Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hollow Men: Why Serial Murderers Must Kill To Feel

The Article Page 4

Experts describe possession as something familiar to us all possessiveness taken to its pathological extreme. "Along the continuum of sexual behavior from an innocent kiss to rape-murder," says Robert E. Freeman-Longo, a leading authority on sexual abuse and former director of sex offender treatment at Oregon State Hospital, "possessiveness is first noticeable among intimate, consenting sexual partners, such as married couples. Possession at this level is really jealousy.

"When the behavior is pathological, you don't see possession associated with so-called nuisance crimes, such as exposing yourself or voyeurism, where the only contact is visual. Among rapists you may see a practical need for momentary control, but it's the high-end guys, sadists and rape-killers, where insecurity turns to anger and this idea of possession comes into play."

"They take the objectification of women to a pathological extreme," agrees forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy, author of a standard text on deviant criminal behavior, The Psychopathic Mind. The key to understanding possession, says Meloy, is narcissism.

"We know from the research that psychopaths have a core, aggressive narcissism that is fundamental to their personality. If you remove that narcissism, you don't have a psychopath."

One hallmark of the narcissist is lack of empathy; they are psychically insulated from those around them. Another is grandiosity. The charismatic and handsome Bundy, arguably the first celebrity serial killer, cemented his image in the public mind by playing to the press at every opportunity, and by acting as his own attorney. Both Angel Resendez and Cary Stayner commented on their cases to reporters, contrary to their attorneys' advice, soon after their arrests this summer.

Stayner told Ted Rowlands of KBWB-TV in San Francisco how he'd skillfully thrown the FBI off his trail after his first three homicides in February. "When you outwit the police, it reinforces your grandiose fantasies," says Meloy even when you're a serial killer manqué.

Henry Lee Lucas, the snaggle-toothed drifter with an IQ in the 80s who may have killed three people, claimed at one time to have murdered more than 600, and easily conned the Texas Rangers into believing such an inadequate lowlife was by far the most prolific serial killer of all time.

"That was a marvelous example of psychopathic manipulation,'' says Meloy. "Lucas was able to prove he was smarter and shrewder than this notable law-enforcement agency."

Resendez, who may not score much higher on a standard IQ test than Lucas, wrote the San Antonio Express-News a three-page letter. In it, he said he'd turned himself in out of love for his infant daughter, a patently absurd claim for a serial bludgeon killer. In a second, 11-page letter to KTRK-TV in Houston, the self-dramatizing Resendez wrote ominously of his "enemy," a scary "creature" inside of him. "I've been fighting this creature all of my life," Resendez reported, "and now I know it is me, so I fear, yes I fear and shake."

Along with obsessively seeking others' awed or admiring attention, the narcissist also believes himself omniscient and even omnipotent. "You can see how control of another person would stimulate those fantasies," observes Meloy.

The narcissist feels entitled, and when he is thwarted, he acts out, just as young children, who are supremely narcissistic, act out. "Think of a toddler raging against an object that won't do what he wants," says Meloy. "I have this image in my mind of a 2-year-old squeezing a puppy's feet. He's attempting to control the animal's behavior, and probably deriving some pleasure from that."

Among adult narcissistic destroyers, the principal animating influence is the green monster envy. "The wish to destroy goodness is probably the simplest definition of envy," says Meloy. "These guys often have pretty barren lives in terms of what we call 'good objects,' and they want to damage or destroy the goodness they cannot have. They need to make the almost intolerable feeling of envy go away, so they take a woman and defile and devalue her, like Bundy plucking the young flowers of the upper middle class. If you can do that completely, she wasn't worth having in the first place, and you've removed the cause for envy."

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