By | January 14, 2011 29 Comments

The serial killer and the scam telemarketer? Cousins? Or brothers of a different species?

Let’s compare sociopathic types and ask ourselves what, if anything, they share in common? How deeply related, deeply connected, is their sociopathy? Are they close cousins, blood brothers or, perhaps, brothers altogether of a different species?

Let’s compare the classic, mythical sociopath, the serial killer—whose violent predations have been widely documented, if not sensationalized, in the media—with the arguably less glamorous, more insidious sociopathic type, the scamming telemarketing sociopath who fleeces senior citizens of their assets?

What do these personalities have in common and where, perhaps, do we find divergences between them?

Let’s begin with what we might argue these sociopathic types share in common, starting with the broader suggestion that both these types of sociopaths will have deeply exploitive predilections.

I think we can add, directly, that they’ll share a grossly defective capacity to feel empathy and, even more importantly, remorse.

More than that, they will likely share an intellectual capacity to understand that their behaviors transgress the basic conventions of respect for others’ dignity and safety. And they will also share, importantly, a striking, pathological disregard of, and indifference towards, the fact of their bald transgressions of these basic standards of conduct.

I’d also suggest that both the sociopathic killer, and the sociopathic telemarketing scammer, share a mentality characterized by their feeling absolutely entitled to the gratification they seek, however driven their need is for a specific form of gratification.

Accordingly, both these types of sociopaths will rationalize as acceptable, if not  necessary, the infliction of damage on others (“death,” in the case of the serial killer), for their victims possess something these sociopaths want, and feel they must have.

And, most critically, they will share the twisted notion that what their victims have, that they (the sociopaths) want, belongs to them.

Having identified some of the commonalities between these personalities, let’s see where, if at all, we might identify possible divergences between them, and what these divergences could mean?

Is is reasonable to suggest, for example, that most sociopathic telemarketing scammers would simply be incapable of engaging in a serial killing process?

Let us assume this proposition is true—that no matter how twistedly comfortable the sociopath is who can callously scam elderly people out of their retirement assets, he is likely incapable of engaging in a process of assaulting and strangling, say, prostitutes in a string of seedy Atlantic City motels?

If true, what does this mean? If the latter sociopathic type arguably finds the proposition of murdering prostitutes as unappealing as the non-sociopath, then how closely, if at all, is he related to the serial killing sociopath who engages in these murderous behaviors?

To be clear: We have the scamming sociopath who might say, and mean sincerely, “Not in a million years could I ever do what that serial killing freak psychopath does? I can’t even relate to it!”

He might say this, and mean it, with as much confidence as the nonsociopath would say and mean it.

Therefore, does this make him a closer cousin to the nonsociopath, or to the serial killing sociopath? To whom is he more closely related, by virtue of his plausibly sincere repudiation of the serial killing sociopath’s behaviors?

I don’t see this as an easy question to answer. On one hand, I think an argument could made that this contrasting scenario, which may have validity, makes the scamming sociopath closer cousin to the nonsociopath than the serial killing sociopath.

On the surface, the serial killing sociopath seems to be expressing his “sociopathy” at such extreme, grotesque, violent levels that even lower-level sociopaths might struggle almost as genuinely as the nonsociopath to grasp, to relate to, that particular expression of this disordered mind?

But then I say, Hold on. Not so fast. Let’s not make too fast a case for too much divergence here? The commonalities, after all, remain; and they are compelling commonalities.

I have written elsewhere that some sociopaths may simply not be comfortable with blood”¦or perpetrating violence directly, in a gruesome fashion.

But does this necessarily make them less sociopathic?

Any more than a butcher, who spends his time carving-up hides of beef all day, is any more sociopathic than the individual who would find that occupation horrifying?

For some sociopaths their declining to perpetrate direct violence may reflect nothing more than their idiosyncratic disinclinations and revulsions, which in and of themselves are unrelated to sociopathy.

When we refer to the sociopath, therefore, we come back, ultimately, as always, to a mentality—a mentality from which certain attitudes and behaviors can be generally anticipated, but not always specifically predicted?

