“I was very impressed by The Girls Guide to Predators by Alison Summers. Clearly and concisely written, and packed with tons of useful information, the author was able to lay out in very understandable terms exactly what the unsuspecting soul needs to know about the predators and other unsavory sorts among us.”
-Dr George Simon PHD, psychologist and best-selling author of In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People and Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of our Age
Sixty years ago, Doctor Robert Lindner, warned of an epidemic of teenage predatory behavior to come. Dr. Lindner discussed his fears in a best-selling book called ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, which was turned into a film starring James Dean. To say that the message of the book – a call to arms- was lost in the Hollywood treatment of the material is stating the obvious.
The fact is today we seem to be living in the middle of that epidemic. Young psychopaths are violently acting out more than ever before, and in greater numbers. Gang rapes are up. Bullying is commonplace. One in five high school girls has been sexually assaulted. More teenagers are also killing their teachers, or their own families. Following the massacre at Columbine, school shootings are more frequent.
Predatory violence directed at younger children – sexual assault then murder- has also become more widespread.
‘I just wanted to see what it felt like to kill’, is often the only motive offered by teenage psychopaths.
Doctor Robert Hare, the inventor of the Psychopathy Checklist, the diagnostic tool used in hospitals and prisons, gives lectures around the world on psychopaths. Author of the book ‘Without Conscience: the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us, ‘ Hare has observed that eastern societies manage to contain their psychopaths better than we do in the west.
The medical profession believes that psychopaths are born not made. Nevertheless, environment exerts an influence in the kind of acting out they do, and the behavior they think they can get away with. With the lifting of any kind of restrictions, psychopaths respond by increasing their antisocial behavior. This is why when a dictatorship topples, all the psychopaths come out of the woodwork and start looting, raping, committing home invasions, and setting fires.
Psychopaths are basically amoral. Brain scans have shown no activity in the areas of the brain governing conscience or empathy. Lacking internal controls, they will always do as much as they can get away with. That means that as society forbids less and less, young psychopaths push the envelope more aggressively. And once a psychopath embarks upon violence as a teenager, it isn’t possible to rehabilitate him as an adult.
Teenage predators take their cues from adult society. And adult society at this moment in time not only shows little respect for victims, it applauds outrageous behavior, the kind that is shown on reality TV. Society also will defend the rights of the aggressive individual – to read violent pornography, to collect semi-automatic weapons, to play graphically violent video games, which depict females as sex objects – above the rights of the rest of us to feel safe.
Now most women and girls are not interested in collecting assault weapons or pouring over S and M pornography. And it’s women and girls who are the most at risk from predatory violence. So is society defending the rights of men above the rights of women and children? No, it’s worse than that.
Most men don’t collect semi-automatic weapons or read bondage pornography either. Most men are just as concerned as women about the level of violence in our society. No, the males whose rights our community defends to collect assault weapons and violent pornography, are the disturbed ones, the predators.
Is that really the message we want to be sending teenagers?
Life was a “game” concluded Caryl Chessman, the infamous Red Light Bandit, in which “you got away with anything you were smart enough to get away with.”
Chessman a self- described psychopath, wrote a memoir while he was imprisoned at San Quentin for rape and kidnapping. In it he made no pretense of remorse. In fact he waxed nostalgic for the good old days.
“Crime was an adventure, kicks, glamour; crime was rebellion, a psychopathic crusade.”
Serial killers, like all psychopaths, enjoy playing games with people. It can be frustrating for detectives trying to coax a confession out of someone who knows what they’re after, and is toying with them. Serial killers will exploit the only asset they have- information- to find what police will trade in return.
Often the interrogations become bargaining sessions. And if the game doesn’t get played according to the prisoner’s rules, it doesn’t go forward. They often behave like petulant children.
Sometimes the serial killer offers real information, sometimes its bogus. Often times the serial killer is just enjoying jerking the cops around. Veteran profiler John Douglas, who interviewed many serial killers during his time at Quantico, always counseled younger detectives to remember:
“They’re actually assessing individuals who are themselves expert in assessing people.”
The interrogation is always a game, whether the outcome will be useful or not, because that’s the only way a psychopath knows how to connect with people. They are born manipulators.
