves to have their ashes flushed, please let me know. Deal?

 

 

 

 

Funny Obituaries (Part 1)

This gem came from my hometown newspaper, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Isn’t it great? I don’t like to beat around the bush, so I can respect a guy that just gets straight to the point.

DOUG DIED

 

I cannot count how many times someone has sent me a link to an obituary or a link to an NPR story about writing obituaries or, just a couple of weeks ago, a link to a new documentary about obituaries. Do you see a pattern here? I love obituaries. I even subscribed to the Sunday edition of the Star Tribune so I could peruse the obit page every week.

I’m not gonna lie. Some of them are snoozefests. No offense to the dearly departed or, rather, the person in charge of writing the obit, but when all I know is that the poor guy worked at X corporation for 35 years and was preceded in death by both of his parents, well, that’s not interesting. Not only is it not interesting, but I think it does a disservice to the person who died. C’mon, I want to know what they loved (the color yellow? suitcases with wheels?), what they hated (back stabbing motherfu*^ers that still owe them money?) and everything in between. Life is more than your job or who your second cousin is.

It is for this reason that I have put my dear friend, Rebecca, in charge of writing my obituary. She’s funny and she knows me. She’ll probably talk about my aforementioned crabbiness, my love of Chapstick and how I’m late for everything. How I love Prince and the Golden Girls and how I hate the song “Rockin’ Robin” with every fiber of my being. Anyway, you get the idea.

For those of you who don’t typically spend your free time reading about dead people, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite obituaries. After reading each of these, you get a sense of who these people REALLY were and all of the little things in life that they appreciated (or didn’t). A person’s uniqueness doesn’t die when they do and it breaks my heart to see a plain old boring, I-lived-here-I-worked-here-I-died-on-this-date story. Remember this when Aunt Janice dies and she needs a work up for your local newspaper. Deal? Deal.

Meet Jim Groth, whose obituary stated, “his ashes will be kept around as long as they match the decor.”

Christian Hacker, a New Yorker who liked to collect junk. This obituary reminded me of something I would write for my dad, who likes to collect…..stuff. Mr. Hacker’s obit stated that the “car parts sales and funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m.”

William Ziegler was a firefighter from New Orleans who realized that “running away from burning buildings made more sense than running toward them” before quitting his job.

And, finally, Emily DeBrayda Phillips. She wrote her own obituary and claimed to be a championship “Hiney Getter.” She ended her story by saying, poignantly, “So…I was born; I blinked; and it was over.”

What do you think? Has anyone else found any that they chuckled, cried or guffawed at?

 

 

My friend, Andrew W.K.

If you told me 10 years ago that I would be practically fainting over this guy, I would of said you were bananas, because, c’mon. Dude likes to sing about partying, wears dirty clothes and likes bloody noses (cue the snicker and the eye roll).

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I don’t remember how I stumbled across his advice column for the Village Voice, but I was in love right away. His message is simple: every second you’re alive is a second not to be wasted. Every rotten thing that happens to you in your life is an opportunity to change and grow even if you don’t want to.  Life is way more enjoyable if you are in awe of the little things and recognize that life is impermanent. Joy is vastly more pleasurable than walking around crabby all the time. If you woke up this morning, hey, that’s a WIN! Even though that might be the only good thing that happened today, well, sometimes that’s good enough. As my grandpa used to say, “I’m breathing, right?”

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to be happy allllll of the time. I mean, it was just yesterday that I threw a fit because somebody stole my salad dressing out of the fridge at work. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you have to go to Subway and get a Cold Cut Combo because now you can’t eat your salad without said dressing. BUT, trust me, there are worse things in life.

If you knew me from ages 18-39, you would know I was THE crabbiest person ever. Then, one and a half years ago my mother died suddenly. I’m not going to pretend that we had the best relationship all of the time, but I loved her. She was my MOM. I know that everyone says their life changes after a major event like this, but it’s no joke. It’s the truth.

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I now have little tolerance for people that complain about THINGS all of the time. People that get bent out of shape over long lines or gum stuck to their shoe. There always has to be a different way of looking at things. Is there 10 feet of snow on the ground? Great! Now I can go sledding! My kid threw up all over my pants? Whatever, that’s what washing machines (or garbage cans) are for! To be clear, I am in NO way minimizing people facing really, really tough things like the loss of a child or a terminal illness. Those are completely different scenerios where higher feats of strength are required, for sure. I’m just talking about the grumps walking around, letting every.single.thing RUIN THEIR LIVES.

