“When confronted with the rare extremes of human perversity, we are forced to re- examine our attitudes about ourselves and our species”
(Dr Robert Hare, ‘Without Conscience: the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us’ p 121’)
When I was younger, I shied away from violent films featuring psychopaths. I had walked out of ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ Because Hannibal Lecter and Wild Bill disturbed me too much. I detested Tarantino bloodbaths. Yet, my aversion to such personalities had not protected me.
After a psychiatrist told me the man who had stalked me was a psychopath, I realized I needed to find out more about the nature of my opponent. Why? So I’d make better relationship choices in the future.
At the true crime section of my local bookstore, I found a book of interviews with a diagnosed psychopath, serial killer Ted Bundy. It was by New York Times journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, and their book is where I started my education into psychopaths.
Why Ted Bundy? I was confronting my fears. I figured if I could learn to recognize the personality of a Ted Bundy, I’d feel a lot safer in my life. After all, he was the most frightening example of a psychopath I could imagine. Frightening not just because of what he had done – murdering upwards of 38 young women, some estimates are 100 – but because of the invisibility of his predatory nature. The guy was a chameleon.
For example look at any photo. The face, the hair, and the eyes? Ted Bundy was good-looking, but he was also fun to be around. He seemed to like and respect women. He helped his fiancée Liz Kendall raise her young daughter. He was close to his mother and two half sisters. He had women friends, some of whom were colleagues, like Ann Rule, the crime writer, whom he partnered while a volunteer answering phones at the Seattle Crisis Center, and Carol Ann Boone, whom he met while working at the DES, and later married on Death Row.
All his friends believed in his innocence, until the evidence against him in court proved overwhelming.
What struck me from the interviews was how articulate Bundy’s answers were. He was intelligent, and personable, and he went to pains to appear sincere to his interviewers, as he dodged, manipulated and deceived. By that time of his life of course, he had dragged a lot of people into his web of lies, including police interrogators. Detective Robert Keppel, traumatized after days of interrogating Bundy, referred to him as a ‘black hole’.
Meantime I went over the interviews with a fine toothcomb, trying to learn what I could about psychopaths. I could see Ted Bundy, a college graduate with an honors degree in psychology, was sophisticated and intelligent. His answers were thoughtful. Was he crazy? He didn’t seem to be. His crimes may have appeared to be the results of a deranged mind, but he seemed sane.
He sounded quite reasonable as he discussed his horrific murders, mostly keeping it theoretical. He was controlling, deciding how much information to release. He was shaping the direction of the interview.
What would give him away? I was testing myself.
Well, for a start, he was extremely narcissistic. The more I read his words, the more I could see how he reveled not only in being the focus of his interviewer’s attention, but that of his readers to come. It was a performance. He was also highly manipulative.
Bundy’s relentless egocentricity, his gamesmanship, his verbal dodging and his tendency to play the victim card were characteristic of any psychopath’s conversation.
Chillingly, Ted Bundy said he had no remorse for the rapes and murders of young women. He was simply a victim of his compulsions. He slept well at night. Yes, the serial killer was completely unrepentant.
That sealed it for me: no empathy, no remorse, no compassion, and no guilt. And above all, no conscience. He was a psychopath alright. Ted Bundy was worth future study.