What We Need To Know About Psychopaths

A Collection Of Clips & Quotes

By Various Authors, Compiled & Presented


Bonnie M. Wells

Links & source info provided when possible:


"Psychopath! psychopath!"

I'm alone in my living room and I'm yelling at my TV. "Forget rehabilitation -- that guy is a psychopath."

Ever since I visited Dr. Robert Hare in Vancouver, I can see them, the psychopaths. It's pretty easy, once you know how to look."

The incredible thing, the reason I'm yelling, is that no one in this documentary -- the therapists, the warden, the omniscient narrator -- seems to know the word "psychopath." It is never uttered, yet it changes everything. A psychopath can never be made to feel the horror of murder. Weeks of intense therapy, which are producing real breakthroughs in the other youths, will probably make a psychopath more likely to re offend. Psychopaths are not like the rest of us, and everyone who studies them agrees they should not be treated as if they were.

The condition itself has been recognized for centuries, wearing evocative labels such as "madness without delirium" and "moral insanity" until the late 1800s, when "psychopath" was coined by a German clinician. But the term (and its 1930s synonym, sociopath) had always been a sort of catch-all, widely and loosely applied to criminals who seemed violent and unstable. Even into the mid-1970s, almost 80 percent of convicted felons in the United States were being diagnosed as sociopaths. In 1980, Hare created a diagnostic tool called the Psychopathy Checklist, which, revised five years later, became known as the *PCL-R. Popularly called "the Hare," the PCL-R measures psychopathy on a forty-point scale. Once it emerged, it was the first time in history that everyone who said "psychopath" was saying the same thing. For research in the field, it was like a starting gun.{{Note: PCL-R can be seen on page 2 of this report}}

Hare arrived at UBC in 1963, intending to follow up his doctoral research on punishment. Certain prisoners, it was rumored, didn't respond to punishment, and Hare went to the federal penitentiary in New Westminster, British Columbia, to find these extreme cases. (He found plenty. In his chilling 1993 book on psychopathy, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, he quotes one specimen's memories: "My mother, the most beautiful person in the world. She was strong, she worked hard to take care of four kids. A beautiful person. I started stealing her jewelery when I was in the fifth grade. You know, I never really knew the bitch -- we went our separate ways.")

In another Hare study, groups of letters were flashed to volunteers. Some of them were nonsense, some formed real words. The subject's job was to press a button whenever he recognized a real word, while Hare recorded response time and brain activity. Non-psychopaths respond faster and display more brain activity when processing emotionally loaded words such as "rape" or "cancer" than when they see neutral words such as "tree." With psychopaths, Hare found no difference. To them, "rape" and "tree" have the same emotional impact -- none.

Hare's research upset a lot of people. Until the psychopath came into focus, it was possible to believe that bad people were just good people with bad parents or childhood trauma and that, with care, you could talk them back into being good. Hare's research suggested that some people behaved badly even when there had been no early trauma. Moreover, since psychopaths' brains were in fundamental ways different from ours, talking them into being like us might not be easy. Indeed, to this day, no one has found a way to do so.

By the late 1970s, after fifteen years in the business, Bob Hare knew what he was looking for when it came to psychopaths. They exhibit a cluster of distinctive personality traits, the most significant of which is an utter lack of conscience. They also have huge egos, short tempers, and an appetite for excitement -- a dangerous mix. In a typical prison population, about 20 percent of the inmates satisfy the Hare definition of a psychopath, but they are responsible for over half of all violent crime.

The Psychopathy Checklist consists of a set of forms and a manual that describes in detail how to score a subject in twenty categories that define psychopathy. Is he (or, more rarely, she) glib and superficially charming, callous and without empathy? Does he have a grandiose sense of self worth, shallow emotions, a lack of remorse or guilt? Is he impulsive, irresponsible, promiscuous? Did he have behavioral problems early in life?