To put it VERY simply, dealing with my mom’s death was hard. I was looking for reassurance that life IS good and that there IS meaning in it all.  In the end, reading Mr. W.K.’s advice column/Facebook posts/interviews after my mom died helped me more than seeing Mr. Counselor for five sessions (no offense, guy!). I decided that the only way to grow was to embrace the loss instead of ignoring it seems to be working.

Click on the this link and you can meet Andrew for yourself. Welcome to the party, friends.

 

 

Drugs, maniacs and WWII

He picked at his skin with tweezers. His hands shook so badly that he couldn’t put his glasses on. He slept on an old mattress in a room with only a lamp, a telephone and some dust. His arm was full of red track marks. If you had to guess, who would you think I’m talking about? Did you guess Hitler? You’re GOOD!

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I’m not sure when this photo was taken, but Hitler’s not looking as feisty as usual. Compared to typical photos of a crazy man with his arm thrust into the air, he’s looking a little disheveled, sweaty and, hmmmmm, blank? I would like to say that it was probably just a little warm in the Wolf’s Lair, but I’m not so sure. According to the book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler, Hitler was having some issues with drugs. Many drugs. Lots of drugs.

Hitler wasn’t the only one, according to Ohler, and drugs were an intregal part of the Third Reich’s operation. To give you an idea of the happenings, here are some fun (not fun) facts I pulled from the book:

  1. In the 1920’s, Germany loved making drugs and selling them to other countries. Between 1925-1930, 40% of the world’s morphine was produced in Germany (approximately 91 tons!). After WWI, Germany lost access to natural stimulants like coffee and tea and, you guessed it, they started making their own stimulants. In 1937, a German company manufactured a new type of methamphetamine called Pervitin, and, oh boy, people LOVED it!
  2. Ever heard the story of the German Blitzkrieg attack on France? Well, it’s a doozy and it starts on page 55. Let’s just say there was A LOT of Pervitin involved.
  3. Hitler’s special doctor, Theodor Morell, was sort of a leech of a guy who started his own pharmaceutical company with Hitler’s cash. Starting in 1941 when Hitler started visibly going downhill, guess who was by his side whipping out needles left and right? Said needles were for injecting Eukodal, which has twice the pain-relieving qualities of morphine and takes only a short time to become for a person to become addicted. Just for good measure, there was also pure cocaine involved!
  4. Towards the end of the war, Hitler was known to have conversations with HIMSELF that lasted for hours, going on and on about the horrors of smoking and drugs, while gazing at, well, no one.
  5. Ever hear of the time that Hermann Goring was arrested by the allies at the end of the war with 24,000 opioid tablets in his suitcase? Yeah, me neither.

“Eukodol [sic] is like a combination of junk and C [cocaine]. Trust the Germans to concoct some truly awful s—.”

—William S. Burroughs

It all ends with a lost war and Hitler committing suicide (obviously). Unfortunately, the doctor/enabler never received the accolades he was looking for and ended up a broken, sad man. And while the author doesn’t claim that Hitler’s drug use was an excuse for his behavior, he does provide insight into an aspect of WWII that most historians have ignored. I can also say that it’s not one of those DRY, boring history books (you know the ones). I loved every second of it and if you’re into WWII stuff, or just regular craziness, I think you’ll like it, too.

If you like this book, you might want to check out Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil by Ron Rosenbaum, which is a compilation of theories on why Hitler was the way he was. The guy doesn’t need any excuses, but interesting just the same.

 

 

If it’s boring, I’m moving on.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but people consistently ask me for book recommendations. I read a lot and I have a ton of books sitting around in piles throughout my house (I just, in fact, knocked a pile over). Books are like abandoned puppies to me–they need to be saved. I have tried to stick to the one book in, one book out rule, but I think it’s fair to say that I am failing at this dumb rule.