Serial killers are known to withhold information, so they can enjoy watching detectives trying to guess what it is. The serial killer is not going to confess outright to anything. Where would be the pay off? Psychopaths always need to feel they are the one in control
FBI agent Resch sees it like this: “The controller doesn’t lose that urge when he’s looked up., And he’s going to look for opportunities to do that. It could be a cell-mate, a guard, a former paramour whom he controls using threatening letters. If it’s law enforcement, he will look for opportunities to control and manipulate the detective. This could take the form of agreeing to talk, then canceling the appointment at the last minute. At that point, he’s manipulated the detective’s whole day.”
One serial killer Robert Browne had murdered 48 people in nine states. Scott Fisher interrogated Browne. He recollects, it was clear that “he ran the show. If you asked him a question he didn’t want to discuss, he made it clear: You don’t talk about that. If you kept pushing on that line, you had a real short interview. If you wanted to keep him talking, you had to let him control the conversation.”
Agent Jeffrey Nohr also interrogated Browne. Nohr explains that it is important for an interrogator to keep a lid on their emotions because if the serial killer feels he is being judged, there is a shift in the power balance, and he will simply shut up:
“It’s not something you can teach a new investigator, or the average person. I think it only comes with time and maturity. You split your mind in half; one side stays in reality and the other, well, whatever.”
So every night before one of the 90 minute interrogations, Nohr would mentally prepare himself. He would tell himself over and over:
“‘Robert’s my neighbor, Robert’s my friend. Do not be judgmental The point is to gain information and develop trust.”
Cold case detectives say it isn’t unusual for a serial killer behind bars to reach out, claiming they want to talk about other crimes. Says one interrogator, David Resch, “It can be frustrating, He may be lying. He may just want a little attention. He may just want to make his situation a little bit better in prison…they may be giving you a lot of bull.”
One example: serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who in 1983 had convinced lawmen across the US that he’d committed murders in their states. Sometimes with his homosexual partner Ottis O’Toole, sometimes alone.
While Lucas wasn’t a very intelligent man – IQ 80- he was a cunning game player. As he confessed to cold case squads his list of victims eventually reached 600. In return for his confessions he got: steak dinners, helicopter rides, and attention- plenty of it.
But he hadn’t committed all 600 murders. When , in 1984, his hoax was exposed by the Dallas Times-Herald, it deeply embarrassed law enforcement, which delighted Lucas.
No-one knows how many people he killed . He had always mixed truth with lies like any con artist does. In the end Lucas was found guilty of 11 murders, but other official estimates run from 60 to 300 deaths.
One way a psychopath manipulates is by letting you think that you have the power in the relationship.
Jason Moss said of his correspondence with John Wayne Gacy in jail “I felt I was the one in control. I figured he needed me more than I needed him.”
Obsessed with the 18 year old kid who was writing a school paper on him, Gacy wrote Jason hundreds of letters. Jason Moss, who called himself, Gacy’s “last victim” experienced directly what it was like to be groomed and – on a prison visit where the guard conveniently disappeared – briefly trapped by a serial killer.
The techniques Gacy used to manipulate Jason and the other young men he victimized, were the same ones most psychopaths use. Jason Moss thought he was safe from Gacy because “logic had always been my favorite tool. I relied so much on logic myself, I was unusually susceptible to others rational arguments.”
And Gacy was a master at rationalizing away Jason’s concerns.
Sometimes normal people they believe they are intelligent enough to out-manipulate a psychopath, but psychopaths have a quality normal people do not anticipate. They have an almost supernatural amount of cunning. They are also natural born con-artists. They are expert at sizing up your strengths and weaknesses, and using that knowledge to manipulate you . They know what buttons to push.
So what red flags should you be on the alert for in deciding if you’re dealing with a psychopath? Arrogance is a good one. Signs of over-confidence, a cocky manner, a smug attitude. Also psychopaths are typically controlling individuals. They have a strong need to dominate others.
John Wayne Gacy, after his arrest, tried to take over the police interrogation.
“Now we’re going to clean up 38 something murders” he told detectives, as if he was the one in charge.
After meeting Gacy in prison, Jason Moss became interested in law enforcement, and went on to have a promising career. But Gacy’s dark energy had crept into his psyche. Perhaps it was because he had seen the world through the eyes of this evil man, he lost his will to live, and in his early 30s he committed suicide.
