The Story of David Pecard

Recently, I watched an old 48-Hours segment on the conman David Michael Pecard, which proved to be a most fascinating, educational case study of a textbook sociopath.

Pecard is the kind of sociopath (or psychopath) psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, MD, so brilliantly grappled with in his classic, “The Mask of Sanity—”that is, he was glib, persuasive (could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge today and tender a convincing deed of sale); charmingly disarming, imperturbable, thrill-seeking, audacious, deceptive, emotionally superficial and indifferent to the suffering he caused others.

Peter Van Zandt investigates, and offers compelling interview footage with Pecard, who was free as the segment aired, and involved in litigation against Joe Arpaio, then Maricopa County’s (AZ) infamous sheriff.

Pecard alleged in his lawsuit that Arpaio who, at the time, ran Arizona’s notorious Tent City prison, had mistreated him when Pecard was an inmate in that facility. Pecard alleged that Arpaio had had an axe to grind: Earlier, Pecard had conned Arpaio into giving him a cushy, powerful security position at the prison for which Pecard, of course, was fully unqualified. Properly ensconced in his new sinecure, Pecard, exploiting his utterly unsupervised status, released certain female prisoners and reportedly sexually abused them off the prison’s property.

This is how, ironically, Pecard ended up incarcerated in the facility to which Arpaio had, earlier, effectively handed him the keys. Pecard alleges that Arpaio, outraged to have been embarrassed and exploited, seized the opportunity of his imprisonment to make Pecard’s life in his facility extremely and, ultimately, illegally unpleasant.

I choose to dispense with the long history of Pecard’s deviousness which, trust me, is as spectacular and improbable as case histories of particularly gifted conmen so often are. Suffice to say that he managed to coopt more than 20 separate identities in his adult life, using each of them to advance his agenda at a particular time.

That “agenda” was rarely complicated: most often Pecard would shed his identity and “disappear” when exposure loomed, then reappear, sooner than later, in a new identity—that is, with new name, new act and, of course, a set of new, impressive and false credentials.

Pecard married six times and, with several wives, had seven children, abandoning every one of them usually sooner than later; that is, he was here one day, and gone, abruptly, the next, without explanation, and permanently—as though he’d never existed, leaving a trail of bewildered, stunned, frightened ex-wives and shattered families.

What made the story especially compelling for me was Pecard’s willingness—indeed his eagerness—to talk; in so doing, he provides us with, as I said, an education in the machinations of the psychopathic conman.

There is also something sad in his story, and not just for his victims, who deserve the bulk of our compassion, but even, I think, for Pecard himself. I was left, somehow, by the story’s end, disquieted by the revealing—by Pecard’s revealing—of the profundity of his “self” disturbance; by the profoundity, that is, of his self-vacancy, and disconnection from others, and himself.

And this chilling thought crossed my mind: Had Pecard been more murderously motivated, one cringes to imagine the numbers his victims might have reached, given his prodigious capacity to deceive.

But for me, as the story unfolded, the most captivating aspect of it was the access it afforded to Pecard’s emotional poverty. The more Pecard spoke, the more it was revealed. He does not see it, and Pecard doesn’t expect you to see it; but as great a con as he was (and one can see how), the more he spoke, the more the mask slipped off.

Immediately, I was struck by the seductive, familiar tone he struck with reporter Van Zandt, referring to him, for instance, from the outset, as “Peter—”that is, familiarly and comfortably. This is one way sociopathic personalities ingratiate themselves with and disarm others, affecting an easy familiarity that hasn’t been earned, yet which can feel hard to resist.

As Pecard tells his story, you see a micrososm of the man as he surely navigated the world—seemingly incredibly comfortable in his own skin, and apparently assisted by the absence of a hindering self-consciousness. One senses that the interview, for him, is just another interesting challenge to demonstrate how he can turn anyone’s dubiousness into credulity; and also trust of, and sympathy for, him.

But Pecard, as I say, can’t help himself from letting his mask slip. All Van Zandt has to do, and he does it well, is get enough out of Pecard’s way to let Pecard reveal himself.

You shake your head for instance in amazement at how Pecard handles a dramatic homecoming scene, in which he’s reunited (thanks to 48-Hours) with the family he abandoned for decades—abandoned as son, sibling, husband, father.

And so, with his family gathered curiously and skeptically around him, Pecard holds court like a slick politician at a town hall meeting of restive constituents, confidently inviting them to ask him the questions they’ve had for so long, promising earnestly to answer them fully, to their fullest satisfaction.