It's also found practical applications in police-squad rooms. Soon after he delivered a keynote speech at a conference for homicide detectives and prosecuting attorneys in Seattle three years ago, Hare got a letter thanking him for helping solve a series of homicides. The police had a suspect nailed for a couple of murders, but believed he was responsible for others. They were using the usual strategy to get a confession, telling him, 'Think how much better you'll feel, think of the families left behind,' and so on. After they'd heard Hare speak they realized they were dealing with a psychopath, someone who could feel neither guilt nor sorrow. They changed their interrogation tactic to, "So you murdered a couple of prostitutes. That's minor-league compared to Bundy or Gacy." The appeal to the psychopath's grandiosity worked. He didn't just confess to his other crimes, he bragged about them.

The most startling finding to emerge from Hare's work is that the popular image of the psychopath as a remorseless, smiling killer -- Paul Bernardo, Clifford Olson, John Wayne Gacy -- while not wrong, is incomplete. Yes, almost all serial killers, and most of Canada's dangerous offenders, are psychopaths, but violent criminals are just a tiny fraction of the psychopaths around us. Hare estimates that 1 percent of the population -- 300,000 people in Canada -- are psychopaths.

He calls them "subclinical" psychopaths. They're the charming predators who, unable to form real emotional bonds, find and use vulnerable women for sex and money (and inevitably abandon them). They're the con men like Christophe Rocancourt, and they're the stockbrokers and promoters who caused Forbes magazine to call the Vancouver Stock Exchange (now part of the Canadian Venture Exchange) the scam capital of the world. (Hare has said that if he couldn't study psychopaths in prisons, the Vancouver Stock Exchange would have been his second choice.) A significant proportion of persistent wife beaters, and people who have unprotected sex despite carrying the AIDS virus, are psychopaths. Psychopaths can be found in legislatures, hospitals, and used-car lots. They're your neighbor, your boss, and your blind date. Because they have no conscience, they're natural predators. If you didn't have a conscience, you'd be one too.

Psychopaths love chaos and hate rules, so they're comfortable in the fast-moving modern corporation. Dr. Paul Babiak, an industrial-organizational psychologist based near New York City, is in the process of writing a book with Bob Hare called When Psychopaths Go to Work: Cons, Bullies and the Puppet-master. The subtitle refers to the three broad classes of psychopaths Babiak has encountered in the workplace.

"The con man works one-on-one," says Babiak. "They'll go after a woman, marry her, take her money, then move on and marry someone else. The puppet master would manipulate somebody to get at someone else. This type is more powerful because they're hidden." Babiak says psychopaths have three motivations: thrill-seeking, the pathological desire to win, and the inclination to hurt people. "They'll jump on any opportunity that allows them to do those things," he says. "If something better comes along, they'll drop you and move on."

"The ability to get people to follow you is a leadership trait, but being charismatic to the point of manipulating people is a psychopathic trait. They can sometimes be confused."

The United Kingdom, partly in response to the 1993 abduction and murder of two-year-old James Bulger by two ten-year-olds, and partly in response to PCL-R data, is in the process of creating a new legal classification called Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD). As it stands, the government proposes to allow authorities to detain people declared DSPD, even if they have not committed a crime.

So many of these awkward questions would vanish if only there were a functioning treatment program for psychopathy. But there isn't. In fact, several studies have shown that existing treatment makes criminal psychopaths worse.

Quotes From MedicinNet.com

As many as 5% of people display psychopathic or sociopathic personality disorders. That's according to experts and the professional bible of mental illnesses -- the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). These personality disorders are marked by antisocial and impulsive behavior, disregard for societal standards, and no indications of fear or guilt.

"Psychopaths have low autonomic arousal. They don't react and don't show a lot of affection or emotion. They don't feel when or what other people feel."

"The most essential characteristic is an excessive need for power and control, and we see this in most of sexually oriented serial killers," Levin says. "They enjoy the suffering of their victims. It makes them feel special and important, like big shots."