What can we predictably expect from these mentalities in general? For one, some very diverse behavioral expressions of their disorder, ranging from the serial killing machine to the telemarketing scammer, neither of whom would necessarily derive much gratification were they to substitute each others’ exploitive behaviors.

In between, we can expect a general range of attitudes and behaviors reflecting a shocking disregard of others’ space, boundaries and dignity, with the equally shocking missing experience of remorse for the impact these transgressive behaviors have on their victims.

This is why, ultimately, I conclude, for now, by suggesting that the serial killer and telemarketing scammer, while divergent animals in certain respects are, in fact, more closely related than the behavioral manifestations of their sociopathy might indicate?

Whether they are brothers, first or second cousins”¦this might be debatable. But they are blood relatives, to be sure.

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2011 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake and not to imply that females aren’t capable of the attitudes and behaviors discussed.)

Comment on this article

Please Login to comment
Notify of
Ox Drover

Dear Steve,

This article is directed to a question that I think most of us have, “where do we draw the line between psychopathy and non-psychopathy?”…is it attitude or behavior?

I personally know a couple of psychopaths who are of the Bernie Madoff/scammer types and I also know a couple that are at least multiple murderers, if not “serial killers” (I’m not sure where “serial killer” and “killing more than once” is divided.) I also know a couple of people that are quite successful professionally and yet I believe have the “mental make up” of a psychopath in the way they treat others in their relationships as friends, family, and co-workers.

If we look at the animal world, for example the equines (horse-type animals) asses and horses are close cousins, physically resemble each other, and can even interbreed, but because of a slightly differing number of chromosomes, will produce sterile offspring. Yet, there are some markedly different behaviors and instincts in asses and horses. Zebras, who are also close relatives to the asses and horses, and can interbreed with them with fertile offspring, are of a still different mentality all together and are difficult to domesticate, if at all. Zebras can be more dangerous in “captivity” than either horses or asses which have been selectively bred for thousands of years for docility as well as other traits beneficial to man.

If we look at psychopathy as an evolutionary benefit in the survival of the species, I can see several benefits to the psychopath over the empathic individual. In times of shortages of necessary goods such as food, shelter, etc., the psychopath would have no moral problems in taking away food, goods or shelter from those less aggressive or violent, where the empathy might share his food to his own detriment.

The psychopaths seem to be very prolific in producing larger numbers of offspring which they frequently leave for others to care for, much like the cow bird and some other types of birds. Of course, not all of the offspring of a psychopath will be psychopathic, but possibly the increased number of children that they leave (especially, it seems, the males) would at least keep their genetic material likely to survive.

While in western and European culture it is only recently in the last couple of generations that there has been a generally adequate amount of food available to all people. For the remainder of history (and for the majority of history and pre-history) there was a definite shortage of food and goods, I can definitely see how the psychopath would have had an advantage in survival over the non-psychopath.

You ask if the “scammer psychopath” was/is capable of the violence of the “serial-killer psychopath?” I think yes they are, but just as I raise and then kill and butcher my own meat, the environment in which I was raised taught me to 1) eat meat as part of my normal diet 2) raise animals for this purpose of providing meat 3) how to kill and process that animal into meat for my table. Other people who were taught differently, even if they are also meat eaters, would not have this knowledge or the conditioning to not be repulsed by the sight of “blood and guts.”

The “entitlement” that the psychopath seems to feel, for possessions, control, or enjoyment of causing pain, seems to me to be the motivating factor in much of what they do. My psychopathic son feels entitled to whatever I have, or whatever someone else has, and feels entitled to seek revenge on anyone who “rats him out” or stands in his way.

This was not something that he was taught, as he never saw me or any of our family, seek revenge against someone we thought had “done us wrong”–we didn’t burn people’s houses or shoot them for cheating us in a business deal, we went to court, or we griped about it and didn’t do business with them again.

