How a psychopath thinks

Ted Bundy once described the typical serial killer as possessing “ a consciousness which is comparable to a predator.” He said his behavior was not restricted by any “intellectual, moral, obvious considerations.” So what was he talking about?

“Predatory violence is not independent of the psychopathic process and, in fact, appears to be quite dependent upon psychopathy,” forensic psychologist Dr J. Reid Meloy explains in his book Violent Attachments. In recent years, criminologists have established that 95% of serial killers are psychopaths; so are up to 90 percent of serial rapists. To a psychopath, everyday life is a jungle. If he’s not dominating, manipulating and controlling other people, he is merely prey. And, he cannot allow that to happen. “Psychopaths say there are predators and prey. When they say that take it as factual,” states Dr. Robert Hare, who invented the Psychopathy Checklist, a diagnostic tool applied by doctors and criminal profilers around the world.

Psychopathy is a ‘personality disorder.’ It is estimated that one in 25 people are psychopaths. They are born, not made. Brain scans have shown psychopaths have little to no activity in the two areas of the brain that are connected to empathy and conscience. Answering the question of whether he felt guilt for murdering innocent people, David Gore said it was the opposite: “I actually thrived on killing.” The high Gore felt in taking away a life is a not dissimilar from the elation that a psychopathic businessman feels when he “crushes” the opposition. Both live for the “hunt.” They regard other humans as prey, and themselves as successful predators.


The Most Common Victim Profile

With few exceptions—such as Edmund Kemper whose final victims were his mother and her best friend— serial killers only target strangers. This is not because they don’t have any rage to direct at family members. Most of them do.   John Wayne Gacy hated his father, a bully who beat him.  Ted Bundy bitterly resented his mother for hiding his illegitimacy from him, and pretending for years to be his sister. Bobby Joe Long despised his suffocating mother Louella.

But it’s a matter of self-preservation not to target family members. Serial killers know they will be interrogated if a family member is murdered, because detectives always investigate the family first. Knowing that, Kemper immediately turned himself into police after killing his mother, bringing his career as a serial murderer to an end. However, by choosing strangers, and committing what detectives refer to as apparently “motiveless murders,” a careful serial killer can elude the police for years, even decades as in the BTK and Green River Killer cases.    There is also the sexual component.   Serial killers- like serial rapists— get off on forcing sex upon a struggling, frightened stranger. It’s an act of cruelty that satisfies the psychopath’s sadistic drive to dominate and humiliate others.

The most common victim profile is that of a young female stranger. In a recent study, it was found that eighty six percent of individuals murdered by serial killers were female, and of those, three quarters were between the ages of 15 and 28. FBI researchers into victimology have also established that young females are at higher risk of being targeted if they display either a “a naïve, overly trusting” stance” or a “careless stance,” towards their safety.

The serial killers tended to search for victims the following categories of victims. They are in order of preference:
1. Women and girls of high school or college age, including prostitutes, addicts and runaways.
2. Children.
3. Travelers.
4. Women home alone.

They considered prostitutes the easiest victims to abduct, serial killers told FBI researchers, because a predator only had to drive to the red light district or a truck stop, and a female would willingly climb into his vehicle. They described an additional benefit: the women were less likely to be missed for a couple of days. The serial killers saw addicts and runaways as low risk for the same reason.

However, such victims were likely to be street-wise and wary of strangers compared to high school or college students. The serial killers remarked that college age and high school girls were also at the top of the list, because they were prone to risk taking behaviors, and a lack of suspicion. Pedro Alonso Lopez told detectives he watched for girls who appeared “gentle and trusting, innocent .” Lopez murdered over 300 girls in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia

“One reason why he targeted high school and college students” said David Gore, remembering a particular conversation he had with his friend Ted Bundy at Florida State Prison, “ was because at that age you think you are invincible.” Albert De Salvo expressed contempt for the college girls he used to fool with his ruse of being a modeling agent. “I hated them girls for being so stupid.” Serial killers have no compunction about preying on the young or innocent. It’s not intended to be a fair fight. They deliberately choose those they perceive to be less powerful than they are. They’re predators, after all.

How do sex predators see the world?

To protect yourself against serial rapists and serial killers, it’s a good idea to see them as they see themselves.   Ted Bundy claimed that he had “ a consciousness which is comparable to a predator”, and that consequently his homicidal behavior was not influenced  by any “intellectual, moral, obvious considerations.”  What was he talking about?   Bundy, a psychology graduate, was talking about how he saw life through the lens of a psychopath.

