In the last week I’ve posted two articles relating to the recent Santa Barbara attack that left six dead and 13 wounded. The killer, who would want his name mentioned here, is also dead, most likely by his own hand. I lament only that he didn’t remove himself from the gene pool before harming others.
In “Evil, And Feckless Gestures,” I explored the fact that evil not only exists, it manifests itself in the world through people like that murderous miscreant. To many, this might sound simplistic, but there is a sizeable–and politically powerful–portion of the population that refuse to admit the existence of evil. To them, Conservative talk radio seems a more likely cause of everything wrong with society. It’s easy to feel superior to Rush Limbaugh and the denizens of flyover country that listen to him, but it’s impossible to come to grips with evil, which has no boundaries, no limits, and cannot be ridiculed, shamed or controlled.
In “Involuntary Commitment and Human Nature,” I explored the unintended consequences of involuntary commitment laws. As a result of the Santa Barbara attack, and some earlier attacks such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in Newtown, CT, many are crying for improvements in the handling of the mentally ill. Virtually all of these demands to “do something” however, involve writing or rewriting involuntary commitment laws to make it easier to force treatment on potentially dangerous people. Unfortunately, human nature will ensure that these efforts will have little, if any, preventive effect.
There is, apart from the existence of evil–though evil is surely involved in the topic of this article–and from the failings of human nature, an additional reason why it’s virtually impossible to prevent mass killings. It will make the heads of those seeking to find “root causes,” and those seeking to blame people or philosophies they don’t like, to explode: the killers do it–they want to do it–merely because they like it.
They like it? Absolutely. They like to hurt people. They love causing widespread misery. They delight in causing anxiety and fear, and the worst love to stalk and to brutally kill. Virtually all in this category–call them sociopaths for lack of a better term–are narcissists. For most it’s a matter of power over others; it makes them feel superior to their victims and everyone else. For some it’s an intense sexual stimulus. Harming, even killing others gives them overpowering and consuming pleasure.
Sick? Crazy? Perhaps both and all of the above, but when human beings like something this much, it’s a virtual certainty they’re going to do it sooner or later and repeatedly, and in most cases, there will be no discernable warning signs, and no way to intercept them until they have launched their attack.
Case Study #1: Bobby
Bobby (not his real name) was a burglar, but a specialist: a burglar of cars. He stalked vehicles. He’d drive around finding and casing likely targets, and return at three in the morning, break in, tear out the stereo equipment and anything else he wanted and lucked into. He often did more damage, even tens of thousands of dollars, to the cars. Repairing windows, doors, dashboards and interiors is surprisingly expensive. The destruction of property alone was often a more costly–in terms of potential sentencing–crime than the burglary. Some of the stolen goods he kept, most he sold, some he traded with other car burglars.
He’d been at it for about a year when I caught up to him. TV would have us believe the police routinely solve crimes by hi-tech means, but that’s mostly nonsense. Most crimes are solved by the low-tech expedient of talking to people, and in Bobby’s case, a fellow burglar in jail outsmarted himself. He thought he saw advantage in rolling over on Bobby and I was happy to listen. He gave me enough to nail Bobby to the wall.
Early one morning I served a search warrant at Bobby’s shabby trailer, and as his bad luck would have it, he’d just returned from a round of car burglaries only a few hours earlier and the trailer was loaded with stolen goods. Soon, I was not only rolling up Bobby, but his pal. One thing led to another and many burglars and hundreds of crimes.
Bobby thought he was really smart. In our many conversations he bragged that he “owned the town.” Even as he was confessing to crimes that sent him to prison, he bragged about how much smarter he was than the police. He stole what he wanted and took great pride in it. He remembered every crime, every car, exactly who was present with him and what they did, and could describe in detail every piece of stolen property and where all the stolen goods went. He laughed about how easy it all was and how cool he was. I laughed right along with him and took careful notes that allowed me to recover most of the stolen goods and arrest a great many people for hundreds of felonies.
Bobby really liked committing those crimes, and his warped joy almost made him a murderer. Sometimes it’s nothing more than opportunity–sheer chance–that turns a criminal that likes destroying property and stealing into a killer.