Would Bernie Madoff be capable of killing someone he thought stood in his way? Frankly I think yes, he would be under the right circumstances. My Psychopathic son got involved with some “stock broker” scammers he met in prison and I have letters from their mother to him talking about a stock scam that she was seeking funding for and my son was trying to get me to invest in this scam. LOL

Actually, I think the stock-scammers were running a scam on my P son LOL Psychopaths frequently run scams on each other as well as violence one toward another.

Some interesting questions, Steve. Thanks for the article, I’m not sure that the definitive answer to our questions about psychpaths will be answered in our lifetimes, but maybe .


An example that comes to my mind is Mark Hacking. Remember, he killed his wife, Lori, surprising everyone in his family, especially his mother in law. When the news story was unfolding I just “knew” from day one that he was guilty. I look back now and and don’t know why I “knew” but within a week as the story unfolded he did a very sloppy job of covering up the crime including going to a mattress store and buying a new mattress. He was taken to a Psych Ward for observation when he was found outside at night naked except for his shoes.

He worked in a Psychiatric Hospital. One of the first things I remember from Psych 101 is when a person is suffering a Psychotic Breakdown they may be found wandering around in the cold in their nightgowns. I told my husband that “he must have read the same textbook I had read.” He apparently was trying to establish an insanity aliby.

He had reported his wife missing after she had failed to return from her morning run. The reason he killed her was they were moving to another state in which he was going to start medical school. She apparently found out that he was not accepted to that medical school. A quick investigation turned up the facts that not only was he was not accepted to medical school, but had not even he finished the college that he was in. I do not remember if he was actually attending classes or not.

After a search at the city dump, his wife’s body was found wrapped in a mattress. She had been shot point blank in the head.

Up until that time he had never killed anybody.


kim frederick

Yeah, tts, I remember that…his whole motive was that he didn’t want his true nature to come to light…his fake persona was that important to him…he was entitled to it, and she could be dispenced of.



What you said is so true. I just looked the story up to see if I had the facts straight. It said that they had taken her married name off of her grave stone as her mother quoted “Apparently Mark didn’t want her anymore.”



True-to-Self and kim frederick,

When I was still with my husband, I had come to the conclusion that he would rather lie than tell the truth, being puzzled by such behavior -why any grown person would lie so much, the lie seemingly being more important than the truth. It is weird. My husband even admitted to me (and a therapist) that he tells me what I want to hear, the truth actually being what I want to hear. For Mark Hacking, the lie (the image that he presented) was what needed to be protected, I guess at all costs. He’d rather see his wife dead than have the truth be known.

lesson learned


I think that’s probably one of the most odd of all behaviors. They lie even while telling the truth would be better. This is astounding for anyone to understand who is NOT sociopathic. When exPOS would lie, there was no way to tell unless I had proof. He was just that good. One must lie ALOT to be so good at it. But when I did find out a lie, he would lie more, then when confronted would blame and project. It is this part of the sociopath that I can’t understand. I do not understand it. I wonder as they lie to you in your face, what is going on with their brain chemistry. It’s pretty amazing.


lesson learned,

Lying is a juvenile way of operating, not expecting a mature adult to function this way. It’s a curious thing to me. I have discovered that a co-worker has a tendency to lie (making up medical stories about herself), half-believing what she tells me (when she’s talking about herself). It really is one of the oddest of the behaviors associated with this disorder – you’re so right, lesson learned.


Great article Steve,
Here’s a twist to consider:
You asked, “Is is reasonable to suggest, for example, that most sociopathic telemarketing scammers would simply be incapable of engaging in a serial killing process?”
What about, “is the serial killer incapable of engaging in the telemarketing scamming process?”
Perhaps some serial killers finds stealing from the elderly repugnant.
Here is why I thought of that. When I was 15 I was hitchhiking and got a ride from Gary Ridgeway the Green River killer. He asked me “how much?” and I gave him a disgusted look and said, “see this thumb? It means I need a ride. That’s all it means!” He apologized sheepishly and dropped me off where I had requested. Years later, I recognized him on TV after he was caught. And I wondered why he didn’t kill me, but later I learned that he felt ENTITLED to kill prostitutes. He HATED them so much. When he realized that I wasn’t a prostitute, he didn’t feel entitled to kill me. I was watching “who the bleep did I marry?” on YouTube yesterday and Ridgeway’s wife was interviewed. Apparently the time they were married was the happiest in her life. So it appears that this is the case of a man whose sociopathy was restricted to prostitutes. He worked for a living. Perhaps he found scammers repugnant?
The sociopaths make up excuses for what they do and sometimes they even believe their own lies.

