Tag Archives: APD

Richard Chase: A schizophrenic serial killer

Richard Chase (1950-1980)

Schizophrenic individuals do not usually present with violent behavior, and the odds of a schizophrenic committing serial murder are probably about the same as me winning the jackpot from numerous Vegas casinos in one night. However, it does appear that Richard Chase, who became known as the Vampire of Sacramento, was one such individual. Serial murder is most often associated with the psychopathic, or those with extreme Antisocial Personality Disorder. David Berkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam, claimed to be schizophrenic and that his neighbor’s dog was instructing him to kill, but it wasn’t long before he recanted.

There are a number of different types of schizophrenia, perhaps the most common being paranoid schizophrenia. Paranoid schizophrenics have progressed passed the so called negative symptoms of schizophrenia, such as jumbled and confused thoughts, and an inability to speak fluently and coherently, to the positive symptoms, which include auditory and visual hallucinations. In other words, paranoid schizophrenics are having sensory experiences that are not obviously coming from their environment (i.e. hearing a voice when nobody has spoken). It is not hard to imagine how this could become a living hell. In fact, for some insight, watch this video from youtube as to what it is like to experience these symptoms.

Although schizophrenia can result in violent outbursts, it must be realized that as a mental disorder that results in disordered thinking, it is not really conducive to the cold blooded and premeditated serial killing that we have come to associate with Bundy or Ridgway.

Richard Chase was clearly a special case.

While still young, Chase did wet the bed excessively, liked to light fires, and killed small animals. These three behaviors are actually associated with Conduct Disorder (childhood psychopathy), so while schizophrenic in his early adult life, he could have also had Antisocial Personality Disorder. In his late teens, Chase would hear voices and even answer them, responding, “I’m not going to do that,” and, “Stop bothering me.” This seems consistent with schizophrenia.

Chase developed an obsession with his own personal health and believed that there were problems with his blood and his circulation. While in hospital he remarked to a doctor that his pulmonary artery had been stolen and that his blood flow had stopped.

Throughout his twenties, Chase continued to exhibit weird behavior and paranoia, and continued to receive diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia. His mother, however, did not want him to be put in a mental health home, and eventually was able to get him his own apartment.

It wasn’t long before his neighbors began to witness his weird behaviors, and the fact that animals would be seen in his apartment, such as dogs and cats, but would never be seen again certainly raised some questions. In fact, one day Chase showed up at his mother’s house, holding up her dead and bloodied cat by the tail. Much to his mother’s absolute horror, Chase stuck his hand into the dead animal and then smeared the blood all over his body.

Chase eventually moved on to stalking humans. After a few close encounters with a number of individuals who managed to escape, some were not so lucky. Theresa Wallin, who was 3 months pregnant, had been spotted by Chase only moments before he decided to gun her down in her home with his .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol, which he had managed to purchase legally as the 3 day wait had not picked up his psychiatric history. Chase mutilated the body and smeared Wallin’s blood on his own body, also using an empty yoghurt cup as a means to drink from her.

Less than a week later, Chase entered the home of Evelyn Miroth and murdered four people, including Evelyn. He shot all of them with his .22 caliber. After shooting Evelyn, Chase mutilated her body and drained much of her blood into a pail, from which he dipped a coffee mug and began to drink her blood.

Chase was caught the very next day after killing Miroth. Police knocked on his apartment door, and he came out carrying a box. After trying to make a sudden break for it, the box fell and revealed bloody papers and rags, and Chase was quickly apprehended. Later in the evening, after obtaining a search warrant,  police entered Chase’s apartment. On his bed was a dinner plate with a piece of human brain swimming around in it. In his freezer was a half gallon container with either human or animal organs sitting inside it.

You can see from these events that Chase does not fit the stereotype of a serial killer. For one, the murders don’t seem very calculated or premeditated, other than Chase’s insatiable drive for blood – he probably knew he wanted human blood, but he went after it in a very irrational and disorderly way. And secondly, the murders happened very close together and were devoid of the “cooling off” period that typically describes the psychopathic serial killer.