On the day I searched his trailer I found a broken rear view mirror of the type missing from his cheap mini SUV. I didn’t put it together until a later conversation when he bragged about stealing it as I fished an SUV door absent a rear view mirror from a creek where he threw it. He broke his own mirror while driving drunk one night, so he looked around until he found a vehicle just like it. Early one morning, he set off on a round of burglaries and by chance, found a loaded 9mm handgun in one of the cars he hit. That really excited him, and he stuck it in his waistband, the better to play the manly, super burglar of his self-image.
He finally arrived at the home where the little SUV he cased was parked in the driveway, and finding the door unlocked, he and a partner began to remove the door, which he explained was faster than removing the mirror. But as they were working, the owner came home in another vehicle and parked in the driveway next to his car and got out of his pickup. In the meantime, Bobby and his idiot partner scuttled under the SUV they were burglarizing and Bobby pulled out the semiauto and cocked the hammer, his shaking finger on the trigger.
Bobby was very serious as he told me how they held their breath as the owner got out of the truck and walked into his house, shutting the door behind him. The pickup was between the man and his little SUV and he didn’t see anything unusual in the dark. Why should he expect to see something like that? Bobby was very serious indeed as he explained that if the man saw him, he would have shot him. “I wasn’t goin’ to jail over some shitty little mirror,” Bobby told me, as though that made all the sense in the world. I nodded sympathetically and he kept digging the hole.
Bobby finished his theft and when the man walked to his truck in the morning and found his SUV’s door missing, he called the police, and we dutifully made a report. In the meantime, Bobby managed to decock the pistol, miraculously without shooting himself or anyone else, took the door home, and, ironically, broke the mirror while removing it. He came with feet and seconds of murdering a man over a car part and didn’t even get the car part. He threw the door in the creek, but kept the mirror as a memento of the time he almost stepped up to the big leagues of crime, all because he really liked to do it.
Case Study #2: Ted Bundy
I didn’t work the Bundy case, but studied it to learn what I could. Bundy, who was executed in January of 1989, eventually confessed to murdering 30 young women, but he surely killed more. How many, no one is certain.
What is certain is that Bundy was an intelligent, narcissistic stalker and killer who not only enjoyed sexual killing, he enjoyed taunting the police and playing mind games with them. Bundy clearly considered himself smarter than the police and the rest of society.
Even on the final night of his life, he was playing games. At the time, Dr. James Dobson of Focus On The Family was still capitalizing on his membership in the Meese Commission, named for then U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese. It was established to study pornography and make recommendations. It quickly became clear that the real purpose of the commission was to indict pornography in any way possible, to somehow prove it harmful as a prelude to legislation to restrict or ban it.
The Commission conducted no new research, and eventually published a nearly 2000 page, two-volume report in 1986. I obtained and read a copy. If one were not predisposed to believe that pornography–whatever that might be–should be banned, the report contained no credible evidence to support that proposition.
The Internet eventually changed the adult industry in ways the Meese commissioners could not have imagined, rendering any such effort too little too late, but in 1989, Dobson was still working hard to build a case against pornography, and Bundy, seeing one last chance to play the public, was only too happy to oblige. Dobson, a psychologist, was willing to suspend disbelief to produce what he obviously believed to be a devastating anti-porn message.
The result was a videotape of about a half hour titled “Fatal Addiction.” It’s available via You Tube here. I recommend viewing the video. What is striking is how smoothly Bundy manipulates Dobson, and how willingly Dobson goes along. Bundy builds a tale of exposure to “soft core pornography,” eventually leading to “harder” porn. This from a transcript/analysis of the interview:
I’m not saying it was “Leave it to Beaver”, but it was a fine, solid Christian home. I hope no one will try to take the easy way out of this and accuse my family of contributing to this. I know, and I’m trying to tell you as honestly as I know how, what happened.
