By Stacey Jaccodie
As a child, I didn’t recognize the signs but they were all there. Sadly, we dubbed my mother’s ex-husband’s antics: Stupid Sperry tricks. My mother laughed off and even poked at the lion at times, never understanding the danger that lurked beneath the mask.
My mother married a sociopath. She didn’t know it. No one knew it. It took me years into my adulthood to finally unravel his background and investigate his psyche to learn it. I am not a doctor — I am the daughter of a victim of a sociopath who knows far more today than I’d ever wished for.
In 1969, Joyce Jaccodie was a 33-year-old widow with three young daughters to raise. She later met and married a decorated war hero, Naval Lt. John R. Sperry, recipient of the Silver Star and Bronze Medal for his heroics as a fighter pilot during World War II and Korea. Almost 30 years later, I unraveled his past and learned he was an imposter. What he was was a two-bit conman with a shady and criminal past, impersonating a Naval Officer and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in military benefits over the years. He was a textbook example of a sociopath. His real name was John Gorbich; he served in the navy for less than three years as an electrician first mate. He spent the rest of his time in a hospital for mental problems, where I believe is how he got his hands on the paperwork to turn himself into John Sperry.
He moved into our lives and our world with ease, seemingly showing up with no background, family or friends of past. He was a mystery man introduced to my mother by a friend of a friend who met him at a racetrack and thought he was some kind of high roller. He wined her, dined her, took her on lavish vacations and showed her a world that she’d only heard about but never lived. He moved slowly with me, the daughter of a father who died way too young and was grieving. He showered me with gifts and my young broken heart slowly began to mend under his attention. This stranger was quickly accepted into our family and into our home with little questioning. It was to me blissful for a moment. But only for a moment.
In 1974 there were no stalking laws or domestic violence laws to protect my mother. Frankly, even if there were, no one believed her. John Sperry was well liked and revered in his new community. He was a chameleon, easily adapting to any situation and fitting in. He was quite charismatic and endearing. He was your friend, your neighbor, your confidante, your lover. Few believed my mother’s complaints about this honest upstanding man. I actually watched as the police chief of our small town physically push Sperry back into my mother’s house, telling her he’s a good man and her husband. He belongs at home. “Work it out and stop bothering us.” He was an accomplished pathological liar, spinning gold out of horse manure. As I look back today, I can’t believe we didn’t see it clearly.
But a sociopath can’t keep up the charade forever. Small cracks began to appear. Stories he told didn’t add up. Strange and scary men would come to the house looking for him at odd hours. A late-night phone call claiming his son was run over by a garbage truck; he had to catch a flight out in the middle of the night. Checks were missing from my mother’s checkbook, found after her account was overdrawn. Repossessed cars. Jewelry and clothing that had to be returned due to bad checks written for their purchase. Last-minute family vacations that had us scrambling to get packed and out with urgency. All came with a plausible excuse. Everything, when he explained it, was believable.
Stealing from everyone
He was a conman extraordinaire who would steal from anyone: employers, friends, strangers, my mother, or her children’s piggybanks. He borrowed or conned money from the wrong people, people who would come to our house looking to exact revenge or get payment, or both. He was able to con our mailman into giving him the mail before it was delivered, keeping my mother in the dark about bills not being paid or money borrowed from finance companies. The mailman later testified that Sperry told him my mother was abusive, nosey, and reckless with her spending, and he needed to know what she was spending his money on before she hid the bill.
He was flashy and a big spender and pretender. He was self-important and self-adored, believing his own grandiose importance. He was a wannabe mobster with imaginary ties to the mob and important “players.” Everyone was drawn to this powerful, slightly dangerous, persona he built. The stories he told were bold, and when one was printed in the local newspaper, the town hailed him a quiet hero. No one knew they had a retired fighter pilot living in their midst. They had no idea he was the one who flew over Hiroshima and dropped pamphlets warning of the nuclear bomb. He saved thousands of lives and was rewarded with the Silver Star and Bronze Metal for his heroics. He suffered a horrible injury, which resulted in a metal plate being surgically planted in his head. For that he received a thousand dollars a month from the government for his injury. He was a man’s man and now the entire community knew the man my mother married better than she did. Imagine her surprise when she read that article and saw they were talking about her husband. She glowed. He’s so humble.
He wooed women, and even a few friends of my mother’s, into bed. He played his game anywhere anyone believed him, and sadly most did.
My mother was not a stupid woman by any means. She was smarter and more intuitive than most. But she got caught up in his web of deceit and married him after a whirlwind romance. It took her less than eight months to realize her Prince Charming was a fraud. It took her years to get him out of her life, but not before he left his mark on her.
He was arrested for writing bad checks and went to jail for a small period of time. She forgave him and accepted him back once released. It was all some horrible mistake. A second arrest for fraud and that was the end. She filed for divorce. He was then shot in his side for what he called a mugging. She took him back into her home and nursed him back to health. They were going to try again to make their marriage work. I don’t know what he ever said to her or how he convinced her he was a changed man, but he did and she accepted it.
