Tag Archives: sociopathy

About That “Satanic” “Teen” “Craigslist Killer” …

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Pretend, for a moment, that you were programming a website that auto-generated sensationalistic headlines. What kinds of words would you plug into it? “Teen?” “Satanic?” “Serial killer?” The name of some kind of tech company? (Trust me on this one; headlines that include the word “Google,” “Apple,” or “Facebook” get tons of hits). On Sunday, nobody needed a fake headline generator to come up with a story that included all these phrases. After all, Miranda Barbour basically handed the story to them.

I won’t recount the details, not only because they’ve been splashed across news sites around the world already, but because right now there’s no evidence for almost anything she claims, except for the murder of one man she allegedly killed after luring him with a Craigslist ad in which she may have offered to exchange sex for money.

Instead, I want to look more closely at what she says, and how she says it:

“I remember everything … It is like watching a movie.”

Whether or not this girl is a legitimate killer, she’s indicating a sense of being disconnected from her actions. Is she delusional? Or possibly sociopathic?

Barbour claimed she began killing when she was 13 and involved in a satanic cult.

Invariably, young women who claim they belonged to “Satanic cults” were actually brainwashed into believing this by psychotherapists. They enter therapy for a variety of reasons, including childhood abuse.

At one point, she planned to let LaFerrara out of her Honda CRV. “He said the wrong things,” she said. “And then things got out of control.”

… She said she felt no remorse for her victims and said she killed only “bad people.”

Was her alleged victim a “bad person” for “saying the wrong things,” or was it more complicated than that? It’s hard to tell, taken through the filter of a news article. But if this is truly how she feels about the situation, it’s worrisome to consider what constitutes a “bad person” in her mind.

She said she was sexually molested at age 4.

Aha, now we’re getting somewhere.

“By no means is this a way to glorify it or get attention. I’m telling you because it is time for me to be honest and I feel I need to be honest.”

The way to not publicize and glorify your actions is to avoid talking to the press. You talk to the police. You cooperate with an investigation of your claims. You don’t talk to reporters.

What I’m saying, I don’t think this adds up. I’ll be interested, in the weeks and months to come, to see how much of her story holds up.

Sanity, lone wolves, and violent video games

Anders Breivik: the Oslo shooter is “sane,” and going to jail.

On Friday, major news emerged from Norway: Oslo mass murderer Anders Breivik is going to jail, and has been declared legally sane.

From the beginning, attorneys have argued over Breivik’s metal state at the time of the killings. While one psychiatric team argued that he is a paranoid schizophrenic, similar to Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, or perhaps Aurora shooter James Holmes, the winning side argued that Breivik is “narcissistic and dissocial — having a complete disregard for others — but criminally sane.”

They stopped short of calling Breivik a psychopath or sociopath — a form of mental illness, to be sure, but not one that meets the legal definition of “criminally insane.” Instead, he’s classified as a “sane” man who falls into the category of “lone wolf” terrorist, in the same mold as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and most recently, Sikh temple shooter Wade Michael Page.

So, there’s a dilemma here: is a sociopath — someone who is incapable of embracing the same values of “right” and “wrong” as mainstream society — truly sane? Just because someone is capable of understanding his actions, does that mean he was in his “right mind” when he carried out those actions? Or is he more like a dog that attacks indiscriminately — one of those rare canines whom re-training won’t help?

With so many shooters in the news right now, we have the opportunity to compare and to categorize. Some are obviously suffering some kind of psychosis; others fall into this “dissocial” or even sociopathic category.

But you’ll notice that none of them fall into the “violent video games clearly caused it” category, or the “heavy metal music clearly caused it” category, or even the “Satanism made him do it” category.

From the very beginning, because Breivik claimed he “trained” on Modern Warfare and played World of Warcraft many hours each day, many felt that video games somehow informed his mission.

Instead, it seems clear now that the games were for Breivik, as they are for millions of others, an outlet. A pastime. And, among the millions upon millions of people who play these games, Breivik was the only one who perpetrated such an attack. When such a vanishingly small percentage of gamers commit mass murder, there’s no way you can argue that video games incite mass murder.