Ox Drover

Six and a half years ago right after my husband was killed in an accident a young neurosurgeon was stabbed 50+ times by her husband who was a medical student. He had failed to make the olympics team so he killed her, then killed himself by jumping out the window of a tall building. I think he was from the things I read, a psychopath as well.

It is amazing what they will do to cover for their “failures” to keep up their pretense of greatness—even going so far as to kill themselves. The rage within them can be nuclear and explode with such violence.

Look at Scott Peterson and how Laci’s getting preg and the marriage was coming between him and his visions of himself. She had to die in order to allow him to pretend to be what he wanted. I also have a feeling that “behind closed doors” that Scott abused Laci and that the murder wasn’t as out of character as most people thought, even their relatives.

Look at the Casey Anthony murder of her daughter and the Susan Smith murder of her two small sons….they killed someone who came between them and the freedom of behavior that they wanted…none of these people had been “violent” before they murdered as far as we know. The behavior that they showed that had a pattern of dysfunctional or high in P-traits was pretty well limited to lying, cheating and lack of responsibility. Look at Drew Petersen’s murders as well, though I do think he is a serial killer, his “motive” appears to be to “simplify” his life.


I think it is unfair to rationalize psychopathic behavior as simply an evolutionary advantage. A process of natural selection !!!
most psychopaths I have bumped into are dumb , devoid of imaginativeness and originality. I have a strong feeling that their genetic makeup is inferior to us , people come in packages
I have observed ppl who are shy , loving , kind , have high empathy , are also intelligent (or artistic) good at what they do
I dont think a psychopathic coworker can match us when it comes quality of work. To be honest ppl i have met would be out of work had it not been for manipulation ,boot licking ,networking whatever lol everything except the work they have been hired for .
I dont think you will find gr8 scientist , artists, painters , gr8 inventors of our times who were psychopathic.



I was not claiming that my co-worker is a sociopath, just being aware that she has a propensity to make up stories about herself, usually medical dramas (although she has talked about other issues) that have played out at her home, in the ER, or the hospital. Some ailments are true (not bogus), having evidence of the truth (she had to wear some type of a heart monitor due to having heart problems), but some of her stories, I question (I seem to be the only staff that heard about her having a brain tumor). I have never known anyone at her age, having so many medical issues. She loves to talk, be around people, a definite people person. I talk to her, but half-believe whatever she tells me (especially if she’s talking about anything not related to work).

Ox Drover

Dear Heaven Roaming,

I disagree with you there. One of the great inventors, William P. Lear who invented the car radio among other things as well as the 8 track tape players etc. (hundreds of patents) was I think VERY high in psychopathic traits, he was continually unfaithful to his many wives, and many other things he did that I would label high in P-traits, but quite a successful inventor. High risk taker and made and lost several fortunes (my late husband worked for him and was his personal pilot for several years and knew him very well). IQ is totally separate from psychopathic traits and I think there are MANY people who are very talented in the arts and sciences who are quite high in psychopathic traits (look at many of the singers and ctors such as Mel Gibson, etc)

You are right about some of the low level criminals and generally dumb psychopaths, but read Robert Hare’s book “Snakes in suits, when psychopaths go to work” and you will see that many psychopaths are in the “corner office” and like Bernie Madoff who scammed BILLIONS of dollars, or the Enron executives who scammed millions of dollars each, etc. Research shows that psychopaths IQ pretty well fits the Bell Curve of the general population with everything from severely retarded to genius levels.