Perhaps it’s a stare held too long, a smile that doesn’t meet the eyes, or curls slowly. A sudden widening or narrowing of the eyes. The way he keeps looking away quickly. You’re not thinking about it at the time but your intuition is picking up on danger signs.
Today the FBI endorses ‘intuition’ as the best weapon women have to recognize dangerous individuals. They say whatever your intuition is picking up on don’t analyze it until you’re safe at home. Just act on it immediately.
What some call ‘intuition’ and others call listening to ‘their gut,’ brain scientists refer to as rapid cognition. Or ‘the adaptive unconscious’.
Malcolm Gladwell, explains that it’s at the forefront of modern scientific research:
“the study of this kind of decision making is one of the most important new fields in psychology.” (Blink, p11)
Intuition saves lives. Whereas Ted Bundy murdered two young women he lured from the shores of Lake Sammamish one Sunday afternoon ,there were 3 others he approached who did not fall for Bundy’s ruse. Those young women said he seemed very nice, but their intuition had signaled that something was ‘wrong’. Later they recalled:
• He had seemed too intent on getting her away from the beach .
• His intense eye contact was unnerving
• He had looked uncomfortable.
• He spoke fast.
• It sounded as if he ‘rehearsed’ what he was saying beforehand.
• He seemed to have a hidden agenda.
Sometimes the disturbing energy of the predator provokes a feeling of discomfort, even a churned up kind of excited feeling in those they’re addressing. Other people have a vague feeling around a predator that they’re being manipulated. Or sense the person is ‘acting’ ,
What are the emotions that get stirred up in the presence of a predator?
“They are doubt, suspicion, apprehension, hesitation and fear. Of these, the most urgent is fear.” (Gavin De Becker, security expert)
Ted Bundy described the kind of small talk he typically engaged in with a target. It would be light and superficial, he said. Not too many personal questions or answers. But once he had enticed the victim to leave with him, the talk would slow down to almost nothing. ‘To avoid developing some kind of a relationship, Bundy said he had to “remove himself from the personal aspects of the encounter.”
Bundy claimed he never killed anyone he got to know for more than twenty minutes.
Why didn’t he want a “personal” encounter?
A sex predator doesn’t want to see his victim as a person because it will distract him from his fantasy of domination and control.
“Your life gets in the way,” explains Edmund Kemper. “I’m sorry to sound cold about this, but what I needed to have was a particular experience with a person, and to possess them in the way I wanted to.”
In other words, the predator doesn’t want to see his victim as a person because it will distract him from the sex fantasy he is intending to realize with her. Or him..
“I always try to not get to know the person too well. Made it seem like it was an inanimate object. Depersonalized them.” (Jeffery Dahmer)
Serial killers are regarded as legally sane if they knew what they were doing was wrong , and were capable of restraining themselves. When they pack handcuffs, restraints and a weapon – their ‘rape kit’- or put on a cop’s uniform to deceive a victim into accompanying them, it is regarded as premeditation.
When they conceal evidence afterwards so they will not be caught, it is regarded as ‘consciousness of guilt’.
What is striking about premeditation is how carefully predators study how to ensnare prey, and how unaware most people are of the kind of planning that goes into an abduction. This lack of awareness leaves a lot of us pretty defenceless if they choose to go after us.
In her book “Beauty Bites Beast; Awakening the Warrior in Women and Girls” Ellen Snortland ponders:
“How come the females of every other species on the planet are fierce, regardless of size, and are the ones who train their offspring male and female in defense and hunting?”
It’s a good question to ask.
I suspect it’s a Catch 22. Since most females were never taught to recognize predators, let alone how to protect ourselves, we don’t pass on the knowledge to our daughters. We don’t know what to teach them. I hope my book will help.
If parents want to protect their daughters from sex predators, they need to talk to them about sex predators.
Gavin De Becker is the nation’s leading expert on predicting violent behavior. In his opinion:
“By the time a girl has reached her teens, she has gone from being an occasional sexual predatory prize to the leading sexual predatory prize. Accordingly, I don’t think there’s much information she need be protected from.”
