How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath, Part 2

While searching the internet for a photo of Jeffrey Dahmer (because I’m sure no one knows what he looks like), I came upon a category titled “Jeffrey Dahmer CUTE.” This is one of the photos listed in that category:

Jeffrey Dahmer

Now, I’m not sure about you, but if I was to eye him in aisle 3 at Cub Foods, I’m not sure I would break into a sweat over this “hottie.”

Anyway, this is just a side note and not the point of this blog post. On my last blog post, I wrote about types of mass murder and perpetrator profiles and this post is a continuation of sorts. So, what’s the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?

As I mentioned previously, I attended a training given by Dr. Eric Hickey where he spoke about his forensic expertise, his one-on-one experience with killers and the etiology of serial violence (man, I want his job!). During the lecture, he presented the Hare Scale which was developed in the 1970’s by Robert Hare and is used to rate psychopathology. It is primarily used with people in prison or psychiatric units to determine rates of recidivism and whether or not someone should be released. Subjects are rated on these 20 items and each item is given a score of 0-3 (I won’t bore you with the intricate details of how each one is rated because Zzzzzzzz).  Items on the checklist relate to criminal behavior and character deficits. For example, Ted Bundy was excellent at presenting superficial charm and callousness because of his deep belief that he held no responsibility for any of his actions.


So now I’m sure you’re all asking, “But what do the scores MEAN, Tara?” Well, here’s a quick breakdown:

Normal Range: 4-8

Occasional Criminality: 9-17

Sociopath: 18-29

True psychopath: 30-40

So, while I rated a 16 on the Hare Scale (kidding, just kidding), Dahmer and Bundy had quite a difference in their scores which kind of shocked me. Ted Bundy scored a 34 which makes him a true psychopath. Psychopaths tend to be more calculating in their crimes than sociopaths. They are adept at coming up with complex schemes to accomplish their goals and are less impulsive. They are charmers. For instance, Bundy was such a manipulator that people cried at his execution. Another fun fact? He got married during the penalty phase of his trial (long story) and his wife claims to have had given birth to their daughter 8 months after his execution (apparently guards were easily bribed in exchange for conjugal visits).


Where is Jeffrey Dahmer on this scale, you ask? 22. 22! In case anyone has forgotten he drilled holes into people’s skulls and kept heads in his refrigerator, so I feel maybe he should’ve gotten some extra points. Amiright? Anyway, sociopaths tend to be more impulsive and their personalities are more of a NUTURE vs. nature sort of thing. Childhood trauma, for instance, can lead to unhealthy coping skills as a way to find relief for a person’s pain.

During the training, Dr. Hickey stated that Dahmer wasn’t truly mentally ill, but that he had “compulsions” that he could not control. Dahmer was a loner with an inferiority complex and searched for love, desperately wanting attachments with people. In order to avoid the feelings of loss and abandonment, he killed these men so they wouldn’t be able to leave him. Dahmer was also known to drink quite a few cocktails back in the day and it appears that he drank before killing his victims to temper the guilt he had for taking their lives. Finally, when asked why Dahmer was only rated at a 22, Dr. Hickey stated, “Necrophiles have attachments and psychopaths do not.” Well, ALRIGHTY then. Eesh.

Truck Stop Killer


The Truck Stop Killer doesn’t like wishy-washy answers, as you can see from his photo above. I tell ya what, though. There are a lot of wishy-washy answers to questions about the actual diagnosis of a person such as Dahmer or Bundy. I read pages and pages and pages of articles and, basically, I ran in circles.  I was reminded during the training that forensic science is fairly young and the etiology of serial violence is difficult to definitively nail down.  We all want to label these killers men because then it reminds us that there is NO WAY we could be like “them.” A person has to be mentally ill in order to carry a body around in a suitcase, right? They have to be evil to pour acid into someone’s skull, right? Maybe not so much, which is a pretty scary thought.

Do you think that it’s possible to commit these crimes and NOT be mentally ill?

P.S. If you want to read a super interesting article from the Journal of Forensic Sciences about the biopsychosocial explanation for Dahmer’s behavior, you can read it here.

For even further reading, this is one of my favorite true crime books of all time.





How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath, Part I

“You ruined this for kids. I will applaud when you die.”

