Last year People Magazine put out a special publication called True Crime Stories—Cases that shocked America. It is a 144-page collection of headline-grabbing murders, rapes and thefts. It also suggests that when it comes to sociopaths, People Magazine just doesn’t get it.
The book includes 96 cases, plus celebrity mug shots. The word “sociopaths” was used once, in the introduction to the chapter called Murder for Murder’s Sake. Here is what it says:
“There’s one group most of us don’t understand: those whose motive for killing is killing itself. They don’t hate their victims; often they don’t even know their victims. When caught, they rarely plead, whine or cry. Frequently they’re chillingly matter-of-fact, even boastful ”¦ Nowadays we call them sociopaths, though some might prefer a shorter, simpler, older word: evil.”
Six cases were included in the chapter on sociopaths:
Ted Bundy was suspected of murdering 20, and perhaps as many as 40, young women in the 1970s. Many people found him handsome, charming and likeable, and believed he was innocent. Bundy was convicted of two murders and executed.
Jeffrey Dahmer lured young men to his apartment, drugged and strangled them, and then dismembered their bodies. He froze body parts to eat later—a human head was found in his refrigerator. Dahmer was convicted of 15 murders.
Paul Bernardo raped, murdered and tortured two young teenagers, while his wife, Karla Homolka, videotaped him. Homolka also helped Bernardo drug and rape her 15-year-old sister, who choked to death on her own vomit.
Richard Allen Davis, a career criminal, abducted 12-year-old Polly Klaas from her bedroom and strangled her. After he was found guilty in court, he turned towards the child’s father and thrust both middle fingers into the air.
Marc Dutroux of Belgium kidnapped and raped six young girls. He built a prison chamber for two eight-year-olds in his basement. They eventually died. Dutroux was found guilty of the rapes and murders.
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, two 10-year-old British schoolboys, abducted a two-year-old from a mall and killed him. The child had been beaten with a metal bar and left on railroad tracks, where he was cut in half by a train.
These people would probably be diagnosed as sociopaths, if they haven’t been already. But they certainly aren’t the only sociopaths in People Magazine’s True Crime Stories.
More who look like sociopaths
The key traits of the sociopath (also called psychopath) are a lack of conscience, lack of empathy and lack of remorse. The sociopath is typically charming, egocentric, deceitful and manipulative.
The People Magazine publication also included the following cases, but none of perpetrators were described as sociopaths:
Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child. Peterson lied continuously, and at a candlelight vigil for his missing wife, was seen grinning and chatting. He continued an affair with Amber Frey while others searched for his wife. During his trial, the jury was struck by Peterson’s total lack of emotion.
Mark Hacking concocted an elaborate story that he was going to college, graduated, and was accepted into medical school. It was all a lie, and when his wife, Lori, found out, he killed her in bed. Hacking called Lori’s coworkers to report she was missing, and as they raced to look for her, he went to buy a new mattress.
Robert Chambers, a tall, good-looking prep school graduate, left a New York City bar in 1986 with Jennifer Levin—then raped and killed her. When a bicyclist found her body in Central Park, Chambers was sitting across the street with scratches on his face, chest, abdomen and hands. Levin had fought for her life, but Chambers blamed her for molesting him.
Tom Toolan, a former Wall Street executive, had a whirlwind romance with Beth Lochtefeld, who had sold her successful New York City business. He also pitched her on his plans for a start-up business. When Lochtefeld broke off the relationship—she called him a “psycho”—Toolan followed her to Nantucket and stabbed her to death.
Lyle and Eric Menendez murdered their parents in 1989. As beneficiaries of the $14 million estate, Lyle bought a Porsche, a Rolex and designer clothes. Eric decided to become a pro tennis player and hired a full-time coach. The boys boasted that they had committed the perfect crime, then in court claimed their parents were abusive. They were convicted.
O.J. Simpson was charged in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. An undated letter by Nicole documents O.J.’s cheating and abuse. Simpson was acquitted in the criminal murder trial, but found guilty in a civil trial. Ordered to pay $33.5 million, Simpson has shielded his assets and has barely paid a penny.
Ira Einhorn, a groovy guru of the ’70s who got others to support him, was accused of murdering a former girlfriend, Holly Maddux. Einhorn took Maddux to parties and then left with other women. When she broke off the relationship he went ballistic. Einhorn vanished before his trial in 1981, and was convicted in absentia. He was located in France in 1997, retried and convicted.
Of these cases, Peterson was described as a psychopath by an FBI profiler. I don’t know if the others were professionally diagnosed. But in my opinion, these vicious perpetrators sure look like sociopaths.
Most sociopaths don’t kill
Still, most sociopaths are not killers, let alone sadistic serial killers. Most sociopaths lie, commit fraud, beat their wives and girlfriends, abuse drugs and alcohol, engage in promiscuous sex or simply manipulate people—all without committing murder.
I’ve spoken with several victims who have said they believed sociopaths were people like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. They didn’t understand that their controlling partners who abused and manipulated them fit the mold—until their mental, emotional and financial destruction was almost complete.
People Magazine is contributing to the confusion. If publications like People really understood the definition of a sociopath and applied it where appropriate, maybe the public would learn to recognize these predators before it was too late.