Regrettably, there’s too little footage of this important scene. But there’s enough to observe the the sociopathic self-confidence, as I’ve written about elsewhere, which is steeped in the sociopath’s confidence in his glibness—specifically, his confidence that his glibness will carry him through yet another tricky situation or challenge. 

One senses in other words that, for Pecard, these aren’t so much family standing before him in hopes of getting, finally, a true explanation for their victimization, as much as an assembled group of “objects” who happen to be his family, who merely pose for him a chance to perpetrate a new con—this con consisting of persuading them not to resent him, to believe him and even to sympathize with him?

One of his sons sees right through him, telling Van Zandt in a separate interview that Pecard failed grossly to answer the questions as promised; that instead, he talked in circles and emptily; exhibiting (my words) the sociopath’s classic linguistic feints, decoys and diversions, and all with the sociopath’s expectation of being convincing and believable.

When Van Zandt confronts Pecard on the legacy of pain he’s inflicted on his family, Pecard replies pleasantly, “Peter, every day people leave relationships.”

Van Zandt then cooly, levelly says, “But they pay child support, and they stay in touch with their children,” to which Pecard, seemingly momentarily stumped (and as if searching his database for a response that mimicks appropriateness), answers weakly, “Then I guess I’m guilty.”

I note, again, the liberty Pecard takes at continually calling Van Zandt by “Peter,” in the seductive, insinuating style of the charming sociopath. And as I’ve stressed, there is the emotional poverty of Pecard’s responses, among them—“Peter, every day people leave relationships”—yet which, as I suggest, Pecard asserts with the confidence (and grandiosity) that they’ll be found persuasive, convincing, and acceptable.

And not least, there is the database scan for mimicked responses aiming to appear authentic and effective, but which, in Pecard’s case, prove merely to highlight his sociopathic orientation.

Note how, to Van Zandt’s challenge, Pecard says, “Then I guess I’m guilty.” He doesn’t say, I am guilty, but I “guess” I’m guilty. He “guesses” because he doesn’t feel guilty, so the best he can do is “guess” what a normal person is, or would feel, in this circumstance. He doesn’t feel anything; it’s evident that not for a second does he grasp what he’s subjected his victims to, and least of all does he feel “sorry” about it.

After all, he could have said “I guess I’m sorry,” but of course he doesn’t feel “sorry” and “sorry” is also a more emotional word than “guilty,” so that “guilty” comes up before “sorry” in his word-search for the closest, most convincing response that a human being with a conscience would give in this situation.

And so he comes up with “I guess I’m guilty.”

Pecard’s shamelessness is so deep that he can refer to himself as a “chameleon” with apparent pride. Effectively, he is calling himself a sociopath with pride. And this is a highly sociopathic quality—the sociopath’s absolute lack of shame over his lack of shame.

That is, the sociopath just isn’t embarrassed, worried, or frightened by his lack of shame; while he may have awareness of his shamelessness, it simply doesn’t disturb him. Pecard experiences his “chameleon”-like orientation as a badge of honor, not, like a normal person would, as a troubling sign of his emotional disturbance.

I’ve written elsewhere that for many sociopaths, every day is like Halloween, a chance to decide what mask to wear. Pecard illustrates this point well. He is all mask; there simply is no “real self” for him to be. And so he’s plucked “selves” as out of thin air, over the years, as someone plucks their shirts off the coat hangers in the morning.

Having no core, “real” identity, Pecard manufactured fake identities and, with the talent of a gifted actor, distinguished himself as a fraud.

At the end of the show, Pecard suggests to Van Zandt that perhaps he’ll take up acting in a future career, recognizing the acting skills he’s honed in his life. Van Zandt struggles with a wan smile that reflects, I suspect, a mixture of pity and disbelief. For this was another moment in which Pecard, master con he was, couldn’t disguise the depth of his personality disorder.

I imagine that Van Zandt must have felt, in that moment, precisely the shame, pity and embarrassment of which Pecard was incapable. And so the aching, awkward aspect of this, Pecard’s last disclosure to Van Zandt, wasn’t that he, Pecard, was being ironically humorous; it was that, with his sociopathically deficient appreciation of the irony, he expected to be taken seriously.

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW)

Comment on this article

39 Comments on "The Story of David Pecard"

Notify of


There is a very good book titled, THE BETRAYAL BOND. I think that it may help you to decode your connection to your boyfriend and the other more physically violent relationships you have experienced.