Serial rapists and serial killers start their careers in early adolescence, usually starting out with theft, then peeping tom activities (masturbating in the shrubbery), then breaking in and stealing underwear, then one day breaking in while she’s at home, etc. Violating someone’s privacy at home feels sexually powerful, until it’s not enough anymore, and then the violence escalates to rape, and then sometimes rape-murder.
Invariably the young serial rapist has fed his sexual fantasies on pornography that involves bondage. When sexual pleasure through masturbation and violent pornography are fused in the teenage psychopath’s brain, nothing else will excite him except sex involving domination and cruelty.
As a society we’re too tolerant of hard core pornography. It should be regarded as hate literature, equivalent to racist or anti-semitic images inciting violence. But it appears that society is inured to images of females being brutalized. And on TV? Whereas there would be an uproar about racial violence or anti semitic violence being a regular staple of prime time TV – and rightly so- there is little objection to the widespread content of naked, abused female bodies.
Psychopaths – or social predators- have a special look in the eyes. Or rather, as Dr Alexander Lowen describes it:
“the absence of a look. “The eyes are dull; no light shines through them; there is no expression of feeling.”
Along with these ‘empty’ lifeless eyes like those of a lizard or crocodile, human predators have a fixated stare. It is referred to in medical circles as ‘the ‘reptilian stare’ or ‘the predatory gaze’, because as Dr Robert Hare, the highly regarded expert on psychopaths, says the intensity is “similar to the concentration with which a predator stalks its prey. “
Dr J. Reid Meloy, author of Violent Attachments, has often heard from nurses and other doctors “:
“ descriptions of certain patients or inmates eyes as cold, staring, harsh, empty, vacant and absent of feeling…Reactions from staff have included, ‘I felt as if he were staring right through me; when he looked at me, the hair stood up on my neck’. The last comment is particularly telling because it captures the primitive, autonomic and fearful response to a predator.”
Many psychiatrists believe an “intuitive repulsion” arises because the psychopath is unconsciously projecting an ‘annihilatory stare’. That is, he isn’t seeing the other person as a human being, but coldly assessing them as an object he can use, manipulate or destroy. This is why Diane Watson recoiled when Ted Bundy first noticed her. The girl was on her way to the concession stand at Lake Sammammish when she saw Bundy staring at her intently. His abnormal use of eye contact made her nervous..
“She walked faster and became extra cautious as he followed her, never pulling his gaze away from her. He caught up with her in spite of her increased pace, and asked, “I need to ask a really big favor. Will you help me load my sailboat?”
Diane explained that she was in too much of a hurry. She could feel his eyes still boring into her as she walked away. She later told detectives:
“It was as if his eyes were transfixed on his prey.”
Other girls who had conversations with Ted Bundy that afternoon, also recalled he had a strange off- putting stare. The predatory sexualized glare of the psychopath is known in medical circles as ‘scoptophilia’. What the Sicilians call the “evil eye.”
Janet Carstensen recalled that after she first met Ted Bundy outside the University of Washington library, his intense eye contact made her uneasy . “It sort of bugged me – two big eyes staring at me weirdly”. Though she had offered to help the injured young man carry his books to the car, she put them down and fled.
Some psychiatrists have likened the psychopath’s gaze to an intense narrow-beam searchlight. When he loses interest, and looks away, it feels as if a light was suddenly switched off.
Detective Robert Keppel remembers that in interrogating Ted Bundy:
“the only time he looked at me was when he was manipulating me. At other times Bundy’s eyes darted around rapidly in their sockets, following whatever movements were in his area.”
The FBI estimates that 75 per cent of the world’s serial killers are in the USA.
One could speculate endlessly on the reasons, but the upside is that many of them have been interviewed by FBI profilers.
Why were these serial killers willing to share their thoughts with law enforcement? Mostly boredom, say the profilers. And a chance to show off, and feel important.
Behind bars Ted Bundy even offered to help the detective tracking the Green River Killer. Bundy thought he could draw up a pretty good profile, with his insider knowledge.
Such co-operation with law enforcement shouldn’t be taken as a desire to rehabilitate. Sex predators are often model prisoners. They are polite and obedient. They get on well with the guards.
Behind bars they no longer appear threatening, but that’s because they have been removed from their prey.
Once they are on the outside, they are highly likely to kill or rape again. I can think of no better example of this than Arthur Shawcross.
