Appreciating the dark side of life since 1975.

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

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.


18 thoughts on “How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath, Part I”

  • I want to accompany you to your next training. P.S. The Dahmer question is messing my brain up right now. I’d say he’s a sociopath but it’s hard for me to articulate why.

  • I think this would be so interesting to listen to. $100 is definitely worth it! 8 hours of getting into the heads of these people. Awesome post and I’m glad you got to go so you were able to tell us about it!

  • Creepy and interesting. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we choose to label (or not) criminals as mentally ill people – where I live in Portland, OR, there was a stabbing recently and people are up in arms on either side of the issue over whether the person who committed the crime was mentally ill. Im not sure how I feel about it – except to say that it feels “good” to be able to separate people as evil — to keep them from feeling to close to humanity. There is comfort, it seems, in saying someone wouldn’t have done that had they not been sick. Im not sure, unless there is a cure for sociopathy, that it makes a difference to the person who is no longer alive.

    • You are completely right. I read a book about Hitler recently where historians give opinions on why he did what he did and most were hesitant to put a label on him for fear of giving him an “excuse” for his behavior.
      It’s definitely easier on the mind to separate these people into others not like “us.”
      p.s. I lived in Portland for a couple of years and I miss it!

  • I feel like you’ve been peaking at my Netflix documentary list lol. I would also willing spend $100 to listen to this lecture.

  • Interesting read and this must have been an amazing training. I’d spend $100 to go to this training. Dahmer was definitely mentally ill. I’d say he was a sociopath.

  • This is something I too would willingly hand over $100 for. I want to say Psychopath…. but I feel like that may be too obvious? Looking forward to your next post!

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