Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Main Line Murders

Sociopath and Con Jobs

Although Smith was exonerated in the killings, there is little doubt that this principal and Army reservist pulled off at least two major robberies by way of a con. Why? He was not in a financial bind. Unlike the average robber, he had much to lose in the way of both career and respectability. Perhaps the risk itself was part of the attraction. Equally attractive was the excitement of "pulling one over" on others. The means he chose, impersonating a courier, showed a liking for trickery. It did not show a special fondness for violence since he robbed in a way that did not require brute force.

Although his own attorney has called Smith "eerie," he is not ultimately either as interesting or as baffling a character as William Bradfield. Raised in a wealthy, intact home, Bradfield was a man of wide reading and intelligence. He was also a sociopath lacking conscience and viewing his fellow human beings simply as means to his own ends. Nothing is known of any childhood abuse or neglect that could account for his personality.

Certainly he suffered a certain disappointment in that his dreams of glory as a poet in his own right had not been realized. He taught high school English, instructing the young in the great works, rather than producing new ones himself. However, that hardly accounts for his violence. He may have felt, as Wambaugh and others have suggested, a sense of competition with his own father, a successful entrepreneur, and that added to his disappointment but, again, can that explain cold-blooded murder?

The late William Bradfield remains an enigma, scholar and sociopath, teacher and flimflam man, charmer and brute.

Those he hoodwinked had been through a tragedy on many levels. However, they appear to have put their lives back together. Chris Pappas, at last report, was working in construction. Both Sue Myers and Vincent Valaitis were eventually allowed to teach again by Upper Merion. Myers is currently living in West Virginia. Valaitis is still at Upper Merion and is now the head of the English department there. Although now more than two decades in the past, Valaitis has commented that the case still "causes me anxiety because [it] will never go away. . . . People tend to forget that this was a great personal tragedy for me and many people involved. . . . I've learned a great deal about sociopathic personalities and the nature of evil."

Wendy Zeigler is reportedly a Carmelite nun in California. Joanne Aitken is an architect in Boson.

Why was Bill Bradfield able to con so many? Wambaugh believes the people he fooled were naïve because they had spent so much of their lives in the classroom either as students or teachers and had had little sexual experience. This won't wash. Victims of con jobs come from all walks of life and varying degrees of sophistication. They can even include writers of true crime; Ann Rule was fooled, at least for a while, by Ted Bundy and Loretta Schwartz-Nobel charmed by William Bradfield. Although she met Bradfield after the crime and in full possession of the facts — advantages his other victims obviously did not have — Schwartz-Nobel wanted to believe him and sometimes did believe.

All human relationships require a certain amount of trust and that truth may leave those who are not sociopaths inevitably vulnerable to those who are. Perhaps the most frightening thing about con jobs is that being victimized by them may be simply a matter of chance, of meeting a con artist.

 

 

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