Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

EVIL, PART TWO: THE HEART OF DARKNESS - REFRAMING EVIL

You Exist For Me

It was 1974 in the Pacific Northwest when a number of attractive young women came up missing. First they disappeared around Seattle and Olympia, Washington, and then one went missing in Oregon. By the time two women went missing from Lake Sammamish on the same day in July, there were already half a dozen other such reports, although there was no clear reason to link them. Yet with these latest victims, there were witnesses and a drawing was made of a man named "Ted" who had driven a tan or gold Volkswagon Beetle. Then only a mile from the lake, the remains of those two women were found several months later and now police knew they were looking for a predator.

Ted Bundy (CORBIS)
Ted Bundy
(CORBIS)

Yet by that time he'd moved on to Utah: Four women were missing and when their bodies were found, one was bludgeoned so badly about the face it was difficult to identify her. Then there were four in Colorado, but a fifth woman, Carol Da Ronch, managed to escape from a man who had tried to kill her. She fingered Theodore Robert Bundy, a law student from Washington, and while he was in prison, an intense investigation was launched to determine if there were links to the missing girls in the other states.

Colorado got him for the murder of Caryn Campbell, but he managed to escape. He was caught but then quickly escaped again and landed in Tallahassee, Florida.

On January 15, 1978, Lisa Levy and Martha Bowman were attacked in their sorority house at Florida State University. A man fatally clubbed and raped them, clubbed another women in the head, and then fled. He also managed to viciously attack a girl in another sorority house that same night. Then less than a month later, a 12-year-old girl, Kimberly Leach, was abducted from her school and her body was found out in the woods under a tarp. Bundy was responsible for them all, and he'd been careless enough this time to leave a witness alive. He left something else that would come to haunt him: his own bite mark on the left buttock of Lisa Levy.

He was arrested and tried, with the bite mark being a key piece of evidence. The impression was clean enough to make a match to a dental impression of Bundy's teeth. In addition, he had bitten the girl twice with his lower teeth, actually giving the forensic odontologist two good impressions to work with.

Once Bundy had been sentenced to death three times for the three brutal murders, he began to talk. He eventually confessed to 30 murders in six separate states, dating back to May 1973, although experts believe there may have been far more. "Bundy had a morality of murder," says investigator Robert Keppel on Biography's "Mind of a Killer." Keppel had interviewed Bundy in prison and had made a key observation: "He thought it was okay to kill."

Bundy also talked about his compulsions as a predator, albeit in third-person narrative. "The initial sexual encounter," he said, "would be more or less a voluntary one that did not wholly gratify the full spectrum of desires that he had intended. And so, his sexual desire builds back up and joins ... this other need to totally possess her. As she lay there, somewhere between coma and sleep, he strangled her to death."

Stephen G. Michaud
Stephen G.
Michaud

Stephen Michaud, author of The Only Living Witness, talks about Bundy being hollow and empty, with some indication from Bundy's own words that his compulsion to kill was a way to fill up the emptiness, at least temporarily. He himself said that he didn't think of his victims as women in the normal way of regarding them, but as objects against which he took out his inner turmoil. He wanted them, felt he couldn't have them, so he found a way to possess them. They were simply there for his use, and he attacked with whatever it would take to subdue themincluding biting. As he said to one police officer, "I'm the most cold-blooded son-of-a-bitch you'll ever meet."

Like a vampire, he stalked his prey and he changed his appearance to prevent easy identification. He lured his victims with his looks and charm, and with an added touch of feigned neediness. He said of himself that during these encounters some malignant portion of his personality took over, looking for satisfaction. By all accounts, he looked and acted normal; he was one of us. Yet as he said to his mother just before his 1989 execution, "Part of me was hidden all the time."

Donald Black believes that antisocial personality disorder (ADP) such as that manifested by Bundy and other killers affects up to seven million Americans, and he claims that evidence strongly suggests that some people are just born bad. The warning signs in these people include:

  1. They've had reactions since childhood against every type of regulation and expectation.
  2. Resistance appears to be their driving force.
  3. They fail to understand or care about the difference between right and wrong.
  4. They lack empathy.
  5. They show no remorse.

Black claims that APD is eight times more common in males than females, which suggests the involvement of biological factors. However, to argue that the person cannot make decisions about what is right and wrong in a certain circumstance because of the way his or her brain processes environmental stimuli, or because of certain physiological features, requires strong proof, not just supposition. It also requires explaining why other people who share those factors do not commit crimes.

Let's look first at other examples and then return to the psychology of the evil personality.

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In Los Angeles, a clever manipulator named Joe Hunt persuaded a gang of former prep school chums to go in with him financially into what he dubbed "The Bombay Boys' Club," a commodities trading business that was destined to make them wildly rich. He used what he called "paradox" philosophy, which was a form of situation ethics: If there are any circumstances in which you'd cross a line that you claim you'd never crosssuch as to murder someonethen there are no moral absolutes. If not, it's just a matter of believing sufficiently in the situation to take the necessary action. His method was to involve the others so deeply into badly wanting all the trappings of the finer life that they'd go along with anything he did, including murder.

