The recent "Craigslist killer," Philip Markoff, is a good reminder of some of the important things to remember about sociopaths.
They can look like anybody. Markoff was tall and blond, with a youthful, almost innocent-looking face. He's not the type whose appearance would cause you to cross to the other side of the street. Sociopaths can be tall or short, good-looking or ugly, black or white, male or female. People who are monsters inside rarely look like monsters on the outside.
Markoff was a medical school student at Boston University. This is an important reminder that sociopaths come from all walks of life, and in a full range of IQs. If he hadn't hit upon this
particular scheme, and if he hadn't gotten caught, he would have become a doctor. I can only recall hearing of one doctor who became a serial killer (I'm not including Dr. Kevorkian here, although he definitely had the psyche of a serial killer). There seem to have been more nurses, especialy male nurses, who have become such than doctors. But medicine is a prestigious field, and one that a sociopath might be drawn to for that reason. What kind of doctor would Josef Mengele, another indisputably sociopathic character, have become if he hadn't been presented with the opportunity of the concentration camps? Someone with a reputation as a kindly general practitioner? To take the Hippocratic oath is not necessarily to take it seriously.
Another lesson taught by Markoff is that an intelligent sociopath is a slick manipulator. A case in point would be his fiancee, med school classmate Megan McAllister, who sent the following letter to ABC News: "Unfortunately, you were given the wrong information as was the public. All I have to say to you is Philip is a beautiful person inside and out and could not hurt a fly! A police officer in Boston (or many) is trying to make big bucks by selling his false story to the TV stations. What else is new! Philip is an intelligent man who is just trying to live his life so if you could just leave us alone we would greatly appreciate it. We expect to marry in August and share a wonderful, meaningful life together."
Time to shut up, honey. Whatever you say now will embarrass you later on. As a matter of fact it's already embarrassing you. We're all allowed to be young and naive once -- but we're not allowed to be that self-righteous about it. And a certain police officer (or many) in Boston is owed an apology.
But before we get too harsh with her, it's important to remember that she's probably had no experience with sociopaths before. And we are all innocents till we get to really know one. Megan McAllister can't be entirely stupid if she got into med school, yet she fell for his act. Maybe this was a case of love being blind. But Markoff's sociopathic skill at subterfuge is also definitely part of the equation here. He also fooled his prospective mother-in-law, whose greater years should theoretically have made her wiser. Yet tellingly (or humorously, depending on your perspective) she warned her daughter a few days ago about the Craigslist killer who was on the loose, completely unaware that it was in fact her prospective son-in-law.
The evidence against Markoff, by the way, is pretty damning. It includes his internet record, the surveillance tape of him walking away from the hotel where the murder took place, a gun found inside a hollowed out copy of Grey's Anatomy (how appropriate is that?), ammunition, plastic ties used for handcuffs, duct tape, and a collection of panties which the police think are trophies from past victims. (Paging Doctor McAllister!)
Markoff is said to have engaged in these robberies in order to feed his gambling addiction, which he indulged on a regular basis at Foxwoods. Whenever you hear of someone who becomes "addicted" to something that most people don't find addictive even if they engage in it, you can be sure that that is someone with a very low level of inhibitions, which means that he is much more likely a sociopath. Yes, gambling can raise the heartrate and increase the level of serotonin, and sex is nothing but physical pleasure. But neither is addictive the same way heroin, alcohol, or nicotine can be. So when you meet someone who is a gambling addict, or a sex addict, beware.
According to the New York Daily News, a police officer connected to the case said, "He [Markoff] probably thought he was going to get away with it. He thought he was too smart for us." This is true of all sociopaths. They think that they're smarter than everyone else, and this attitude is typical of the contempt in which they hold the rest of the world. If you ever meet someone who thinks he's fooling people when he's not, beware.
Markoff's intended victims were also telling: masseuses whom he thought would not report being robbed. Sociopaths have no qualms about whom they victimize, often picking on the weakest if it suits their needs. This is why serial killers from Jack the Ripper to the Green River Killer have often targeted prostitutes to satisfy their blood lust, because they figure they can get away with it. (Sadly enough, they're often right.) With Markoff, it doesn't seem to have been about blood lust, just money. But the attitude was the same: pick a victim who won't strike back. An attitude not all that different from that of a schoolyard bully (many of whom turn into sociopaths).