"The last thing they would want to do is distance themselves. So they typically, like Rader, use up-close-and-personal methods to kill -- whether strangulation, stabbing, or bludgeoning," he says. "The killing is a mere footnote. The text has to do with the torture of the victim, hearing her scream. Pleading and begging for mercy makes the killer feel good."

Welner adds that "people who are true psychopaths really are cold and callous and lack empathy and have a detached way of feeling emotion."

"If they exhibit emotion, it's an effort to create an impression," he says.

Crime Library

I'm the most cold-blooded sonofabitch you'll ever meet," said Ted Bundy. "I just liked to kill, I wanted to kill." The hallmark of the psychopath is the inability to recognize others as worthy of compassion. Victims are dehumanized, flattened into worthless objects in the murderer's mind. John Gacy, never showing an ounce of remorse, called his victims "worthless little queers and punks," while the "Yorkshire Ripper" Peter Sutcliffe brashly declared that he was "cleaning up the streets" of the human trash.

Psychopaths/sociopaths are diagnosed by their purposeless and irrational antisocial behavior, lack of conscience, and emotional vacuity. They are thrill seekers, literally fearless. Punishment rarely works, because they are impulsive by nature and fearless of the consequences. Incapable of having meaningful relationships, they view others as fodder for manipulation and exploitation. According to one psychological surveying tool (DSM IIIR) between 3-5% of men are sociopaths; less than 1% of female population are sociopaths.

Tests are showing that the nervous system of the psychopath is markedly different they feel less fear and anxiety than normal people. One carefully conducted experiment revealed that "low arousal levels" not only causes impulsiveness and thrill-seeking, but also showed how dense sociopaths are when it comes to changing their behavior.

This need for higher levels of stimulation makes the psychopath seek dangerous situations. When Gacy heard an ambulance, he would follow to see what sort of exciting catastrophe was in the making. Part of the reason for many serial killers seeking to become cops is probably due to the intensity of the job.

Can psychopaths be successfully treated? According to the psychiatrists, "No." Shock treatment doesn't work; drugs have not proven successful in treatment; and psychotherapy, which involves trust and a relationship with the therapist, is out of the question, because psychopaths are incapable of opening up to others. They don't want to change.


What is a psychopath?

A psychopath is defined as a person having no concerns for the feelings of others and a complete disregard for any sense of social obligation. They seem egocentric and lack insight of any sense of responsibility or consequence. Their emotions are thought to be superficial and shallow, if they exist at all. They are considered callous, manipulative, and incapable of forming lasting relationships, let alone showing any kind of meaningful love. They typically never perform any action unless they determine it can be beneficial for themselves.

Since psychopaths cause harm through their actions, it is assumed that they are not emotionally attached to the people they harm; however, according to the PCL-R Checklist, psychopaths are also careless in the way they treat themselves. They frequently fail to alter their behavior in a way that would prevent them from enduring future discomfort. Dr. Joseph Newman contends that the behavior displayed by psychopaths is the result of "an inability to process contextual cues."

It is thought that any emotions which the primary psychopath exhibits are the fruits of watching and mimicking other people's emotions. They show poor impulse control and a low tolerance for frustration and aggression. They have no empathy, remorse, anxiety or guilt in relation to their behavior. In short, they truly are devoid of conscience. However, they understand that society expects them to behave in a conscientious manner, and therefore they mimic this behavior when it suits their needs.