In recent years, criminologists have established that 95% of serial killers are psychopaths; so are up to 90 percent of serial rapists. To a psychopath, everyday life is a jungle. If he’s not dominating, manipulating and controlling other people, he will be prey, like those he victimizes. And, he cannot allow that to happen. “Psychopaths say there are predators and prey. When they say that take it as factual,” states Dr. Robert Hare, who invented the Psychopathy Checklist, a diagnostic tool applied by doctors and criminal profilers around the world.

Psychopathy is a ‘personality disorder.’ Brain scans have shown psychopaths have little to no activity in the two areas of the brain that are connected to empathy and conscience. Answering the question of whether he felt guilt for murdering innocent people, David Gore said it was the opposite: “I actually thrived on killing.”

Dr. Hare, widely regarded as the world expert on the subject, describes the psychopath as a “human predator” or “social predator. To a psychopath, compassion, sincerity and kindness are just weaknesses in other people that he can exploit. This perception is not rooted in mental illness. It’s in his DNA. Nothing happened to him during his childhood to turn him into a psychopath, he was born that way. “Predatory violence is not independent of the psychopathic process and, in fact, appears to be quite dependent upon psychopathy” writes Dr J. Reid Meloy in his book Violent Attachments (p293.)

The psychopath’s personality is selfish, aggressive, manipulative, deceitful and prone to cruelty. He regards those qualities as among his strengths. Because it is a personality disorder — not psychosis or schizophrenia— there is no medication a psychopath can take to change his behavior. And if one existed, he would be unlikely to take it. The simple fact is that psychopaths enjoy preying on other people. Nor do psychopaths improve with therapy. If they go at all, they play games with the therapist. On one occasion Edmund Kemper had a victim’s head in the trunk of his car, while inside his psychiatrist’s office, the disturbed 21 year old was found to be ‘rehabilitated’, and no danger to society.

Because of their rock hard refusal to submit to treatment, many doctors today refuse to accept them as clients. It’s a thankless task, they say when psychopaths have no intention of changing.

To avoid being targeted by a psychopath, one has to accept that there really are people —4% of the population— who see other people as prey, and then learn how to recognize them by their behaviors. Predators are good at reading people. We need to be equally good at reading predators.

Ted Bundy, the ultimate chameleon.

Ted Bundy was the ultimate chameleon.

Brought up in Tacoma, Washington, the serial killer would have looked like good husband material from the outside.  He had studied Chinese at Stanford. He was highly articulate, handsome and charming. He liked to hike, ski and go river-rafting. To his mother, he was a golden boy who could do no wrong. To his girlfriends — and he had many — he was romantic and considerate.

But as a psychology graduate, he had put what he had learned about human nature to work in luring victims.   At home on campuses, Bundy stalked pretty female college students.  His favorite ruse was to pretend to be injured and ask for their help.

In his plans for a career in public life, Bundy was extremely ambitious. His political colleagues believed he had a bright career ahead of him, perhaps as a future senator or governor. In May 1973 in Seattle, Washington, Ted Bundy — an active member of the Young Republicans — was hired as a consultant by the Republican Party central committee. He worked under its chairman, Ross Davis, and he ate dinner at his home at least once a week. He also babysat his two young children.

Ross Davis remembers him as ‘smart, aggressive, exceptionally so, and a believer in the system’. He also made favorable impression on the governor of Washington State, Dan Evans.  Evans wrote Bundy a glowing letter of recommendation for law school. He was accepted as a student in 1973.

Bundy took delight in hiding in plain sight. One evening a week, he worked the phone lines at the Seattle crisis centre. He also researched and wrote a government paper on the impact of rape upon victims. Like all serial killers, he was utterly shameless.

In later years, Bundy would tell detectives that killing scores of attractive female co-eds was his way of thumbing his nose at society. He said he was destroying the “trophies of the middle class”.
Despite years of denying his guilt, Ted Bundy,admitted days before his execution to having committed 30 murders — eleven in Washington, eight in Utah, three in Colorado, three in Florida, two in Oregon, two in Idaho and one in California — but detectives on his case believe the number is above 100.

Negotiating your way to freedom.