Chase was sentenced to death, but actually died from an overdose of his medication while in San Quentin State Prison.

Copyright Jack Pemment, 2013

Source

Alone with the Devil: Famous cases of a courtroom psychiatrist, Ronald Markman M.D. & Dominick Bosco

Evolution and the Psychopath

http://www.rudecactus.com/archives/001430.html

Since I began studying psychopathy, I have often wondered about an evolutionary basis for this dangerous disorder. Psychopathy is considered to be a developmental disorder (Blair, 2006), which means that through its normal course of development the brain experiences stresses or biochemical changes that are not conducive to proper neurological development. This idea is supported by suppositions from both behavioral psychology and neuroscience; firstly, in behavioral psychology, it is suspected that serious child abuse could be an underlying factor behind psychopathy (Kunitz et al., 1998), and secondly, in neuroscience, it has been noted that many with psychopathy show a significant underdevelopment of a number of regions in their brain (for a review see Pemment, 2012).

Read more at Psychology Today…

Copyright Jack Pemment, 2012

An interview with Bundy, the day before his execution

Bundy is surprisingly forthcoming in his attempts to explain and understand how he came to be a monster. There are a number of responses that seem decidedly un-psychopathic. He has no problem taking full responsibility for the murders and he realizes that he is very different from other people.

Bundy claims that he was from a good home and was never abused, and that it was his exposure from soft to violent pornography that made his fantasies become more and more violent; one could raise the argument that it was simply stumbling across violent pornography as a child that constituted the abuse necessary to traumatize and stymie the development of his brain.

He speaks of the need to murder (which included necrophilia) as an addiction. Keppel, one of the detectives who helped to apprehend Bundy explained that Bundy experienced the desire for necrophilia as a chemical tidal wave, like an addiction to a narcotic. It certainly seems like his frontal lobe, and the connections between it and the limbic system, failed to control and inhibit his desires.

The interview does not strike me as a manipulation or an attempt to spread lies, but of course that can’t be ruled out. He does, however, appear to respect his interviewer.

This is a good interview with Bundy, which anyone interested in the development of extreme human behaviors should watch.

Jon Ronson discussing psychopathy and mental illness at TED

This is not a bad TED talk by Jon Ronson. In a fairly humorous 20 minute discussion he points out the follies of the DSM and the Psychopathy Check List. He concludes that our obsession to categorize people within narrow mental illness parameters ends up dehumanizing the patient and can lead to fatal outcomes.

 

How biological and psychological perspectives on psychopathy shape public opinion

It is commonly known that when a psychopath is on the stand, the prosecution is going to push for a jail term based upon the idea that the defendant is sane. The defense, on the other hand, will no doubt argue that their client is insane, and so should therefore be sent to a psychiatric institution.

In order to determine if the defendant is a psychopath, very often a test called the psychopathy checklist – revised (PCL-R) will be administered. This test has to be conducted by a trained psychologist who has the time to get familiar with the defendant and their history. However, it has been shown that psychologists hired by the prosecution and the defense can come up with different verdicts that tend to favor their own arguments. If the test determines that the defendant is a psychopath then they have essentially just been tarred and feathered and will meet the full wrath of the law with no sympathy. If the test shows otherwise, that label of psychopath will not be applied, and the defendant is likely to meet some leniency.

Numerous points can be made here, but the point I would like to make is  that the use of the psychological test (the PCL-R), if it determines that the defendant is a psychopath, seems to convince the jury of the worst, and they are likely to reflect this in their judgment. However, a recent article on NPR pointed out that judges tends to be lenient when the biological basis for psychopathy is pointed out. It is indeed true that the neurobiology of the psychopath is different; this has been indicated on the tissue level and the genetic level.