When a man named Ron Levin cheated Hunt in 1984 and failed to give him a promised sum of $300,000, Hunt took a bodyguard to Levin's home. He'd learned all about murder from underground manuals and made a 14-point "to do" list to make sure it was all done right. Somehow he left this list behind in Levin's house. Then he and the bodyguard murdered Levin and dumped the body into a canyon outside town where it couldn't be found.

Yet he still faced a huge debt, so he teamed up with Reza Eslaminia, the heir of a wealthy Iranian man, in a kidnap-for-ransom scheme. The man died during the kidnapping, smothered in a steamer trunk, and Hunt then attempted to forge his signature to transfer his assets to Reza.

However, at the same time some of the "boys" within the ranks were having second thoughts. First, they'd lost their initial investments, and second, they'd lost confidence in Hunt. To them, he now looked like a cold-blooded killer who'd stop at nothingeven framing or killing one of themto achieve his ambitions. They stole documents, contacted the police, and turned him in. He was arrested, tried, and in 1987 convicted of first-degree murder.

A second trial in 1992 brought him back to the courtroom to answer for his part in the kidnapping death, but he ably defended himself and charmed the jury. Nevertheless, he remained in prison for the murder of Levin, whose body was never found.

He also inspired another double homicide.

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Erik and Lyle Menendez
Erik and Lyle Menendez

In July, 1989, Erik and Lyle Menendez, 18 and 21, watched the miniseries based on Joe Hunt's crimes, "The Billionaire Boys Club." They then devised a plan to slaughter their parents in Los Angeles. Since Hunt had schemed to make it look like terrorists had abducted and killed the Iranian man, the Menendez brothers assumed they could just blame the Mafia.

One evening, they came home with two 12-gauge shotguns. Their parents were dozing over a movie in the den of their Beverly Hills mansion. Lyle shot his father, Jose, several times, hitting him in the arm and in the back of the head, blowing it off. Erik was supposed to shoot Kitty, but when she started to move away, Lyle shot her and hit her in the leg. She fell between the couch and coffee table, but she was still alive, so he went out to the car to reload. Erik, too, had shot his mother several times in the arm and breast, blowing pieces of her around the room, yet she continued to try to crawl away. Finally several shots to her head finished her off. When it was over, Joe had taken six bullets and Kitty ten. The brothers retrieved the shell casings from the pools of blood.

The brothers then made a hysterical call to 911 to report intruders, and to the police they suggested possible Mafia connections. They had an elaborate memorial service in Princeton, New Jerseywhich included an attempt to purchase one hundred gravesites in the prestigious cemetery. Then they went on a spending spree, running up a tab of over one million dollars by the end of the year while suspicious investigators moved in on them. Proof that they had purchased two shotguns just two nights before the murder, using fake IDs, indicated premeditation. Police also confiscated audiotapes of therapy sessions between Erik and his therapist in which he confessed, as well as an incident in which Lyle threatened the man if he revealed Erik's confession. Some of the tapes, along with the psychologist's testimony, were allowed into evidence, and the therapist testified that the brothers had been inspired by the movie to kill their parents for money.

However, they claimed that they'd killed their father in self-defense, because he'd abused them since they were children while their mother did nothing to stop it. Lyle said that he had confronted his father about the abuse and Jose had delivered a death threat as a means of preventing Lyle from going public. He felt convinced that his parents were plotting to kill him and Erik. On the night of the murder, they'd had a heated argument and then his parents went behind closed doors. In a desperate attempt to save themselves, they'd grabbed shotguns and just started shooting. They were victims who couldn't help their actions and they feared for their lives. They had panicked. Rather than just leave home, as young men their age ought to have been able to do, they had felt their only recourse was to kill the man who'd tormented them. They had killed their mother, they said, because they knew she couldn't live with what they had done.

The defense used a professor to discuss the effects of psychological abuse and a clinician who interviewed Lyle in prison for 60 hours. He based his belief in Lyle's story on his "affect," which included shame and reluctance. The defense then used another psychologist to discuss the notion of learned helplessness, but on cross-examination she was forced to admit that the horrendous anecdotes the brothers told were uncorroborated. It was just their word. They had never reported abuse to anyone, including Erik's therapist. Nevertheless, the defense managed to paint a sympathetic picture.

After all this, both juries hung, so second trials were scheduled in 1995. This time the Menendez brothers were retried together in front of a single jury and the judge ordered the defense not to use the battered person syndrome theory, since he believed it was not supported by proof. Jury members this time were less inclined to accept that two grown men purchased guns and planned a double murder as an act of self-defense.

In the end, the brothers were convicted of two counts each of first-degree murder, which got them both sentenced to life in prison.

A cold-blooded plan worked no better for them than it had for Joe Hunt, and in both cases, a sense of narcissistic entitlement appears to have played a significant part.

So what drives these people? Many scientists have tried to explain that. Let's look at some of the theories.

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