I understand holding tightly to nothing because you think it is all you have. And I understand that depression is much like the sociopath – it lies to you about what and who you really are, your talents and abilities, the resources you have and can reach out for and find, and what you are at core.

You are much more than either of them can possibly know – neither of them will tell you your real value.

I’ll write more when you are back here.

Is it right that you are 20?

one step

Heightofconfusion-You must not look over the fact of his VIOLENT past- did you say disfigurement????OMG! Do you understand just how dangerous this chameleon really is?? One reason that he could be walking out of the room during an arguement (in addition to invalidation)is in efforts to control his desire to abuse you, as he knows his gravy train would be over- BUT DONT BE MISTAKEN- HE IS GROOMING YOU FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. You said he devalues you by calling you names- This is grooming you for abuse, the control and manipulation of money-Grooming you for abuse, the making you walk on egg shells re: house being clean, correct meals, his pants you mentioned purchasing repeatedly to get it right, etc etc etc.-ALL GROOMING YOU TO FEEL BENEATH HIM, UNWORTHY, and NOT VALUABLE ENOUGH TO DESERVE MORE. Hell, he is already mentally and emotionally abusing you (says when he comes back, he dosent want to see you that much, complains YOUR too clingy) THe NEXT step with this man is PHYSICAL ABUSE. Dig deep into the police reports- POLICE RECORDS DONT LIE- HE DOES!!!!
I am sorry to be so blunt, but we here on LF are older and wiser to the clutches of these subhuman predators. Did you say that you are only 20 yrs old?? Please allow trusted family,& friends to know what is really going on here. TRUST ME, you are not equipped to handle the devastation this man will have on your life. None of us were, and we paid dearly.
Violence with these S comes quickly and usually without warning. Choking is their “abuse of choice” as it generally leaves no bruises.
I’m sorry, but I feel obligated to tell it like it is. I have been where you are, and wish to God that someone could have foretold my future with the S maniac that I lived with. Google “trauma bonds”, this is the stronghold that he has you in. I know that you dont “feel” ready to get out- however, feelings ‘LIE”, based on what you want to see, rather than what you are actually seeing and what is REAL.
Ask yourself, WHY are you loving this man MORE than you love yourself?? That was a realization that I had to make, and when abuse of ANY kind is present, YOU must care about your wellbeing and safety over anyone else. If you don’t, who will?
My prayers are with you. xoxoxo

Height- Also when you google domestic abuse, you will see that an abuser statistically DOES NOT change. In fact they go on to abuse children, and animals in many cases. My S abuser had previously abused his x wife, and her animals. He went to jail, had loads of therapy, rehab, claimed to be born again, changed, etc, etc etc.
He only 3 years later abused me and My animals!!
This man you are with has been in prison and is DIAGNOSED as a S. WHat if you went with him to his therapist, you will most likely hear IF this therapist is any kind of educated in sociopathy that medication, nor therapy is effective. THERE IS NO TREATMENT for S.
HEED the red flags! The fact that you are here shows that your giving, kind spirit is in unrest and senses danger. TRUST that god given instinct. Dont allow your heart to take you into something that your feet can’t walk you out of.
Most of us after fleeing from our S, had to have protection orders and EVEN then, we have been stalked, and have lived in fear. DONT believe for a minute that he would let you go without a fight. READ about narcissistic supply- You are it. ANd it is a very bad thing- The “feeding tube” that provides sustanance to this otherwise empty shell. He says you are an extension of him- ONLY while you have something to offer him. Something that he can steal from you. WHen he tires of this situation, and he will, he will devalue (this has already begun) then he will discard you as tho you are yesterdays trash. An S will ALWAYS cheat with other women, you can bet on it- Take ALL your money, and if you are already depressed- He can get you to the point of thinking about suicide.- which he would never skip a beat nor “feel” anything if he beat you down to that point.
Of course they have some good qualities- you mentioned funny, and so on… As Oxy says, RAT poison is made up of 99% harmless ingredients but only 1% lethal ingredients- STILL that 1% IS enuf to KILL YOU.
Please forgive my strait forwardness, but you are in danger by allowing this dark entity in your life. Stay here on this site and read as much as you can. xoxox

Well said! Height, I too, am VERY concerned about his man’s ability to physically abuse you. This man has an extensive history of violence and that cannot be ignored. Everyone here who has read your story is on your side, hon. We just want to see you safe and sound.

Excellente suggestion! That book is a good way to start and explains much. Height, PLEASE READ!