I love it when people ask me what they should read. Most people who know me know that I’m pretty picky when it comes to books (which might sound contrary to what I just said above, but whatever). Here are a few of my peccadilloes:

  1. Is it boring? In the first 3 pages? I have a low tolerance for books/movies/stories that don’t grab me right away. People might argue that I’m impatient and that some of the best books have a slow build or some other such nonsense. Well, I don’t have time for that. Next!
  2. It is no secret that I tend to gravitate away from most fiction (I know, I know). Also, anything with a zombie angle or a premise involving a hunky man is not going to cut it. Next!
  3. What I DO read is a lot of non-fiction. Particularly books that have anything to do with weird/strange/creepy people, tragic tales from history, memoirs of those that have faced adversity and straight up true crime books of the Ann Rule variety. You know, real pick-me-uppers!

Basically, I am intrigued by the human condition. Are people born with or without a moral compass or is it developed over time? Do people choose their own destinies or is everything due to luck? How do people cope with tragedies or hardship? How do we, as a society, care for one another? I can imagine that a lot of people read to ESCAPE from these thoughts (cause, frankly, the world sucks sometimes, right?), but I have noticed a greater appreciation for life and all of it’s nuances when I’m true to myself and pay attention to the dark stuff. As my favorite life coach, Andrew W.K. (yes, you read that right), said, “You don’t have to look on the bright side. You are the bright side.”

Every once in awhile, I’ll throw a book at you that I consider to be one of my favorites. Here, I present to you one of the best by one of my favorite authors. Read it, already!

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Warning: this book is a TOME. Like, seriously. However, I have good news for you. You don’t have to read it straight through from front to back, no sir. It’s separated into sections and you can jump around based on your interest (and it’s all interesting).

Andrew Solomon spent a decade gathering 10,000 pages of interviews that he conducted with parents of children born into unique circumstances such as autism, genetic conditions such as fragile X and children that grow up to commit crimes (see: Dylan Klebold’s parents). He built geniune relationships with these people in an attempt to understand how they cope (or, in some cases, very much do not cope) with having these exceptional children. It’s a beautiful book and if you want to find any hope for humanity, it’s in here.

Difference unites us. While each of these experiences can isolate those who are affected, together they compose an aggregate of millions whose struggles connect them profoundly. The exceptional is ubiquitous; to be entirely typical is the rare and lonely state.

Andrew Solomon

P.S. Another of my favorite books by him is The Noonday Demon.  It’s a National Book Award winner about mental illness and draws on his personal experience with depression along with the scientific and cultural dimensions to the disease. Snoozefest you say? NO WAY.

So, this is just the start of what I hope will be many introductions to books you may have never read, never heard about or heard about, but never read. If the book I just wrote about is too mundane for you, don’t worry. I’ve got plenty in my stash containing such topics as: cannibals, WW2 criminals, failed mountain climbing expeditions and lobotomies. The fun never ends!

 

 

What’s the brightside?

I’ve been sitting around thinking about what to write in this very first blog post. One of my finest traits is WAY overthinking things, thereby causing me to stall out and NEVER GET ANYWHERE. Since that approach is counterproductive to what I’m trying to do here, I’m just going to go for it. As you may have read on my About page, I have a tendency to enjoy things that aren’t, shall we say, fun? Or joyful? Or NORMAL, even? Do regular people get a kick out of crawling into a busted up tomb in a cemetery in New Orleans, just to see what’s going on? (By the way, there’s not much going on in there, but that’s a story for later.)

The intial purpose of this blog was to write about books that I enjoy, which tend to be of a particular variety. For instance,  right now I’m reading a nonfiction book about a woman who married some guy who had previously been convicted of murdering a woman. She married him anyway (whaaa?) and he proceeded to go ahead and commit another horrendous crime shortly after they married (shocking!!!). It seems to me like this would be a no-brainer. Why would she marry him in the first place? She must have been naive, insane or taken advantage of, right? This is the sort of conundrum that I like to sit and think about WAY too much. I find all sorts of conundrums like this in the news, while traveling, in history and, well, just because I’m nosy. NO doubt about it, being nosy is my thing.

Moving forward, this blog will be a mish-mash of things that I can’t stop myself from sharing. Are these things weird, depressing or unecessary to blabber on about? Maybe to some folks, but not me. I’m the kind of person that is more appreciative of the brightside of life with a little bit of dark for contrast (or in my case, A LOT of dark).

I can’t be the only one that feels this way, can I?