Then, he was shot again. This time his mugging story didn’t ring true. He owed money to the wrong people. This was his second warning. She wanted him out of her life, but he couldn’t handle that. Yes, he had many women. Yes, he used them and left them. But no woman has ever left him until Joyce. That was unacceptable.
Sperry was a man who had no internal mechanism to feel emotion. Everyone was there for him to use for his own personal gain. He had no empathy or sense of guilt or remorse. He couldn’t take responsibility for anything he got caught up in — it was always someone else’s fault. He had a right to what he wanted, no matter how he obtained it. He had the right to live the good life off of anyone he could steal from. If you were stupid enough to trust him, then you deserved to lose it all. Stop crying about it. Screw you.
He was a genius with an IQ that was off the charts. I always thought there was a fine line between genius and insanity, and Sperry taught me there was. I’m not saying he was insane, no, he wasn’t. He was crafty and instinctually knew how to play on another’s weaknesses. He was a brilliant manipulator, which made him an exceptional conman. My mother was just one more step to getting what he wanted.
She was a young, beautiful widow with a small monthly government stipend for her children. She received a small life insurance policy benefit to help boost her meager savings account, and was a homeowner in a nice, neat neighborhood where families lived without fear in homes they never locked. My mother was the key to respectability Sperry craved and needed: A means to an end for him, nothing else.
He tried valiantly to get my mother to put his name on the deed of her house. He promised he would put her name on the deed to the sweet log cabin that he owned in Jay, New York, that sat on a riverbank. We used to fly there with him as our pilot and stay in his cabin and had wonderful family vacations. My mother sewed pretty curtains for the cabin and comforters for the beds. Together they had a wood sign made that read Shangri-La, which he hammered to the post at the front door. She considered putting him on the deed until learned he didn’t own the cabin; he leased it from an agent. Nor did he have a pilot’s license. No wonder the cabin things we left were always gone when we’d visit again. He said a burglary and not to worry, it happens. She now knew differently.
Before they separated, he took her car shopping and bought her the car she wanted with a bad check; her new car was repossessed right out of her driveway. My mother was utterly horrified and mortified at the same time, but he had no embarrassment over this. Obviously the bank made a mistake or the car dealer did, not him.
Later, after they separated, she bought her own car with her own money and knew it would never be taken from her again. Never taken, no. Damaged? Yes. It took a little while to learn that Sperry had paid someone to pour gallons of red paint all over her brand new white car sitting in her driveway. He came running to her rescue, swearing he’d find the punk who did this and protect her. He surrounded the driveway with electric wiring so anyone who passed through it would get the shock of their lives. But when that didn’t work to get him back into her house and into her life; the car was damaged again and again with gallons of red and black paint. Her insurance company dropped her, saying it was an inside job.
When he lost control over her, that’s when our world stumbled then crashed. My mother had a job, a home, and a car she could buy on her own. She was strong and independent and didn’t need him or want him. She stayed firm in her resolve. That’s when the stalking began. But we didn’t recognize it at that time as stalking; we thought of it as Stupid Sperry Tricks and would have a good laugh about it later.
We would watch as he parked down the street dragging a 10-foot ladder out of his car. He would skulk up the street hiding in shadows with ladder in hand, and then throw it over the fence to our backyard. We’d hear the thump as the ladder hit the side of the house under the kitchen window. The lights in the kitchen were off but he could see through to the dining room. I would sit on a chair hidden by a wall while my mother would laugh and pretend to sweet-talk someone in the room. He would go so ballistic and he’d fall off the ladder, while we giggled.
He did so many stupid, ridiculous things like that, my mother never took him seriously. She talked to him nicely, trying to tell him it was over, but she never got very far. He’d be back at the house pounding on the door. She’d call the police and they’d force him back into the house. It was an ugly revolving occurrence.
He was insanely jealous of her and was not going to be forced out of the lifestyle he clearly deserved. He was the man about town with a lovely woman on his arm living in a picture perfect neighborhood with all the trappings of built-in respectability. He forgot that, before she threw him out, he had already stolen my father’s life insurance money from her, written so many bad checks on her bank account the bank didn’t want to do business with her anymore, put her in debt for loans he had taken out in her name and maxed out her credit cards fraudulently. He had nothing left to control but her, and he wasn’t giving that up.
We were the only house on our street that had floodlights on every corner. We lit up like Lunar Park at sundown. All the trees and shrubbery that matured over the years we lived in our home were cut down. There would be no more trees to hide behind or shrubs to jump out of when she walked to the door. She went to work; she came home. She didn’t leave the house after that.
He would call fifty to one hundred times a day, harassing her, begging her for a second chance, then threatening her. He told her how I (her youngest daughter of 14 at the time) looked so vunerable standing at the corner in the morning waiting for my school bus. He questioned whom she was with at lunch. He told her he didn’t like what she wore to work that day, or days past. She knew he was following her and was becoming fearful of him. The police told her they couldn’t do anything to stop him because he didn’t do anything to harm her. Trying to run her off the road to force her to stop and talk to him, breaking into the house waiting in the dark to ambush her, slashing her tires, was still not enough for the police to get involved.