Who was the recipient of these words, you ask? John Wayne Gacy. What did he ruin for kids, you ask (besides their lives)? He ruined clowns and Eric Hickey, Ph.D. wanted to make sure Gacy knew that the whole world now hated clowns, thanks to him. I would like to add that I’m not sure this was a concern of Gacy’s. If you spend your life wondering how you’re going to bury 27 boys under your house, clowns are the least of your concerns, but maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I attended an all-day training called Mass Murder: Psycho-Behavioral Profiles, Incidents of Bifurcation, Manifestos and Best Practices in Prevention presented by Dr. Eric Hickey.  This training had absolutely nothing to do with my job, but I willingly handed over $100 to listen to this forensic psychologist/expert talk to me for 8 hours. Luckily, it wasn’t just me (because that would be weird), but there were about 75 people there, all on the edge of their seats in anticipation of hearing about psychopaths, sociopaths and how the Unabomber has terrible grammar (really, it’s true).

How To Tell If You'e A Psychopath, Part I: Click here to read about why murderers do what they do and other facts (i.e., the Unabomber had TERRIBLE grammar)!

I have had several people ask me what I learned so I compiled a list of some of the most interesting tidbits:

  • There are various types of mass murder (domestic, workplace, school, bifurcated, stranger, terrorism, psychological coercion and copy cat).
  • When women are involved in domestic murder, it’s typically due to them being mentally ill, psychotic or overwhelmed. Men? They commit domestic homicide primarily as a result of a breakdown between himself and his wife/partner (according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice). A woman named Khoua Her from St. Paul, MN and a man named Ronald Simmons are examples of these types of domestic killings.
  • Stranger mass murders involve, you guessed it, people killing people they don’t know. Dr. Hickey included a story about five boys in South Korea  that went frog hunting in 1991 and never came back. The area that the boys went to was searched over 500 times and they weren’t found until 2002 when a man stumbled across their graves. Dr. Hickey was called into the case to help determine how the boys died.
  • Psychological coercion mass murders are things like Jim Jones getting everyone to “drink the kool-aid” and Heaven’s Gate. HOW or WHY anyone would believe that by killing themselves they would get a ride on a sweet spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet is beyond me. In case you were unaware, the guy in the lower right corner of the photo is Marshall Applewhite, leader of Heaven’s Gate. Why anyone would listen to THAT guy is beyond me.
  • Most mass murderers have kept some sort of diary of sorts before the killings  including manifestos, blogs, diaries or letters. All of these include one or more of these themes: ego survival/revenge, pseudocommando mindset of persecution/envy, thoughts of obliteration, nihilism, entitlement or a heroic revenge fantasy (Knoll, J.L., IV (2012), Mass Murder: Causes, Classification, and Prevention).
  • Most mass murderers such as James Holmes and the Columbine shooters had at least 2 of these themes in their manifestos, but Elliot Rodger met all six of them.
  • Finally, I’ll end it (excuse the unsavory pun) with bifurcation. I had never heard of it before, but it completely makes sense (in an I’m-a-lunatic kind of way). This means that someone commits murder at one location and then moves to another.  Usually, the first murders are used as a distraction such as setting off bombs to force police attention in one location and then moving somewhere else to commit the “bigger” crime, like Anders Breivek. Ever heard of the Bath Massacre? Yeah, I hadn’t either. When I think of mass murders, my mind jumps to modern day episodes, not 1927 Michigan. Andrew Kehoe was an already angry dude who was elected treasurer of the school board. When people didn’t agree with his thrifty ways, he bombed the school building, killing 45 people and injuring 58. At least 38 kids were killed.

It should be noted that most discussion of these perpetrators revolves around them being mentally ill, but that is not always the case. I found it terrifying that Dr. Hickey stated that only approximately 40% of mass murderers have a diagnosed mental illness. They rest of these people have some sort of psychopathy, which is based on control and power. In my next installment of “How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath” I’ll share the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath and how they figure out where a criminal falls on the scale between the two.

Just for fun, let me ask you a question. Would you say that Jeffrey Dahmer was mentally ill? Would you call him a sociopath or a psychopath? I’ll give you a hint: my answer was wrong.