Our story starts with an Anderson Cooper report. It shows Rodney Alcala in 1978, cheeky flirty winner of the "Dating Game" TV show. Alcala was subsequently convicted of murdering 5 women. There may have been more.
A lot more.
Rodney Alcala is currently on death row at San Quentin. It remains to be seen if he will once again beat the system.
If you still want more, there is always Ted Bundy, executed in 1989 for 20 known murders.
Numerous analyses of psychopaths exist, e.g., http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-psychopath-means and http://www.suite101.com/content/personality-traits-of-a-psychopath-a62413. I will not repeat their findings here. I will repeat, however, what I said in the February 5 post: I am not a mental health professional. What follows are only impressions formed mostly from working at Maricopa County Hospital in Phoenix, where I encountered psychopaths confined to the ward for what were called back then "the criminally insane."
You can sum up a psychopath in two words. They are engraved on a medal he always wears, even when he sleeps: Me First.
I doubt Jared Loughner, the Tucson Safeway shooter, is a psychopath; he was heavily involved emotionally in what he was doing. Psychopaths in the purest sense make little or no investment of sentiment. They do not love or hate -- which suggests they do not live, at least in the sense most of us understand life.
To a psychopath, other people are only more or less in the way. In the way of what? His core motive, around which he orbits ceaselessly: momentary titillation. Time and again, it is the source of his downfall.
Terrorist organizations are loaded with psychopaths. That may be in part because middle class rebellion, the harbinger of terrorism, and psychopathy are by no means mutually exclusive. I wonder if Homeland Security, the FBI, and the CIA are making such connections and, if so, using them.
What struck me the most about the Maricopa psychopaths was their inability to relate cause and consequence. Given that blindness, responsibility and remorse, conscience and compassion, are impossible.
Not surprisingly, psychopaths are notorious for being petty criminals. They see something they want -- presto, they shoplift or write a bad check.
As for facing the consequences, if the cops show up at the front door, no problem. The psychopath is absolutely convinced that, because he is such a great man with the God given ability to charm the birds out of the trees, after a few minutes of conversation any policeman will disappear without a trace. And just in case God doesn't exist or went away for a while, there is always -- as Alcala showed -- a back door. Behind every great man, it seems, there's an exit.
All the psychological and medical analyses I have read or heard come to the same conclusion: there is no known cure for psychopaths. Behind their charming exterior lies … another charming exterior. Nothing permeates them; they are tone-deaf to guilt and serious self-reflection. Maybe, part of their brain is missing.
I heard about a director of a large state mental hospital who devised the following plan:
He would place a psychopath in the dreariest and dingiest, heavily guarded, back ward. The psychopath looks around at the patients -- really crazy people with whom no reasonable communication whatsoever is possible. No problem, the psychopath thinks: I'll be out of here in a few weeks.
But the weeks turn into months, then into years. Nobody listens to him; nobody cares. He has been summarily dis-missed. The psychopath's season in hell turns into … what exactly? Is hell permanently temporary? His medal is tarnished. Anxiety wells up. Will I ever get out of here?
It was precisely that fear which the hospital director wanted to instill. He believed that only if a psychopath started to genuinely worry about his fate could any positive change occur.
I do not know if that plan was ever put into practice. It is an intriguing alternative to the system now in place: warehousing people (Bundy escaped twice) or sending them through revolving doors (Alcala jumped parole) to kill and maim again.
I wonder about mental hospitals and prisons, particularly Guantanamo, containing high concentrations of psychopaths. As Alcala and Bundy demonstrate, as long as psychopaths stay the way they are, their creepy story will continue and none of us are safe.