Leedom learns the truth
Lichtenthal is a sociopath
Slowly, Liane Leedom came to understand that her ex-husband—she was granted a divorce in September 2003—was a sociopath.
She also came to realize that, when it came to sociopaths, also called psychopaths, her medical education was deficient. “My training in psychiatry left me with the idea that sociopaths are lying, impulsive, manipulative, irresponsible freeloaders who live parasitically off of others,” Leedom writes in her upcoming book, Driven to Do Evil. “This was confirmed by the many sociopaths I saw in connection with my practice, all of whom also had issues with substance abuse.”
The work of Robert Hare, the expert on psychopaths who wrote Without Conscience, was not included in her training. The work of Hervey Cleckley, the first clinician to fully describe psychopaths in The Mask of Sanity, was considered more of a historical text than a practical one.
Leedom did, after hearing Barry Lichtenthal tell his wild stories of being a lawyer, FBI agent and even a doctor, start to think that her husband suffered from pseudologia fantastica, which is a compulsive need to lie about everything. But the medical literature does not warn that pathological lying is dangerous.
Leedom learned the hard way that it is. She also learned the true nature of a sociopath.
“It was six to eight months after he was arrested, or maybe even longer, before I really understood what I was dealing with,” Leedom says. “Someone whose core motivation is only evil.”
Tactics for manipulation
Looking back, Leedom says there were signs of Lictenthal’s true nature, but they were subtle. “He was on the controlling side—more controlling than any man I had ever been with,” Leedom says. “But he was not frankly abusive, and a lot of the actions towards me felt protective and supportive. He was always acting very concerned—driving for me, locking prescription pads in the drawer. He talked a great deal about protecting me, my practice and the family in general.”
Leedom now recognizes some of the tactics Lichtenthal used to manipulate her. He exploited her desire for a functional family. He played with her sympathies. He kept her isolated by filling her schedule, so that all she could do was hustle from patient to patient. He told everyone at Noah’s Ark how much he loved his wife, and they’d repeat it to Leedom, adding, “Oh, you are both so lucky.”
Mostly, however, Lichtenthal exploited Leedom’s desire to do good, which made her vulnerable. “I was blinded by my own idealism and hope that something good would happen,” Leedom says.
“I was in a state of disbelief,” she continues. “Barry was telling people how wonderful I was; Barry was calling me St. Liane. I wanted to be someone who helps people. I didn’t want to think of myself as part of some malicious plot.
“This is one of the sociopath’s best tactics. They use people who want to be doing good, and can’t comprehend that the sociopath is doing bad. He engineered the situation so that other people are saying how good I was. It was a brilliant tactic, and that was what got me.”
Disparate views of reality
Lichtenthal orchestrated a symphony of lies, Leedom says, although some people told them unwittingly.
Take the issue of the gun. “There was no gun in the office,” Leedom says. “I knew Barry told people that his cousin carried a gun. That was false.”
But both Stowe and Zang told investigators that they saw a gun. Zang came across it inadvertently in Lichtenthal’s office, but didn’t know if it was real. Neither of the employees told Leedom about it.
“Everyone in the clinic saw reality differently,” Leedom says. “There was the reality of George Stowe, the reality of me, the reality of Claire Zang and other staff, the reality of the non-victimized patients and the reality of the victimized patients.
“Powerful psychopaths draw a lot of people’s attention resources,” Leedom continues. “You form a view of reality, and take information in that supports this view. You reject or deny all other information. Everyone involved in this story did that, including the state inspectors. Their view was that I was a crooked doctor running a crooked clinic. They twisted the reality that they saw to fit that view.”
Leedom disputes many of the allegations against her. She says she never told anyone at Noah’s Ark that Barry Lichtenthal was authorized to examine patients or give medication orders. She did not aid and abet her husband in the unlicensed practice of medicine.
But Leedom did allow Barry Lichtenthal to use the name “Dr. Michael Taylor,” which she regrets.
“I understand that the public may have doubts about me,” Leedom says. “This story is a twisted mess and I believe my only course of action is to go forward trying to earn people’s trust again. It is my desire to be a service to other victims, and to be an example of how to go forward in the face of such losses and pain.
“We have to go forward for the sake of the children who deserve as much of a childhood as we can give them. They can’t develop wellbeing if their only parent is a mess. They deserve a parent who can love, cherish and enjoy their young lives.”
Overcoming the genetic connection
After he was arrested, Leedom was told that her former husband had been involved with 13 women—it was unclear how many were marriages. He’d fathered, as far as Leedom can tell, eight children, and was wanted by authorities for unpaid child support. He had criminal convictions for fraud, forgery, and now, sexual assault.
All of this filled Leedom with trepidation, because she knew the traits that can lead to the sociopathic personality disorder are highly genetic. There was a good chance that her son had inherited the traits.
Leedom spent three years researching the scientific literature on sociopathy and child development. She needed to know how to prevent the disorder from developing in her son. And, to help others trying to raise children who have a sociopath for a biologic parent, Leedom wrote Just Like His Father? A Guide to Overcoming Your Child’s Genetic Connection to Antisocial Behavior, Addiction and ADHD. The book includes Leedom’s theory of the Inner Triangle. Character, she says, is built on Ability to Love, Impulse Control, and Moral Reasoning Ability. Sociopaths are impaired in all three areas.
Part of what she learned is that these at-risk children need to be physically held during their early years. They need to be taught how to love. Unable to work as a doctor, Leedom spent all of her time with her son close by.
Leedom’s son is now in school. Although he is highly extraverted—a trait characteristic of sociopaths—he is also very loving, and his teachers have commented on his sense of empathy.
When her life fell apart on April 10, 2003, Leedom was unable to continue her career or protect her family from financial disaster. But it seems she has succeeded in saving her son.