Arthur Shawcross should never have been released from jail, and he certainly should have been more closely monitored than he was.
Fourteen people died as a result of these decisions. Yet a careful study of his background showed he should have been kept behind bars for a lot longer.
Drafted by the army in 1967, Arthur Shawcross was honorably discharged in 1969 after he showed a predilection for setting fires.
An army psychiatrist wrote that Shawcross seemed to get sexual enjoyment from these acts.
After being discharged Shawcross moved from the army base in Oklahoma to Waterton in New York State, where he was soon arrested for crimes of burglary and arson.
He was sentenced to 5 years in Attica Prison, but only served 22 months.
Paroled in 1971, he got a job in New York State with the Watertown Public Works Department.
In 1977 he lured a ten year old boy Jack Blake into the woods where he sexually assaulted and killed him.
Four months later he raped and killed an 8 year old girl Karen Ann Hill. He was arrested and confessed to both murders.
Under a plea agreement, he told police where the body of Jack Blake was buried in return for the charge against him being dropped, and pled guilty to manslaughter for the murder of Karen Ann Hill.
He received a 25 year sentence. Shawcross served 14 and a half years and he was paroled in 1987.
He moved to Rochester New York for a fresh start.
The following year he started raping, mutilating and murdering women, mostly prostitutes.
He had killed 12 women in a 2 year period before he was apprehended in 1990. He pled guilty, and received a life sentence without parole.
Shawcross died in 2008 of cardiac arrest at Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York State.
He never showed any remorse about his murders.
It was 8. 46 a.m at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. The date was Sept 11, 2001. In the South Tower on the 96th floor , Merrill Lynch employees were passing conference papers down a long table. Tania Head, a bright, ambitious 28 year old executive, was getting ready to address her team when someone yelled that the North Tower opposite them was ablaze. As her colleagues raced to the window, Tania pulled out her mobile phone and frantically punched numbers in an effort to reach her fiancée Dave, who worked for the Deloitte & Touche accountancy firm in the North Tower.
When Dave didn’t pick up, Tania ran over to the window in time to watch a terrifying sight: people in the building opposite were jumping to their deaths to escape the flames. That’s when Tania ordered her team to evacuate. Rather than wait for a local elevator, she directed them down the stairs to the express lifts on the 78th floor, known as the Sky Lobby. But as they arrived, there was a roar of jet engines followed by an explosion of glass, and an enormous airplane was suddenly plowing across the Sky Lobby killing everyone in its path.
As Tania recalled later: “It was like a horror movie, people were mounted on each other, the smell of burnt skin and people’s insides, I was gagging.” Despite being badly burned herself, Tania stopped and promised a dying man she would take his wedding ring to his wife. Another man wearing a red bandana across his lower face, staunched her still smouldering clothes and assisted her to a staircase already filled with terrified evacuees.
Injured, Tania staggered down 50 flights, often choking from the dense smoke. As a group of firefighters rushed past, she fainted , and a firefighter turned back to assist her downstairs. At the doors leading to the South Tower, a second firefighter took over. He rushed Tania towards a nearby ambulance. Suddenly there was a massive, thunderous noise. When the firefighter saw the tower about to collapse behind them, he shoved Tania under a vehicle.
“He covered me with his body” she remembered, later . “We were engulfed and soon it was pitch black and impossible to see or breathe. We shared his mask until we were rescued. Next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”
Only 19 other employees who worked on the floors above the 78th floor, had survived. For Tania Head, months of painful skin grafts would follow, but the horrifying memories took longer to heal. Others who escaped the Twin Towers would similarly find themselves similarly troubled. Tania Head decided to reach out to them. “I’ve seen and experienced too much to go back to my old life” she explained to a reporter. I want to make a difference in the world.”
Tania Head would go on to become a hero to those in the 9/11 Survivors’ Network. She did “make a difference”. The only problem is that the account of her escape from the South Tower was a complete fabrication.” In fact, on Sept 11, 2001 Ms Head was not even in Manhattan. She was in Barcelona, Spain
In 2003 Tania arrived in New York City from Spain, and logged onto a 9/11 internet support group. She was experiencing nightmares, she wrote, as well as intrusive thoughts, panic attacks and hyper-vigilance. These symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder were familiar to the members.