La Donna Beaty

Sinclair Community College

Dayton, Ohio

One popular theory suggests that many murderers are the product of our violent society. Our culture tends to approve of violence and find it acceptable, even preferable, in many circumstances (Holmes and DeBurger 27): According to research done in 1970, one out of every four men and one out of every six women believed that it was appropriate for a husband to hit his wife under certain conditions (Holmes and DeBurger 33). This emphasis on violence is especially prevalent in television programs. Violence occurs in 80 percent of all prime-time shows, while cartoons, presumably made for children, average eighteen violent acts per hour. It is estimated that by the age of eighteen, the average child will have viewed more than 16,000 television murders (Holmes and DeBurger 34). Some experts feel that children demonstrate increasingly aggressive behavior with each violent act they view (Lunde 15) and become so accustomed to violence that these acts seem normal (Lunde 35). In fact, most seral killers do begin to show patterns of aggressive behavior at a young age. It is, therefore, possible that after viewing increasing amounts of violence, such children determine that this is acceptable behavior; when they are then punished for similar actions, they may become confused and angry and eventually lash out by committing horrible, violent acts.

Another theory concentrates on the family atmosphere into which the serial killer is born. Most killers state that they experienced psychological abuse as children and never established good relationships with the male figures in their lives (Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas 19). As children, they were often rejected by their parents and received little nurturing (Lunde 94; Holmes and DeBurger 64 - 70). It has also been established that the families of serial killers often move repeatedly, never allowing the child to feel a sense of stability; in many cases, they are also forced to live outside the family home before reaching the age of eighteen (Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas 19 - 20). Our culture's tolerance for violence may overlap with such family dynamics: with 79 percent of the population believing that slapping a twelve-year-old is neither necessary, normal, or good, it is no wonder that serial killers relate tales of physical abuse (Holmes and DeBurger 30; Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas 19 - 20) and view themselves as the "black sheep" of the family. They may even, perhaps unconsciously, assume this same role in society.

While the foregoing analysis portrays the serial killer as a lost, lonely, abused little child, another theory, based on the same information, gives an entirely different view. In this analysis the killer is indeed rejected by his family but only after being repeatedly defiant, sneaky, and threatening. As verbal lies and destructiveness increase, the parents give the child the distance he seems to want in order to maintain a small amount of domestic peace (Samenow 13). This interpretation suggests that the killer shapes his parents much more that his parents shape him. It also denies that the media can influence a child's mind and turn him into something that he doesn't already long to be. Since most children view similar amounts of violence, the argument goes, a responsible child filters what he sees and will not resort to criminal activity no matter how acceptable it seems to be (Samenow 15 - 18). In 1930, the noted psychologist Alfred Adler seemed to find this true of any criminal. As he put it, "With criminals it is different: they have a private logic, a private intelligence. They are suffering form a wrong outlook upon the world, a wrong estimate of their own importance and the importance of other people" (qtd. in Samenow 20).

While the percentage of murders committed by mental hospital patients is much lower than that among the general population (Lunde 35), it cannot be ignored that the rise in serial killings happened at almost the same time as the deinstitutionalization movement in the mental health care system during the 1960s (Markman and Bosco 266). While reform was greatly needed in the mental health care system, it has now become nearly impossible to hospitalize those with severe problems. In the United States, people have a constitutional right to remain mentally ill. Involuntary commitment can only be accomplished if the person is deemed dangerous to self, dangerous to others, or gravely disabled. However, in the words of Dr. Ronald Markman, "According to the way that the law is interpreted, if you can go to the mailbox to pick up your social security check, you're not gravely disabled even if you think you're living on Mars"; even if a patient is thought to be dangerous, he or she cannot be held longer than ninety days unless it can be proved that the patient actually committed dangerous acts while in the hospital (Markman and Bosco 267). Many of the most heinous criminals have had long histories of mental illness but could not be hospitalized due to these stringent requirements. Richard Chase, the notorious Vampire of Sacramento, believed that he needed blood in order to survive, and while in the care of a psychiatric hospital, he often killed birds and other small animals in order to quench this desire. He was released to kill eight people, one of them an eighteen-month-old baby (Biondi and Hecox 206). Edmund Kemper was equally insane. At the age of fifteen, he killed both of his grandparents and spent five years in a psychiatric facility. Doctors determined that he was "cured" and released him into an unsuspecting society. He killed eight women, including his own mother (Lunde 53 - 56).