I’m glad to see that the conversation has moved on; I can only hope it stays that way.

Horse killings: Satanic conspiracy or bad reporting?

Another horse mutilation in Cornwall — this one a beheading — has locals blaming Satanists. Again. Photo by flickr user Beer Coaster.

Someone in Cornwall doesn’t like horses. At least, that’s what their newspapers want you to believe.

In recent days, locals found a beheaded horse on Pentewan Beach, and a mutilated, pregnant mare dead in a field. They are, predictably, fingering Satanists for the attacks — and many reporters are listening.

A headline in the Telegraph proclaimed, “Satanic cult blamed for beheaded horse on beach: Fears are growing that a Satanic cult may be behind a spate of animal sacrifices.” Where did those fears come from? A local expert on Satanic practices? No. A fisherman:

A local fisherman told the Sun: “The head seemed to have been surgically removed in a sort of ritual. The way the artefacts were arranged made me shudder.”

No pesky details that would complicate the fear factor — just conjecture and enough scare words to get the imagination going.

In fact, that fisherman seemed to get around, talking to the Sun and the Daily Mail:

Speaking about the Cornwall horse killing, a fisherman told The Sun: ‘The way it was arranged makes me shudder. I believe whoever did this is sick and needs help.

‘It really seems like some sort of black magic ceremony has taken place.’

Reports of the attack on the pregnant mare, 19-year-old Penny, from This is Lincolnshire were thankfully much less sensationalistic, but that didn’t keep other major news outlets from lumping the attacks together — and using locals’ speculation to fuel tales of a Satanic conspiracy.

Let’s look at their evidence:
* They claim the horse slaughters were tied to the full “supermoon” May 6. The pregnant horse died May 3 or 4. The beheaded horse was found May 7. Neither happened on the full moon.
* The beheaded horse was found with a dead seagull and a cross. “Rest in Peace” was written in sand near the body. None of this is particularly Satanic.
* Three bulls had recently been “mutilated with blunt instruments” (how is that even possible?!) in St. Tudy, Cornwall.
* In January, another horse was slaughtered on a made-up “Satanic sacrifice day” that journalists didn’t bother verifying.

If indeed all these crimes were committed by the same person, that person would have to be incredibly dedicated. Pentewan Beach is 25 miles from St. Tudy and another 25 miles from Stithians, the site of the January killing. Stithians is more than 30 miles from St. Tudy. And Cornish roads aren’t like major motorways; traveling 25 miles can take an hour or more. Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where the pregnant mare was killed, is more than 360 miles away from any of these places. The chances that they’re all linked are very, very small.

I give this link a workout, but in general, Satanists don’t sacrifice animals. However, the Romans and ancient Irish and Hindus did. I doubt any of these groups are offing horses in England, either, but pinning the crimes on them would at come closer to accuracy. Likewise, it’s amazing that, so many years after the Satanic Panic, the idea (and fear) of Satanic cults still exists, despite the lack of evidence.

It’s much more likely that bored teens in a few places are taking their frustrations out on animals — and locals should find out, because such acts are signs of antisocial personality disorder, or sociopathy. Someone who’s killing horses now may move on to killing humans later.

Horrorcore didn’t swing the hammer: teen’s music blamed for violent attack on sister

A 16-year-old UK boy has been sentenced to prison after hitting his sister in the head with a hammer. Some say his interest in horrorcore rap and the occult led him to attack. Photo by Flickr user bitzcelt.

A UK teenager will spend the next 4 and a half years behind bars after attacking his 18-year-old sister with a hammer, hitting her in the head 13 times. She was knocked unconscious, but made a full recovery.

To make matters worse, his sister’s name was first on the list of many people the teen planned to kill, including other members of his family, schoolmates, and people he knew through his family’s church.

In court, the jury heard how this teen calmly attacked his sister, “in a … manner which was chilling,” while their parents watched television downstairs. He meticulously planned other attacks, particularly on classmates. The judge would not release his name to the public, claiming the “publicity would increase his narcissism.”

