Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To Believe or Not to Believe

by Pat Brown

The opening paragraph of the New York Times story reads:

This kind of story is sadly no longer out of the ordinary and, in these harsh economic times, many people feel the man must have been driven to take out his family; his world must have fallen apart and he no longer knew how he could care for his wife and children.

Mr. Ervin A. Lupoe, the family mass murderer, explains his actions in a two-page suicide fax to a local news station. He tells us because "he was despondent over a job situation and he saw no reasonable way out," he and his wife started planning their own deaths. His wife then encouraged the murder of their children with her comment, "Why leave the children to a stranger?" Furthermore, Mr. Lupoe wrote, the manager who later fired the couple had told the two of them "You should have blown your brains out rather than come to work."

Okay, hold up here! Psychopath alert! Psychopath alert!

First of all there was a dispute with the boss. Why? We haven't heard. Next Mr. Lupoe not only blames his employer for his rash decision to off his family but also insinuates the boss was responsible for actually idea of the murder-suicide. Finally, he claims his wife told him to kill their children, the eight-year old, the five-year old twins, and the two-year-old twins.

One of the traits of psychopathy is a refusal to accept responsibility for one's actions. Mr. Lupoe did this three times over within his fax. Pathological lying is another and, in his fax, we see this clearly as well. We also find out that he was under investigation for lying about employment to get child care. Then, after he sent the fax, he called the police and claimed someone else has shot his family. He apparently has trouble deciding which false story to go with.

Lupoe once had been charged (though not prosecuted) for carrying a concealed weapon which indicates he may have difficulty being a law-abiding citizen, another trait of psychopathy. He also exhibits quite a bit of egocentric and grandiose thinking, which his actions expose. Not only did he commit a horrific crime, he essentially bragged about it to the media. Finally, the hallmark trait of psychopathy is a lack of empathy. When Mr. Lupoe coldbloodly shot six innocent people, five of them little children who trusted him, he qualified himself quite well as a psychopath who cares nothing for other human beings.

As a criminal profiler, one of my jobs is statement analysis which involves reading the words of an individual and discerning what the person is really saying, what he is trying to accomplish with his communication. Is he being honest and open? Is he applying spin to make himself look better? Is he trying to manipulate someone? Is he attempting to justify some action to another or, perhap, just to himself? What does his statement say about him?

Many times the words of a criminal are quite eye-opening if you don't take them at face value and spend some time examining them. A great example is serial killer Harvey Louis Carignano.

“… I had a teacher who used to sit at my desk and we would write dirty notes back and forth. I was either 13 or 14 at the time – and just show me a 14-year-old boy anywhere who wouldn’t willingly and happily sit in a schoolroom and exchange porno notes with his teacher. I never got to lay a hand on her without getting slapped, but she would keep me after school and make me stand before her while she masturbated and called me names and told me what she was going to make me do – none of her threats she ever kept, damn it! The bitch wouldn’t even let me masturbate with her! I took my penis out and she beat the living shit out of me! She had enormously large breasts. She was truly a cruel woman…” (Berry-Dee, 2003)

How much of any of this is true is questionable considering who it is coming from. However, if we assume the possibility he is blaming the victims for his early behavior problems, I can rewrite his statement which is likely closer to the truth:

“… I had a teacher I used to write porn notes to and that got me in big trouble. I never got to lay a hand on her without getting slapped (because she was disgusted with me), but she would keep me after school (as punishment).Once she made me stand (in the corner) where I started masturbating and called her a bitch. I took my penis out and she beat the living shit out of me!”

I have no doubt Mr. Carignano had some social worker or a parole board member who believed this childhood experience really happened as he said it did; after all, such a sick relationship forged by his schoolteacher would surely damage a young boy and offer an explanation as to why Carignano turned out to be a vicious killer who lured women with personal ads and then raped and beat them to death with a hammer.

But simply accepting a psychopath's explanations for their behavior distorts history, their true motives, statistical studies, and the correct psychological understanding of criminal behavior. Worse, it may cause us to fail to recognize danger signals from psychopaths in our own communities and families until it is too late. While we don't want to be overly suspicious of every word that comes out of a human being's mouth, it wouldn't hurt us -and may well protect us - to be a little more skeptical of what we hear and read. In fact, it could save our lives.


Kathryn Casey said...

Pat, I remember reviewing the FBI studies on serial rapists done in the 1970s, when I wrote EVIL BESIDE HER. Unreliability of the answers to the survey questions was the biggest problem. Something like 70 percent of the sexual predators claimed to have been sexually abused as children. Is it possible? Sure. But perhaps they answered that way just to stir up sympathy.

The last couple of days the Baby Grace trial has been going on in Houston, a two-year-old killed by her mother and stepfather during a "discipline" binge and thrown in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Galveston, in a plastic tub.

As much time as I spend investigating horrible cases, I had to turn the news off last night. When they described the day-long beating that little girl had, and how in the midst of it she told her mother, "I love you," I felt physically ill.

I wonder sometimes if there is any explanation for these horrible crimes other than that some people are just truly evil.

Pat Brown said...

I have a real problem with the sympathy ploy used by criminals. Not that they use it, but that people believe it. Psychopaths will do evil stuff becauese they are damaged human beings. We can't do anything about that but we CAN do something about falling for their bunk and pushing it as any kind of truth. So many serial killer studies are full of hogwash because they are self-reports. The criminal may lie about many aspects of his crime - his MO, his motive, his choice of victim, his emotions - and being a pathalogical liar rather makes it difficult to determine what is true and what isn't (without other evidence to support what he says). Think how many serial killers claim to have killed people that they didn't (to increase their numbers or get deals from the system) and this then confuses studies when ten women the guy didn't kill are group in with the ten he did! Now, your whole analyze us scientifically unsound. Future police investigations receive faulty concepts and information based on lies.

The problem of accepting that a family mass murderer is a psychopath lies, I believe, in those family photos like the one of the Lupoe family. Don't they look happy? Doesn't he look like a nice man? He COULDN'T be a psychopath. He must have gone over the edge. People have difficulty realizing that a moment in time (a wedding, a family photo session) does not show a person's personality. It is a staged event. Personality shows up the during all the other regular moments of the year and I guarantee Lupoe has a history of concerning behavior before and after that family photo was taken.

Unknown said...

I first saw this when I got home from work last night. The first article I read had huge headlines about how the poor economy was to blame. When I read further and discovered their firing was because of their own fraudulent practices at work I was livid. What kind of people, person thinks like this? Your explanation has helped me to understand better what really was at play here. I just wanted to thank you for writing about this so I can attempt to get my mind around the craziness. It is too bad that the way this was projected may make other perceive that this might be anything other than a psychopathic maniac killing his poor innocent children.

Pat Brown said...

What a great last line, 4thekids!

"It is too bad that the way this was projected may make other perceive that this might be anything other than a psychopathic maniac killing his poor innocent children."

As a society we should be willing to call a psychopathic maniac what he is rather than sugarcoat and justify his horrific evilness. If some piece of crap enters my home one day like evil Santa Bruce Pardo, I will be pretty darned angry if the killer gets a nice memorial service, flowers, and dozens of people feeling sorry for his "emotional distress" while my dead children have had their lives ripped from them by the b@$#%$#.

Well stated, 4thekids!