I admit that many of the people at our work who have high P-traits would not have a job except for their manipulation, though.

lesson learned


I think one of the reasons a psychopaths lies are so believable is because THEY actually believe it. My exPOS could tell some whopper stories so convincing it was UNNERVING. When I found out the truth, it was SHOCKING. I think this is also why they are so successful at targeting and manipulating their victims. The manipulations work because they believe the lies they tell. I also believe that this is why they deny and/or lie more when confronted with a lie. They believe whatever twisted story they’ve told.

It’s just amazing to see it in action.


kim frederick

Yeah and psychopaths with high IQ’s are the must cunning of
Iread somewhere that some pathological liar can pass polygraphs, for that very reason.


o yes actors, army men (not all of them ofcourse ) Politicians with a big P , rulers, tyrants, stock brockers , businessmen , bankers , sales guyz ect is where we will find a conc of these individuals , as far as inventors scientist are concerned i still fell there will be very few if any in this sector .
Out 6 P individuals i have encountered including my ex psychopathic wife 5 of them were just dumb idiots totally useless and repulsive.
I plan to read dr hare’s book as soon as i get hold of it.
he has very rightly labeled them as intra species predators
Thats what they exactly are . The game of prey and predator is also going on in human race its just that the predator looks like us and 99% of the population is bliss fully unaware of this fact
Oxy what do you think are there different degrees of manifestation of this disorder ? I work in IT industry i see quiet a few ppl with a conc of amoral qualities its difficult to accept that all of them belong to a different specie altogether


Ted Bundy found Pedifiles repugmant. When he finally admitted to the killings and disclosed where the bodies were, he had the hardest time admitting to the Kimberly Leach murder and at least one other who was a mother. He may have thought Kimberly Leach, the 12 year old was older and that the mother was a college student.

Someone mentioned that perhaps certain Psychopaths would find scamming repugnant.

This may be silly but maybe it fits here. The game Fish World on Facebook has a couple of features, one being stealing other people’s fish. A person can buy certain protector fish like bluerays to protect their tanks from theft……or they can steal back the fish that was stolen. Crime does not pay though because a stolen fish cannot be resold.

The other feature is Sharks who prey on other fish and the blood is spilled in the water while they do this. I think you are supposed to watch also or it will not work.

My ex spath BF was a thief, lier, manipulator and found the theft feature fun, but was absolutely repulsed when I bought a shark. I admit I got rid of the shark because the blood factor bothered me also.

Could it be that some people who would buy the shark to kill the innocent fish would NEVER think of stealing?



Hmm psychopaths with high IQ’s are probbably the ones who are very good at covering up there tracks. They are highly adapt at creating a false personality for the society but on the inside they are all the same , garbage
What is more disturbing is that socially adapt psychopaths are often good looking , grrrrrrr 🙁

Ox Drover

Dear HeavenRoaming, Dr. Leedom and several others who are interested in this Problematic population seem to agree that there is a spectrum of the disorder.

Just like “tall” and “short” or “genius” and “retarded” are on a spectrum of measurements so is psychopathic I agree. There are some that are “worse” than others, at least I think in behavior if not in their ability to “bond” to other humans. The worst of the worst of course, really don’t bond at all with other humans, but I think some of the lower levels of them might have some rudimentary herd instinct or bonding ability, but there is still so much that is unknown and I am glad that there is research going on to try to answer these questions.

We do know that some of them kill and some don’t but I think ALMOST ALL humans are capable of killing under the right circumstances. The difference between them and someone with empathy is that they can do it without any guilt or prickly conscience bothering them and for reasons that the empathic person would not even consider killing someone for. Some lower the bar to killing just for sport or for the enjoyment of the suffering of the victim.

Some people who are high in P traits seem to just be unaware of the suffering of others that they cause, or if they notice it they don’t care, but others seem to ENJOY the suffering of others, and maybe that is the “cut off” between worse and worst, I’m not sure.



I agree with you that “real work” or creativity is not done by psychopaths. To be creative a person has to love their work and psychopaths are not capable of love or real emotion.