Height, In reading back over my post from yesterday, I should have first welcomed you here on LF and I commend you for searching out answers.

My heart is stirred from your post, and I immediately went into protective mode for you. I suppose one reason is b/c my 21 yr old son is a S, and recently I found he has been abusing his g.f (19 yrs old) for over a year. He had a previous g.f from high school who confided in me that he became violent with her back some years ago and she tried to warn the new g.f. The new g.f. now has a protection order against my son (with my urging that she do so). However, he only got out of jail last week, she calls last nite asking me what to do ,as he is SITTING in his car in front of her place, texting her , asking her to see him-even do favors for him by giving him an address that he needed!! WHat nerve!!
Of course I told her to call the police, not to take any chances, dont speak with him and for God’s sake- dont allow him to come near her.
Sadly,in their relationship- as in all of them- my son became more and more abusive as time went along.
Beginning with FINANCIAL ABUSE (due to his lack of motivation to work, he lived off of her, ALWAYS with the promise that it would change- NEVA DID!
The emotional abuse-He degraded her, called HER ” stupid” , with LAZY work ethics, (she is a college student, with part time job, – he is a H.S. dropout & jobless) He would scream and argue about HER shortcomings – which is PROJECTION (he literally should have been talking about himself, as it fit him, not her)
He would argue relentlessly, making her (and me too) even doubt OUR OWN MINDS- his sick, defensive twist to ANY story would leave you dazed and confused- which is CRAZY MAKING and Gaslighting .
The physical abuse- Black eyes, animalistic attacks, and rages he flew into, claiming he didnt remember ANY of it. He drug her out of his step fathers house one nite so that the dad couldnt hear her screaming and had her pinned down on the concrete in the rain.
He “pretended” he would kill himself- as many of them do (its all a pity play), took a gun to his head, she begged him not to, so he takes the gun- puts it to HER forehead and says Then I will kill YOU.

As hideous as this all is- HE dosent even have the convictions of violence (yet)OR the DIAGNOSIS that your man does. The story I have told you is COMMON, EVERY DAY – DIME A DOZEN truths about the S. AND your man has been clinically DIAGNOSED!!

PLEASE read about how difficult it can be to get an actual diagnosis.
Plse, block out all that you think is good, conforting,exciting about him (as it IS a MASK, a con, a LIE)
HE IS A CARD CARRYING P!!!! HE IS CERTIFABLE CRAZY, VERIFIBLE NO CONSCIENCE. Please focus on this, take a good, hard look at the remifications of this.

IMAGINE what this guy your with has DONE in his past to others. YOU dont have to imagine- YOU can have an atty. pull the court records and get lots more details of his cases- and UNLESS you are CONVINCED to RUN dont walk from this potential killer- YOU should investigate BIG TIME.

BECAUSE he has no conscience- HE WILL NOT CHANGE- he cant!!! Like an animal, he goes on instinct- BUT animals attack prey for food or protection, this guy has an EVIL twist , he harms/abuses others for sport. You are currently “on the menu” ONCE he devours you- he WILL move on for the thrill of the next hunt. That is if you survive it.

I am sorry to go on and on, but just as I fear for my sons GF , I truly fear for your safety. God bless . xoxo

DONT IGNORE that people are afraid of him- its NOT cool, or sexy that he is this tough guy- NORMAL people shouldnt make others afraid .

Height – when I left my ex P I had nobody. For a long time I stayed with him thinking things would improve and that I could love him better. In fact things got much worse – the abuse got worse because he knew he had me where he wanted me – I had no options. Like you I said to myself
“Well at least he doesn’t hit me”

What I didn;t realise is that there are thousands of ways to destroy someone without laying a finger on them. I don’t know why I had the notion that being hit was a definite no no but I put up with so much more than that instead.

When you are ready to leave you will. You haven’t hit rock bottom yet but you will. The trouble is once you hit rock bottom you believe in your mind that you can’t cope with life without them and you stay longer than you should.

I suggest you start journalling – record all the awful things he does and how they make you feel – hide it in a safe place and use it often when he isn’t around. That way over time you will see the real situation in your own words. Only you can define what your walking away point is – mine was when he drained our savings acc behind my back and lied to me about it – this came after so many other betrayals that on that day I said ENOUGH. And I finally realised he wouldn’t change.