During a rare weekend alone at home with my older sister, my mother visiting her sister up north, we heard odd and unusual noises in our backyard. It was extremely late in the evening when we heard a crashing sound in the yard. Kim, my sister, called the police as I ran to investigate. We had a German shepherd at the time, a gift from Sperry, who was barking and going nuts to get in the yard. So I opened the door and let him out.
The police found Sperry huddled under a blanket in the far end of the yard cornered by the dog. With him he had a meat cleaver, a hand drill, and a hacksaw. He had been trying to quietly cut through the deadbolt locks on the house when he fell into the metal trashcan. They arrested him for the first time.
Sperry had hated my mother’s daughters. She was a mother first and her girls came first. He resented the time and attention she gave us, and believed if he could get rid of her girls, she would then have nothing else to focus on but him. She would need him in her time of grief, and he was going to forgive her of all her sins, and be there to take care of her.
The charges against him were strong: attempted breaking and entering; attempted assault; attempt to do bodily harm, etc. and for the first time, Sperry might actually do hard time in prison. Not some dink county jail, but prison, and he was terrified of that.
Five days before his trial, he broke into the house. My mother was home from work that day because I was home from school, sick. He didn’t know I was there and when I heard him pound up the stairs I left my bed and crawled to the top of the staircase where I wouldn’t be seen, but I could watch and hear.
He screamed at her to drop the charges. He grabbed her arm as she lunged for the phone and twisted it so she’d drop it. He pulled her close to his face with and spoke with a voice that was so menacing I shook with terror. He told her if she didn’t drop the charges she’d never see court. He would have her disfigured so no other man would ever look at her again. He would be the only man to want her then. He would take care of her and she would be grateful to him. Then as if nothing happened, he casually walked out the door.
It has been 39 years since he spoke those words, but I still see him and still hear his voice. Gone was the mask of the smooth sophisticate, to be replaced by the rancid face of a sociopath. His true face, the face of a twisted monster, and I was terrified.
John Sperry hired someone to throw acid in my mother’s face. He mixed the acid with some sort of petroleum so when it hit her it would stick. The result was my mother, at the age of 39, was hideously disfigured. She lost an eye, her features ravaged, her neck, chest, arms and hands burned to the bone in some places. What she inhaled destroyed her lung capacity and would slowly cause deterioration in her ability to breathe, until it finally took her life years later.
John Sperry hid in a veteran’s hospital for a period of time because he was a coward, knowing the police couldn’t touch him while he was there. It took the middleman who Sperry hired to find someone who would actually do the atrocious deed to turn on him.
Sperry plea-bargained and was sentenced to seven years in prison, but only served three and a half. For all the years since he was released, I kept a close guarded watchful eye on him. He did not change his ways once out of prison. He was still conning and scamming and stealing. He hadn’t learned any new tricks that I was aware of. The old ones of stopping the mail delivery to its rightful owners, stealing checks, forging checks and embezzling, worked just fine for him in the past and they were working for him once out of prison. What I learned, and what I was able to do about it, is for another day and another story.
He died several years ago, and I can only hope he suffered long and hard trying to take his last breath.
What we missed
The signs were all there, but we missed what was staring us in the face. We missed them because we’d never been confronted with anyone like this. We missed them because we didn’t have the knowledge or education about what we were dealing with. We missed them because we ignored our own inner intuition, and I’m going to say something that I don’t think my mother would appreciate, but here goes: I think she missed them because acknowledging that he was a sociopath would mean there must have been something wrong with her for allowing him into our lives.
For many years, my mother was embarrassed about what had happened to her. If someone were bold enough asked her about her scars, she told a story of how she was pouring gas into a lawn mower with a cigarette in her mouth and it exploded. That explanation used to upset me, but I was too young to understand why.
Today, I understand perfectly. Joyce felt she was at fault by not seeing Sperry for what he really was. She was embarrassed to admit, and felt a great amount of stupidity, for getting sucked into his web. She was remorseful, second guessing, armchair quarterbacking as the years went by for not recognizing he was a sick, warped individual. Somehow, she had reasoned, another woman would have been smarter than her, would have seen through the lies and deceit; why didn’t she? It must be her fault. Instead, she’d rather people believe that she was 100 percent responsible for the “accident,” and close the subject. She took responsibility for his crimes for years before I’d finally had enough and forced her to come to terms with what really happened.
It took years for her to come out of hiding after this tragedy, but she did. She got remarried and lived many years as a whole person, no longer a victim but a survivor.
By sharing this with you, I hope someone else can be spared. I hope someone else who is living with someone like John Sperry recognizes the danger and gets the hell out.
For news accounts, read “The long criminal history of John R. Sperry, formerly John R. Gorbich.”