This seems to suggest that a judge can be told that a psychological test has determined the defendant is a psychopath and so causes the worst possible outcome, yet if an explanation is given on the tissue, cellular, or genetic level, they can be swayed back towards leniency. It’s as if biological explanations destroy the facade of an individual and look to the minute building blocks of life (which we have no/limited control over), but the minute psychology appears, the individual is back and suddenly accountable for their actions.

This is one problem with juries when it comes to trying psychopaths. If the level of scientific analysis focuses on the individual, the jury will see the individual, whereas if the level of analysis on the molecular biological level, the jury will see cells and genes (which have a life of their own). I, personally, think it is irresponsible to allow a jury to have to reconcile these differences during the trial, especially if they have no scientific understanding.

**I would like to point out that not all psychologists work at the level of the organism, of course, and even if they do they are likely to be aware of cellular/genetic implications of their work.

Copyright Jack Pemment, 2012

Author, Seeing Red

Neurological models behind (anti)social behavior

Neurobiologists have put forward two neurological models that can be used to understand the development of social behavior; the Violence Inhibition Mechanism, and the Somatic Marker Hypothesis.

The Violence Inhibition Mechanism (VIM)

The VIM was first proposed by R.J.R Blair in 1995 in his article A cognitive developmental approach to morality: Investigating the psychopath. The VIM proposes that individuals (and other organisms capable of empathy) experience stress cues from others, including sad and frightened faces, and these are filtered/processed through the VIM before the  individual’s stress response is activated. Our sense of morality also causes an emotional experience based upon the observance of these stress cues, and the VIM again processes behavioral outcomes before they arise.

In his book The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain, Blair states that the observance of another’s suffering acts as a form of punishment, which in turn decreases the likelihood of engaging in behavior that caused the suffering (the psychological definition of punishment, unlike reinforcement, is something that results in the decrease of the behavior in question). Empathy, then, creates an emotional experience that should dissuade a person from engaging in acts that cause the suffering of others. If it was violence that resulted in the suffering, the VIM should prevent a repeat of this violence.

This model seems contingent on an observer empathizing with the victim, rather than the aggressor. While empathizing with the victim does seem the most honorable and obvious, if the benefits and pleasure obtained by the aggressor seem desirable, the aggressor’s behavior could reinforce the behavior in question.

Somatic Marker Hypothesis

The somatic marker hypothesis was proposed by Antonio Damasio in his book Descartes’ Error: Motion, Reason, and the Human Brain. This hypothesis is built on the idea that emotional states or feelings mark certain behaviors from experience (and presumably from witnessing the behavior of others), and this is crucial for understanding prosocial behavior and making good decisions.

When a person experiences arousal (positive or negative), the central nervous system becomes active, and communication between brain stem nuclei and the limbic system generate an internal emotional state. These emotional states become tagged to the memories of what the organism was experiencing at a specific time, and are thus re-created when the organism remembers the experience. This emotional re-creation allows us to learn from experience.

It has been argued that psychopaths, who seem to suffer from some kind of affective blunting, are unable to tag memories with or experience emotions that are common to most of us. As the psychopathic brain develops, therefore, the individual is unable to learn right and wrong like the rest of us, and can only approach the subject from an emotionless logical perspective. The brain areas involved in producing these crucial markers (incl. the amygdala, the orbitofrontal & ventromedial prefrontal cortices, and the cingulate) are often found to be dysfunctional or mal-developed in the antisocial brain.

What makes a person snap and go on a killing spree?

In light of the massacre in Aurora, CO, and the more recent massacre at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, WI, an obvious question seems to be why does this happen?

The first port of call is usually to look at beliefs, but the trouble with beliefs is that they do not always reflect behavior, especially if the behavior involves murder. Even extreme ideologies that promote greater intrinsic value over the life of one group of people than another, such as white supremacy or any religion that promotes an infidel/believer dynamic, would not permit most people to follow through with an act of killing.
This does not mean the adherents to such belief systems would not revel in the death of certain individuals or turn a blind eye, but in terms of carrying out the act, the belief alone does not seem enough.