Recently, studies have given increasing consideration to the genetic make-up of serial killers. The connection between biology and behavior is strengthened by research in which scientists have been able to develop a violently aggressive strain of mice simply through selective inbreeding (Taylor 23). These studies have caused scientists to become increasingly interested in the limbic system of the brain, which houses the amygdala, an almond shaped structure located in the front of the temporal lobe. It has long been known that surgically altering that portion of the brain, in an operation known as a lobotomy, has been one way of controlling behavior. This surgery was used frequently in the 1960s but has since been discontinued as it also erases most of a person's personality. More recent development, however, have shown that temporal lobe epilepsy causes electrical impulses to be discharged directly into the amygdala. When this electronic stimulation is recreated in the laboratory, it causes violent behavior in lab animals. Additionally, other forms of epilepsy do not cause abnormalities in behavior, except during seizure activity. Temporal lobe epilepsy is linked with a wide range of antisocial behavior, including anger, paranoia, and aggression. It is also interesting to note that this form of epilepsy produces extremely unusual brain waves. These waves have been found in only 10 to 15 percent of the general population, but over 79 percent of known serial killers test positive for these waves (Taylor 28 - 33).

One of the most common traits that all researchers have noted among serial killers is heavy use of alcohol. Whether this correlation is brought about by external factors or whether alcohol is an actual stimulus that causes certain behavior is still unclear, but the idea deserves consideration. Lunde found that the majority of those who commit murder had been drinking beforehand and commonly had a urine alcohol level of between .20 and .29, nearly twice the legal level of intoxication (31 - 32). Additionally, 70 percent of the families that reared serial killers had verifiable records of alcohol abuse (Ressler 17). Jeffrey Dahmer had been arrested in 1981 on charges of drunkenness and, before his release from prison on sexual assault charges, his father had written a heart-breaking letter which pleaded that Jeffrey be forced to undergo treatment for alcoholism, a plea that, if heeded, might have changed the course of future events (Davis 70, 103). Whether alcoholism is a learned behavior or an inherited predisposition is still hotly debated, but a 1979 report issued by Harvard Medical School stated that "[a]lcoholism in the biological parent appears to be a more reliable predictor of alcoholism in the children than any other environmental factor examined" (qtd. in Taylor 117). While alcohol was once thought to alleviate anxiety and depression, we now know that it can aggravate and intensify such moods (Taylor 110), which may lead to irrational feelings of powerlessness that are brought under control only when the killer proves he has the ultimate power to control life and death.

As today becomes tomorrow, we must remember the words of Ted Bundy, one of the most ruthless serial killers of our time: "Most serial killers are people who kill for the pure pleasure of killing and cannot be rehabilitated. Some of the killers themselves would even say so" (qtd. in Holmes and Deburger 150).

Defining Serial Murder

Defining Serial Murder

For those in law enforcement, serial killing generally means the sexual attack and murder of young women, men, and children by a male who follows a pattern, physical or psychological.

Because of rather narrow definitions of serial killing females are generally not classified as serial killers even though they meet the requirements for such a label. One explanation may simply be that we rarely if ever hear of a female "Jack the Ripper." Women who kill serially generally use poisons to dispose of their victims and are not associated with the sexual attacks, tortures, and violence of their male counterparts.

Typologies of Murder

In essence serial murderers should include any offenders, male or female, who kill over time. Most researchers agree that serial killers have a minimum of 3-4 victims. Usually there is a pattern in their killing that may be associated with the types of victims selected or the method or motives for the killing.

In addition, serial murderers include those men and women who operate within the confines of a city or a state or even travel through several states as they seek out victims. Consequently, some victims have a personal relationship with their killers and others do not, and some victims are killed for pleasure and some merely for gain. Of greatest importance from a research perspective is the linkage of common factors among the victims-for example, as Egger (1985) observed, "victims' place or status within their immediate surroundings (such as vagrants, prostitutes, migrant workers, homosexuals, missing children, and single and often elderly women)" (p. 3). Commonality among those murdered may include several factors, any of which can prove heuristic in better understanding victimization.