As a young boy of 12 or 13, I encountered, outside the home, in the local grocery and drug stores, softcore pornography. Young boys explore the sideways and byways of their neighborhoods, and in our neighborhood, people would dump the garbage. From time to time, we would come across books of a harder nature – more graphic. This also included detective magazines, etc., and I want to emphasize this. The most damaging kind of pornography – and I’m talking from hard, real, personal experience – is that that involves violence and sexual violence. The wedding of those two forces – as I know only too well – brings about behavior that is too terrible to describe.
Bundy makes a disclaimer:
Before we go any further, it is important to me that people believe what I’m saying. I’m not blaming pornography. I’m not saying it caused me to go out and do certain things. I take full responsibility for all the things that I’ve done. That’s not the question here. The issue is how this kind of literature contributed and helped mold and shape the kinds of violent behavior.
While watching the video, take care to watch Bundy’s eyes and his manner. He frequently makes statements and glances around at others out of the frame, and at Dobson, obviously considering how what he is saying is playing with them and making adjustments on the fly. He’s manipulating them, checking to see they’re buying what he’s selling.
Bundy described his supposed progression:
A couple of years. I was dealing with very strong inhibitions against criminal and violent behavior. That had been conditioned and bred into me from my neighborhood, environment, church, and schools.
I knew it was wrong to think about it, and certainly, to do it was wrong. I was on the edge, and the last vestiges of restraint were being tested constantly, and assailed through the kind of fantasy life that was fueled, largely, by pornography.
In reality, Bundy’s home life was chaotic and hardly normal. He had been involved in sadistic and violent behavior much of his life. Significantly, he studied psychology and political science in college. In all of the interviews he had with police, he did not mention pornography as an influence, nor did the police ever find any evidence of it in his crimes. When he was arrested on one occasion, he had brochures for cheerleading camps in his vehicle, displaying nothing more pornographic than bouncy, smiling teenaged cheerleaders.
[James] Coleman, who has represented Bundy since 1986, also said he didn’t believe his client’s videotaped statements Monday that pornography and alcohol drove him to violent crime. Bundy made the statements in his last public interview before being executed in ‘lorida’s electric chair Tuesday for killing a 12-year-old Lake City girl.
”I don’t think he even believed it,’’ Coleman said. ‘’That was vintage Bundy. It was Bundy the actor. He didn’t know what made him kill people. No one did.’
In short, Bundy’s claims to being motivated by porn were a con, similar to the cons he had run over many years with many police officers. The interview was likely partially motivated by an attempt to delay his execution, as were his abortive offers to confess to additional crimes at the last minute, but the evidence reveals he committed vile acts of sexual violence and murder because he really enjoyed doing it. His supposed contrition for Dobson did not go so far as to include information about the many crimes he is believed to have committed.
Many criminals are, first and foremost, con men. They’re adept at manipulating others to get what they want. If others want to blame their crimes on pornography, a bad childhood, or any other social pathology, they’re often willing to hop on the bandwagon just for fun, or to see if it will advantage them in some way. At the very least, they enjoy the attention, and it gives them a sense of power over others. Their lives are filled with deception, but their one incontrovertible truth is they do what they do not because they’re poor, because society in some way failed them, not for lack of a federal program, but because they wanted to do it, because they really liked it.
This is why no law, no mental health treatment, no teachers or counselors, no family members, no suppression of speech, will be able to stop every killer, probably not even most. The horrible truth is there is no consistent way to predict their future actions.
Their crimes are so shocking, so far out of the experience, even the imaginations of most, we are left struggling to understand that which cannot be neatly classified or understood. If we can name the cause, perhaps we can understand it, perhaps we can prevent it, perhaps we can be assured that like some mysterious and deadly disease, we can keep it from infecting us.
One can attach psychiatric labels, blame pornography, video games, guns, our hedonistic culture, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, or as the Santa Barbara killer did, blonde girls, but for many criminals and many killers, there are no complex causes, no labels that fit, no talismans that will ward off whatever it is that suffuses and animates them. They do it because they like it, and the more they do it, the more they like it. That’s very, very hard to identify and to defend against.
But we have to do something! We have to make a statement! The horrible truth is sometimes we can’t. They like that too.