Keep reading and start stashing a little money away in a safe place for your escape – you will need it soon. Give it to a trusted relative to look after. You shouldn’t be in this position at 20 – you should be out free enjoying yourself.You will get there. I know you can’t see light at the moment but you will. And most of us have suffered from chronic depression brought on by these relationships – it’s normal! That’s your body saying
“Woah! This is so unhealthy – get me out of here!”

When you are ready you will listen to it.

Hi Guys

Thanks again for all the advice. To answer question yes Im 20 years old (and he is 31) and he did spend most of his 20’s in prison for violent offences including Serious assault, Assault to severe Injury with permanant disfigurment (I think that was the knife thing and attempted murder (which he got off with) I have read in depth his cases and am aware of how nasty and violent he can be. I have also heard many mant more stories and seen a few instances myself of how vicious he can be. (although he tells me thats nothing and he never wants me to see THAT side of him) ASnd it was in prison he was diagnoised he saw a shrink for a while along with his probation but I think they thought it was pointless and he said to me he was always to scatted to say what realy when on in his head incase they sectioned him. He does have an amazing ability to charm anybody, doctors, probation workers, therapists etc. (Even my threapist thinks he cant be a true S that he must care about me more than I think he does – yeah right YOU try living with him!)
Thats the other thing evveryone says its my low self esteem that is the problem that I keep thinking I am not good enugh for him and am just being paranoid and will drive him away. I dont actully agree with this but i suppose if enough people are saying it.

Anyway so he got out yesterday and things were actully OK he didn’t kick off or bitch or moan about anything He seemed fairly happy. Told me he missed me that he wants me to stop supporting him financially as its making him lazy. He did go out at 11pm to look for drugs and didn’t come back til after I had left for work this morning, got a phone call an hour ago asking what happened. I told him I have no idea but you better straighten up casue you’ve got important stuff to do today (he was in some shape!) Still don’t know how welcome I am around him now, seemed happy to have my company last night but dont know about tonight or over the weekend.

My family and friends do know about him and all want me to get as far away from him as possible. My friends find him charming when he is behaving but they all know the other side to him and tend to tiptoe around him. My family have no intrest in meeting him but are apparently all worried that he is going to kill me. I do try to tell them not to be so mellow dramatic – he doesn’t care about me enough to hit me, let alone kill me.

I think that Leona Lewis song describes it well:
“Trying hard not to hear but they talk so loud,
Their pericing sounds fill my ears,
tryin to fill me with doubt,
Yet I know that their goal is to keep me from falling,
But nothings greater than the risk that comes with your embrace
Yet everyone around me thinks that I’m going crazy, maybe..
But I don’t care what they say, I’m In love with You,
They try to pull me away but they don’t know the truth”

I’ve been dying to say this to someone who had seen this show!

About a year ago, I was home sick and flipping channels as I was lying in bed. I started watching this show, even though it was from 2000 and I wasn’t sure I was that interested.

About ten minutes in I realize…I KNEW this guy. And the more I watched, the more horrified I became because I was nearly one of his female victims.

I met him in basic training in 1994. I turned 19 while I was there and he passed himself off as…30, I think. He was David Pecard then and had a dubious story of having been a sergeant before and wanting to reenlist and the army forced him to go back to basic training and start over from scratch. I remember our drill sergeants thought it was the craziest thing they’d ever heard…and obviously it was.

He was really into me and I was young, naive and flattered as hell. He showed me pictures of his two daughters and I think he told me their mother had died. He seemed like he loved them and took really good care of him. It surprised me to watch this show and discover he didn’t have anything to do with any of his kids. I wonder how he even had pictures of them. One was four or five and the other was younger.

He told me he was in love with me and I remember thinking…this is kind of odd, he barely knows me. I felt unsure but figured it was due to my lack of experience and him coming on way too strong. But you know, for watching this and how well he conned people, I can tell you most of the other recruits didn’t have much use for him. There was something…off about him and they found him irritating and annoying.

Fortunately for me, I failed too many PT tests (still can’t do push ups for crap!) and got held back and put into another unit. I got involved with a guy there (more my age) and whenever I would run into David (which wasn’t often) he was obviously very pissy about it.

I saw watching this that he moved on very quickly and got married to someone not too long after we graduated.

Anyway, I was completely creeped out seeing this!

I know this post is old, but I’m watching this episode of 48 hrs right now.

I completely agree with you. The more this guy talks, the more the masks slips.

But you missed one thing. When Van Zandt talks about Pecard leaving his family, Pecard says, “Then I’m guilty.” There is no “I guess.”

Send this to a friend