In the event you are ever abducted, it is an advantage to know who you’re dealing with.
Rape is typically not the offender’s first crime. Most rapists were teenage peeping toms and burglars. As forensic psychiatrist Dr Stanton Samenow recalls, “Every person I have ever interviewed who has been convicted of rape has committed other sorts of crimes. It may be property crimes. It may be non-sexual assaults. The issue is not only the sex crimes themselves, but the mind of this kind of person.”
Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be his first rape. Experts say that every rapist is a potential serial rapist. Those jailed after committing their first sex crime, are a tiny – in their own minds, unlucky- minority.
Rapists are driven by sex fantasies. They fantasize about controlling, and dominating a frightened woman. They read and watch bondage pornography. Forensic researchers who talked to rapists in prison revealed that their imaginations are fueled by ‘joyless thoughts of dominance’.
A rapist is ‘a person who seeks conquest of other people,’ says Dr Samenow. ‘Rape is an avenue for conquest.”
That’s why rather than pleading with him which is likely part of his fantasy, forensic psychologists advise you have a better chance of being released if  you humanize yourself.
A senior FBI detective likens rape to a hostage situation:
“I always tell police officers that if they find themselves in hostage situations, not to let the gunman get them facedown on the ground. In that posture, it is too easy for him to depersonalize you and then too easy put a bullet through the back of your head — much easier than pulling the trigger when you’re staring him in the eyes. By the same token, rape is a hostage situation of sorts.”

Serial killer Ted Bundy described the kind of small talk he typically engaged in when he tried to attract a victim.. “Light and superficial”, he said. But once the girl was inside his vehicle, the chatting would stop. Bundy claimed he was mentally distancing himself from “the personal aspects of the encounter, the interchange.”
A sex predator doesn’t want to see his victim as a person because it will distract him from his fantasy.
“Your life gets in the way,” serial killer Edmund Kemper concurs. “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.”
That’s why for a victim, it’s a good idea to try to establish some common ground.
Edmund Kemper felt compelled to let a hostage go when, after spying a bottle of pills on the front seat, the young woman commented that her father was on the same medication, and asked after Kemper’s health.
Ted Bundy released a kidnap victim go after she told him her five-year-old daughter was home alone. Bundy had a five-year-old stepdaughter at home.
You could talk about the people who are expecting you. You could talk about friends, family, co-workers. You could even talk about favorite TV shows. One rapist let a girl go when he discovered her enthusiasm for his favorite show “Airwolf”.
Just keep talking. Ted Bundy said he couldn’t kill a woman he had been talking to for more than 20 minutes because it ruined the fantasy when she became ‘real.’
If nothing works and violence is imminent, talk about the people who will come looking for you. My friend Lisa, forestalled a rapist by telling him that her father was a police captain who would make it his mission to hunt him down. The rapist, perhaps confused by her confidence as much as alarmed by the lie she told about her father, let her out of the car.

The serial killer and women’s liberation.

Sex crimes are more prevalent than any time in U.S. history. In fact, in the words of veteran FBI profiler John Douglas “violent predatory crime is a scourge” that has become “intolerable.”

Back in 1980, the famous ‘golden boy’ serial killer Ted Bundy blamed Women’s Liberation for the rapid rise in sexual homicide. Tempting though it is to laugh at this ‘insight’,  we shouldn’t, because  there are plenty of serial killers of his generation who actually agreed with him.

As Bundy saw it, he had raped and murdered because the temptation of having – in his words- so many “women floating around” was irresistible. We were looking at a serial killer epidemic he said, ‘because women have a great deal more freedom to move here and there. They are no longer stuck in their homes. They are not watched over.”

So what’s a sensible response to this kind of warped thinking? Are North American women going to climb into burkas and live in walled compounds? That’s not going to happen. But there are other things women and girls can do to actively fight those climbing sexual assault statistics. It all starts with becoming as serious about sex predators as they are about us.

Serial rapists and killers plan carefully.  Usually he circles the hunting grounds where he has been lucky before: malls ,bars, highway roads, bike paths, parking garages, whatever his favorite location happens to be. Then the sex predator selects one female from among the other possible victims.

How does he choose her? By watching for signs of vulnerability, like a girl who leaves a club a little tipsy, or a young person he figures he can manipulate into ‘helping’ him, with a ruse or pity ploy. Some predators prefer isolated areas where they might find a victim who has fallen behind her group on a hiking trail, or a cyclist on a remote road.

As Ted Bundy indicated, serial killers and rapists regard any female on her own as tempting prey. Even so, the predator knows he can’t carry out a successful rape or murder if there is a chance other people might be within hearing distance. He needs privacy and control. That’s why it’s a smart idea for women and girls to learn the most common ruses predators use to obtain that isolation, as well as their favorite stalking locations. And in case of attack, we should know the best gadget to carry on our person, and how to fight back effectively.

In my new book, ‘The Girls Guide to The Criminal Mind’ I will deconstruct the sex predators’ basic habitats, camouflage, and techniques so you’ll be able to recognize them instantly.

Predators study us. Isn’t it about time we studied them?

Discovering Ted Bundy

      “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.