The internet support group Tania Head contacted had been organized under the umbrella of the World Trade Centre United Families Group. For survivors, it had become an uncomfortable alliance. Some family members took issue with the idea of them as victims. After all, they were lucky, they had escaped with their lives! Such criticism added to the PTSD burden of ‘survivor guilt’
Nor did survivors exist on the radar for local government officials., who in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, had focused their efforts on bereaved families and first responders. The survivors had not been invited to the memorial service at Ground Zero on the second anniversary of 9/11. One survivor wrote to the Daily News that it had taken all her courage to return to Ground Zero for the first time, and then to be turned away at the barriers felt like a punishment, for ‘exiting the buildings alive.”
Though many had lost colleagues on 9/11, survivors were also not included in the private tours of Ground Zero, where family members prayed and remembered the dead. Feeling shunned by the WTC United Families Group, some individuals talked about setting up their own group.. When they eventually gathered to discuss the idea in person, Tania, a warm, energizing presence, captivated the group.
They knew her tragic story from her postings. Being a consummate storyteller, it was filled with unforgettable images, like Tania waking up badly burned in the hospital to hear the heartbreaking news that her fiance’s body had been identified, not to mention the wedding dress still hanging in the closet, or the cancelled reception for 500 at the Plaza Hotel, and their little dog Elvis,and the couple’s beach cottage at Amagansett where she could no longer bear to set foot.
Today the survivors describe a hierarchy of suffering within the group. Tania’s story put her at the top. In retrospect says Barbara Conrad, “she had all the key elements from everyone else’s story. Everyone else had one element, she had all the elements.”
Tania told them she knew how to set up an advocacy group. In October 2003, Tania Head was elected the new president of the World Trade Centre Survivors’ Network, an honorary non paid position. Tania’s first achievement was to gain the survivors access to Ground Zero. She contacted the supervisor of the building site who agreed to a private visit.
Next, Tania Head put her formidable energy to work to transform the group into a powerful presence. Over the next few years, Head not only organized a survivor speaker’s bureau, she met with publishers about compiling a book of survivor testimony. She also explored with Angelo Guglielmo junior, a film-maker the idea of a documentary about the survivors. Guglielmo recalls being captivated by Tania’s ‘goodness and warmth ’.
She brought attention to the survivors ongoing battles with PTSD . In 2004, Time Magazine journalist Amanda Ripley wrote about: “the nearly 20,000 New Yorkers who walked, ran and crawled through smoke, fire and body parts to escape the buildings” who psychologists say are under recognized”.
Ripley quoted Head as saying. “ People cannot understand. We saw things. We had to make life-or-death decisions. I can’t get rid of my fear it’s going to happen again.”
She became the public face of 9/11 survivors. As such, Tania Head was chosen to become one of a handful of guides leading public tours of Ground Zero, and telling their stories. Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained at the fourth 9/11 memorial service: ”The volunteers leading these tours will give the experience of visiting Ground Zero the dignity and respect that it deserves. It’s heartening to know that the story will be told with accuracy, with honesty, and with a great heart.”
On September 11, 2005, Tania, the fake survivor gave the first official tour of Ground Zero to Governor Pataki, former Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg. Afterwards the three men, moved by her heroic account, embraced and congratulated her. Cameras flashed.
Dr George K. Simon, is the international best-selling author of In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People.” I asked him what kind of gratification Tania Head would have received from deceiving survivors, politicians, tour groups and reporters.
“Some pathological liars lie simply for the ‘thrill of the con’,” he told me. “ It makes them feel good and powerful to dupe others. And some severely impaired characters tend to see the rest of us as inferior stooges, so pulling the wool over our eyes or getting the better of us is just another way for them to bolster their sense of superiority. Perhaps Ms. Head had multiple motives. “
In March 2007 Tania Head was invited to Washington in March 2007 to testify before a congressional committee about long term health effects from Sept 11, 2001. By then another side of her emerged. Tania’s needs now came first in the group. Once warm and friendly, Tania was often intimidating. Whenever Tania suspected an individual might not be 100% loyal or perhaps had some doubts about her story, she would spread rumours about them or force them out of the group on the grounds that they were imposters. She had a good instinct about 9/11 fakes, she said.
