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A cautionary tale: Rock star psychologist gets it wrong

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.” Abraham Maslow

I have a book in my library by J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., called The Psychopathic Mind—Origins, Dynamics, and Treatment. I struggled through about half of it, and finally gave up. Meloy is a forensic psychologist, and the book appears to be for professionals in the field—he’s written 10 books and authored or co-authored 180 peer-reviewed papers. Meloy’s specialties include stalking, violence, threat assessment, mass murder, serial killing and sexual homicide.

When mass murders go on a rampage, the media often turn to Meloy for commentary. After the Fort Hood shootings in 2009, for example, ABC news quoted him:

Mass murderers tend to come in two types, according to academic articles authored by forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy. One type is predatory, premeditated and emotionless. The other acts out from anger, fear, or response to a perceived imminent threat or trigger.

Timothy Masters case

Back in 1999, Meloy testified in the case of a murder that took place in 1987 in Fort Collins, Colorado. A 37-year-old woman named Peggy Hettrick was killed, and her body sexually mutilated. Twelve years later, Timothy Lee Masters, who was 15 at the time of the murder and lived next to where the body was found, was charged.

There was no physical evidence connecting Masters to the crime—the case against him was purely circumstantial:

  • Masters was the first person to see the body lying in a field, but he did not report it. Masters said he thought it was a mannequin, and a prank.
  • Masters’ mother, who had red hair like the victim, had died, and the murder took place close to the four-year anniversary of her death.
  • Shortly after the murder, police searched Masters’ bedroom and found 2,200 pages of writings and drawings depicting violence and gore. Masters said he created them because he wanted to be a horror writer like Stephen King.

But J. Reid Meloy looked at some of those drawings, and testified in court that they were a “fantasy rehearsal” for the crime. Masters drew a picture on the day he saw the victim. It depicted one figure dragging another that appeared to be wounded or dead. The body being dragged was riddled with arrows.

Ignoring the arrows—there were no arrows in the actual murder—here’s how Meloy interpreted the picture, according to FortCollinsNow.com:

“This is not a drawing of the crime scene as seen by Tim Masters on the morning of Feb. 11 as he went to school,” Meloy wrote. “This is an accurate and vivid drawing of the homicide as it is occurring. It is unlikely that Tim Masters could have inferred such criminal behavior by just viewing the corpse, unless he was an experienced forensic investigator. It is much more likely, in my opinion, that he was drawing the crime to rekindle his memory of the sexual homicide he committed the day before.”

Based in a large degree on the testimony of J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., who said he fit the profile of a sexual predator, Timothy Masters was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Cop indicted for perjury

This story is in the news again because Lt. Jim Broderick of the Fort Collins police department, the lead investigator in the 1999 case against Timothy Masters, was just indicted on eight counts of perjury.

The indictment includes exactly what Broderick wrote in his application for an arrest warrant for Masters about his obsessive fantasies, the impulsive nature of the crime, the fact that the teenager was a loner. The indictment says that although Broderick wrote the statements in the arrest warrant application, he did not believe them to be true.

Masters had served nine years in prison, until 2008, when he was released. DNA evidence proved that he had nothing to do with the murder.

Later that year, Masters filed a civil suit against Broderick and the Larimer County prosecutors in the case—Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, both of whom had become judges. The suit charged that they withheld evidence from the defense team and other experts, including Dr. Reid Meloy.

Larimer County settled the suit for $4.1 million. The city of Fort Collins settled for $5.9 million. The two judges were reprimanded.

And now, Broderick may go to jail.

Forensic error

Why did Dr. J Reid Meloy get it so wrong in this case? For one thing, the police apparently did not give him evidence that might have cast doubt on Masters’ culpability. For another, Meloy never interviewed Timothy Masters in person. He based his conclusions on Masters’ violent short stories and crude drawings.

For more on the role that the famous psychologist played in this tragedy, read The Tim Masters Case: Chasing Reid Meloy on FortCollinsNow.com.

For more about the doubts other police officers had in the case, read Police split over conviction in Colorado slaying, on CNN.com.

Be careful

Why am I writing about this terrible miscarriage of justice? It is a warning to all of us to be careful. If someone like J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., the respected forensic expert, can be wrong, so can we.

Knowing that psychopaths exist, and being able to spot them, is important. It can save our lives. But we have to be careful in deciding who is a psychopath, and who is not. I clearly remember receiving e-mail from a woman, and a separate e-mail from the man she thought might be a psychopath. After reading the e-mails, I could not tell who was the abuser, and who was the victim.

Personally, I think Meloy’s mistake was that he did not meet Masters. Perhaps if he had, he would have felt that something was amiss—Masters never deviated from his claim that he was innocent, and never deviated from his story.

Our intuition is probably our most accurate tool in evaluating the possibility danger. If we listen to it, without clouding it with preconceptions, it will steer us in the right direction.

But in order for our intuition to work, we need the right input. Whether we’re reading police reports, news stories or comments in the Lovefraud Blog, the information our intuition needs may very well be missing.