Once again, we have a violent teen with all of the hallmarks of sociopathy. Shouldn’t that be enough? It wasn’t. The court also had to hear about the boy’s interests, as though they were relevant to the case:

The court was told that the boy was brought up as a strong Christian by his family but rebelled against the faith and developed an interest in the occult through listening to “horrorcore” music, a type of hip hop with lyrics on horror-influenced topics.

It’s true that horrorcore rap is influenced by horror fiction. There are songs inspired by films such as Child’s Play and Halloween, among others. For the most part, horrorcore is not a popular genre, but some acts — the Insane Clown Posse and Eminem included — have made big names for themselves. These guys are the Alice Coopers and GWARs of the rap world. The genre unwittingly linked itself to real-life violence when one horrorcore musician, Syko Sam, allegedly bludgeoned four people to death in Farmville, Virginia in 2009.

Horrorcore rap is meant to be fun in the same way watching a scary movie is meant to be fun. All of us like a little thrill now and again — even teens. And there’s not a shred of evidence that this music makes people murderous. There’s not even any evidence that horrorcore would lead someone to be interested in the occult — not that there’s anything wrong with being interested in the occult, either.

Prosecuting attorneys do their best to cast doubt on a defendant, if they think doing so will secure a conviction and prison time for that defendant. Anything to make an attempted killer look bad — including music or spiritual practice — is fair game. But that doesn’t make it relevant to the crime. All it is is character assassination, particularly once the press picks up on it. And, since this particular teen’s name is not associated with the accusations, the effect is to cast doubt on every other teen who listens to horrorcore or explores the occult. Nevermind that 99% of them will never pick up a weapon with the intent to harm another person. It’s no wonder we don’t trust our teens.

What do you think, readers? Should attorneys be barred from questioning the character of a teen accused of violence? Why or why not?

After animal beheadings, police and reporters conjure “ritual” claims

A goat, baby chickens, two roosters, and a dove were recently found beheaded outside Falkenburg Road Jail in Florida. Photo by Flickr user wuperruper.

Hardly a week goes by where I don’t see a story about someone discovering a gruesome animal beheading. And, for some reason, investigators always claim that occult activity is involved. Is it because these kinds of stories are always reported with a Satanic or ritualistic slant? Is it because police are listening to the advice of so-called “occult experts?”

Earlier this month, someone left a menagerie of beheaded animals outside the Falkenburg Road Jail in Hillsborough County, Florida. The box of slain animals included “a goat, some baby chickens, two roosters, and a dove.”

Detective Larry McKinnon of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said, “It was a disturbing discovery, and we feel like its some sort of ritualistic killing. Someone was clearly sending a message to someone inside the jail.”

“We feel like?” I’m not sure that police investigations are supposed to be based on what the police feel like. I get that some of it’s intuitive, but … really, unless there’s evidence of ritual, all you have is animal abuse. But the article doesn’t stop there:

Religious studies expert Dr. Mozella Mitchell agrees the killings were committed to send a message, but if it was ritualistic she believes it wasn’t of a religious nature, but something much darker.

“Witchcraft, yes witchcraft, I think it would be something related to that, it’s the act of some crazed mind, a person who’s out of their head,” Mitchell added.

I find it difficult to believe that someone who is a religious studies major doesn’t recognize witchcraft as a religion. Furthermore, she’s connecting “witchcraft” with “a person who’s out of their head.” Fortunately, several commenters have made it plain that folks who practice witchcraft a) are generally sane and b) don’t harm animals. But these statements fall squarely in the category of irresponsible journalism — at least if this news outlet intends to inform the public.

The article also discusses a prior incident in which a cow’s tongue studded with “about 100 nails” (someone counted?) was found in a box outside the Tampa courthouse. Police said they don’t think the incidents were linked, but “it’s the work of someone who dabbles in voodoo or witchcraft, someone calling on dark, supernatural powers to hurt an individual.” When in doubt, it’s important to describe such incidents in as vague and spooky terms as possible.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, someone beheaded another goat — this one a beloved pet, named Billy, who was the unofficial mascot of A-1 Tractor and Equipment Rentals. Rather than suspecting the work of a disgruntled customer, guess what police think is behind the attack?