She seemed to like playing people against each other. Dr Simon offered this perspective. “In real estate, there are 3 things that matter: location, location, location. For disturbed characters, 3 things matter: position, position, and position. These folks spend inordinate time and energy trying to achieve and maintain a position of advantage or dominance. And anyone in the way of that simply has to be taken out. ‘Looking at her actions, this appears to have been Ms. Head’s modus operandi”.
In the end it was her own growing celebrity that would prove her undoing.
In 2007 David Dunlap, a New York Times journalist, decided to write an article commemorating the 6th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. A profile of Tania Head, the face of the 9/11 survivors, seemed timely but he hit a roadblock. Tania Head wouldn’t return his calls.
Not only that, but she hastily forbade others to talk to him. Dunlap became suspicious. He started to dig and he uncovered holes in her story. He found that Tania was never employed by Merrill Lynch, nor had she attended Harvard and Stanford universities. There was more. Tania had never worked in the South Tower. Dave’s family had never heard of Tania, and friends also insisted Dave had never been engaged.
Like all con artists, she had woven some facts in with her fiction. Yes, there was a Dave employed by Deloitte & Touche who fitted the description of her fiance; but his obituary had been published in the New York Times Portraits of Grief section, so she could have found his details there. The man with the red bandana was Welles Crowther, a 24 year old equities trader who did indeed save lives on 9/11. His body was eventually found beside the bodies of several NYC firefighters. But his story was also a matter of public record.
After a front page story in the New York Times exposed her fabricated background, and the inconsistencies in her story, the survivors felt shattered by her betrayal. But rather than apologize to the group she led, Tania Head, reacted defiantly: “ I have done nothing illegal.”
“All of the suffering Tania had caused” muses Guglielmo. “Yet not a shred of contrition.”
Dr Simon says her lack of remorse indicates she never had any empathy for the survivors in the first place.
“Real remorse is rooted in empathy, allowing a person to appreciate the injury caused another. When you have a person who harbors a sense of superiority as well as a diminished capacity for empathy, they’re capable of the most unconscionable things. And when they’re caught, they almost always seem to feel indignant as opposed to remorseful, because their inflated opinion of themselves was challenged”
“The person I saw after the story broke” says Angelo Guglielmo, “wasn’t the Tania I had known and cared for. She was harder, calculating and bitter.” .
Since she had never taken money, there appeared to be nothing for the D.A’s office to charge her with. And a few weeks later, Tania simply disappeared.
But who was the 9/11 imposter?
It turns out her real name was Alicia Esteve Head. She was the only daughter of wealthy Spanish parents. As a child she had riding and tennis lessons, and attended prestigious Opus Dei schools in Barcelona where she had learned her impeccable English. Her father and oldest brother were found guilty of embezzlement and served short prison terms.
Alicia Head was notorious for lying according to her old school friends. Whenever she was bored or frustrated she made up stories. If challenged, she would react with rage.
When the 9/11 attacks happened, she was in a classroom at Esade, a prestigious business school in Barcelona, Spain. It was only after graduating with her Masters in Business Administration that Tania Head set out for New York City in 2003 to make her mark in history..
Obviously she was a pathological liar. Does that make her a psychopath? Probably, says Dr Simon.
“ I think it would be fair to say that Ms. Head appears to fall somewhere along the continuum of character disturbance, probably toward the more severe end.
“These are the folks who see themselves as above us, despise what they see as weakness in us (usually, our conscience), and feel entitled to prey on us, manipulating us, exploiting us, and toying with us.”
Today the 9/11 survivors community are doing their best to forget Tania Head. Just before the tenth anniversary, Linda Gormley, a founding member. addressed the group online: “Yes, we were devastated by Tania’s actions. However, let’s not give her or anyone else any more power. As we look back over the past 10 years, let’s remember why we came together in the first place. We came here FOR EACH OTHER.”
In 2012 Angelo Guglielmo published a book: The Woman Who Wasn’t There (co-written with Robin Fisher). He recounts a sighting of Tania around Christmas time, 2010. As she crossed Broadway at 48th she recognized her former friend. As he got closer, her face contorted with rage. He tried to speak wit her. She yelled at him to get away, and as he did, defiantly gave him the finger. At that moment, he says, he knew the Tania he had loved never existed:
“I realized I was looking at a stranger.”