Friday, January 27, 2012

Crazies among us

      I am writing the sequel to "The Cassidy Posse" which is set in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair. Detectives McGhan and Bockleman are overwhelmed with the sheer number of cases that arise when 26 million visitors come to town. What is really disturbing to them is the number of single, young women that are vanishing. Relatives themselves or hired investigators are constantly asking about them.
      Anyone familiar with the city's history during this time knows that one man accounted for a large portion of these. He was infamous Herman Mudgett, alias Dr.H.H. Holmes, the nation's first and possibly most prolific mass murderer. He was brought to light recently in Erik Larson's bestseller "Devil in the White City." Dr.Holmes graduated from the University of Michigan medical school where the specialty was  the controversial practice of dissection. Medical schools were clamoring for cadavers and skeletons - no questions asked. Holmes and his associates were only too willing to supply them. There is no certain figure of how many victims fell to Holmes in his period in Chicago from 1896 until 1894. He confessed to 27 but estimates go as high as 200.
     While doing research on the good Doctor, I found that I had a mistaken notion of what a psychopath was. I was guilty of the common assumption that all psychopaths are killers of the Norman Bates (Psycho) variety. I was surprised to learn that most psychopaths are not killers but morally defective individuals. They can be, as Dr. Holmes was, very charming and persuasive, understanding the emotions of others while actually feeling none themselves. They have no conscience and self-gratification is the sole reason for their existence (hello, Bernie Madoff).
      Another more recent example from the Chicagoland area could be Drew Peterson. In the Lifetime movie "Untouchable" he was portrayed as being charming but manipulative, seeking out women who he sensed were insecure. He would begin his relationships by showering young women with attention always explaining that his current wife was a bitch. Psychopaths are adept at portraying themselves as the victim.
     The most starling thing to me that came out of my research is that psychopaths just seem to be born that way. ( I'm thinking back to"The Bad Seed" starring Patty McCormick). What is ironic is that Mickey and Mallory in "Natural Born Killers" would be technically classified as sociopaths since their behaviors stemmed from their horrible childhoods. While psychopaths plan their murders meticulously, sociopaths carry out unplanned and extremely violent murders. They are usually unorganised and leave a trail of clues.
     Another revelation was that using Dr. Richard Hare's "Psychopathy Checklist",one study concluded that one to two percent of the American population are psychopaths. They can neighbors, friends and fellow workers with the telltale trait - they want to use and manipulate you. I have had 26 different jobs by my last count and thinking back on all the bad bosses I've had, I can believe this.


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