Hinman said the responding officer told her the beheading might be related to some sort of a satanic cult because the animal was drained of its blood.

And, as if to back this theory up, the report adds:

In 2008, the Bullhead City Police Department reported finding a goat’s head as the centerpiece of an altar used in a ritual by drug dealers.

… when there’s no evidence that the crimes had anything to do with each other, or were committed by the same person. (There’s also the matter of suggesting that there’s a connection between animal heads, rituals, and drug dealing/crimes). Once again, the readers and commenters on this story are skeptical about the “ritual” claims. I wonder why news outlets continue to go with this angle if readers aren’t buying it. It’s not like news of animal abuse wouldn’t sell papers on its own — after all, animal-related stories, pictures, and so on are one of the most popular items online.

I’ve said this many times, but killing animals is, first and foremost, a sign of mental imbalance. It’s one of the classic signs of sociopathy. Even if the person committing the crimes is also participating in occult activity, the occult activity is not what motivates the attacks. A sane, healthy person is not — in general — capable of harming animals. That’s the way to contextualize these deaths. Discussing rituals, the occult, and Satanism is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.

When teens kill pets, think sociopathy, not Satan

Texas police are waving the “Satanism” flag after a teen killed his family’s Chihuahua. Photo by Flickr user Celladoor.

What is it about Texas? This week, Rio Grande Valley’s Action 5 News reported that 18-year-old Joseph Adam Ortiz slashed the throat of his family’s pet Chihuahua. Primera police Chief Joe Rodriguez apparently couldn’t get through retelling the story without mumbling something incoherent about Satanism:

“The grandson used a kitchen knife. We heard he slit the dog’s throat. Yes, that’s what we have at this time. It’s just scary information that we have right now. Apparently there’s some reference to Satan or satanic. That’s what we’re getting right now, but that’s still under the investigation process to see if that is true.”

So, let’s see. Actual known facts:

1. The name of the alleged perpetrator
2. The type of dog
3. Whose dog it was
4. The weapon used
5. The method of injury

Aspects still under investigation:

1. “Some reference to Satan or Satanic.”

What does that even mean? Why would a police chief mention it at all, let alone to a reporter, who’s going to print it for thousands or millions of people to read, if they’re not even sure it’s a valid statement? And why would a news outlet, whose reports are meant to create a record of the definitive facts of a crime, repeat information that hadn’t yet been verified?

There are really very few reasons that people, especially young people, torture or kill animals. Animal abuse among teens is one of the hallmarks of sociopathic behavior, especially among those who go on to become killers. In some ways, it’s a way to vent frustration. In another, it’s a rehearsal for killing people. According to FBI Special Agent Alan Brantly:

Animal cruelty is mainly used to vent frustration and anger the same way firesetting is. Extensive amounts of humiliation were also found in the childhoods of children who engaged in acts of animal cruelty. During childhood, serial killers could not retaliate towards those who caused them humiliation, so they chose animals because they [animals] were viewed as weak and vulnerable. Future victim selection is already in the process at a young age. Studies have found that those who engaged in childhood acts of animal cruelty used the same method of killing on their human victims as they did on their animal victims.

Now, I’m not saying that Ortiz is a sociopath anymore than I’m saying he’s a Satanist (or not). What I am saying, however, is that paying attention to Satanism — whether or not it’s a factor in this case, and chances are good it isn’t — will distract from the very real possibility that Ortiz may do this again, or that he may choose a human victim next time. Now is when intervention is important. (In fact, it was probably important years ago.) Neighbors told reporters that Ortiz had been “acting strangely” the week before the act. Like “sweeping the entire street” strangely.

Parents, teachers, police, community members: if a child in your neighborhood is abusing animals, it’s time to step in and get help for that child. Don’t wait. And don’t listen to police and reporters who want to scare you with tales of the Devil instead.