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48 Comments on "A cautionary tale: Rock star psychologist gets it wrong"

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Dear Romantic fool,

Oh, yes, in that case I agree with you as well. The thing is in our JUSTICE SYSTEM the old “confess to murder 2 or we will convict you of murder 1 and you go to the gas chamber” The person innocent person confesses because he is scared, losing all right to appeal. There is just so much IN-justice in the justice system. The real crooks know how to work the system and the non-professional guy just takes the plea agreement, OR he stands his ground and gets the death penalty where the real 1st degree murderer goes up for 2nd or manslaughter and gets out in 5 years!

But in some cases, where the guy TRULY confesses, &/or there is HARD EVIDENCE, not just an “eye witness,” which is wrong in 60% of the cases, and where the person is 100% guilty.

But that is a rare instance of a guilty person especially a psychopath who falls into that catagory.

I DO wish however that those people with multiple viiolent crimes of any kind were KEPT IN PRISON forever. That would be much less likely to convict an innocent person and there would always be a way out if a person were later proven innocent.

jeannie812, Skylar

the chamelion point is so important…they pathologically blend in…

Skylar says:

“When he is with a misogynist he hate women but when he is with a racist he hates another race. When he is with a gay person he’s gay . But when he is with a gay hater he despises gays. I think the chameleon quality is what defines a sociopath. That is why doctor scott peck called them ” the people of the lie”. It is this quality which makes them the most dangerous. All of the others are just malicious”.

Something that I saw far too late…I remember it dawning on me as I watched him in social situations..the blood drains from me…feet faint….He was/is so adept at becoming whatever you want…but it’s not him…there was/is no him just a using machine..I felt truly understood by the love of my life…wrong I was played by a player…the realising of this is traumatic and beyond words

Jeannie812
You disagreed with the cops assessment of your son…every right to…you know your son better than they do…but they come along all guns blazing and it’s hard to hold your ground. Well done…I know I have let my own son down within my family of origin…I don’t stand up for him enough. I am learning…they need to see him a certain way…it’s inaccurate and destructive and I’m going to confront it and hold my ground in future. Reading your post reminds me, never to go against my intuition again. Time to stand up and trust what I feel.

@Frank Lee Speaking-

Wow,I really can relate to your comments,and have to agree about the odd,psychic energy that you have witnessed.(I have also witnessed this around my spath).
It is weird.
My spath would even claim to have these “special psychic powers”, but in my case,he has also turned out to be a borderline personality,and was talking to demons at night.(which was my cue to exit stage left ASAP,instead of sleeping next to him with one eye open all night..)

And I also agree with your observation,that people may be too quick after such a terrible experience to jump on the band wagon,and want to start labelling every a**hole they come across,a spath..
One of my thoughts the other night after going through some of the comments and stories,was,”Wow,maybe spath is just another name for what I’ve always termed ‘an a**hole”..

THAT,they are.
But no,not every a**hole is a spath.
The characteristics are similar,until you get to the part about
the spaths having no empathy,or never showing any remorse,etc.
Even a**holes will sometimes feel remorseful,I am guessing..

Truelove

I recently ordered the “Psychopathic Mind,” by J. Reid Meloy, that is the book that Donna “tried to read” and I am in total agreement with her, I also TRIED to read this book, and if someone can make any sense out of this book at all, other than the odd sentence here or there, then they have a better grasp of what Meloy is trying to say, and I say TRYING TO SAY here because I don’t think he is SAYING anything. This book appears to be another example of WORD SALAD that is “dressed up” to look like “scientific-speak” by someone who thinks themselves so far above us mere mortals that they have difficulty communicating with us.

I realize there are plenty of people smarter than I am and better educated than I am, but I have a familiarity with this subject that is “above average” at least for the public….if he is going to “educate” anyone about psychopathy then he needs to speak in a language that conveys meaning to the reader. I did not find meaning in this book or enlightenment or education about the subject. Just confusion.

I agree with you Donna.

Oxy, A famous writer,{can t remember who it was now,} said, of another writer,
“He seemed more profound, ONLY because he wrote LESS WELL.”
says it all really!!
Love, GemXX

Dear Gem, I think you have fenced it in! That sounds like a great description of Meloy’s writing. It may be that more learned people than I can decipher his messages, but I sure can’t see a lot of sense in it.

Are you getting warm down there yet? Oh, how I wish I could come spend the winter in a WARM OZ but at least I am not arse deep in snow (yet anyway) like ErinB! LOL If I was wealthy I would follow the good weather around the world and always live in temperate climates, not too hot, not too cool! Oh, how I wish I had been born rich instead of so good looking! LOL ROTFLMAO !!!!

Oxy, you ARE RICH!
Rich in gifts, personality, warmth, friends on LF, pluck, guts,brains,talent,stickability,common sense.humour.
We on LF couldnt manage without you, you are a SHINING LIGHT!
Yes, we are in Spring, its getting nice and warm, lots of rain and then lovely sunny days. All my zuccini plants are flowering, glorious huge, orange flowers!{Alll in giant pots.}. I also have columbines, galdioli,begonias,herbsa re doing great,bees everywhere. I feed my Lorikeets every day, we have up to six or more at a time feeding. They LOVE chopped apple, cucumber, and lettuce.
Figsa pearing,{but we havent discovered a way yet to stop the bugs getting in them!}
lots of Love, Gem.XX

Dear Gem, you are right, I am wealthy beyond belief in the blessings I have every day! Would be nice to have some money too, though! LOL Oh, well…LOL

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