I suppose they could be a musician and enjoy the groupies and the drugs, but the real talent of music has to come from the soul.

It could be that the spaths on the lower end of the spectrum who do just enough to get by but mooch off of others without a trace of embarrassment do so because we don’t believe they really are psychopaths. That seemed to be the case with my exBF. His best friend didn’t think he could think his way out of a paper bag, but I knew his chief motivation was some game that he played just to see what he could get away with.


Dear OxDrover i agree I think this is the biggest problem human race is facing. These are the individuals who are most directly responsible for destruction we see around us.
For the time being the only solution seems to be prevention
A course in psychology is a must for every decent human being.
The more people understand and accept this reality the more difficult it will become for P’s to have there way.
You guyz have a good day , i am logging off for now
Love HR


Ox Drover,
I suspect that my father-in-law (he’s deceased) and his son, the h-spath, are of the group that are unaware of the suffering that they cause and when it is brought to their attention, they don’t care (I’m guessing on the father-in-law, having not known him well enough) – with the h-spath, I suspect that he might feel a twinge of regret, but brushes it off, doesn’t pay attention to it.


True-to-Self i think they feel there is something wrong with us lol
all human qualities love , empathy, kindness, ect are weakness for them .
I have nothing but hatred and contempt in my heart for these idiots .


lesson learned,

Yes, a sociopath can be very convincing, finding out later that they just fed you a bunch of bull. It is amazing, quite a talent they have, I suppose.


I would suggest that both are born the same, but violence is sociopathy along with childhood trauma. Second, the non-violent sociopath may be more intelligent and can express his hatred for those with a conscience on a higher level – more coldly and with more calculation. Finally, I don’t think the non-violent sociopath would shrink from violence if it became “necessary”. js


Emotional serial killers.

They will stress-you-out to the point where you lose your health. You feel like the prey in a fox hunt. It will kill you just as dead. Just a slower death. And, not a death that can be pointed at any person except the victim.


When I was with my youngest son’s dad I found that the scalpers were coming out of the woodwork looking to get a piece of me.

Andy (that was his name) buried me financially and the bill collectors were calling me.

Well, this bill collector began calling. He claimed to be from the gas company. He said I am behind on my bill and was going to be shut-off. He said he will stop by and asked if I have any money. This guy kept calling and calling stating that he will stop by to collect money.

I should have realized it was a scam. But, I was running scared. And, had sooooo many bill collectors calling me that I lost my mind.

One day this man called AGAIN asking to stop by for money. I hung up on him. The phone rang again. (I thought it was him) I picked up that phone and screamed at the top of my lungs “LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!!!!!”

It was the doctors office.

It was my psychiatrist’s man-receptionist calling to remind me of appt.. I was so embarrassed and quickly explained what was going on. This receptionist said “THEY can’t DO that!

I gotta wonder if that helped me get the social security.

I sure came off as a nutt.

kim frederick

Jeannie, 🙂 I’m so glad that his crazy making behavior benefited you in some way….You didn’t even plan it. It was grace moving in your life. 🙂


The most useful thing in this post I think is this GREAT summary of the traits:
will have deeply exploitive predilections.

a grossly defective capacity to feel empathy and, even more importantly, remorse.

an intellectual capacity to understand that their behaviors transgress the basic conventions of respect for others’ dignity and safety. And they will also share, importantly, a striking, pathological disregard of, and indifference towards, the fact of their bald transgressions of these basic standards of conduct.

share a mentality characterized by their feeling absolutely entitled to the gratification they seek, however driven their need is for a specific form of gratification.

will rationalize as acceptable, if not necessary, the infliction of damage on others (“death,” in the case of the serial killer), for their victims possess something these sociopaths want, and feel they must have.

And, most critically, they will share the twisted notion that what their victims have, that they (the sociopaths) want, belongs to them.

Powerfully right on!


To Kim,

Thank you for your kind words.

Lovefraud is being upgraded. Comments and forum posts are temporarily disabled. Dismiss

Send this to a friend