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)

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39 Comments on "The Story of David Pecard"

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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.”

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