The potency of a belief (it’s ability to affect behavior) may be determined by the dominant parent culture. If the parent culture endorses or encourages personal beliefs, then the likelihood of them affecting behavior are high, provided of course that the individual agrees with the parent culture. The beliefs and values that make up the parent culture are less likely to come with penalties, and maybe even carry a reward. Theoretically, murder of citizens by citizens in the United States carries very heavy penalties, and so even if a person believes that the murder of some individuals is permissible, the desire to avoid punishment will probably act as a deterrent (unless they’re a psychopath – see bottom of post).

So what else could be going on beyond beliefs?

There are two things that the shootings in Aurora and Milwaukee have in common.

Firstly, the gunmen both experienced potentially life-changing failure. James Holmes, the gunman in Aurora, was a PhD candidate in the Anschutz Medical Center (part of the University of Colorado) and supported by a federal grant. Holmes had also been seeing a psychiatrist, although the reason for his visits have not been made public. As Holmes failed an oral exam, it is probably safe to assume he had been anticipating failure or suffered a great deal of anxiety about the exam. This stress and anxiety was no doubt exacerbated by the pressure of having a federal grant and the subsequent need to maintain a high level of performance.  If his visit to the psychiatrist was for something beyond the anxiety caused by these factors, then the potential state of his mental health becomes even worse.

Wade Michael Page, who killed six individuals at the Sikh temple in Milwaukee, had also suffered potentially life changing failure. He had been demoted and discharged from the US Army and was ineligible to be re-enlisted. After spending six years in the army he was suddenly forced to find another job and no doubt felt a great deal of shame / embarrassment / anger over the discharge (possibly even anger at the US – the parent culture). He was clearly having problems with alcohol, too, as he was disciplined for being drunk on duty and going AWOL.

Both Holmes and Wade, who were both showing signs of mental illness, were forced to shape a different future for themselves from already investing a lot in their current career path.

Secondly, both shooters seemed to treat their massacre as a means to an end. Holmes went quietly and respectfully with the police, and Wade fired at policemen and ended up being shot and killed. Neither one of them showed any regard for a future (one they had been forced to re-shape), and seemed to embrace the US justice system or death, respectively. A terminal outlook of the immediate future can be used to rationalize anything, because one, it doesn’t require much effort or time for a depressed mind to conclude that life is pointless (meaning ALL acts have EQUAL value), and two, the deterrence of a parent culture no longer matters to the individual.

Another point to note about the killings, is that the gunmen clearly had no empathy or regard for life when they mercilessly shot members of the public. There are numerous explanations for this. Firstly, depression / anger / feelings of betrayal led to the shooters feeling like their own lives were not valued; this was then transferred to the victims. Secondly, the terminal end point was of greater value to the shooter than the lives of the victims. Thirdly, personal beliefs devalued the lives of the victims. I think the last reason here was probably apparent with Page, who appears to have been involved with White Supremacism.

It is also worth mentioning the act of suicide, because if the shooters both had terminal goals, then why not just kill themselves without taking the lives of anyone else? I think it is obvious that both shooters wanted to make some kind of violent statement before the terminal end as a manifestation of their anger and as a desire to be taken seriously (something they felt could have been missing before they were rejected).

It is worth taking a brief moment to consider psychopathy. In my opinion, most shooting sprees are not carried out by psychopaths. Killing sprees are not the M.O. of the psychopath. Despite the disregard for the lives of others, psychopaths do not demonstrate the belief in a terminal end point, in fact they love abusing and manipulating others, and would probably prefer to keep doing it and keep getting away it. Psychopaths would only go on a killing spree, therefore, if it was endorsed by the parent culture – which has no doubt happened in various military groups/regimes throughout history.

I would like to point out that attempting to understand why a person kills is not the same as finding excuses or defenses for these despicable acts. But it must be realized that culture and the environment are profoundly powerful forces in shaping minds, and so before disposing of people and subjecting them to an uncertain/unstable future, perhaps an effort should be made to assist them through the transition?