Wille (1974) identified ten different types of murderers covering a broad range of bio-socio-psychological categories:



afflicted with organic brain disorder


passive aggressive



juvenile (the child was the killer)

mentally retarded

sex killers

Lee (1988) also created a variety of labels to differentiate killers according to motive, including:




power or domination




contract killing




Even before American society became aware, in the early 1980s, of serial murder as anything more than an anomaly, researchers had begun to classify multiple killers and assign particular characteristics and labels to them. Guttmacher (1973) described the sadistic serial murderer as one who derives sexual gratification from killing and who often establishes a pattern, such as the manner in which they kill or the types of victims they select, such as prostitutes, children, or the elderly. Motivated by fantasies, the offender appears to derive pleasure from dehumanizing his or her victims. Lunde (1976) recognized and noted distinctions between the mass killer and the serial killer, notably that the mass killer appears to suffer from psychosis and should be considered insane. By contrast he found little evidence of mental illness among serial killers. Danto (1982) noted that most serial murderers may be described as obsessive-compulsive because they normally kill according to a particular style and pattern.

Researchers have been attempting to create profiles of the "typical" serial killer from the rapidly accumulating statistics on offenders and victims in the United States. The most stereotypical of all serial murderers are those who in some way are involved sexually with their victims. It is this type of killer who generates such public interest and alarm. Stories of young women being abducted, raped, tortured, and strangled appear more and more frequently in the newspapers.

Predestined Serial Killers

Annabella Rutigliano

serial killer: a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and usually following a similar, characteristic pattern of behavior.

A startling amount of criminals on death row have been clinically diagnosed with brain disorders:

Brain damage cannot be the motivator for all serial killing. 46% of all confessed serial killers have no frontal or general brain damage. The majority admits that they were perfectly aware of what they were doing before, during, and after the crime. Some even confess that they know that what they were doing was wrong, and contemplated 'giving up' after the first time. The thrill derived from murder is a temporary fix. Like any other powerful narcotic, homicidal violence satisfies the senses for a time, but the effect soon fades. And when it does, a predator goes hunting. (1) Caroll Edward Cole commented that after his first kill " I thought my life was going to improve, I was sadly mistaken:

Most serial killers kill either for personal gain (revenge, money etc...) or pleasure (usually sexual). Many serial killers have above average intelligence, and are well employed in high wage jobs (engineers, doctors, lawyers etc...). The majority came from middle to high-income families. They are usually handsome/ beautiful, very articulate, and sexually promiscuous. (1) As killers they have a specific trait that they look for in the victims that they ritually kill. In interviews, many serial killers admitted that the people they killed fulfilled some aspect of a person that abused or taunted them. Caroll Edward Cole killed little boys that reminded him of a schoolyard bully that taunted him for having a girl's name. He later expanded his modus operandi to include young brown haired females that looked like his abusive mother. Under oath, he told a story of childhood abuse inflicted by his sadistic, adulterous mother, giving rise to a morbid obsession with women who betrayed their husbands or lovers. "I think," he told the jury, "I've been killing her through them."

What We Need To Know About Psychopaths, page 2

Bonnie M. Wells

Vance Holmes

Drowning In Coincidence

John Douglas


Roy Hazlewood

Dark Dreams

Compliant Victims of the Sexual Sadist

Michael Connelly

Never Cold

Peter Vronsky


The Method And Madness Of Monsters

Stephen Michaud

Stephen G. Michaud Homepage

The Symbolic Cases

Lookin For A Killer / Homepage

Pure Coincidence / Homepage

Starlight Inner-Prizes / Homepage

Without A Trace Series

This page posted/updated: 4-18-07 / 4-21-07 / 2008 // BMW