Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Criminal Mind

Bundy: A Psychopath's Psychopath

Theodore Robert Bundy, 1979

What would you do if one of your closest friends turned out to be a serial killer? One woman managed to remain on friendly terms with such a man and later, to write his story with deep understanding. Ann Rule, a former policewoman, met Ted Bundy when they were both volunteers at a crisis center in Washington state. Rule's motivation for volunteering at the center was probably an outgrowth of her own brother's death by suicide. She found Bundy as a young man warm, charming, empathetic.

At the suggestion of a psychologist friend, I have been reading some of Rule's books. To write about crime, understanding the criminal mind seems important. I can't say that I have a grip on it at this point in time, but I'm learning. I was disappointed that at almost the end of The Stranger Beside Me, few assessments of Bundy's psychological profile had been put forward, except to note that he exhibited "antisocial" behavior.

Bundy confessed to having killed at least thirty women between 1974 and '78, but he may have killed up to one hundred. He seemed to be able to compartmentalize his life so that, once the deed was done, to all outward appearances he carried on a normal life. For many years, he had a live-in girlfriend who had a young daughter. He was able to conceal his activities from his girlfriend for most of the time they were together, and indeed, he managed not to get caught for a very long time. When he was caught, it was at a time when he had begun to unravel.

The entire duration of his killing career is not known, although it is thought he might be responsible for the death of an 8 year-old girl as early as 1961. (He would have been 14 or 15 then.)  Once started, he  he left a swath of attractive young women dead, from Washington state, through Utah, Colorado, and finally Florida. He murdered two of his last unsuspecting victims in their sleep in a sorority house in Talahassee, Florida, in 1978. The same night, he bludgeoned another young woman. His final victim was a 12-year-old girl in Lake City, Fla., about halfway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Often, but not always, the women, who nearly all had long hair parted in the middle, had been raped and bludgeoned to death with a crowbar, a board, a log, or some similar instrument. Sometimes, he strangled them as well, and the last was thought to have been stabbed. Some were dismembered and their heads disposed of separately from their bodies.

A thread running through the book is Rule's belief that Bundy killed these women because they reminded him of a woman whom he had loved, but whom he felt was out of his league and who eventually left him. That humiliated him deeply; his ego wouldn't let him accept it. In an interview shortly before he was executed, he told a psychiatrist that he felt pornography was responsible for pushing him over the edge from voyeur to killer, that his sexual fantasies had progressed to a point where observing did nothing for him anymore.

Watching that interview, I couldn't help feeling that Bundy was playing the psychatrist. I believe Ann Rule had it right when she (finally) pegged him as a psychopath—that is, an individual who is not only incapable of feeling empathy for another human being, but one who feels no remorse, no guilt. Shortly before his trial, he contacted Ann, who had been his friend for so many years, and asked her to intervene. She was not allowed to do that, but stated that she "knew what he wanted, although he had not said it outright. He wanted to come home . . . to confess it all . . . to be confined in a mental hospital . . . "

"The antisocial personality is mentally ill, but not in the classic sense or within our legal framework," Rule wrote. "He is invariably highly intelligent and has . . . learned the proper responses, the tricks and techniques that will please those from whom he wants something. He is subtle, calculating, clever, and dangerous." Rule also quoted Dr. Herve Cleckly, a specialist in the antisocial personality, who interviewed Bundy before his Miami trial: "The observer is confronted with a convincing mask of sanity. We are dealing not with a complete man at all, but with something that suggests a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly."

Theodore Robert Bundy, Utah, 1975, shortly
 after his arrest for possession of burglary tools.
A friend of mine stated recently that the majority of those who kill are not the Ted Bundys, the psychopaths, the sociopaths (something I will be looking at as I research my book). However, having known a sociopath—and having anguished over the direction his life was taking—I do wonder if there is any help for such folks. It seems like a "Catch 22," an unsolvable dilemma. Some of what I have read recently suggests that, yes, a psychopath can be helped through intensive therapy, which may indeed provide coping mechanisms. But I've yet to see that therapy can insert the missing piece into a brain so cold, that lacks the capacity to empathize or to feel remorse. On the one hand, we cannot blame them, as they did not choose their brain's dysfunction. On the other, many of them cannot be trusted to walk freely among us: Ted Bundy showed us that very clearly. He lured some of his victims into his car by convincing them that he was injured and needed help, even wearing a fake cast on his arm or leg, using crutches, dropping things. The functioning of their normal brains—which caused them to feel sorry for another human being—led to their deaths.

However, I am left with the question of whether the tendency toward psycopathy is genetic or acquired. I tend to think it is both. And also, if not all killers are psychopaths, what is their psychological makeup? If you have any thoughts regarding psychopathic killers or treatments for psycopaths, I'd love to hear from you.

© Beth Morgan, January 2014
Note: photographs of Bundy are in the public domain.

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